The Creationists

Creating Six Shooter Records with Shauna de Cartier

January 13, 2021 Steve Waxman Season 3 Episode 6
The Creationists
Creating Six Shooter Records with Shauna de Cartier
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating Six Shooter Records with Shauna de Cartier
Jan 13, 2021 Season 3 Episode 6
Steve Waxman

When Shauna de Cartier wanted to start Six Shooter Records, she found that it was going to be difficult to secure funding from outside sources. She didn’t have the track record to secure government grants and banks weren’t interested in lending her the money. And, when she approached the major labels, she found very little interest there too. So she had to find another way to get her artists in the studio and her label off the ground.

When I first contacted Shauna, my plan was to do a story about creating a record label but by the time we were finished talking, I realized that she had so much more to share. Whether it was figuring out how to be a manager, run a record label or mount a music festival, Shauna de Cartier never let obstacles get in her way. Six Shooter is now celebrating its 20th anniversary and they’ve become one of Canada’s most successful independent labels and Shauna has become a vocal advocate for women in the music industry.

2020 was a difficult year for most businesses for sure and Six Shooter was no different.  Shauna admitted to me that after years on her management division and artist touring keeping the label afloat it was the label and its releases that helped keep Six Shooter going this year. In its 20 year history Six Shooter has built a critically acclaimed roster and you can check out all of their artists and releases at sixshooter.com

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram.

The Creationists is mastered by Paul Farrant.


Show Notes Transcript

When Shauna de Cartier wanted to start Six Shooter Records, she found that it was going to be difficult to secure funding from outside sources. She didn’t have the track record to secure government grants and banks weren’t interested in lending her the money. And, when she approached the major labels, she found very little interest there too. So she had to find another way to get her artists in the studio and her label off the ground.

When I first contacted Shauna, my plan was to do a story about creating a record label but by the time we were finished talking, I realized that she had so much more to share. Whether it was figuring out how to be a manager, run a record label or mount a music festival, Shauna de Cartier never let obstacles get in her way. Six Shooter is now celebrating its 20th anniversary and they’ve become one of Canada’s most successful independent labels and Shauna has become a vocal advocate for women in the music industry.

2020 was a difficult year for most businesses for sure and Six Shooter was no different.  Shauna admitted to me that after years on her management division and artist touring keeping the label afloat it was the label and its releases that helped keep Six Shooter going this year. In its 20 year history Six Shooter has built a critically acclaimed roster and you can check out all of their artists and releases at sixshooter.com

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

Follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram.

The Creationists is mastered by Paul Farrant.


When Shauna de Cartier wanted to start Six Shooter Records, she found that it was going to be difficult to secure funding from outside sources. She didn’t have the track record to secure government grants and banks weren’t interested in lending her the money. And, when she approached the major labels, she found very little interest there too. So she had to find another way to get her artists in the studio and her label off the ground.

When I first contacted Shauna, my plan was to do a story about creating a record label but by the time we were finished talking, I realized that she had so much more to share. Whether it was figuring out how to be a manager, run a record label or mount a music festival, Shauna de Cartier never let obstacles get in her way. Six Shooter is now celebrating its 20th anniversary and they’ve become one of Canada’s most successful independent labels and Shauna has become a vocal advocate for women in the music industry. 

* * *

Steve Waxman: Congratulations on celebrating 20 years of Six Shooter.  I’d like to start by having you go back to the beginning.

