Bent River Records: Canada's only university-run label

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Bent River Records: Canada's only university-run label

Postby jon » Wed Apr 05, 2017 3:20 pm

Unique new Edmonton record label: both school and promoter
Fish Griwkowsky
Edmonton Journal
Published on: April 5, 2017
Last Updated: April 5, 2017 11:14 AM MDT

The only university-run record label in Canada, Bent River Records, is launching in Edmonton with a free jazz concert Thursday.

A MacEwan University initiative, Bent River’s launch will be the last performance at the old west-end campus’s theatre — the operation is moving to the university’s shiny new Centre for Arts and Culture’s 104 Avenue hub in the fall.

Mallory Chipman, Kent Sangster’s Obsessions Octet and Montreal’s Acid Bunny — the label’s first three signed acts — will close down John L. Haar Theatre under the MacEwan banner starting at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The label is both a response to musicians — especially in the jazz world — facing increasing difficulty getting signed, as well as a chance for MacEwan music students to witness and help with the recording process.

It’s also an opportunity to build bridges outside the city, like Acid Bunny, and runs with a growing trend for jazz artists to be associated with a specific university.

As musician, engineer, label co-founder and MacEwan’s head of recording Paul Johnston puts it, “Because there’s no money being generated, it’s very hard for a label to support an artist. It sets an interesting tone for artists making music — how are they going to make money when they get out?”

Q: Can you talk about the modern reality for musicians as you see it, why you wanted to start this?

A: I’m a jazz musician, I moved from Montreal. I’ve produced a lot of jazz records and the industry is moving more and more toward independent releases. I see MacEwan as having programs in arts and cultural management, design, fine art, communications — all the necessary parts of a record label.

Q: And can you describe how this works — is this sort of like going to the dentist at the University of Alberta where you get students poking around in your mouth?

A: I’ve had dental work at the Jewish General in Montreal, same kind of thing. It’s not quite like that. Students are involved in the recording process — I do some of it in classes with students, and outside studios as well. But it’s more a great learning environment, where they see how a project gets made. They’re involved in production, but we’re a team. Me and Rose Ginther, chair of arts and culture management, and a team of six research assistants. We’ve hired some people to help with design, as well.

Q: What do the researchers do?

A: A lot of the six were students when we started the project. Part of the research is figuring out what we’re actually doing. How can this work in an academic institution? The goal is to be beneficial to artists, who get things done in a way that is top of the line professional at a slightly lower cost, while the students get to see how it’s all done. We talked to artists nationally and internationally I know and asked them, if they’re on a label, “What are the advantages and disadvantages?” One of the primary complaints is about intellectual property — and as a university label we’re not touching anybody’s publishing rights.

Q: How do you get on the label?

A: Our mandate for now is to do three to five records a year. Right now we have the three artists who are playing the concert. Before moving here I was doing 30 records a year as engineer, and that’s ongoing. Mallory and Kent and I negotiated certain things, what would be mutually beneficial? I’d worked with Acid Bunny many times, and we invited them as artists, do a little teaching, do the record here, and do the launch. For the moment, it’s all jazz, but we want to be broader, as well, an art-music label.

Q: There are a lot of labels who don’t get involved with that nuts and bolts production business at all — the band goes off and makes an album, brings it to the label, and the label sends out a bunch of press releases, maybe helps pull a video together. You’re on the back end, creating the music.

A: You put it better than I could. It’s the old model where we’re hoping to be 360 degrees — we will help with promotion, the whole thing. That’s the goal.


Bent River Records Launch Party

Where: John L. Haar Theatre, 10045 155 St.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: free, register on Eventbrite
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