Smallman Records

Smallman Records
Date of Birth: November, 1996
Number of Releases: 35
Biggest Seller: Moneen Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now?
Upcoming Releases: Sylvie, Ghosts of Modern Man

Founded by Winnipeggers Jason Smith and Rob Krause over a decade ago, Smallman has remained one of the only Canuck punk labels to thrive in a changing musical climate. Once known as the home to math-rock greats Choke and emo-punks Moneen, the label has remained relevant by smartly releasing the hardcore chant-alongs of bands like Comeback Kid and pop-screamo styling of bands like the Reason. With an active management arm that includes non-label bands like Propagandhi, Krause and Smith's success is wholly tied to their aggressive work ethic and earnest commitment to their bands.

Helping Hands
Krause: The great thing about this industry is that everyone is so eager to help. When we first started, there were things we didn't know anything about. Like tracking. We knew we were supposed to be tracking, but we had no idea what that meant. So we'd call up college radio stations and say, "Hey, we're supposed to be tracking. What does that entail?” And the Music Directors would take the time to tell you the kind of questions you should be asking. Generally, people are open to taking some time to help you out with things you don't know about.

Changing Formats
We do a lot of online pre-promotion and contests. It gets combined with advertising, and it seems to work well. We've done stuff with companies like Gibson and C1RCA. And we're not opposed to giving music away. I mean, it’s just like when I was young, and some people would buy a record and some people would tape it. It's a lot easier now, but the people that will buy records will always buy records. They want to support the band; they want the artwork. We always wanted to do vinyl, but the problem is that with the advent of CDs, everyone is making 70-minute albums, which now become double-gate vinyl release. Which will cost you $10 a unit in a small run. What we want to start doing is limited-release vinyl with five or six songs from the album.

Contract Work
I was going to law school when we started the label, and when it came time to draft up a contract, I just figured I'd go through my law school books and try to make something up. We had a meeting with a lawyer here who represented Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings and all the heavy hitters that came out of Winnipeg. He said it looked good, but we only had bands signed on for three records, and he normally signed them for ten. How are you going to get any indie band to sign on to a ten-album deal? Then, in a classic music industry moment, he said, "What, you're bringing a girl to the dance and you're going to let someone else fuck her?” At that point we were just waiting for the hookers and the coke to come out. To us, three made sense. If it’s a new band, the first album is you working hard and taking a hit. The second one hopefully breaks even, and then you make back your investment on the third.

All About the Bordens
We’ve done full recording budgets for bands, and we've done half-budgets. Some of the best albums I've ever heard have only cost $4,000, but we’ve also been a part of records that have cost $40,000. The last Choke record cost quite a bit, but that was a risk that we were willing to take because we knew it would sell well, and we have the band’s whole back catalogue. Those risks don't always pay off. In 2003, we put out the Small Brown Bike full-length, and a full-length by a Montreal band called Selfmademan. And within five weeks of those albums coming out, both bands broke up. We had done a huge push into the States with Selfmademan, shipped a couple of thousand copies down, and those all came back. That really hurt us, but I think we learned a lot and came back a lot stronger. It just came down to both bands not wanting to tour anymore, which is fair, but now we make clear with our bands what we expect from them.