A man with many hats, Awful Records’ Creative Director Chris Orzel cares about one thing: making sure creatives don’t have to work nine-to-fives. “If I can prevent a creative youth from having to be behind the counter at Starbucks, that’s been a great day,” he tells me over the phone. As sweet a sentiment as that is, it’s also the Awful ethos: create genuine connections with artists and creatives who deserve platforms. For Orzel, building those connections is the most inspiring part of the job.
On a day-to-day level, too, Chris is constantly seeking inspiration. Awful, really, is a three-man internal team that steers a tight-knit ship. Working alongside with Gerry [Newton] and Kobi [Ansong], the Awful Records co-presidents, the trio can make decisions succinctly and expediently. They’re masters of the creative pivot, and with the punk-pop culture aesthetic of the label, we know that their formula is working.
Which brings us to the million dollar question: How does an artist get signed to Awful Records? According to Orzel, it’s about “finding an artist who's found their people.”
“When seeking new music, we’re often looking for a unique sound, but also a calculated narrative that surrounds the artist,” Orzel says.
With a roster consisting of cult titans like Father and Abra, creatives Zach Fox and Alex Russell, and alumni Playboi Carti and Tommy Genesis, to be signed to Awful is to participate in a special cultural moment that was birthed in Atlanta, but is taking over the world.
Continue below for my full conversation with Chris Orzel, lightly edited for content and clarity, to find out what really makes Awful Records tick.
DJBooth: How are you able to pivot from Creative Director to A&R, to all the other hats you wear, without tiring out or losing your mind?
Chris Orzel: Ha, yeah, that’s a funny question. I kinda just do lose my mind, but there’s beauty in the madness. That’s the only way I know how to answer that question. There’s not a lot of sleep, but you just have to make due. There’s a lot of inspiration in that chaos.
What’s the most inspiring part of the job?
Just being connected with more young creatives with a similar drive as myself. A similar passion and love for what they do, that I didn’t know existed before working in this position. Being introduced to these people is the most inspiring part.
How big is the Awful team, and what does the day-to-day look like for you?
No two days are looking the same for me. I’m really jumping between like… One day doing web development, one day I might be on my tour manager shit. Sending over tour riders. In terms of the team, there’s Awful internal, which is relatively small. It’s actually just three of us. Just myself, Gerry [Newton] and Kobi [Ansong], the presidents of Awful. We have our extended partners, our press team, a fashion team in London we work with, and the RCA team as well. Besides that, it’s us three running the ship.
Do you find there to be a benefit in having such a small team?
There certainly is a benefit. We’ve been working together for a while so there’s a lot of synchronization that takes place. We do have an appreciation for gaining as much perspective as possible. With any kind of obstacle, we’re always looking to gain more information, more perspective, and when we can, opening up the conversation to more people. At the same time, there’s a strength and cohesion to a small team.
What is the biggest problem you’ve had to solve at Awful?
The biggest problem is wearing the many hats. It’s trying to find that intersection between the creative and the business, and finding the ways where you can translate visions that are meant to be subjective in tangible ways that business people can understand. Being proficient in the business world and the art world, that’s really the main obstacle in itself.
How do you strike a balance between art and business?
You know what, I don’t know if I do yet. When I fully do, that’s when I’ll be really, really busy. I think I’m figuring it out every single day.
What does it take to get signed to Awful Records, specifically?
Finding an artist who's found their people. In 2019, this is most often achieved by creating content around the music that allows the listener to sort of personally invest in an artist brand. When seeking new music, we’re often looking for a unique sound, but also a calculated narrative that surrounds the artist.
Why did Awful make the jump to work with a major label?
I felt like there was a mutual understanding and appreciation for what we do. It was really just time to make the jump so we could maximize opportunity, so if we had a record or an artist that we felt has the potential to do bigger things, we would have the team and resources to push it. While still being true to Awful and still making genuine connections to the artists and their fans.
Since working with RCA, what has changed for Awful, if anything?
Despite having a larger pool of resources, it hasn’t really changed. It’s amplified our reach and our ability to work with more artists, but the process hasn’t changed.
What’s been the biggest benefit of working with RCA?
Just that ability to work with more artists, and be able to push and inspire and create a platform for more people. Upon doing that, having more to offer to those artists, once we begin to create those relationships.
What does Awful Records have that no other label has?
We have a very organic connection to what’s going on culturally right now. It’s been established with our lineage of artists that have been deeply rooted in the early SoundCloud era, from Gerry and Kobi being in this business for a long time and being able to make genuine connections with people who have done a lot for what we know today as hip-hop and pop music in the modern day. That’s really what we have to offer: that really organic connection.
As a final note, what about the job gets you out of bed in the morning?
Really, just the ability to make kids like myself not have to go get regular jobs. If I can prevent a creative youth from having to be behind the counter at Starbucks, that’s been a great day.