How does one celebrate their 30th anniversary with the same company?
If you’re Ivar Hamilton, Universal Music Canada’s vice-president of Catalogue Marketing, there’s only one answer.
“I bought some records,” he laughs.
It’s been that incessant love of music that has fueled the 59-year-old’s label career that is entering its fourth decade, and he credits his success to several factors, including “the hard work trying to keep up with what’s going on in the business and great relationships with our bands, an amazing staff and great contacts.”
The New Westminster, B.C.-born exec first came to the label via PolyGram Music Canada in 1988, when he was hired as Ontario promo rep and was around when Universal absorbed the company in 1997. Since the PolyGram days he’s held nine positions, seven which have involved marketing in his title.
“There are some great memories,” says Hamilton, who has flourished under five company presidents, weathered trends ranging from the transition from compact discs and piracy to streaming and social media, seen a countless number of concerts and bolstered his personal music collection to hundreds of thousands of tracks, gaining enough notoriety to be featured as the only Canadian profiled in Record Collector magazine.
“Things that have been the most gratifying include being part of a project that starts from nothing and goes to a gold record,” he notes. “I worked on the first Bootsauce album – The Brown Album– and then Sarah Harmer’s You Were Here. Matthew Good Band’s Beautiful Midnight came in at No. 1, and there was some pretty good competition when that originally happened. We were the first territory to be successful with Lady Gaga in the early days: working with the Black-Eyed Peas, they ended up having the top-selling record of that year.
“There are long-term acts that I’ve spent years working with – Bon Jovi, KISS – and there are amazing storytellers. Have dinner with Lionel Richie and the stories that that guy can tell you are unbelievable. Same with LL Cool J, and talking business with Gene Simmons. You learn fascinating things. It’s certainly an amazing experience to work with The Tragically Hip, and I was fortunate enough to be their marketing person on the final tour, the Man Machine Poem tour. It was heartbreaking at the time, but I take great pride in personally running my first marathon and raising $4500 for the cancer charities at Sunnybrook in Gord’s honour. Things like that make your job really special.”
One of the more innovative positions Hamilton has held was back in the earlier 2000s as VP Catalogue and Sports Marketing.
“We forged relationships with the CFL back when Shania Twain’s Up! was coming out and we were looking for some angles,” he recalls. “We cold-called the CFL – we didn’t know anybody there - and asked them about advertising. The cost was astronomical: we couldn’t afford it at the time. I asked them who they had in their Grey Cup half-time show this year and said, ‘well, what if I could get you Shania Twain?” They replied, ‘we’ll change our half-time show in a minute if we could do that.’”
The Twain appearance occurred in 2002, and since that show, UMC has provided for a performer every Grey Cup since, including The Black-Eyed Peas.
“We’ve also had sponsorships with the Leafs and the Raptors on two occasions and the Blue Jays and done a lot of sync work with Sportsnet/TSN and the CBC over the years,” he notes.
Hamilton’s current duties encompass the catalogue, and in the past year he’s been involved with expanded reissues of The Sam Roberts Band’s We Were Born In A Flame, The Pursuit Of Happiness’ 30th Anniversary release of Love Junk, a Lighthouse ICONS project and several Rush album reissues through ole/Anthem.
“These days people do want to hear a lot more from acts that they’re passionate about,” he explains. “And we’re very passionate about bringing the legacy back of a lot of artists that people might have forgotten..”
Hamilton says he’s also been heavily involved with UMC’s MusicVaultz.com – the catalogue portal.
“It’s a website, a retail outlet and also involves editorial. We’re on all social media platforms, and it’s a great passion. It doesn’t necessarily have to be solely about Universal acts: Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks passed away and we had something on that. We don’t feel that if it’s not ours, we shouldn’t be talking about it. Music is music.”
In his spare time, Hamilton has taken up running as a hobby, completing three marathons this year and also running a half-marathon in Australia. He also hosts a weekly radio program on internet radio station NYtheSpirit.com, run by his former CFNY boss David Marsden.
“It’s a lot of fun and a good way to keep discovering new music and keep at it," he says of his radio gig.
Hamilton, who caught the music bug while listening to Terry David Mulligan on CKLG, says he has every intention of carrying on the Universal marathon he began 30 years ago
“I want to be able to continue to do what I’m doing and contribute to the success of Universal Music over the next number of years,” he notes. “The progressive thinking and leadership that (president and CEO) Jeffrey Remedios has brought to Universal still excites me and I think I’ve got some good years left in me.”