Record label rocks a younger crowd
Founder Christopher Hantman is serenaded by Francesca Shanks, who is represented by the record label.
Photos Megan Hayley
Any new music venue has the ability to shape a local scene, but a North Adams–based music label, Sounds and Tones Records, is doing that through multiple venues, built around a catalog of its own musical releases that is helping a youthful energy emerge like never before in the Berkshires.
Christopher Hantman began the label as a small side project while attending MCLA, releasing a compilation CD, but juggling that with school wasn’t viable. Three years later, in the spring of 2015, Hantman revived the label idea as part of his work booking shows in North Adams. Two years on, Sounds and Tones Records is starting to make a small profit. It has several acts signed with a number of releases in the catalog, boasts a seven-person staff, and has begun to transform the northern Berkshire music scene with the label looking to expand to south county and beyond.
For Hantman and his label cohorts, this isn’t just a business—it’s a mission. “Almost all of us on the managerial side grew up as a teenager, as a high-school student, as a college student, going to shows regularly, and, not to knock them, but they weren’t shows at MASS MoCA or the Clark or Tanglewood,” Hantman says. “They were punk shows in basements or DIY indie-rock shows in someone’s backyard or skate park. We like to carry that ethic into who we book, and trying to keep it a welcoming environment and keep the cost low and accessible.”
Hantman’s first signing was Brian Walker, a Philadelphia musician who performs as A Day Without Love. “Without Sounds and Tones, I would not have been motivated to achieve the touring goals that I have,” says Walker. “They have also helped me align myself to where I want to be as an artist.”
Francesca Shanks was another of Hantman’s earliest picks for the label. She has gained a following with her ukulele-driven, quirky, conversational delivery and has released two albums so far. In fact, she believes in the label so much, she signed on as its marketing director. One of her biggest motivations is helping provide for young people in North Adams what she had when she was their age. “Music community and seeing stuff really changed my life as a teenager and gave me a place to be weird in a great way, a family to be weird with,” Shanks says. “I want to do that here.”
Part of that involves booking shows, like the one booked with the May release of the album, Worse Things Have Happened to Better People, by newly signed Pittsfield-based band The Chain Letter. Lately, the label has been working with MCLA to program shows at its Design Lab space in North Adams—Shanks’s latest is a June show that she appears in with indie sensation John Andrews and The Yawns and North Adams–based quirk-pop band The Mighty Atom.
Booking shows has always been a major part of the label’s efforts, an opportunity to build community by bringing in indie-rock acts that might otherwise never pass through the northern Berkshires. As a result, the Berkshire 20-something community is becoming much more visible as a demographic that is hungry for entertainment.
“After I graduated college, so many of my friends and I were still in the area that it just made sense,” Hantman says. “We weren’t necessarily seeing the events we wanted to see, so we started hosting those events for ourselves, and that attracted more people.”
Joe Mansman is a more recent signing, whose Glens Fall, New York–based hard-rock group, The Midnight Revival Band, is looking at a new album release in June. He applauds the community aspect that Sounds and Tones nurtures. “The label builds camaraderie between all its members through sharing ideas, tips, and tricks, and communicating weekly through staff messaging,” he says.
Plans are moving ahead for building a street team as well, which will work to promote Sounds and Tones releases and shows in other cities in exchange for incentives. This is all part of the bigger vision of, as Hantman describes it, “putting North Adams on the map of being a place to go and play music.”
That means Sounds and Tones artists getting out there and spreading the word, and letting the world know that there is an eager young audience here in the Berkshires that will guarantee an energetic turnout.
HEAR HER LIVE
Francesca Shanks hits the road with multiple Berkshire appearances: June 22 at Down County Social Club in Sheffield; Aug. 6 at The Crystal at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown; Aug. 10 at The Chalet at Mass MoCA in North Adams; and Sept. 28 under the Mohawk Theatre marquee for North Adams’s DownStreet Art celebration.