Shauna de Cartier: Well, it was actually more than twenty-five years ago. I was working on an MBA and I was taking a course on entrepreneurship. And even though I was working on an MBA, it had never occurred to me to go into business for myself. I grew up in suburban Edmonton and had relatively conservative parents whose idea of what a career was was a one-word thing like a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a dentist. So, business owner, entrepreneur, that wasn't really part of the paradigm growing up. So this class was a bit of a revelatory experience.  At the same time I was working for the City of Edmonton.  I was the marketing director for Commonwealth Stadium which is a 60,000 seat venue. And not too long after starting there I got offered a promotion. And in that same time period, in that same week, even though I wasn’t looking for a job, I got three other job offers so it was like the heavens were telling me ‘You had better figure out what you want to do with your life.  You’re at a crossroads and this is a really important decision.’ So I thought alot about how I was on this corporate ladder and not really thinking about where I wanted to go. But I remembered the very first job I had.  I worked in theatre at a company called the Phoenix Theatre in Edmonton and it was a cutting edge, critically acclaimed small theatre company and when I started working there it was like I had found my people. It was a very transformative experience for me. I really came to appreciate art and the artists and the role that art plays in our lives and helps us interpret the world. I wanted to go back to a place where who I was and what I did were one with each other. In the corporate world, even though I succeeded and did very well, it was always a little bit tempered. I wasn’t necessarily fully allowed to be myself.  I had to play the game, so to speak. So, one of the job offers I had offered to me that week was to manage my friend’s band and it was the least secure and least paying gig out of all of them but it spoke to me the most about what I could do with my life and my career. And if I was going to work as hard as I’d been working I could bet on myself. So, that band was Captain Tractor and they were a very enterprising group of people.  I knew them all from the theatre I had worked at a couple of years before and they had an amazing independent spirit. And they were very successful all by themselves on this island out in the prairies and they taught me a lot. So, after graduating from the MBA program, my husband and I decided to make a move and we decided that Toronto was the place for us. So we packed our things and showed up in Toronto and that’s when I started Six Shooter Records.

Steve Waxman: Going back to Captain Tractor for a second, did they have to teach you how to be a manager?  Did you even know what a manager needed to do?

Shauna de Cartier: (laughing) I had no idea. Yeah, they really taught me a lot. I didn’t know anything about touring or publishing. I knew a lot about event management so that part wasn’t hard. But I didn’t know anything about recording so there was a lot to learn. Hats off to those guys. They’re so creative. They were pioneers in many ways.  They couldn’t get distribution so they started their own distribution company. They did things without grants. They didn’t really have access to funding. They toured in Europe and New Zealand.  They started an early Kickstarter-type program. You could send in your cheque for twenty bucks before the record is made and then your name would appear in the liner notes of the album. Things like that. So, this was pre-internet, really.  And when the internet existed, they were the first ones to have a website of anyone I knew other than really big companies. So they were just really forward thinking and industrious and creative and had, very much, a can-do attitude.

Steve Waxman: After you landed in Toronto, what motivated you to start Six Shooter?

Shauna de Cartier: Well, by that time, I was also managing Veal, which is Luke Doucette’s rock band. I was trying to get them a record deal and not succeeding.

Steve Waxman: Let’s take a step back for a second. How did you connect with Veal?

Shauna de Cartier: I went to Canadian Music Week in 1999. I went to the Paquin showcase at Ted’s Wrecking Yard where Veal was performing at midnight and The Weakerthans were performing at 1:00am. I did end up working with The Weakerthans a few years later. But I saw that performance by Veal and it totally inspired me.  Luke was very young at the time. 26 years-old but he looked like he was 14 (laughing). He was this little boy/man with a giant guitar and his heart on his sleeve blanched by Chang, the drummer, who was old. Way older than me and kind of scary looking. He looked like he’d just gotten out of prison. It was a really interesting band. I loved them and it was a huge source of inspiration for me.

Steve Waxman: I’m sorry, I interrupted you.  You were talking about how you started Six Shooter Records.

Shauna de Cartier:  I guess it wasn’t easy.  I arrived in Toronto fully formed, in a way. I had never worked at another music company. Never was anyone’s assistant. Didn't really know anyone. But I was welcomed in to the independent community predominantly populated by managers particularly Su de Cartier and a number of others, mostly women. Heather Pollock who managed Sarah Slean and Melissa Gryner who managed By Divine Right. And Sandy Pandya. So, they provided me with a community of people that I learned from and became friends with and got me established in the music community very much on the independent side.

