Written by Mitchell Petty
For the past ten years or so, the indie music scene in Toronto has been constructed much like a family and the business entity that came to represent that family is Arts & Crafts Records. Arts & Crafts—commonly referred to as A & C Records—describe themselves as an “independent artist services company, offering expertise as an independent record label, management firm, merchandiser, and music publisher both in Canada and internationally.”
Since their formation in 2002, A & C artists have won 15 JUNO Awards, which are chosen by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. More notably from the label’s perspective, A & C was honored with the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Award for Independent Label of the Year in both 2008 and 2009.
So how did this upstart label become so influential and well-respected? Let’s start from the beginning.
In 2002, founding members of the label’s flagship band, Broken Social Scene, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning sought out other members of Toronto’s burgeoning indie scene to score the songs that they were writing, which ultimately led to the band consisting of 12 members and releasing a highly acclaimed album entitled, You Forgot It In People.
This caught the ear of Drew’s friend, Jeffrey Remedios, who was working at Virgin Records Canada at the time. Remedios recalls, “I heard it and I was like, ‘I’m on board. I don’t quite know what that means yet, but I’m in.’” It meant that Remedios would become compelled to quit his current position at Virgin and team up with Drew of Broken Social Scene (BSS) to manage this newly attuned supergroup and release You Forgot It In People.
The success of the label’s first release allowed them to put out subsequent recordings by members of BSS. Most notable of these artists include Feist, Stars, Apostle of Hustle and Jason Collett. Below are a few videos that A & C hosts on their Web site and YouTube channel of the artists that helped them get their jump-start.
There ended up being several positive outcomes of this family-tree type label structure. Firstly, A & C became a full-service company by offering management services, merchandising through GalleryAC.com, publishing through GalleryAC Music, in addition to distribution in Canada through EMI Music Canada and in the U.S. through Caroline Distribution.
Secondly, the label was able to gain a strong fan base, as their recordings shared a common aesthetic, both through the music and the overall appearance and feel of their releases. Finally, the label functions as a community where things happen organically and harmoniously, with little interference on artists’ creative freedoms.
In 2005, A & C began making changes and innovations that really put them on the map as an influential, forward-moving company. In August of ’05, A & C launched GalleryAC.com, a boutique online store that was more than a year-and-a-half in the making.
Besides being one of the first labels to operate their own digital store, A & C offers multiple-tiered pricing for different packages of each release, deals such as free EPs with ticket purchases, and merchandise bundles. Additionally, their store sells releases by other labels from the surrounding Toronto area as well. These unique qualities can all be seen in the snippet from the Web site pictured below.
In 2007, A & C once again laid new ground for independent labels by making an effort to combat a leak of Stars’ much-anticipated release, In Our Bedroom After the War. Only three days after the album’s completion, it was realized that the album was already illegally leaked.
So, the label went ahead and released the album digitally, where it sold 12,000 digital copies in the first week, although it could be found for free and wasn’t scheduled to release for another two-and-a-half months. Accordingly, A & C decided to “beef up” the physical release by including a DVD documentary with the CD. Granted, these practices were not necessarily what the label and band had planned, but they were forced to make a decision, and did so much more quickly and effectively than could have been done through a major record label.
In 2008, A & C once again made steps to grow—this time internationally. First, they signed British pop-rockers, Los Campesinos!, and Grammy-winning French act, Phoenix. Next, they opened a satellite office in Mexico City, where they distribute and market their label’s acts in addition to such acts as Spoon, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Metric, Bright Eyes and M. Ward, making them the first independent music company to focus efforts on marketing indie music in Mexico.
Recently, A & C has continued the trend of connecting with their tribe of fans by competing with free, offering free streams and downloads in exchange for e-mail addresses, as are exemplified below. Accordingly, in other efforts to market directly to fans, A & C provides links on all of their YouTube channel’s videos, making sure that the prospective fan is always presented with the opportunity to purchase.
Without a doubt, since their inception, A & C has continually paved the way for contemporary independent labels to follow. In 2009, Remedios was named as one of the nine insiders who are reshaping the business for the future by Rolling Stone Magazine. His leadership and their constant involvement and interest in their products and services will continue to keep this label on the forefront of the increasingly trend-influenced industry and in good relations with their current and prospective fans.
Braiker, Brian. “How to Save Rock & Roll.” Rolling Stone. 6 Jan. 2009: Print.
Griffith, Megan. “Critical Mass.” Re:Porter. Spring 2009: 43-45. Print.
Martens, Todd. “Arts & Crafts Opens Web Shop.” Billboard. 17 Sep. 2005: 18. Print.
Thompson, Robert. “Seeing Stars.” Billboard. 22 Sep. 2007: 68-69. Print.