In November of 2008 I became the president of an artist-run workers co-op record label called Blocks Recording Club. It was a real honour to take on this role because five years ago I was hoping Blocks would release some of my band’s (Kids on TV) music. Now here I am, a part of what is keeping this recording collective alive during the deterioration of the music industry as we know it.
Blocks was founded by Torontonians Steve Kado and Mark McLean in 2003. It started out as a label of only tapes and mini-CDs. Shortly after founding Blocks, Mark left for Ottawa and the tapes and mini-CDs idea left with him. After its inception Steve ran Blocks with Liisa K Graham until 2005 when the label developed into a worker’s co-op. After incorporation Liisa left and the co-op elected its first board of directors beginning something contrary to everything existing in the music industry. Blocks Recording Club is a record label that avoids the traditional business hierarchy; the artists maintain the operation.
There are two things that we look at when considering new artists to work with: we have to love their music (two members are needed to nominate a new artist) and the artist has to be able to contribute to the workload of the label. We have had a successful run so far with 53 releases in six years from acts such as Bob Wiseman (formerly of Blue Rodeo), punk rock legends Fucked Up, and the brilliant concept albums of Brian Joseph Davis. If you’re an incredible artist who’s a conceited asshole that never contributes, I’d like to recommend Canadian Idol. Oh, sorry sucker, it just got cancelled.
The goal of Blocks is to work together as a musical community to help each other to record, manufacture, distribute, and promote the music that we as a community generate. We believe that working together we can accomplish far more than we ever could working apart, and further, that by moving closer to a co-operative economy we’re helping in whatever small way we can to minimize the negative effects of capitalism in the world.
Toronto has a long history of queer musicians such as Carole Pope, Nash The Slash, Fifth Column, and The Parachute Club (my very first concert when I was 8). Blocks Recording Club is working with four queer recording artists who are at the centre of the music scene in Toronto and who have had many successes beyond the city borders. Final Fantasy, Katie Stelmanis, and Kids on TV are no closet cases like some pop stars. These artists have made music that is not just followed by queer indie rockers, but is embraced by many others. Final Fantasy recently packed the Danforth Music Hall, while Katie has just completed a European tour, and Kids on TV have found their following to sometimes resemble the bullies that used to beat them up. The Torrent is a new act in Toronto composed of two men who were former lovers, and Blocks is releasing a new single from them in April.
The music industry is imploding like the septum in Elton John’s nose from its excesses and poor choices. The worldwide web has changed the control that major labels have over artists and CD sales have plummeted. Blocks is working to empower artists to reap the benefits of their own creativity. In the past few years sales of vinyl have increased. It looks like many consumers would prefer this collectible item to the disposability of the compact disc and so Blocks has begun producing records for more of its artists. Blocks is also experimenting with digital-only releases; in March Kids on TV will release a digital album available on iTunes and zunior.
We have a new project called Building Blocks, which releases two new songs monthly from a brand new artist to Blocks for free through our Facebook group. After six months we release a compilation of the 12 songs. This is a way to introduce more artists to the general public at no cost. The first release will be two songs from post-punk act The Torrent in April, followed by country music treasures The Pining. This idea is a throwback to punk seven-inches when labels were promoting new music in a way that was easy to afford and fast to release.
The essence of Blocks Recording Club is something we could all think about: “Don’t Try, Do!”