Interview: Mean World Records

Left to Right: Jason Kaplan, Jake DeMarco & Hunter Bates of Mean World Records
Meet Mean World Records: The Independent Denver Label Fostering Community and Collaboration in Music 💖

At Soundboard, we’re always excited to collaborate with local music visionaries who share our passion for fostering a vibrant music community. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to our friends at Mean World Records.

If you love live music in Denver, you’ve probably seen this crew around town! This dynamic team has been making waves in the local music scene, bringing together their collective experience and passion for music to create a label that truly supports and uplifts local artists.

We caught up with the MWR team at their recent singer-songwriter showcase to ask a few questions about what they’re up to! In this interview, we talk to Hunter Bates, Jason Kaplan and Jake DeMarco about the origins of Mean World Records, their day-to-day operations, and their vision for the future.

Join us as we explore how Mean World Records is contributing to the thriving music culture in Denver.

About Mean World Records

Left to Right: Jason Kaplan, Jake DeMarco & Hunter Bates of Mean World Records
Left to Right: Jason Kaplan, Jake DeMarco & Hunter Bates of Mean World Records
Mean World Records Logo

Mean World Records is an independent music label based in Denver, Colorado, founded by Hunter Bates, Jason Kaplan, and Jake DeMarco. The trio came together to create a label that supports and uplifts the local music scene.

Mean World Records prides itself on curating a diverse and talented roster of artists dedicated to their craft. Local bands under their wing include Tiny Tomboy, Deth Rali, Shady Oaks, In Plain Air, and Tarantula Bill.

Interview with Hunter Bates and Jason Kaplan

Soundboard: Can you tell us about the origins of Mean World Records and what inspired you to start the label? 

Mean World Records (Hunter): Definitely! I think for the three of us, we were all doing most of the management/booking parts of being in bands, and it really just felt like a natural progression. I met Jason through Craigslist while looking for a drummer for the last band I played in, and we instantly clicked. Jake and Jason had known each other in passing, and we became friends with Jake through his band In Plain Air. Jake actually came up with the name Mean World. He had an old Instagram called Mean World, and would write it on a bunch of stuff. When we were looking for a name, I knew that had to be the one.

I think after playing shows together and touring and just working together on some things, we realized if we just combined brain cells, we could do something really cool in the local scene. We all really enjoy putting shows together and hope to help uplift the local music scene here in Denver.

Mean World Records (Jason): As Hunter said, we were already doing these tasks and had these management responsibilities for the bands we were playing in, so we figured why not branch out and offer our services to the rest of the scene? Also, why not just pool all of our combined resources together and turn it into a label?

Soundboard: Tell us what running the label actually looks like day-to-day. What roles do each of you play?

Mean World Records (Hunter): Our day-to-day is so hectic honestly, but we make it work! I think with all of us constantly gigging, working, practicing, etc, it can sometimes be super hard for us to even be in the same room together for more than two hours. But, that’s not an issue for us and we make it work! Communication/organization is definitely crucial, and I think we have a good system going!

I’m usually in front of the screen by 8:30am every morning, sending out emails or planning content, etc. I’ve been unemployed since last September, and so this has pretty much become my full-time job (although the salary is not great lol). I do a lot of the social media/marketing/curating for the label, which means I’m constantly bugging the other two for feedback and ideas. 

On top of an actual full-time job, Jason runs the Mean World Records blog, as well as doing a lot of backend marketing for the label like email campaigns, SEO, ads, just to name a few things off! Jake handles a lot of booking/venue outreach and helping curate playlists, shows, etc when he’s not out on the road! Most of us tend to our own bands’ responsibilities, and everything else we just divide and conquer together!

Soundboard: What vision or mission drives Mean World Records? How do you see Mean World Records contributing to the Denver music scene and the local community? 

Mean World Records (Jason): Our mission focuses a lot on building up the scene as a whole and making sure to create some sort of longevity and sustainability for not only the bands, but for everyone involved. Ultimately the incredible amount of talent and dedication within our scene is what drives us to keep going and pushing forward every day. Even for artists not on the label, we still don’t mind shouting them out, helping them with events, and even passing along some helpful information to them. I think we’ve taken on the mindset of “we’re all in this together” and we try to convey that with the actions of the label.