Steve Waxman: So, how did you figure out how to get the record company off the ground?

Shauna de Cartier: You know, it’s not like I came into it with zero skills. I did have an MBA (laughing) and a number of years of marketing behind me and so things like business strategy and budgeting and marketing were not foreign concepts to me. Probably one of the biggest challenges was funding. I didn’t really have access to funding when I started Six Shooter.  It wasn’t until a number of years later that I qualified for funding. And, especially as a woman, it’s very difficult to get financing from a bank. It’s even difficult to get financing from a major label which is how, generally, indie labels start.  They get an advance from their distributor and they go to work. And that wasn’t available to me.

Steve Waxman: How did you fund those early releases?

Shauna de Cartier: I had bought a house in the East End of Toronto for $190,000 and because I was a homeowner I had access to credit cards. The most expensive kind of credit. And every time that someone sent me a brochure to sign up for a credit card, I signed up. So, I had about thirteen credit cards varying in limits of 20,000 to 50,000 and that is how I funded my business.

Steve Waxman: Wow! So, have you been using the slogan “Life’s Too Short For Shitty Music” from the very beginning?

Shauna de Cartier: Yeah.  My friend Bobbi, who I worked with for years in the restaurant business, she came up with that. It’s so good so I adopted it. I think, maybe to her chagrin, I never paid her a dime and I’ve sold thousands of t-shirts with that slogan on the back of it. But, yeah, I stole that from her. But for the name, I wanted to give the company a name that reflected my western roots. You know, out west is different than out here. It’s a new society. It’s very much a pioneer spirit still, even now. So there’s a lot of moxy that westerners generally have. You know, a bit of a maverick heir to them that I wanted to find a way to express. So I came up with the name Six Shooter Records and I got my friend, Ty Symaka, who is in a band called The Plaid Tongued Devils, out of Calgary, he designed my logo for free as a favour.  He came up with three different designs and I liked the one with the girl on the horse.  That was exactly perfect.

Steve Waxman: Very cool. Now, I was wondering, did you have an idea from the very beginning of what kind of music you wanted to focus on?

Shauna de Cartier: No. It wasn’t really about a genre of music, it was really more about excellence and just music and artists who spoke to me or moved me in some way like that cliche expression  “I’m not feeling it, man.” (laughing) It’s true, if you don’t feel it it’s not good. And so that’s basically how I’ve done it the whole time. Based on how the music makes me feel.

Steve Waxman: I’m wondering if there were any mentors, people who had run labels in the past that, perhaps, you went to for some guidance.

Shauna de Cartier: Well, very early on, when I moved to Toronto, I called up Bernie Finklestein because he was a bit of a hero of mine. He was the founder of the oldest record label in Canada, True North Records, and I felt like he had a real alignment and understanding of the artists. And he was also staunchly Canadian and staunchly independent and these were qualities and values of his that I admired and also held. So I called him up and he didn’t know me from Adam. I called him and said “Hi Bernie, my name is Shauna de Cartier and I manage Luke Doucette and will you be my mentor?” And he was, I think, quite surprised by that phone call and it put him off guard a little bit and he said “Call me back in a week and I’ll think about it.” And so I phoned him back in a week and he said “No.” He didn’t wanted to take any, I don’t know, blah-diddy-blah, responsibility for having a mentee, I guess. I didn’t really give up.  I got myself on the board of CIMA, which at the time was CIRPA, and I sat next to Bernie at every meeting and I volunteered for every committee that he was on and made him be my friend. We are still friends now. I also worked with Al Mair for about a year. He was really helpful to me in an interesting kind of way.  Al’s a super-smart guy and he would see what I needed to do but he wouldn’t tell me. He would ask me questions and force me to find the path myself by asking me the right questions. So that was good but I would say that my mentors are mostly my peer group. There’s a group of people that I still rely upon today to hash through challenges that I’m having. Those might include people like Neville Quinlan who is at Peer Music but is also one of my artists in NQ Arbuckle. Julian Pacquin, the booking agent.  Of course, my BFF, Sue de Cartier who is super helpful to me. A woman named Colleen Theis, she is now the COO of The Orchard but I’ve known her since 2001. She’s a go to person. And, also, through my work at CIMA, when you serve on a board that long you become friends with the other people and a lot of those people also own independent record labels. And so people like Justin West at Secret City and Kieran Roy at Arts & Crafts, Lisa Logutenkow, she was at Dine Alone for much of that time and now she’s at The Orchard. These are people I could call on. They’ll always take my call and always be willing to talk to me and share information with me. So I really rely on that peer group.

