Six months after being acquired by Canadian-headquartered music rights management firm ole, prestigious record label Anthem Entertainment Group - home to Canadian rock icons Rush among others - is moving full speed ahead.
Andy Curran, Anthem’s former A&R executive who transitioned into as ole’s new Label Services general manager/A&R in addition to the purchase, says Anthem will not only continue to work the label’s active roster, which also includes Ian Thornley and Steven Page, but is strongly pursuing new signings as well.
“I think the first year will be pretty selective in terms of what we’re going to do,” Curran admits. "I don’t think we’re going to blow our brains out and go from five or six acts to 20 acts. But the appetite to bring in and work on more projects is definitely present.”
In the meantime, Curran and label services manager Tyler Tasson, who accompanied him from SRO Management - pre-ole co-owners (along with Rush members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart) of the Anthem Music Group and Mark-Cain Publishing (which ole purchased, along with associated masters, in March 2015) – have plenty of work to keep them occupied.
Aside from prepping the 40th anniversary deluxe edition of 2112 and a documentary of Rush’s R40 tour that is looking to be released in 2016’s fourth quarter, Curran is pouring over the catalogue to prep long-unavailable titles for reissue, digitally, on CD and on vinyl.
“The back catalogue goes back as far as Wireless, Bob & Doug, Ian Thomas, Coney Hatch,The Reason, The Tea Party, Boys Brigade – it’s the entire Anthem Mark-Cain catalogue,” says Curran. “We’re going to go in and see what interesting re-releases we can revive under Anthem Legacy. To give you an example, the Kim Mitchell mini-EP is still not available on iTunes, and that’s one of my favourite records of his, so we’ll get that up on iTunes.”
Curran adds that Mitchell has come on board as a consultant to help with the re-releases of the entire catalogue of his former band Max Webster on vinyl, on iTunes and as deluxe CD editions.
“Maybe we can find some Max Webster material that the public has never heard,” Curran suggests, adding that the first project – Max Webster– was recently re-released on vinyl on April 16, Record Store Day.
Curran says he’s hoping to have the entire revitalized Max Webster catalogue with deluxe CD editions available within a year.
“We’re working on High Class in Borrowed Shoes right now, so it’s my hope that within the next year the entire catalogue will have been re-released."
Also on tap: a long unavailable couple of Larry Gowan albums – 1990’s Lost Brotherhood and 1994’s …but you can call me Larry.
“We’re going to get a lot of stuff on iTunes that wasn’t up before,” says Curran. “So we’re getting a couple of Larry Gowan’s records up on iTunes on June 10th."
And despite the trio announcing their retirement from global touring, Curran feels positive that Rush will be writing, recording and releasing more music.
“If I was a gambling man, I would say those guys are going to record some more music,” Curran says. “The live component is certainly a question mark with Neil, but they’re still quite young at heart. I don’t see those guys sitting still for too long and we’ll be working with them in the future.”
Aside from the more than 2,100 master recordings and 1,200 audio/visual masters that ole purchased via Anthem and Mark-Cain and now distributed here by Universal Music Canada (a separate U.S. distribution deal is being negotiated), the tandem of Curran and Tasson will also be absorbing ole’s 2007-purchased Lighthouse catalogue into the Anthem family, which includes such gold and platinum titles as One Fine Morning, Sunny Days, Lighthouse Live, Can You Feel It and others.
And then there’s red dot, the ole-generated incubator label which recently released Haley Reinhart’s Better and the George Canyon album and single “I Got This,” with both projects scaling new sales heights thanks to the involvement of the ole label services duo.
Here, the Curran-Tasson expertise came in handy immediately, as Reinhart was experiencing success with an ole sync placement of the Elvis Presley chestnut “Can’t Help Falling in Love” for Wrigley gum.
“I said to Robert, ‘why don’t we start operating like a label for this?’ Let’s do some radio promotion, some marketing, let’s pour some gasoline on the fire and let’s see what we can get happening,’” Curran recalls. “We started immediately acting like a real label behind her, and the next thing, she’s sold over 200,000 copies of this single that was basically a sync placement.”
Reinhart’s Better has also done well, selling an initial 7500 copies after only two weeks of release.
For Juno and CCMA Award winner George Canyon, Curran reports that “George recently had his first ever No. 1 Canadian release on the album charts.”
“He just released 'I Got This' --- a new single with ‘Daughters of the Sun’ - and toured. We’re working with George’s managers at Invictus Entertainment - Louis O’Reilly and Jim Cressman - out in Alberta to bolster the experience that we’ve had at Anthem.
“We’ve built an à la carte services team: We’re going out and hand picking publicity people and graphic artists, video directors and radio promotion guys and we’re acting like business as normal, but we’ve got the funding of ole behind us.
“We really picked up those two balls and ran with them, and so far it’s been a really nice journey with Haley and George Canyon.”
Curran says the hiring of him and Tasson immediately provides ole label services with an experienced infrastructure.
“By bringing myself and Tyler over, Robert’s literally created an infrastructure where we can start servicing, help market and exploit some of the master acquisitions that he’s got,” he explains. “It was pretty good because we’re able to tap into an infrastructure he already established at ole with the publishing divisions; a sync and licensing division; a digital division that takes care of all the YouTube stuff; great administration and a great legal team.
“So really, everything he had set up in place for his publishing company, we have been able to tap into.”
For his part, ole chairman and CEO Robert Ott says his company’s move into the expansion of label services is natural.
“We began as a music publishing company – that was our core business – I refer to what our company does now as rights management,” Ott explains. “We administer and cultivate intellectual property rights not only in music publishing now, but in the visual space extending to audio visual masters, and now of course, to master recordings of music. We also have a multi-channel YouTube network.
“We’re engaged in rights management across the media space, and our goal is to more fully service our clients in every avenue of media as time goes forward. So this is just a natural progression of that mandate. It’s not a surprise move or a lateral move for us. It’s directly related to our overall strategy of managing rights in every avenue of media.
“Because we’re the central back office for all of those functions, we can deliver those services with great economy of scale.”
Ott says ole label services, which includes an overall master administration, digital and physical distribution for third party players and neighbouring rights management, also offers clients wide flexibility.
“We can either develop and release things where we’ve established a market through great synchronization opportunities, or we upstream projects that we’ve developed to major labels.”
Now in the $500m-plus (U.S.) range in terms of acquisition of intellectual music property, Ott says that ole will be “aggressively acquisitive going forward in the master space.”
“Our ears are to the ground looking for any new opportunities to add to this already impressive group of masters that we’re managing,” he notes.
As for any restrictions in terms of the numbers of signings ole label services may undertake through Anthem or any imprint it may create or purchase in the future, Ott says they don’t exist.
“You’ve seen how we behave in the market. We don’t like to restrict ourselves. Bigger is better.”
For Curran, the Coney Hatch bassist and solo artist who worked Anthem’s A&R beat for 11 years, it’s a dream situation.
“I’m happy I landed here,” Curran concludes. “With ole and everything that’s going on over here, it’s one of the bright spots of the music industry right now. You could argue it’s one of the few companies that’s growing, not shrinking. And I think you’re definitely going to see a more aggressive growth rate with Anthem Records.”