Ten things I’ve learned from working for an indie Canadian Hip-Hop label

Shout-out to Camobear Records and Josh Martinez. Still killing it. Go buy their music and keep them in Coke and Ketchup Chips.

  1. You have to have a sense of humour if you are a rapper in Canada. Because you are a rapper. In Canada.
  2. Halifax (and Nova Scotia more generally) is actually a hip-hop incubator, and a ton of really talented Nova Scotians have gone on to be very successful (Buck 65/Rich Terfry, Josh Martinez, Classified). Most of their songs are about boating or fish, but still…
  3. You live and die by grants when you are an independent musician or label in Canada. Learning how to write grants, how to create budgets, and how to hustle is key. I say how to hustle, because you have to get to know the people behind the grants who may come in handy when you’re running down Cordova Street at 4:55 PM with an application due that day in your hand.
  4. When you are used to working with nothing, it is overwhelming to work when you actually have money. Either you will be frugal with the money you have, and try to make it last for as long as it can…or you will mismanage it and spend frivolously because you can.
  5. Jews can rap. Really. We can.
  6. It’s frustrating when you know that you have a really good record, but you just don’t have the marketing push to make that record as successful as it should be. Camobear has the best back catalogue that you’ve never heard of. How many other indie labels are in the exact same position? It makes me think maybe you just want to focus on one really great record, and save your pennies until you have the money to market the hell out of it. But how do you make money if you don’t have a record to tour, sell, or promote? Blergh.
  7. Getting a grant is great! But then you actually have to do all those things. If you get a grant to travel to a music conference, you actually have to travel to that music conference. And they only pay you once you’ve gone and have the receipts to prove it. It’s great…but it can be a lot of front-end expense before you see the pay-out. The moral of the story is, don’t apply for a grant for something that you aren’t prepared (and have the money) to do anyway.
  8. I love indie merch, because it’s always so random. It’s whatever you can get a cheap logo or image on. Lip gloss? Sure! Underwear with a rapper’s face on the crotch? Why not! Once you start making and selling merch, you always end up with a ton of women’s XL and men’s S t-shirts sitting around the warehouse/basement/living room in cardboard boxes.
  9. Business meetings are generally held in bars or on patios. The next time you walk by a patio or bar around 3-7 PM in Kensington Market (Toronto) or on Main St (Vancouver), I guarantee you that at least one of the tables will be a band or a record label planning their next release. And the bartender and wait staff will also all be in bands (or actors/comedians).
  10. Small organizations can move quickly and take advantage of trends faster than larger organizations. Large companies benefit from keeping their ears to the ground and watching the moves of those smaller companies that have their act together.

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