Sonic Unyon Distribution

Sonic Unyon Distribution
Name: Sonic Unyon Distribution
Date of Birth: 1998
Number of Distributed Labels/Titles to Date: 100-plus distribution partners/12,000 titles
Biggest Sellers: Hayden Everything I Long For, Sufjan Stevens Illinois
Current Releases: Of Montreal Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl), Teenage Head with Marky Ramone (Sonic Unyon), Cursed III (Goodfellow), Jesu Why Are We Not Perfect (Hydra Head), Okkervil River The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar), Static Lullaby Rattlesnake (Fearless), Meshuggah Obzen (Nuclear Blast)
Online: www.sonicunyon.com

Celebrating 15 years as a respected label and ten as one of Canada’s sturdiest independent distributors, Hamilton’s Sonic Unyon has evolved from a modest indie rock imprint to a multi-pronged music business model. Tristan Psionic band-mates Mark Milne and Tim Potocic built SU from the ground up, initially as a means to get music within their community heard and now by distributing records by North America’s most prominent labels and artists to retailers across Canada. Even in an unstable marketplace, having worked at virtually every level of the music food chain — as artists, label managers, retailers, and distributors — the Sonic Unyon Distribution team offer unique insight to clients looking for partners who feel their pain. "Our identity as a distributor has been closely linked to our identity as a label,” Milne explains. "Sonic Unyon Records and SUD are located in the same building and share staff. We offer services that we perform for our own label to our distributed labels; we often advertise SU releases alongside distributed titles, for example. We try to treat labels the same way we like to be treated as a label.”

When SU entered the distribution realm in 1998, it was out of necessity. "We had little confidence in indie music distributors at the time and didn’t believe we would get any attention at any of the majors,” Potocic says. After years of establishing grassroots relationships with retailers throughout Canada by touring and leaving SU releases behind, Milne and Potocic sought to expand their scope and begin distributing records by others. "Our goals were to get our music and like-minded labels we distributed into the right stores to help create a buzz for the artists and labels and make the product available across the country,” Potocic says simply. "Our goals were realistic and remain so to this day.”

Earning a reputation for the quality of their work, SUD has gotten some great records into your hands. Throughout the last decade, they’ve worked with labels like Secretly Canadian, Constellation, Dischord, Blocks, Thrill Jockey, and in the past, Epitaph and Matador.

"Our niche is fairly broad inside what one might call ‘alternative music.’” Milne says. "We do stray outside of what we’re known for on occasion; between us, there’s a wide range of musical tastes and an even wider range of appreciation.”

"In many ways, music distribution is extremely competitive,” he continues. "The competition to work with great labels and artists, for shelf space at retail, and for the attention of consumers are all factors we deal with day to day.”

Despite such challenges, in an industry that experts declare is a dying a little each day, it’s heartening to hear SUD discuss their work with reasoned optimism. "It’s a great time to be an established indie label or distributor,” Milne exclaims. "People’s tastes are broader than ever and there are more vehicles to get music to fans that previously didn’t exist. Technological progress always tends to lower barriers and bring about a glut of content; what the CD did years ago, the digital age has done and exponentially so. Distributors and their counterparts will continue to be part of the filtering process for an ever-growing ocean of content.”

Milne goes on to suggest that, while the relationship between labels, distributors, and retailers may seem more complex with the sales decline of physical CDs and LPs, ultimately the engine keeps chugging and SUD’s job, though tweaked, is the same as it ever was. "Whether it’s shipping an LP to a store in Fredericton, a paper lantern packaged with an MP3 download code to an apartment in Montreal, making sure a ringtone of track five from a ten-year-old release is available, or ensuring that someone has instant access to music and art while the physical good is shipped to them — it’s all distribution.”

"Music distribution will never go away but will certainly continue to change,” Potocic adds. "We may be a very different company with very different skills needed to do the same job — get music to the customers — but only time will tell. I’m sure I’ll be there to see it all happen.”