A look at the business of music
In the past, record executives paved the path to rock ‘n’ roll glory with big-name record deals.
But, two of Calgary’s most prominent bands are unsigned and independently run.
Black Phoenix Orchestra (BPO) is one of these bands.
BPO and frontman Darren McDade made headlines last year when they won $25,000 as part of the X92.9 Xposure contest.
Winning that kind of prize might seem like hitting the big time and a ticket to hiring a massive production staff, but the business of BPO is still run in-house.
“Calgary is full of talented people who can really make a difference in a band’s career, but we haven’t found one yet that will be a part of us through thick and thin,” says McDade. “To find someone willing to put their name on it is hard.”
McDade says that BPO has had issues with hiring people to help with the business side of their music. A few years ago, he says those issues led to the band not getting to play at a music festival.
Since then, McDade has been in charge of all things business.
Nevertheless, the lure of hired help can be hard to resist, especially when it comes in the form of a record label willing to foot the bill for a struggling band’s expenses.
Peeling off the labels
Becoming a signed act comes with its own set of issues.
That’s something that Danny Vacon, frontman for Calgary’s hometown rock and roll heroes, The Dudes, knows all too well.
The band was signed to Calgary label Load Music for two albums, “Brain Heart Guitar” and “Blood Guts Bruises Cuts”, before taking back the reins and dropping the label for their latest release, “Barbers, Thieves and Bartenders.”
Photo by Ryan Rumbolt
“It was good and bad for us,” says Vacon about his time with the label. “It opened up some doors and it paid for some better recordings, but eventually they just mismanaged us and we lost a lot of opportunities.”
Vacon says that the label had aspirations of turning The Dudes into an overnight success, and the band had to turn down many shows that the label deemed low profile.
As a result, he says The Dudes missed opportunities to get their name out to a larger fan base — the opposite of what getting signed is supposed to do.
Now, The Dudes are once again in control of their musical destiny.
They still keep a small team for distribution and bookings, but Vacon says that running things in more of a DIY fashion has let them grow momentum faster and allowed them to play the kind of shows they want to play.
The label did not comment on the split, as repeated messages were not returned by press time.
BPO are in a similar situation, even if it’s not ideal for the band.
McDade says that he would much rather focus on the music and have someone else run the business side of things, but won’t give up control if it means taking the band in the wrong direction.
Taking care of business
That desire for control can even be seen among big-name bands, with groups such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails releasing albums independently using the Internet.
So, if signed bands are going the DIY route, then it stands to reason that DIY bands are doing something right — even if it may be risky.
But, according to one of Calgary’s mainstay musical acts, if the music comes first, the business will find a way to take care of itself.
“A lot of times (bands) focus too much on the business of it all when the most important business is what you do with your pals in the basements,” says Vacon. “You got to work, work, work — but make sure you’re having a blast so it doesn’t seem like that. If you can do that, then all that other stuff is going to fall right into your lap.”