Steve Waxman: How did you go about getting distribution for Six Shooter outside of Canada?

Shauna de Cartier: It’s been a pretty interesting journey that way. I first got distribution going to MIDEM which is a conference that happens in the south of France in Cannes. I hooked up with a European distributor at first in 2005 and then got my first U.S. distribution deal in 2006. And I’ve been plugging away at trying to make an international impact with my artists ever since. But with the change in balance between physical and digital I’ve really seen a change in how our revenues are structured. So, in 2012, well I actually called the ball in 2010, when Luke Doucette was coming out with a record and somebody at Warner said that they expected it would ship 3,000 units, or something like that. And I said ‘Okay, this is over. If that’s all we can ship on this record then we’re done.’ But the physical market is very much tied to geographic markets whereas the digital market is global and the only way to make the money is to have that scale. Canada is only 3% of the world music market so to make a record label successful you have to move outside of Canada. So, in 2012, the slate of revenues was 80% domestic and 20% international. That split is now 75% international and 25% domestic. I expect that that shift will continue until it’s 97 and 3. As new markets open up, legitimate non-pirate markets, for example China was a pirate market until recently when they decided ‘Okay, we’re going to legitimize this market and we’re going to start paying for streams.’ And similarly, in Latin America, Youtube and Spotify and other streaming services that are free-adjacent but that pay, even if they don’t pay very much, those are huge markets. And so, even though my artists don’t necessarily appeal to a Chinese market there’s still money coming in from those places and from all over the world and that’s just going to continue.

Steve Waxman: How, specifically, have the streaming services been able to affect the opportunities for you and your artists?

Shauna de Cartier: Well, there’s a lot more data available and there’s more found listeners.  Say, for example, the band that we have, our biggest band, The Dead South, they now have 200 million streams on Youtube of their top song which is an incredible number. Because of their success there it has translated into success on other formats. Their single is gold in America. I don’t know if there is any other independent label in Canada that has a gold single in America without the help of a multinational or, at least, an American company. So that’s a real milestone. Eighteen months ago I went on a trade mission to Mexico City and Columbia and at the time the view count on the video was about 100 million streams and before I went I looked to see how many of those streams come from Mexico and how many come from Columbia and at the time there were one million streams of the song in Mexico. So that’s a market. A million streams on Youtube in any market is significant so, not that the band has been able to get to Mexico but realizes that there is an appetite for this band there and people are able to hear about this band because of the digital market.  If it was physical, probably, no one would ship the record to Mexico. But the band has toured Eastern Europe and Russia and a number of markets that would just not be open to them if it wasn't for the digital space.

Steve Waxman: So how about the Interstellar Rodeo Festival? Can you talk a little bit about how you got that going and why?