We really love putting together shows that feature some of Colorado’s most talented acts, even if they’re not on our label. Ultimately we just want people to know of the scene out here and go to shows out here more than anything, regardless of whether it’s with our artists or not.

Mean World Records (Jake): When it started out, I saw it sort of like a “F- you” to the industry. It was a cool way of feeling a sense of power against the harrowing reputation of the industry by bringing a community together of people with similar intentions. My long term vision with the label is to continue to be that outlet for musicians no matter where we end up.

Soundboard: What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing with establishing and expanding the label, and how are you overcoming them?

Mean World Records (Jason): Definitely one of our biggest challenges we face is how to stay relevant and at the top of mind for people within the scene. We constantly have to be coming up with new ways to reach audiences and grab their attention, and we always want to be reaching new people every day. I think we work a lot on how we can make this sustainable in the long run and we want to make sure that the label has longevity.

At the end of the day we’re also running a business here, and anyone who’s taken an introductory business class will know you obviously need money to keep a business afloat. Raising capital can definitely be tricky, and most of the expenses of the label are coming directly out of our pockets. Most of our return honestly just comes from merch sales and some of our paid services that we offer to outside artists.

Mean World Records (Jake): The thing that has been trickiest for me is with as many shady people there are in the music business and people we’ve had experiences with, it’s sometimes hard to see myself as someone in this position in the industry. It’s hard not to get a little jaded after a few bad experiences in the music industry, but it’s also been a huge learning lesson on how not to act and how to build two-way trust.

Soundboard: What criteria do you use when deciding which artists to sign and work with?

Mean World Records (Hunter): Everything that we do with the label is very curated and intentional between Jason, Jake, and myself. Most of our ideas are kind of treated like bills in the government or something. If I’m like “hey what do y’all think of this design” and it’s not agreed upon by all of us, it probably won’t happen.

We look for a few main things in artists, which all are pretty industry standard I feel:

  • Quality music/recordings
  • Dedicated/Passionate

Mean World Records (Jason): I will also add that we try and keep it to genres that we “know” and scenes we’ve been involved with in the past. For example, we wouldn’t necessarily sign an EDM artist just due to the fact that none of us are really that familiar with the scene and so we wouldn’t have much to offer for them. We also look at every signing as having to be a mutually beneficial relationship. We want to sign artists that are going to put in the work necessary to make it all the way and the more we help them succeed, then the more they help us succeed as well.

Soundboard: What advice would you give aspiring young artists looking to enter the music industry?

Mean World Records (Jason): Get used to rejection. It’s everywhere and you’ll get it more than you’ll get acceptance for the most part. Get used to hearing “no” and learn how to improve from that and move past it. Also don’t be afraid to take risks and reach out to those higher ups, the worst they can say is “no”. It helps to build a network for yourself that you can rely on and have those people you can count on to always support you and help you out whenever you need it.

Mean World Records (Jake): Going off what Jason said, no is very common, and it’s hardly ever personal. There are so many opportunities for progress and growth as an artist, that the right opportunity will come when it’s time. I also believe that just going to shows, getting out of your comfort zone, and being a familiar face is really important. Even on social media, engaging with other artists is crucial to building connections and is a win-win for everyone.

Soundboard: How do you engage with and support local artists outside of the label’s roster?

Mean World Records (Hunter): We try to support anything that we enjoy as best we can, whether that’s inviting artists to play our showcases, adding their releases to playlists, doing interviews/blog reviews, etc.

We recently did our first singer/songwriter night, which featured seven different local artists not affiliated to our roster. When we put together shows for touring artists, friends, etc, we’ll typically try to ask some local artists that we like, especially if they fit the bill.

It’s definitely still a work-in-progress, but we’re starting to offer some artist services on our website. This includes local screen printing with A Small Print Shop, mixing/mastering, show flier design, event pop-ups, booking, consultations, etc.

