It's hard to believe that a record label that launched the careers of musical acts such as Chromeo, MSTRKRFT, and Death From Above 1979 was originally born purely out of necessity to get one band a deal. But Last Gang Records was created only after Canadian entertainment lawyer Chris Taylor had exhausted all record labels, investors, and other options willing to give Metric an opportunity. Although he initially had no business plan for the label, it has flourished.
Since then, Taylor has also started entertainment law firm Taylor Klein Oballa LLP, and has worked with some of Canada's most prominent recording artists and entertainment personalities (such as negotiating Drake's deal with Young Money). "For me, really, I look at myself as an attorney -- I'm a music attorney, I'm not a record-label guy who happens to have a law firm on the side. I have a law firm with a record label on the side," he said in an interview with Toronto Star. Taylor earned his law degree from Osgoode Hall at York University.
Taylor's journey took an interesting turn immediately after law school, when he spent five years touring North America full-time as the lead vocalist of rock/reggae band One. (Check out this live performance -- if I'm not mistaken, Taylor is the one with long hair.) Taylor credits his time with One as the foundation for insights into his current clients' challenges and obstacles.
Times have changed since the early to mid 90s, when Taylor and One were making music. Last Gang Records' greatest challenge for the past decade has been the one that the music industry faces: people no longer pay for music like they used to. "As a record label owner, you depend on that income to allow you to monetize, invest and build plans around artists," explained Taylor.
This also explained the downward spiral that record labels faced as revenue from their musical acts dwindled. Because record labels no longer had the revenue to hire more acts, they had to cut artists and lower budgets of the ones they retained. Naturally, their overall revenues would then dwindle again in the following quarters, and they would be forced to cut from their roster again. Many labels were shutting down at the time Taylor started Last Gang Records.
Today's challenges are a bit different. Taylor said he believes streaming technology such as Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora will be the way of the future. "This is really the beginning of this new frontier, and I think the rates and some of the amounts being set at this point are going to set the precedent going forward," he said. "I think this format, streaming, is going to be around for a while. Digital downloads and the iTunes store are going to be important, but they've had a decade of being the number one retail format. This new format is going to be here for a while, and we're going to have to live with these rates being set right now."
Getting artists fair rates will be challenging, as platforms such as YouTube start putting the pressure on independent musicians and labels. While major labels have the catalogue and market share to negotiate with streaming services, most independent musicians and labels do not. "A lot of our distribution is serviced through the majors, so we're kind of tied to their rates," said Taylor. Although this saves Last Gang Records the trouble that other independent labels could face, Taylor is still frustrated: "Music is music. Why wouldn't everybody be getting compensated the same [rates]?"
Streaming solutions are going to be in-demand not only by consumers, but by large media and technology enterprises as well. "There's a trend now of telcos like Sprint or AT&T combining with some of these streaming services to add value to subscribers to keep their services sticky for customers," said Taylor. "Also, some of the media and tech companies - like Apple, who just purchased Beats - are moving into that space. There's talk about how Google may be looking at Spotify at this point and combining with them. We may see that as a trend over the next year or 18 months."
As the year progresses, Taylor and Last Gang Records, along with the rest of the world, are anticipating Death From Above 1979's first studio album release in a decade. Last Gang Records plans to expand its already wide reaching management services.
When it all boils down, Last Gang Records was started in one of the most tumultuous eras of the music industry. It has thrived in the ten years since. Most people would say that the worst is over, but the entertainment industry will continue to evolve with streaming technology and subsequent advancements. But I'm not too worried for them. In addition to working with some of North America's most interesting musical acts, at least this time around Chris Taylor and Last Gang Records will have a business plan.
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