In 2007, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist were invited to perform at the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater in Los Angeles, California. With the opportunity to be the first headlining turntablists in the history of the venue, they accepted the invitation.The Hard Sell was recorded during rehearsals for their June 2007 Hollywood Bowl show. The album is primarily a DJ mix of various 7-inch vinyl singles, similar in nature to the previous DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist albums Brainfreeze (1999) and Product Placement (2001). Before recording, the two spent several days listening to potential candidates for inclusion on the set; during the process, they eventually started to "narrow down a theme and feel based on [their] feelings about music at the time." According to DJ Shadow, the two sought to "push the boundaries of good taste" by putting together a set "that would alternatively make people smile and nod their head, and the next moment throw them off their balance and think 'Whoa, I'm not sure if I'm down with this.'" Eight turntables, four mixers, and two guitar pedals were utilized in creating the mix.