October 4, 2009 / 11:42 PM / in 9 years

Canada music labels combine to take on U.S. market

TORONTO (Billboard) - Several Canadian indie labels have formed a new label services company, Rock Steady, which aims to help independent artists crack the American market.

Emily Haines, the singer of Metric, performs on the main stage at the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park in London June 23, 2006.

The brainchild of Toronto-based Last Gang Records founder Chris Taylor, Rock Steady is headquartered in Los Angeles and offers marketing, PR, sales and radio promotion services under one roof, although labels need their own U.S. distribution.

The other partners in the company are Hamilton, Ontario-based Sonic Unyon Records and Toronto-based labels Dine Alone Records, Paper Bag Records and Underground Operations.

“Label services is the future,” says Last Gang VP Trevor Guy, who helped set up Rock Steady. “For any one of the partners, the costs of setting up on their own would be prohibitive. But partnering allows us to make that work.”

Rock Steady also hopes to sign up labels from outside North America.

The Ontario Media Development Corp. (OMDC) — a provincial government agency that supports Ontario’s cultural and artistic businesses — provided initial funding of $301,000 Canadian ($275,000). The five labels contributed a total of $100,000 Canadian ($91,000), with Last Gang — home to Crystal Castles and Metric — serving as the primary partner, although it’s not in a controlling position.

Rock Steady, which employs four staffers, underwent a soft launch in August and is working current releases from the five partners, including Silver Starling’s self-titled debut (Last Gang) and the Ghost Is Dancing’s “Battles On” (Sonic Unyon).

Previously, Dine Alone — home to bands including Alexisonfire and Bedouin Soundclash — would either sign bands for Canada only or license its albums to U.S. labels, according to founder Joel Carriere. But now the label can enter the U.S. market in its own right.

“It gives us a much stronger presence in America and really boosts our prospects,” he says.

Not everyone is sure Rock Steady will succeed where World’s Fair failed. Grant Dexter, chief executive of Canada’s MapleCore music group, which operates MapleMusic Recordings, says he considered partnering on the project before backing away.

“It is a great idea,” he says, “but I also feel it is basically unsustainable without more government funding,” citing the high cost of covering the U.S. market.

Taylor says Rock Steady can apply for more OMDC money if necessary, but he’s confident it won’t have to.

Editing by DGoodman at Reuters

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