In era of streaming music, indie record labels focus on building community

As album sales become less important, the role of record labels now includes writing grants, holding festivals and hosting podcasts.

As album sales become less important, the role of labels now includes writing grants, holding festivals

Britt Meierhofer (left) on-stage at the Good Egg Records launch party in Prince George, B.C., alongside Amy Blanding, Brin Porter and Naomi Kavka. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

When JP Lancaster launched a record label at the beginning of 2017, he thought his main focus would be recording and releasing albums for the artists he signed in Kamloops, B.C.

However, he soon realized his job would be a lot broader.

"I had to build the community," he said. 

Under the name Factotum Cassettes and Oddities, Lancaster has become something of an all-around manager for the bands on his labels, organizing shows and tours as well as recordings.

"It's essentially kind of building your audience from the ground up," he explained, saying he hopes he'll one day have the funds to open up a venue more conducive to the sorts of acts he has signed.

Lancaster's experience is one shared by independent record labels across the country, who are readjusting their roles in an era where more and more listening is online through digital downloads and streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

"A lot has changed," said Ryan Dyck, who ran his own Hockey Dad record label for decade before becoming manager of Vancouver's Mint Records in 2017.

"It's more about a community than just a company that puts your stuff on the internet."

Seal of approval

Dyck said now that listeners have access to a near-unlimited catalogue of music from around the world, a record label can help boost the profile of artists hoping to attract new ears.

That recognition is one reason Britt Meierhofer is launching Good Egg Records in Prince George, B.C.

Meierhofer, a former campus radio station music director, said even a small label with a good reputation can help new artists stand out.

Good Egg Records in Prince George, B.C. is not a money-making enterprise says founder Britt Meierhofer. Instead, she hopes it will help grow the profile of local artists in the city and across Canada. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"It kind of elevates your visibility," she said. "It's easy [for artists] to get lost in the mix."

She also hopes to build institutional knowledge within the label for artists to share tips on setting up tours or accessing funding grants to make videos and record albums.

Collaborative experience

With that in mind, any artist who joins Good Egg is expected to take on a role in helping run things behind-the-scenes, an attitude that James Lindsey of Toronto's Pleasence Records says is increasingly important.

"We're looking for hard-working people," he said of the label, which he co-founded in 2010. 

"We [the label] essentially become extra members of the band... We make decisions together, we book things together, everyone has to be on the same page."

Pleasence is also experimenting with other ways of generating interest and sources of revenue for the musicians on their roster.

Earlier this year the label held a festival showcasing its acts, and it recently launched a podcast interviewing artists about the changing music industry. A monthly subscription service, where fans pay a regular fee to support Pleasence in exchange for albums, is in the works.

But Lindsey said it can be challenging to keep things afloat.

"There's not a ton of people getting rich off music anymore," he said.

Dyck agreed. 

"If you're doing it to get rich, that's probably a bad idea," he said.

"But if you're doing it because you like the music you're putting out, it's a great idea." 

For both Lancaster and Meierhofer, the main goal is growing the visibility of their local music scenes.

"It's definitely a labour of love," Meierhofer said. "It's just growing the arts and culture scene."

To hear more, click on the audio titled 'In an era of streaming music, what are record labels for?'

With the launch of Good Egg Records in Prince George, the CBC's Andrew Kurjata examines the changing role of indie labels which now focus on building community, promoting live shows and helping raise funds through grants and crowd-sourced campaigns. 8:26

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.