This fall MacEwan is not only opening the doors to the new black-windowed, five-story Centre for Arts and Culture building, but also Canada’s only active university-run record label, Bent River Records.
The label, located in the new facility, will be run by MacEwan’s Head of Recording in the Department of Music, Paul Johnston, as well as the Chair of Arts and Culture Management, Rose Ginther.
Supporting Johnston and Ginther is a team of six research assistants made up of students and alumni.
“They will be involved in pretty much every aspect of the projects, whether it’s working on the recording and engineering with me, observing, or the designing,” Johnston says.
The idea for a university-centered record label began after Johnston began teaching at MacEwan and saw an opportunity to not only benefit musicians, but students looking to jump into the industry.
“Being part of the faculty and a producer and engineer in the music industry, I see that once a creative person produces a project they kind move on to the next thing,” he says. “It’s sad that the music doesn’t get as much attention or promotion as it deserves, so I saw that the big hole there could be filled with a label.”
His goal with Bent River is much bigger than the label itself. He wants to create the possibility of not only building a stronger local music community, but a national one.
“I’m trying to foster more cultural bridges between cities to build this musical community,” Johnston explains. “We’re so isolated with the music in our own cities, so it can be difficult for artists to get the coverage they deserve nationally or globally. I don’t want to compete with other studios, but create collaboration between them for the students.”
Johnston also believes it is the responsibility of universities to not only teach about the current music industry, but also aid in the creation its future.
“The model is broken so I universally see universities becoming more globally involved in music creation in the way that has already been happening over time,” Johnston says. “The majority of international names in jazz are affiliated with a university.”
Currently, the label has worked on projects with locals Mallory Chipman and Obsessions Octet, as well as the Montreal based Acid Bunny and Jean-Nicolas Trottier Trio. Though these artists are primarily jazz, Johnston wants to make it clear the label is open to any genre in the near future.
“I want the label to be representative of the music of interest to our students, but also everyone else,” he says of upcoming projects. “Jazz was an easy place to start because of the demand, but our plan in the immediate future is to produce a project that isn’t jazz.”
One of the most appealing aspects for musicians is the fact that, unlike most big time labels, Bent River Records does not go after an artist’s intellectual property or tie them up with publishing contracts.
“We don’t want any ownership of anyone’s compositions. That’s the artist’s creative property,” Johnston says.
“We’re really small and looking to do only three records a year, so if artists don’t want to wait to make another one then we don’t want to hold them back with legal bonds.”
This element was important to local contemporary jazz songstress Chipman when she decided to release her first full-length album Nocturnalize with Bent River last November.
“Bent River is an institution built for artists,” Chipman explains. “They told me right from the beginning that all of the music on Nocturnalize is mine. So right away I felt safe. They sign the album rather than the artist so I get choose for future projects.”
Even though Bent River is in its conception stage, Johnston is already looking to the future.
“I think of labels as a 360 turn key. I dream big but if we got up to doing five to ten records a year that were getting national recognition, I think it will be great for the music community,” Johnston says.
“If we’re successful, and I believe we will be, maybe other universities will catch on and follow suit. That would help build an industry that’s a bit more healthy than our current one.”
Thur., Apr. 6 (7 pm)
Bent River Records Launch Party
John L. Harr Theatre, Free