Published Dec 01, 2004Mark Milne started Sonic Unyon Records in his parents' basement in Hamilton 12 years ago with his Tristan Psionic band-mates Sandy McIntosh and Tim Potocic. As a label, SU put out albums before expanding into the realm of record distribution. SU now distributes titles from over 250 different labels and is regarded as one of the most credible companies in the industry.
What is Sonic Unyon?
It's a record company and record distribution company. There's also a store in our building but that's kind of a sideline. We were a label first and realised early on that we had to create demand for the records before anyone would pay attention to us. When we started touring, we made a point of going into as many record stores as we could to meet people who worked there and establish relationships. Though we weren't really aware of it, all that groundwork started the base of our distribution company. As that grew, we thought we could distribute records by other companies too.
What exactly do you do for these labels?
Our entire catalogue is available online and we encourage our retail customers especially the indies to check there. We send a weekly update of new releases to all of our customers across Canada. From that, sales reps will have a meeting every Monday morning and determine what they can sell to whom. Smaller accounts might take a handful of records, whereas larger ones might buy tons. Tim can look at a bigger account and say, "Okay, this store will want 3,000 copies of the new A.F.I. record," whereas someone handling an indie store account would say, "I can sell one of these to this person." It's all equally important.
How do you convince stores to buy and stock these records?
The labels have to create a demand, but we have to make people aware that it's available. Some of the bigger chains only have one or two key people who do all their buying and the amount of information they're bombarded with every week is insane; they couldn't possibly buy one of everything, know how many to buy, and what's really important, etc. So they count on the sales reps from all the companies they buy from to help them sift through all of this information and say, "Of the 35 records we told you about this week, these three or four you should really consider ordering." Sometimes there are things you think will sell and don't, while other things will take off unexpectedly. When we got the first Hives record from Epitaph, no one bought it and then, out of nowhere, it was going out the door in boxes. You never know what's going to happen.
How can a label get distribution from Sonic Unyon?
I don't think there's a reason to work with any distributor until you've done a lot of work on your own. You have to show people you can do it without help, and that you have something that people want. We put records into stores in towns that our bands were playing in and proved to those retailers that they could sell. That's why they wanted to work with us. If a young band or label can say "we've sold 1000, 500 or 100 copies already doing this and this," you can usually extrapolate that if they continue to do that and also have our help, it will work well. It's all work ethic.