BY JEREMY SHERE
In today’s ever-evolving, chaotic world of popular music, where independent labels are a dime a dozen, and more bands and artists are taking advantage of home recording technology and web-based marketing to go it alone, Bloomington-based indie label Secretly Canadian (SC) has not only survived but become a major international player.
“In a world of data overload, people still depend on labels to help select and filter good music,” says Secretly Canadian co-owner Chris Swanson. “And artists still look to labels to help with presentation and marketing. Thousands of new bands are introduced every month, so getting a foothold and building a national fan base can be tricky. The artists we work with appreciate that and crave creative dialogue with a label that gets them.”
Founded in 1996, Secretly Canadian and its family of companies have grown substantially during the past two decades. Secretly Canadian started Secretly Canadian Distribution in 1997, partnered with indie label Jagjaguwar and started media packaging and design company Bellwether Manufacturing in 1999, and founded three Secretly Canadian-affiliated companies—stand-alone label Dead Oceans (2007), artist management company Fort William (2011), and songwriting publishing company Secretly Canadian Publishing (2011). This year the label became partners with Numero Group, an archival record label that re-releases forgotten rock, soul, and classic songs in other genres.
Music has always been a tough way to make a living, even more so today thanks to the demise of CD sales and the availability of “free” music streamed online. One of the keys to Secretly Canadian’s success, Swanson says, is seeking out ambitious, cutting-edge artists and doing everything the label can to buttress their success. “We take pride in how we treat our artists,” Swanson says. “SC musicians never wonder when they’re going to see a royalty statement, and we try really hard to respect where they’re coming from creatively.”
With satellite offices in New York, London, and other big cities around the world, Secretly Canadian could easily relocate its headquarters to any number of places dangling fancier lifestyles and more exciting music scenes than exist in Bloomington. But for Swanson and his SC co-conspirators, Bloomington offers an elixir of amenities that’s hard to beat.
“Being in the Midwest maybe helps us stand out a little bit,” he says. “Plus, we love the community, the high quality of life versus the cost of living, and having a steady flow of smart, intelligent people with whom to work.”