Headed by 23-year-old Cleveland-native Ricky Hamilton, Quality Time Records strives to provide a platform for some of the city’s newest local bands as well as longtime members of the scene.
Keenly aware of the developments and trends in vinyl and cassette culture, Ricky operates QTR with an experimental edge. Their frequent collaborator, Wax Mage Records, specializes in colorful, hand-poured vinyl records, oftentimes featuring bold text and unusual textures. In between band practices and recording sessions, Hamilton was able to indulge our curiosity in his labor of love.
Ricky Hamilton: The current QTR roster is an eclectic, Cleveland-centric, mix of rock n roll, punk, and pop. Some current Cleveland bands include Goldmines, Fascinating, Ma Holos, The Venus Flytraps, Pack Wolf, Another Mother’s Milk, The Nico Missile, Shagg, and Pig Flayer. We also have out-of-state bands like Joyframe (Pittsburgh), Bad Vibes (Oakland), and Pleather (North Carolina). Most of the out of state bands are comprised of people I met while touring or bands that have come to Cleveland to play. Thus far we have over 23 releases with more getting added all the time. I’m up to 30 in my head now.
AO: I saw that video you posted on the Quality Time Records Facebook page of that Akron punk band, Urban Mutants. There’s a rich history of punk music that runs through the Rustbelt. What do you think the current state of Cleveland’s music scene is now versus in its heyday?
RH: Um, I need a smoke for that. [reaches for cigarette] The Cleveland music scene is in its heyday right now. The past doesn’t have to dictate the future. But I’ll say that Cleveland is continuing to be what it has always been, which is an industrial, hardworking Rustbelt town with great bands that get basically no exposure. They work way harder than other bands and get fewer favors in general. But they have a better attitude. Being so close to other towns that sympathize with your situation helps you get things done. You can only play in your city so much and then you tour. That’s the natural progression. In Cleveland, we’re lucky enough to have a lot of great cities with great music scenes close by.
AO: I’m not an Ohio native, and I wasn’t too aware of that rich musical history that Northeast Ohio has. I was really bummed, coming from the West Coast and moving here because you have the preconception that there isn’t much of a music scene here. What’s punk about the Midwest? But there really is a history, especially for punk music. It’s amazing.
RH: Akron, Youngstown, Willoughby, and Kent have always been the more outsider, weirdo, stuff like Devo, The Cramps, The Dead Boys, that type of punk. And then the West Side has given us bands like Pagans, straight traditional punk. The East Side has Pere Ubu, Robert Longo. It has a weirder, more contemporary, modernist art feel to it.
RH: Our records come from Gotta Groove Records, a local Cleveland record plant. It’s on 36th and Superior, which is about five minutes from where we are now, maybe ten. Between local musician and fellow record label owner Heather Gmuc, who runs Wax Mage records and Paul Mac, they’re making some of the best records in the world.
AO: I’ve read that the resurgence in the interest in vinyl has flooded the plants with orders. All of these bigger, more financially endowed artists signed to commercial labels put in huge orders that lock up production for weeks. Smaller bands and musicians who want to put in a modest order to get their vinyl pressed will experience extremely long turn over times.
RH: Right now all the major labels are reissuing rubbish records that you can already find in every dollar record bin in America. James Taylor, stuff like that. Elton John is now getting double pressed on 180 gram vinyl. They’re getting ten thousand copies and tying up all the plants because there’s not enough machines.
AO: Do you experience issues with turnover as a small local record label?
RH: No. Gotta Groove is the best in the whole country. United Record Pressing in Nashville doesn’t even take new orders, they’re garbage. And getting it done internationally with shipping is horrible, you won’t make a dollar off of that. There’s some good plants scattered across the U.S, but the best is Gotta Groove. The people who work there make sure to treat local bands well. When a good local record comes through, they get it done as soon as possible. And they’re part of the local scene. It goes back to them playing in bands. You have people that are truly musicians pressing your records.
RH: A to Z Audio, they’re in Parma. They’ve been pressing tapes since the nineties. They’ve been in Brookpark, Fairview Park, and now they’re in Parma. They do great tapes and CDs and they’re fast.
AO: I know that Quality Time Records has an online presence, but how prominent is it? Do you focus on physical releases rather than making your artists’ work available to stream or download?
RH: I love physical copies because I like things that exist to clutter your house and stuff. But you have to be online these days to connect with people, and I think it’s a good thing. Calvin from K Records sheds some light on what he calls appropriate technology. It’s OK to use technology, but you can’t let it become what you’re doing. I use Bandcamp. I’m a fan of selling music online. I’m also for the pirating of music. If anyone wants to steal our music, more power to them. I would just hope they would be able to recognize that having a record is way different from having an MP3 file. But if they like our music, I say rip it. We’re also going to start doing download codes soon.
