It can be challenging for musicians looking for sustainability in the local scene, but one Saskatoon record label wants to help change this condition for the better — and they’re starting at a grassroots level.
Named The Sound and Silence Collective, the studio is still relatively new at only one year old. On Dec. 21, 2012, Josh Robinson, Duncan Pickard, and Muskwa LeRat graduated from the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon. With the addition of Nguyen Dinh, the group opened their record label to the Saskatoon musicians on a mid-January weekend in 2013. They’ve since grown into a pillar for the local scene.
“It’s been monumental,” Josh said. “When we initially started this off, our approach was to conceive of ourselves as a recording collective, mainly offering services that musicians can access readily, easily and for a fairly discounted fee.”
For many musicians, striving to get on a label is an ongoing pursuit. A label offers incentives for recording, but more importantly it offers a networking capability otherwise unavailable to most musicians. Where The Sounds and Silence Collective sets itself apart is by keeping things focused on the music.
“We can record a hundred projects and release them, but if you’re not touring or marketing them, no one is going to hear you” Pickard said. “When you start a band, you’re not thinking about the business side of the project, you’re really thinking ‘let’s write really awesome songs and do an awesome performance.’ We’re trying to bridge that gap.”
The company currently has eight artists under their label: The Wizards, The Faps, Jeans Boots, Alyssa Arnason, Pandas in Japan, Fern, Northern Lights, Wolfen Rabbits and Apollo Cruz. There are also a number of other projects involved in the label to some extent, including The Little Criminals. Each project is in varying stages of recording, with some planning to tour and film video releases.
The label is helping each of the bands network within their own capacity, forming somewhat of a community.
“The good thing about these more ancillary projects is that there are degrees of association across the board,” Robinson said. “The great thing about working with the musicians we are working with is that a lot of them are very interconnected. So you could be developing a project with Fern for example, while at the same time [Fern pianist and guitar player Rachel Effenn] is doing backup vocals for Melissa Gan’s project and vice versa.”
Through their collective experiences with the local music scene, all four producers constantly remind each other how important a devoted label can be to the musician.
According to Pickard, recording helps to tighten up a band’s live performances. Once an artist hits the studio they start expecting perfection from their work. And it’s a sentiment that Robinson agrees with.
“That initial release, even that four-song EP is huge,” he said. “A band can rise to mediocre local stardom with a solid EP”
The label had their one-year anniversary party Jan. 17 and 18. Between those two nights, they had an impressive 14 bands play as well as six after-party DJs. Most of the acts were associated with The Sound and Silence Collective and they managed to sell out Vangelis both nights. With the impressive lineup of local talent, this show marked one year of incredible growth for both the producers and signed bands associated with a label that started as just a concept.
“It began as something that was really very practical and tacitly orientated in terms of service offerings but after we released LSD by The Wizards, Dead Lake by The Faps and Zorg City by Jeans Boots, we began to realize that bands can benefit from more than just having their demo recorded,” Robinson said. “There’s room here for musicians to allow themselves to develop as a business, to begin to focus their futures and ask themselves ‘what’s sustainable; how can we make this sustainable; how can we conceive of ourselves as a business?’”
And sustainability appears to be the main mandate of the label so far. Robinson and Pickard reiterated that the prime focus of the label right now is to champion the problem of self-sustainability in the local music scene — to make it a viable pursuit for musicians to continue playing the music that they love.
“The good thing about where we are positioned in the city right now is that the community is [already] incredibly self-sustainable,” Robinson said. ‘It sustains itself by virtue of how many people are musical, and how many people love the music that’s being played locally. It’s just investing back into these musicians that makes it sustainable.”
Sustainability is an issue for bands in a market saturated with performers. Though there is an incredible wealth of musicians and music lovers in Saskatoon, it can be daunting for artists to draw an audience out to their show. A label becomes useful here in its ability to promote shows, album releases, tours and any of a performer’s other gigs.
Alyssa Arnason has been playing her medley of mellow folk music since she was 15 years old. Her recent milestone was hitting the studio for the first time after recording tapes and other personal tracks for years prior.
“It is really natural, but it is definitely different working with somebody who is trained to know what to look for and to know how to do it,” Arnason said of her experience at The Sound and Silence.
“I feel the Sound and Silence guys are there to back me up,” Arnason said. “It’s really nice to have that community.”
The people at The Sound and Silence “are passionate about music, and they just wanted to create this supportive crew,” Arnason said. “And they did it. They succeeded.”
Thomas Seibel and Aron Zacharias have been playing music together for years, though The Sound and Silence Collective was lucky enough to be the first label to sign them for the group’s first official release as The Wizards.
The group joined The Sounds and Silence in the early days, when it’s crew was still in school. One of the label’s members invited them to record with his student hours at the studio on campus and the band was excited to be able to put down a track.
“It seemed like good experience for us and good practice for them. It was the second time we got together. We did some vocal overdubs and some other stuff, but then it was like ‘alright, now we’re gonna do something really weird,’ and they were totally into it,” Seibel said. “So they put a couple more mics around the room and they let us go in there and just make sounds.”
Seibel said that the experience working with what would become The Sound and Silence was creatively freeing, and hit the right key for The Wizards.
“We thought that this was something we could probably put out and have some fun with,” Seibel said. “That’s when we knew it was true love.”
Zacharias added that the label is very supportive of the acts they bring onboard.
“They see the talent in town that can work with what their interest is,” he said. “If they like an artist then they’re going to help them expand, they’re going to give them free reign and see where it goes. They pick what they like, and they let it run wild.”
Blaire Colwell of The Faps joined The Sound and Silence Collective shortly after the label noticed them at a show.
“We played a couple shows at Beaumont when it was in The Underground [Cafe], and the Sound and Silence guys caught us there because we were playing with The Wizards.” Colwell said. The Faps went on to record their first EP with The Sound and Silence, who helped the group find financing.
As for the creative process, Colwell said that the label’s eclectic taste helps them to attract differing styles of artists.
“Like minds tend to attract each other, and the Sound and Silence guys are obviously all into different styles of music,” she said.
Above everything else, The Sound and Silence Collective is looking to bolster the Saskatoon music scene.
“It’s all about the local helping out the local,” Robinson and Pickard agreed.
Musicians and fans alike looking for more information on The Sound and Silence Collective, as well as information on the labels signed artists — including tour dates, release dates and upcoming shows — can check out The Sound and Silence Collective Facebook page.