Canadian Music Labels Going Virtual During Pandemic Blues
More than ever, online platforms are crucial, not just to push out new music and promote the old, but to build on relationships with fans, as well as media through chats, streaming performances, even their own interview shows.
By Karen Bliss
Nettwerk’s Terry McBride is manning the phones at reception. Last Gang/eOne Music’s Chris Moncada likes the coffee better at home and is prepared for kids to interrupt video calls, Linus Entertainment’s Geoff Kulawick leaves his video chat open all day so staff can reach him, and Slaight Music’s Derrick Ross gets a kick out of changing the backgrounds on Zoom. This is business in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
More than ever, online platforms are crucial, not just to push out new music and promote the old, but to build on relationships with fans, as well as media through chats, streaming performances, even their own interview shows. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, labels are having virtual meetings to adjust to this new normal and generate revenue.
FYI Music News reached out to Canadian indie labels across the country to find out how they are navigating business during Covid-19, sharing insights and strategies while acknowledging that it’s just too early to tell what is working and how this will play out. A few declined to comment. Below, in alphabetical order, are the ones that didn’t:
Staff who are engaged in marketing, business affairs, accounting, project management are able to do their jobs from their residences, says president Jonathan Simkin, but another side of 604’s business, the soundstage and recording studios “has come to a crashing halt.” But, for the most part, “it’s business as usual,” he says, adding, “Thank goodness for Zoom.”
He says, “We have revenue that comes in from many different sources and some of these we anticipate will remain relatively unaffected.”
Simkin is also proud of how his staff has adapted to virtual teamwork. “People are really trying to help each other and the commitment to our artists.” Social distancing has made the creation of 604’s content — often whipped off in their facility — difficult, but the label has “all sorts of great content in the can,” such as new music and videos, he estimates could last three or four months.
Watching the impact of the self-isolation on streaming numbers in the first couple of weeks, he was initially surprised they appeared to have gone down. “If everybody’s locked in their homes, you would think they would be doing more streaming, but most people were not at home in a relaxed state looking to discover new music. Most were worried about their jobs, their families, their future, their mortgage, and so forth.
“But, I think, as we settle into this new, hopefully temporary, reality, the panic will transition into boredom, and that will lead people back into music streaming. But it’s so hard to know how this is affecting other areas.”
Cadence Music Group
“Things are changing so quickly each day,” says CEO/president Iain Taylor. “Our team is working hard at home taking advantage of Zoom meetings and connecting by Slack. We’re doing our best to support our artists and their upcoming releases. We’ve had to navigate changes to our physical releases, but are still pushing forward with our digital strategies.” Among them is the heavy use of Instagram Live. “There’s a lot to navigate each day, and it feels weird to be doing it all remotely,” adds Taylor. “The best news is that music is still being released and, thanks to the hard work of our team and partners, we’re able to continue get our artists' music directly to fans.”
Dine Alone Records
Much of the label’s concerns are similar to others: the halting of tours and physical product necessitating a shift in focus and brainstorming new ways to market, however, label owner Joel Carriere notes the important balance of “what we can do to continue bringing our artists to the forefront and making revenue for the company, while also understanding and being empathetic to what's happening in the world and how it’s affecting all of us. Many people are not in a position to spend money on non-essentials, especially those out of work.”
Dine Alone has adjusted plans around re-issues, re-presses and releases that were planned primarily as promotional tools for tours, but with stay-at-home mandates, “Live streaming and self-created content is great as a short-term solution, but when looking at a worldwide release, it simply isn't enough,” he says. “Not being able to create formal or professional content directly hinders the ability to market a new record.” Hence, “some releases are moving to later in the year, with the hopes the industry will be back to somewhat ‘normal’ and artists will be able to support releases with touring, video shoots, in-person promo opportunities, etcetera.”
Last Gang/eOne Music
“It’s really too early to tell what the extent of the damage to the streaming business will be,” says ChrisMoncada, SVP, alternative/GM. “Obviously, losing the commute listener or the gym listener is going to hurt us. We will have a better idea in the coming weeks on the full extent of any changes. The most obvious victim is what is left of the physical business.” Working at home, where “the coffee is better” and “kids make the occasional special appearance on video calls,” he is finding that running a 15-person marketing meeting online “brings out the creativity in people.”
While eOne is rushing out some children’s content because kids are at home, and pushing other records to later in the year, when artists can support it with tours, he adds, “We’re doubling down with our eOne film and TV division, getting as much new music in front of them as possible for in-house synch opportunities while the whole world is at home streaming video.”
He says, “We’re moving budgets around. Money that was maybe allocated for outdoor advertising is being moved into the digital space and spent on ideas that we may have deemed too expensive or risky in years past. It’s forcing us out of our comfort zone a little, which is a little exciting.”
Linus Entertainment & Associated Labels
President Geoff Kulawick has daily video conferencing with his staff, who are all working remotely except for “rotating individuals” at the office on different days to handle receiving and payables, and other admin. “I have a video conference room open at all times for staff to reach me at any given time,” he says. With physical sales “dropped to virtually nil,” he is “re-tasking employees dealing with physical sales and logistics to alternate projects.” He says he’ll know how Covid-19 has affected digital sales “in a month or so.”
Label manager Ryan Dyck says, “Right now, things are changing so fast that we're mostly just waiting for some dust to settle before re-booking everything that was supposed to happen over the spring/summer. I can't really add much at the moment. Looking forward to seeing this article though, as I'm curious how everybody is handling things.”
Nettwerk Music Group
Like a captain of a ship, CEO Terry McBride is in the office handling all in-coming calls to reception, while his staff is working from home. Asked what has changed in terms of how they are doing business since the Covid-19 outbreak and he answers with just one word: “Everything.” Always a forward-thinking innovative company, he does acknowledge,
“We were already pretty good at working remotely, just not to this extent.” The artists that rely on releases to drive live touring have been impacted the most from the global shuttering and Nettwerk is doing its best to keep the artists in the public eye via Instagram, Facebook, “all the usual, but pretty hard to penetrate the covid wall of fear,” McBride says. His outlook is grim: “All physical income to zero, all live management income to zero. We expect to see film and TV impacted in the next 90 days.”
The staff is working from home, and staying in touch with daily calls, reports president Derrick Ross. “Zoom is pretty cool and you can create your own backgrounds,” he says, half-joking about what he’s learned the past few weeks since the stay-at-home orders. “We are continuing to move ahead with release plans,” he says of digital EPs, scheduled between now and June, and related servicing to radio. What has changed “for the time being,” he says, are new recordings.
“Opportunities that were available before Covid-19 have slowed down, due to our partners being affected with production etcetera.” But Slaight artists are very active on their socials, producing plenty of content before Covid-19. Now, they all have to learn “how an artist can create their own content from home that’s relative to what’s happening today and still promote the music they are releasing,” Ross says. All the signings are live streaming performances.