The International Writers Magazine: Profile
of Chris Brandt
Jenny Brown in Vancouver
might expect the president of a record label to be a hard nosed,
crotchety Simon Cowell type that sits behind an imposing desk, giving
out orders and shooting nasty insults. After all, in these days
of rampant downloading and plummeting record sales, dont you
have to be a cold, hard business man in order to stay afloat?
not. Thirty-two year old Vancouverite Chris Brandt just started his
own label called Cazart! and hes actually an amiable, approachable
guy. You could say hes more the Randy Jackson type. He may be
young but hes been in the biz for a long time and he knows what
hes talking about. For the past seven years he has worked as a
sales rep. for Universal Records. Other credits include band manager,
college radio DJ and promotions rep. for Molson. He is the music editor
for Kitsilanos Point Magazine. Sounds like big accomplishments
already. But hes had dreams of starting his own label since his
After months of planning and with a lot of support from friends, he
launched Cazart! on March 11, 2004. Now his weekends no longer exist,
but he couldnt be happier. He is lead by passion for music and
a drive to help bands succeed, to quit their day jobs at Starbucks and
support themselves doing what they love.
All you idol wannabes listen up! Forget about the airy fairy
dreams, the bidding wars and the million dollar record deals. Here Chris
dishes the facts, the numbers and the reality behind what it really
takes to succeed as a recording artist.
JB: How long has it taken to launch Cazart?
CB: Ten months from planning to execution
JB: And you wanted to do this your whole life?
CB: Yeah. For years, any time someone asked me the question "If
you could do anything, what would it be?" I've always said "I
want to own my own record label". Last May I was out with a friend
of mine and she said "Why don't you?" No-one ever asks the
second part of the question.
JB: So you had lots of people that were already in place who could help
CB: Absolutely, yeah. One of my closest friends, Theresa Travato is
the best publicist in the city.
I've got fantastic graphics people, a Rolling Stones photographer is
a friend of mine, I know a lot of artists, recommendations for lawyers,
people who are into fashion, art and design. The engineer who mastered
the album is a friend.
JB: How do you decide which artists to sign?
CB: It's gotta blow me away. That's pretty much it. Someone who
is passionate or gives me passion about their art.
JB: Gives you goose bumps?
CB: Yeah. And that's why I kept it (his debut compilation CD You
Need This) genre wide. There's a rapper on there, there's a lullaby,
there's some singer/songwriters, an alternative country, pop, rock.
Most people don't like just one kind of music, so I wanted this album
to reflect that. Now from a business side of it, I've got to find someone
that I think has potential to actually get some radio play. It's going
to be very difficult for an independent label and artist.
JB: So its not strictly about your personal taste. You have to
think about what would sell.
CB: Well, I've actually got three or four bands that I'm looking at
that I could lock up today. But I want the first one to be the flag
ship, even if they're a band that down the road are the lowest selling
band I have. I want the first one to be something I'm proud of and who
JB: So you want to build a reputation for yourself.
CB: Absolutely. First and foremost. And that's the compilation, building
the relationships, making a splash and showing that you're someone who's
looking at all genres.
JB: Are you dealing a lot with egos?
CB: I think people in Vancouver have a different idea about things.
They don't want to make money. And they're really concerned about selling
out. You've got to play the game. Gene Simmons made a great comment
in a speech I saw. He said "You know if you're going to be an artist
that's one thing. But it's the music business. Its not
the artist give-everything-away-for-free. The minute you sell
one ticket or one CD you're in commerce".
JB: Thats interesting.
CB: An artist who I've been a fan of for a long time sent me a CD a
couple of weeks ago and I thought, people who are already fans of yours
are really going to like it, but you're not going to get any new fans.
Cause it's got a slow song, then a fast song, then a slow song.
You need to put your biggest guns in front of the record. The only way
someones going to buy it is if they love the first ten seconds
of the first song, the first twenty seconds of the second song and the
first thirty seconds of the third song - a minute of total listening
of the first three songs.
JB: How is Toronto different to Vancouver?
CB: Vancouvers music scene is totally geographically disadvantaged.
In Toronto, you can go on tour for two weeks, and every night hit a
town the size of Kingston. Here you play Vancouver, maybe you stop in
Kelowna, then you're driving to Calgary and like your fourth tour date
is two provinces over. So its a lot more difficult to build a
following and there's only a couple of bars left that have live music.
JB: Sonar used to be The Town Pump
CB: That was one of the biggest venues. When the Town Pump switched
to Sonar they started playing canned music instead of live music, and
someone went to them and said "Are you ever going to go back to
live bands?" And they said "You know what, we're making more
money off the canned music, so there's no incentive to go back."
JB: That's pretty sad
CB: That's very sad. So all these places like the Starfish Room, they
closed down. People just don't support and part of the problem I think
is because shows go on so late here. The bar wants people to stay in
there all night and so they put the bands on at like twelve or one in
the morning to keep people drinking till then.
JB: You've learned the sales aspect from working at Universal for seven
CB: Yeah, I understand parts of the game that a lot of people dont.
There's a difference between distributing and selling. A distributor
makes it available, but the selling is where I come in. When I go into
the stores, if there's no buzz on it, I'm going to go "OK, moving
on". But if I know the band, am a fan of them, Ill do a hard
core selling job of them.
