Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 | Page 45

typically requires either some trustworthy guidance or a lot of experience .
For the two-piece rock band cleopatrick , made up of childhood friends Luke Gruntz and Ian Fraser , they incorporated their own label right out of the gate to release their debut album , Bummer . That label is called Nowhere Special Recordings , which is a bit of a nod to their hometown of Coburg , ON . They achieved early success when the self-released single “ Hometown ” reached number six on the U . S . rock charts and got a lot of traction on streaming services ( currently having over 66 million streams on Spotify ). This led to a tour with Royal Blood and slots on major European festivals . That early success obviously attracted label attention . Ultimately , they rejected all offers and instead created Nowhere Special Recordings , which works with Nashville-based company Thirty Tigers for marketing and distribution . Thirty Tigers is known for offering an alternative to the traditional label model for major independent artists like Jason Isbell and Lucinda Williams .
“ We were considering everything . We talked to a bunch of labels , including major labels and smaller independent labels , and I think we were being truly open-minded about it ,” recalls Gruntz . “ We wanted to do a lot of stuff ourselves , and those deals still lasted for 15 years , or that was as low as we got it at one point . Basically , our music would belong to this entity for 15 years and then after that we would have the option of getting it back in some way . I mean , we ’ re not really of the mindset that that ’ s the worst thing ever . We ’ re not the band that thinks the labels are the devil or whatever , but we are very skeptical . We ’ ve built this thing ourselves , done it very carefully and learned some lessons along the way , and we ’ re very protective over it .”
As Gruntz explains , the cleopatrick guys felt it was nearly impossible to make such an important business decision at only 20 or 21 years old that they would not regret at some point in the next 15 years . And so , instead , with the guidance of their managers , they explored the possibility of incorporating their own label , which would then work as a partner with a distributor that also offered label services . That is what they found in Thirty Tigers .
“ I think we found a lot of comfort in that setup . It felt like this might not be a forever plan . But for right now , it means that , for this album , we make every decision , we ’ re in control of how everything looks , who it ’ s marketed to , how it ’ s marketed , etc . I think that was the appealing factor , was there ’ s not really going to be anyone telling us what we can and can ’ t do ,” says Gruntz . “ And obviously it came with budget restraints . All our ideas we needed to fund using the money that came from our smaller deal , so we just had to be very strategic with things . But basically , it was control and protectiveness that inspired us to do the thing ourselves . At least for this first record .”
Though Gruntz and Fraser say the decision was based in feelings of control , protectiveness , and also a bit of fear , launching your own label to release a debut album is a bold move . Then again , they were in a unique position of having a hit single , which created demand for their services .
“ I think that ’ s all a matter of personal comfort . I bet there are some that don ’ t do it for a long time , and there are some that do it right away . I ’ m a fan of incorporating things because I just feel like it then protects the people involved , especially if it ’ s more than one person ,” says Setterington . “ On a specific label level , I mean , if there ’ s a lot of money coming in , it makes taxes cheaper . You ’ re paying 14 % on taxes rather than 29 % or 36 %, and all those sorts of things . So , there is an enjoyable part of keeping it in the corporation and using that money as you need to .”
So , at what point in a band / artist ’ s career does it make financial sense to incorporate their own label in order to release their own music ? “ I think this depends on the artists ,” answers Sondra Gold , a Toronto-based accountant who specializes in working with small entertainment companies and independent artists . “ If they have the skill set and time to take on this role , then it will make financial sense . As well , for someone who has a following and an established brand , they may be able to release their own music and have the support , fans , and exposure without the need for a label .”
In terms of the pros and cons of such a move , Gold says , “ The pros are eliminating extra costs that come with the role of the label and sharing income . Cons are potentially less resources ( time and money ) to concentrate on the music ( creating , performing ), especially up-front costs when starting out . Another con is that there are connections and introductions that come with a label that can save you money and time .”
For Juno Award-winning duo Digging Roots , made up of ShoShona Kish and Raven Kanatakta , the move to create their own label came later in their career . Then , in 2021 , Kish and her friend and fellow artist Amanda Rheaume announced the launch of Ishkodé Records . The artist-owned indie label is distributed by Universal Music Canada and its mission is to foster the careers of other Indigenous artists by approaching the business with Indigenous values at the forefront .
“ Raven and I , since moving away from working with a label , have been releasing on our own imprint , but essentially it was functioning the same as if we just went direct as an artist to a distributor . That essentially ends up being the same thing , I think ,” Kish tells Canadian Musician about Digging Roots ’ arrangement prior to the creation of Ishkodé Records . “ I mean , it sort of helped us streamline our business model and , for us , making an imprint caused us to think about it a little bit differently . I think that maybe that ’ s true for many artists , when we start to recognize that any artist who ’ s independently releasing music really is their own label . But calling it that and naming it that really helped us focus in on , say , what ’ s the job of [ a label ] and how we wanted to service the work that we were doing . It steered us into a structure that I think was really helpful . And I think in terms of copyright and things , it simplified and streamlined some of the registration in a way that was helpful for us .”
On a business level , in addition of holding space and amplifying Indigenous voices , Kish says one of the central principles for Ishkodé Records was that contracts with artists should look like deals she ’ d want to sign . In fact , the contracts that Digging Roots and Rheaume have with their own label are identical to the deals signed by roster artists , which now includes Aysanabee and Morgan Toney .
“ I ’ m finding that project really exciting and challenging in ways that I hadn ’ t anticipated and easier in ways that I never would have expected . It ’ s been a big adventure … I think the pure administration of running a label at the level of Ishkodé , like the volume of work there , I think we really underestimated that part . It ’ s just a lot of work — a straight-up enormous amount if you want to do it right . And so , I think that human resources , like just having enough people on the team , is still a challenge for us . We could definitely use some more boots on the ground . But this is just part of the growing pains , I think ,” explains Kish . “ We needed to set up some financial systems , we needed to incorporate , and we needed to build a team . So , we hired a label manager and we have a publicist , and some in-house marketing and things like that are happening . Also , of course , an accountant , which is very important ,