Mean World Records (Jason): Besides the artists on our roster, we also try and include other outside artists as much as possible, whether that’s by putting them on our shows, giving them shoutouts, featuring them on the blog, or featuring them in one of our curated playlists.

Additionally, we try and help out some artists from other states as well and want to make sure they have the best experience possible when touring through Colorado! We figure if they have a good experience in Colorado then they’re more likely to spread the word about our scene and that also means our artists can have good show experiences in their hometowns.

Gion Davis hosting Mean World Records' recent singer-songwriter showcase.
Gion Davis hosting Mean World Records’ recent singer-songwriter showcase.

Soundboard: How would you describe the current state of the Denver music scene, and what makes it unique?

Mean World Records (Jake): I feel like Denver’s scene is like a huge melting pot of all the different scenes in the country. I’ve met so many people that lived elsewhere but played Denver on a tour and moved their band out here. It’s a great place for CO bands to tour out of because of how equally distant it is from any of the other major pockets of cities. I also think geographically CO is very spread out and there’s lots of very well developed scenes in different quadrants of the state, so Denver being right in the middle, gets a really great variety of everything. Overall it’s definitely improved a lot in my time of being surrounded by it, but there are definitely still challenges in systems of hierarchy within the scene. I really do believe that Denver has some of the most supportive and well intentioned people running things behind the scenes, and it’s easy to recognize people like that.

Mean World Records (Jason): Denver’s scene is definitely on the rise and is highly underrated. On the surface it seems that we’re just known for jam bands and EDM, and although those genres are very popular out here, we do have some thriving Pop Punk, Hardcore, Psychedelic Rock, Indie Rock, and even Heavy Metal scenes out here.

I think Denver has the potential to really become a hub for music, it just needs to get in front of the “right” people. Right now it seems very limited to just the boundaries of Colorado, and so I think the next step is finding a way to have the whole world know about us. With that would also come more of an industry to support our scene. Right now it can be very difficult for artists to find mainstream success out here and a lot of that is just due to the fact that we currently don’t have the industry to support them.

Soundboard: What are some of the biggest strengths and challenges facing independent artists in Denver today? How do you navigate these challenges in your own career?

Mean World Records (Jason): Like I mentioned previously, there isn’t really enough of an industry presence here to help bands achieve that next level of success and bring their music to audiences worldwide, at least not at the moment. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find success out here, I just think that there are more obstacles to overcome out here as compared to other music hubs around the country.

However, I will say that one of the biggest advantages we have out here is that we’re not super oversaturated with tons of bands and musicians just trying to make a quick buck! Additionally, our music community is really tight knit and close with each other so it makes the relationships even more worthwhile.

As a label we definitely want to help our artists reach as many audiences as possible, whether in Colorado or beyond. We find that not only supporting the Colorado music scene, but other smaller, local scenes can help build a network across the entire nation that we can utilize to help all parties succeed.

Soundboard: What are your long-term goals for Mean World Records, and where do you see the label in the next five years?

Mean World Records (Jason): Ideally we would like to continue expanding the label by doing bigger and better shows and collaborations with local brands. Additionally, we’ve been in talks about potentially expanding the label out of state to other scenes to help build a strong foundation across the country – so that way we can support artists no matter if their scene is small or large. We of course want to stay as involved with the local scene as much as possible, so we’re not forgetting about that! Our very own potential music festival would be pretty cool, and of course we’re still going to keep doing our showcase events and would love to help some small, upcoming artists get their time in the spotlight.

Soundboard: Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?

Mean World Records (Hunter): There’s so much in the works right now that we’re super excited about, although we can’t say too much. We’ve got a bunch of really cool releases coming throughout the rest of this year from all of our artists, and we’re working on putting together some more events for the community!

Mean World Records (Jason): We do have some amazing shows coming up featuring some exceptionally talented artists from all around the country.

Such great insights from this team! Their commitment to the local scene and collaborative approach make them pivotal in Denver’s burgeoning music landscape, and we couldn’t be more on board with creating a sustainable music community in Denver and beyond.

Who from the Denver music scene should we chat with next?! Let us know. 👇 💬 👇

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