Treehouse Records

Location: Toronto (Scarborough), ON
Date of Birth: 1994
Releases to Date: 11
Biggest Sellers: Citizen Kane’s Black Rain
Upcoming Releases: Various Headnodz Trafficking

When house music icon Nick Holder decided last November to rebuild Canadian hip-hop label Treehouse Records, he quickly discovered that the national scene has changed significantly. Despite seemingly having the successful label blueprint down after running the acclaimed underground dance DNH label (134 releases and counting) the cult producer/DJ is discovering that the Canadian hip-hop optics have changed since the heady days of the ‘90s. "Back in the day, we put out [Citizen Kane’s] Black Rain and sold 6,000 units,” Holder says. "Putting out a release now, we're lucky to pull off 1,000.”

Holder co-founded Toronto-based Treehouse in 1994 and had a successful hip-hop run (largely off the output of Citizen Kane) until going on hiatus (due to myriad internal and external issues) in 1998. While widely regarded as an underground house music marvel, Holder is still a hip-hop head at heart and decided to set things off again. "I wanted to start doing more hip-hop production,” Holder says. "Since the label had a name back in the day, this is just a continuation of that.”

But so much has changed, Holder says, "It's like night and day. Back then, I could run it with my eyes closed it was so easy. Now it's like a totally different world. Sales have become much harder because of internet file-sharing… no one’s buying enough.”

Currently Treehouse has Europe and U.S. distribution on lock, but Canada is a different matter altogether. At one time, distribution was a breeze, Holder says. "Half of the distributors we were using aren't even around now. It's like starting all over again. Especially with the internet changing everything, it's nowhere near as easy as it was before. Canada seems to be an obstacle and I don't know why. Everywhere else it seems to be so much easier. For a country that has so many talented artists, I don't know why it's an obstacle.”

Treehouse gets its fair share of demos but Holder says currently has his hands full working with his clique, which includes rappers King Reign, Dub Ill, Mathematik, Citizen Kane and neo-soul siren Zaki. "I'm not really looking for new people to work with — unless they're going to blow me away.” Because it’s such a tight knit crew, there presently aren’t any exclusive contracts or development deals at Treehouse; artists work on a project-by-project basis and profits are split down the middle.

CD currently plays a restricted role for Treehouse but Holder is feverishly looking to expand distribution for upcoming Treehouse albums within indie and major record stores. But there’s still a voracious vinyl appetite out there — it’s still important to service the industry, he notes. "You still have the market for vinyl. You still have the hardcore DJs that love their vinyl but the market has shrunk down drastically.” Indeed, vinyl has transformed into a promotional tool; on average Treehouse will press 700 to 800 units just to get the product out on the streets. "Other than that it's more about getting it up on iTunes or other download sites like Dancetracks Digital.”
In terms of marketing strategies, right now it’s mainly grassroots and word of mouth. "The whole marketing thing is something I'm trying to rework. Everything is different now,” Holder says. "Back in '95, you'd see billboards, posters, ads in magazines. Now you have the internet as the outlet and you don't really need all that.” These days all you need, Holder says, is an email distribution list along with MySpace and it’s good to go. "It's a perfect outlet to get your name out there and create a buzz for yourself."

While the optics and overall economies of scale have changed since 1994, Holder’s modus operandi hasn’t. The key to label success is to keep at it and to be in it for the long run, Holder says. "If it’s a labour of love it’s cool, but if you trying to recoup it’s hard. If you're selling 3,000 to 5,000 units, you're doing good. 10,000 is gold.”