Sonic Unyon has picked up a major acquisition: the co-founder of iTunes Canada.

Lane Dunlop joined the local record label last month after almost a decade with iTunes. He was on the ground floor when the now-monolithic music service first expanded into Canada back in 2004.

"It was crazy at the start," Dunlop told CBC Hamilton. "I was the only person in Canada."

'The passion of the arts community here is unparalleled. The city is actually gorgeous, but nobody sees that.' —Lane Dunlop, Sonic Unyon

And if anyone thinks the position was glamorous at the start, you're way off. Mostly, it consisted of Dunlop and one other person locked in a room for 20 hours a day, six days a week, setting up the service. Because of Apple's stringent privacy procedures, they weren't even allowed to tell anyone what they were doing.

"At that time, digital music wasn't a sure thing," Dunlop said. "You look back at the numbers and sort of laugh because it was such a small part of the marketplace."

Now it's 60 per cent of all music sales in Canada. The industry's landscape has changed plenty — lots of record stores have closed because of the digital medium, Dunlop says.

"iTunes kind of fills that hole. Or caused the hole and then filled it."

'I was so sick of George Bush'

Dunlop is from Saskatoon, but has also lived in Vancouver and New York. He moved to Hamilton in 2004 when his wife got a job at McMaster. "Saskatoon is kind of the Prairie equivalent to Hamilton — an underappreciated city with great culture."

But he didn't always have that sunny outlook. When Dunlop first got word that he'd be moving to Hamilton, his response was a hearty "Oh god, please no." Like many, his only experience with Hamilton was driving past it on the QEW and seeing smokestacks billowing into the Ontario skyline.

"But the city just slowly won me over," he said. "The passion of the arts community here is unparalleled. The city is actually gorgeous, but nobody sees that."

Plus, come 2004, he was about ready to get out of the U.S. "I was just so, so sick of George Bush."

'I didn't drink the Kool-Aid'

Dunlop's position at Sonic Unyon is a little nebulous. "I don't think anyone here has titles," he said. But he is, at the very least, now a co-owner with Tim Potocic and Mark Milne, who have been running the label for years. Potocic says he and Dunlop have been friends for years, and talking about working together for a long time.

"It seemed like a natural fit," Potocic said. "He has a wealth of knowledge that I've yet to tap — mostly social media knowledge that we don't have."

Dunlop agrees. "I probably have more digital music experience than anyone in Canada that isn't working at iTunes right now," he said.

But he's also quick to dissuade the notion that he's an "Apple fanboy."

"No way," he said. "I wasn't brainwashed. I didn't drink the Kool-Aid."

"But that said, a lot of what Steve Jobs said made sense," Dunlop said, like the former Apple head's innovative designs and attention to detail. "You can take that and apply it to a company of any size."

He never did get to meet Jobs during his tenure at Apple — but did sit across from him in the cafeteria. "The legend was that you don't go talk to Steve on the Apple campus," he said. "Look from afar and don't touch."

Building Supercrawl

On top of bolstering Sonic Unyon's social media presence, Dunlop has been turning most of his attention to Supercrawl — the downtown music festival running from Sept. 13 to 14.

"Supercrawl is the crown jewel of what's going on right now," Dunlop said. This year, the festival is expanding onto the waterfront and features names like Diamond Rings and Yo La Tengo. The guys at Sonic Unyon also plan to announce one other headline act by mid-July, but are staying mum on just who that is for now.

Dunlop has been hard at work on the festival, and is bringing a whole other level of expertise with him, Potocic says.

"It's definitely a new world for the label," he said.

"Change is good."


  • Correction: This story originally listed Sean Palmerston as a co-owner of Sonic Unyon records instead of Mark Milne, alongside Tim Potocic and Lane Dunlop.
    Jul 13, 2013 11:43 AM ET