JB: So you're not quitting your day job.
CB: No. If the label takes off - if it gets to the stage where its sustainable
on its own yeah!!
JB: Can you manage doing everything else by yourself at the moment?
CB: At this stage it's totally overwhelming, but I mean, I'm not selling
shoes. I do this 24/7. My weekends don't exist. This weekend is the
first weekend I've had of doing nothing in ten months. But there's nothing
else I'd rather be doing.
JB: Do you enjoy schmoozing?
CB: For me, that's easy. Building a relationship, building a rapport.
I have a complete background in that. I worked for Molson before, Ive
done indie radio, band management, Im the music editor for a magazine.
So I'm kind of hitting things from every side already.
JB: So this is a natural evolution for you.
CB: It was total synchronicity. It was kind of when my friend said "Why
don't you do it?" That was on like a Saturday night, and two days
later I asked the GM of Maple, "Would you distribute?" And
he thought about it, and then he goes "Yeah, lets do it".
So within forty-eight hours I had national distribution. Some labels
work for years to get that.
JB: Were you surprised?
CB: I was humbled by the different levels of support and how quickly
people wanted to be part of it.
JB: Are you're looking at long term development of the artists?
CB: Absolutely. I want this to be a career for them. I want the label
to be sustainable on its own. And that may mean that I have to
sign a pop-y hit-laden artist. I mean I want to stay with bands that
are credible. But at the same time you've gotta make money.
JB: Do you look at image and youth?
CB: Everything you have to. But the biggest thing after talent
is attitude. Do they know what it takes are they willing to do
it. And again, I'm not looking at million dollar sellers.
The magical kind of bar seems to be 5,000 units. Large labels now need
bands that have the potential to sell 100,000 on their first record
because they can only afford to sign a couple a year. And it's not good
or bad, its just the way the business is now. The major labels are publicly
traded companies that have quarterly fiscals and if they don't hit those
numbers, people are losing their jobs and stockholders are getting pissed
off. I can get by on a few bands that are selling 5-10,000 copies.
JB: What about paying for touring?
CB: At this point Im not spending a lot of money on tour support
and things like that. That's why I need a band that is willing to work
hard and build their credibility. This isn't a smart business decision
this is a passionate one and they've gotta believe in themselves.
Cause if you were good enough for someone to invest a million
dollars into ya someone would have done it. So lets have
realistic goals and try and sell 5,000 copies.
JB: Do you have creative input?
CB: We'll they're the artist not me. But I do listen to the album
and say you really need to clean this up and I think this will
make a difference. The problem in Vancouver is that radio really sucks
ass. No-one wants to break a song anymore. So unfortunately you have
to cater your sound to what the radio stations that are playing. If
they're only playing bands that are like Blink182, or Celine Dion, you've
got a choice. You can go out and tour and try and sell records off the
stage or you can make yourself sound like one of those two.
JB: And once they've got that established, start doing more of what
they want to do?
CB: Exactly. An A/R I know said "If I'm gonna invest hundreds of
thousands of dollars in you, I need three potential radio singles to
keep you on the radio for six months. After those three songs you can
have Whales farting it doesn't matter. But I need three singles."
Its funny, I hear people say that there's only one good song on
the album well usually that is the one the record label told
them to tweak and that's probably the one that least exemplifies the
JB: What about paying for studio time?
CB: At this point Im not focusing on putting someone into the
studio. I'm looking to distribute they'll bring me the finished
product and I'll help take care of the rest -marketing, sales, all that
kind of stuff. It becomes more of a fatherly role than it does I'm
gonna go do it for you.
JB: So its all about collaboration.
CB: Yeah. And youve got to be logical. People who arent
logical drive me nuts. I hear the story time and again where the band
will play a big festival like CMW in Toronto or something and therell
be some big wigs in the audience and the band goes home and says "OK
we're just gonna wait for the bidding war to start". Doesn't work
that way (laughs). If you don't get a call in the next 24 hours
youre not getting one! There is no bidding war!
JB: Do you think that musicians are getting smarter in the business
sense these days?
CB: The smart ones are getting smarter. Guys like Nickleback
they're really smart. They did their own radio tracking, called every
station in the country, every single week, spent a lot of time on the
phones and worked really hard and really smart. But they're the exception
to the rule.
JB: Dont you feel pessimistic starting a label now when there's
so much downloading?
CB: The industry is getting slaughtered. But that's all the more reason
why this needs to be done. The labels aren't making enough money. Dwight
Yoakam doesn't have a record deal. He's still gonna sell a substantial
number of records but he's not gonna sell enough for a major label to
continue working with him. So its needed more than ever before
for someone to help these bands.
JB: So what does the future hold for Cazart?
CB: For me, long term goal is obviously I'd like to make money. But
the first step is I want to be credible. I'd love to keep my job now.
Second step, do well enough for the label to be sustainable on its own.
Third would be to grow enough to get the opportunity to get bought out
or get invested in by someone. Someone like Clive Davis come in and
buy half of it for a few million, cause he likes a couple of artists
on the roster. Pretty cool business plan. Someone come in and buy me
out for 2 million dollars fine! I'd bank 90% of it and take 10%
and start again!
© Jenny Brown May 2004
You Need This
is available in records stores everywhere or online at www.cazartrecords.com
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