Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 | Page 46

and a music lawyer . So , we made sure that as we were going through all of these things that we were dotting our I ’ s and crossing our T ’ s . We also went through a real process of speaking with elders and consulted with the community , and also consulting with our peers , about what a record label could and should look like in our Indigenous community . Maybe all folks don ’ t see that as important , but I actually think that was one of the most valuable parts of what we did . It is really taking time to consult with the knowledge-keepers in our space , both music and community wise . And so , I think what came out of that t in terms of articulating it in a plan , it ’ s much richer for having taken the time .”
The creation story of Ishkodé Records is very different than Royal Mountain Records . Whereas Kish and Rheaume set out to create a full-service label based on their previous experiences as independent artists , Menno Versteeg happily laughs about the bumbling , make-it-up-as-you-go origins of Royal Mountain . Really , it was only meant to be an outlet for releasing music by his former band , Hollerado . Despite that , through the undeniable strength of its artist roster ( Alvvays , Orville Peck , Mac Demarco , PUP , Metz , Dizzy , etc .), Royal Mountain has grown into a very influential indie label .
“ It ’ s funny , when I started this one , I had no idea what it meant either !” laughs Versteeg when asked when it means to start a label . “ Basically , I ’ ve been in punk bands my whole life . As a teenager I was touring around and it was such a staunchly DIY scene that I came from where you just do everything yourself . It ’ s kind of like , to sign to any label , even a shitty punk label , was not what you did ; you just do it yourself . So , you just learned how to handle your own stuff and you learn about finding the money to do something , and that things cost money , and you try to keep things cheap . The way you do that is you do your own PR by calling up the people who run the zines . You know , it ’ s a small thing and you know the person because they come to shows and none of its real , no one makes any money , but you kind of get your practice .”
When Hollerado won a battle of the bands contest in 2009 , they were awarded $ 250,000 , which Versteeg calls an “ absolutely absurd ” amount for winning a “ ridiculous ” contest . “ We had such indie-rocker-with-money guilt that we went through all these parties at places like South by Southwest , and we had all our friends play and we would give away free booze and nachos for three days , and we ’ d pay all our friends ’ bands way too much money . We just tore through it but I have no regrets ,” he says .
Nonetheless , that money also helped launch their own label . Initially that meant just releasing records by Hollerado and some of their less successful friends . But a chance meeting with Molly Rankin led to Royal Mountain signing Alvvays
and releasing their instant-classic debut album . This necessitated they form business partnerships with other labels , like a distribution deal with Arts & Crafts , as well as international label deals for Alvvays with Polyvinyl Records and Transgressive Records .
“ Because of Alvvays , we got to work with two of the best indie labels in the world , who we still work with to this day on things . There ’ s nothing like learning from someone who actually knows what they ’ re doing . It was the best move we ever did and I made sure we talked to those people nearly every day and we really figured it out what made it work . Obviously , you can ’ t just suck in all the knowledge at once , but just learning from them was totally indispensable for the growth of Royal Mountain ,” says Versteeg .
In talking to Versteeg about the creation of Royal Mountain , and the pros and cons for indie artists of starting their own label versus signing to a label , he is refreshingly upfront about what his label can and can ’ t do for artists . Recalling what Joanne Setterington said earlier about Canadian artists having a major advantage because of the generous grants available , Versteeg jumps in , saying , “ That ’ s 100 % it ! No joke , over the years , I ’ ve talked a couple bands out of signing with us . Like Alvvays , just now , they ’ re doing their own record label for their third album . Like , of course they are ! They don ’ t need us anymore . What we can bring to the table is mentorship and contacts and exposure – I hate that word – but we wouldn ’ t really bring much to the table for a band like that right now , especially with the grants that they have access to . A Canadian band wanting to do a third record with us ; really , by then they should be able to do it on their own .”
When it comes down to it , though , Versteeg says it ’ s about the amount of work an artist wants to put into their career in order to achieve their goals and reap the rewards .
“ It ’ s about the work ethic that people want to put into it . Are they down to manage themselves ? Are they down to do their own marketing plans ? Also , do they know people who could help them ? Do they have some internet groundswell already ?