AO: All of the accessibility that social media and online platforms offer call into question the necessity of record labels. When asked to give advice to someone who would like to start a record label in 2015, Peanut Butter Wolf from Stones Throw Records said, “Don’t do it.” Do you have some insight into his comment?
RH: He probably came up in a different scene, and our reasons for making music could be vastly different. I think it’s fun to be able to travel around and put people’s stuff out. That’s my motivation. I’m trying to redefine what a record label is. I’m trying to take my favorite things about great labels like Sarah Records and Columbus Discount Records and combine them. But as far as the necessity of a record label, I think it’s needed for bands that make great music but need help accomplishing their goals.
AO: It’s business practices—networking, finances, communicating, scheduling, getting your foot in the door—and nobody teaches bands these things. Do you use the connections you’ve made from all of the touring and recording to help artists and bands?
RH: Yeah, it’s easier to reach out when you know someone who knows someone. Bands need to work much harder these days to get noticed. Record labels used to be marketing firms and do your photos. Now it’s on the individual, and a good local label can set you up with the shows you need to make some money. A local record label can put out your record and get you on your feet. I don’t do contracts; I’m not in it to get the rights to anyone’s music. People work hard and put a lot of creative integrity into their music and it’s not cool for labels to feel entitled to that. I deal in cash—on a handshake or a hug. Or people will come to me and say, “I want to do blank.” And I’m like, “OK cool, do you know where to record? No? OK, well I know a place where I can get you some time, maybe even go half in on a recording.”
AO: You’re also not promising immediate fame upon working with Quality Time Records.
RH: No pipe dreams. You gotta work hard. Playing shows all the time is hard. My relationship with the bands is symbiotic. I get good bands on the label, and it’s good for the bands because they get physical copies of their music. I can help them out digitally, even though that’s not our main thing. We split the cost of physical releases, which makes it more accessible to local bands.
AO: Do you catalog everything?
RH: Mhm, it’s really important to me. I have a ridiculous amount of notes on the people who purchase from us. One Bad Vibes cassette, January 10th, to a guy in Virginia. 7” with artwork to Nick, for free. I send a lot of stuff to Japan and Europe as well.
AO: That’s really where the internet comes in though. You can have your local support, but you can also reach for a cult following in Japan or market to teenagers in Sweden who love electro. I know Brazil is a big market for rock driven music.
RH: People listen to great music all over the world. People in Italy and Spain are cool. Somebody in Spain just bought the Ma Holos cassette today. We have a Japanese friend, Toshihiko, who buys everything. He catalogs it too.
RH: I did go on tour recently with The Nico Missile. We went to the West Coast and through the South of the United States. We sold records at shows and stores everywhere we went along the way and we’re already planning a 2017 tour from Idaho to Mexico. I think tour is a great place to meet people and exchange ideas. Fascinating is going on tour this January so I’m looking forward to seeing some of my favorite people and eating at some of my favorite haunts.
AO: So your secret to success is not being an asshole?
RH: Yeah, pretty much. Not being scared, that’s the main thing. Also, if you have a band, you better be cool with only playing to people in other bands. You’re going to have shows like that eventually. It’s always been like that. You gotta take your hits and misses. Although, right now in Cleveland, a lot of people are coming to shows.
AO: How do you feel about venues and payment?
RH: I do believe in making money as a band, and venues should pay out more, especially the ones that do really well with liquor. I don’t think it’s cool to butter bands up with tons of liquor and not pay them. It’s not worth it if you’re not a hard drinker. If a venue does well but doesn’t even give you gas money, it’s a joke. And then you have to steal a monitor.
AO: What are your upcoming plans for the record label and where do you see Quality Time Records in five years?
RH: In the next five years I’d like to continue seeing our records sold in shops all over the world and I’d like for QTR bands to be touring constantly. The more full time bands we can have on the roster the better. I think being an entertainer and artist is a valid career and those that do it well should be able to support themselves with their craft. I also want to continue working with other artists like Wax Mage Records because they’re truly on the cutting edge of vinyl. I think even those that don’t hear the difference of a vinyl record could appreciate the talent and creativity it takes to make works of art through an industrial medium such as record pressing.
AO: It seems like your motivation is to bring good music to good people.
RH: Mhm. It’s really simple, and I have a backup plan and everything. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll go and do something normal.
AO: Sounds like you won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
You can check out Quality Time Records releases on their Bandcamp at qualitytimerecords.bandcamp.com and view a calendar of upcoming shows with the artists and bands of Quality Time Records on their Facebook page, facebook.com/qualitytimerecords.