Shauna de Cartier: Well, I came into about $200,000 and I thought ‘Oh, I’ve never had this much money in one place at one time before. What am I going to do?’ And I thought ‘Okay, I could invest it into a bunch of records and eventually lose it all or I could try something different.’ I had always wanted to do a music festival and the venue that I had in mind was the Heritage Amphitheatre in Edmonton. I had done an event there with Captain Tractor. We had done an album launch party for their album Celebrity Traffic Jam there in 1999. The venue is amazing.  So we decided that I was going to try to do a music festival and that’s where it’s going to be. And it seems to try and do that remotely while I was living in Toronto but, for many reasons, it was easier for me to pull off a festival in Edmonton than Toronto. So, at Christmas, I was visiting my family and I sat them all down and I said “Okay, I'm going to try this thing and I need your help.” And, as my brother puts it, they were volun-told. So, I put one brother in charge of the front gates and one of my sisters in charge of backstage hospitality and my other sister in charge of admin and my other brother worked the bar and my niece worked in merch. So I gave everybody jobs.  My mom ran the info booth and I had a lot of friends still. I had a network of people who had jobs that meant something and had some skills so I called on them so largely my friends in Captain Tractor and Scott Peters, the mandolin player in the band, was my production manager. And I got Chris Winters to be the MC and I got Amy Hill to be the marketing person and we did this together and I lost all 200,000 of those dollars that I had but it was evident that it was an immediate hit. People loved it and the media loved it and the community loved it and the artist loved it.  Everyone loved it. So that gave me the inspiration to continue with it. And then, the second year, I was lucky to be able to book Alabama Shakes right before they took off. I booked them for just a fraction of what they’d be worth today. It was just the right timing.  I booked them and then they were on Saturday Night Live and then it sold out so that generated enough cash flow to keep going.

Steve Waxman: So, I’d like to finish this off by talking about social consciousness if you don’t mind. I know that earlier this year you posted a letter on your website about steps your company planned to take to deal with a situation that came to the forefront for you guys with Danny Kenyon of The Deep South and I’m curious as to why you felt that it was important to make a public statement.

Shauna de Cartier: Certainly, that was the first Me Too situation that we had to deal with as a company. In as far as scandals go, it was probably not the most scandalous that could ever happen but, first of all, Six Shooter is, up until recently, the only Canadian record label that is owned and operated by women. So there comes a certain responsibility with that. And add to that the question of “Why is that?” But that’s a whole other conversation. But it’s really important to me as a feminist and to the woman in the music community that Six Shooter be a leader in this regard. Because, if we don't handle it in the best way that we can figure out how to handle it, we kind of let down all women. Maybe people expected douchebagery from male dominated companies but they don’t expect that from Six Shooter. So, it was really an all consuming process. A lot of discussions and a lot of thought went into the best way to handle that.  When you look at the Me Too movement, a lot of the sort of tall poppies have been taken down, like the Headley’s or the Jian Ghomeshi’s or whatever. But now we’re getting more into the roots of it and this is systemic. The kinds of experiences that women have, all women have them and what can we do to combat that. And part of that is through awareness and training. So we did bring on this wonderful facilitator, Stacy Forrester from Good Night Out in Vancouver. We had taken some training from her last year with Interstellar Rodeo on how to create a safer space at our festival. I thought that this is really valuable and this is applicable to our artists. And some of our artists are very much leaders in that realm. I don’t know how familiar you are with July Talk and the work that they do to create as safe a space as possible at their shows, an inclusive space.  So, trying to translate those values and understand, I guess, the “why” of it. Why is sexual harrasement and sexual assault so ubiquitous? And how can we all learn about that and work to change that? So, that’s one of the steps but it’s not just in respect to gender issues, it’s also racial issues. When we started working with Tanya Tagaq in 2013, that was a game changer for Six Shooter in so many ways. Working with her really set me on a journey of learning about racism in Canada and the history behind it and how it is still perpetuated today and working to try to reduce that. To change people and it’s a big job.

* * *

2020 was a difficult year for most businesses for sure and Six Shooter was no different.  Shauna admitted to me that after years on her management division and artist touring keeping the label afloat it was the label and its releases that helped keep Six Shooter going this year. In its 20 year history Six Shooter has built a critically acclaimed roster and you can check out all of their artists and releases at sixshooter.com