New Universal Music Canada president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios has, as was made clear during his half-hour keynote at Canadian Music Week, brought a long-established indie ideology to his new job, saying he feels "an overwhelming responsibility" to leave the industry "better than he found it."
Remedios, the co-founder of indie stalwart Arts & Crafts, was interviewed by another artist-friendly label executive, rapper Kardinal Offishall. "I will be giving you some difficult questions so hopefully you're as prepared as I am," Kardi told Remedios, onstage at Toronto's Sheraton Centre.
Remedios has only been running the label since late September, when Randy Lennox, Universal Music Canada's former president and CEO, moved to Bell Media. When Lennox rang him about the proposition, Remedios says he was not jumping up and down to return to the major label world after building one of Canada's most successful indie labels. In the early 2000s, after heading up promotions at Virgin/EMI, the business was "post Napster, pre-iTunes," with "a culture of fear... flowing through the business" and he felt far removed from the creative process. Meanwhile, an amazing indie artist community was brewing in Toronto and he was "enthralled" by Broken Social Scene.
In 2003, at the cusp of a dramatically changing business, he quit his job and started Arts & Crafts, after Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew brought him their album You Forgot It In People. "I wanted to be able to think, and I didn't feel I could that from where I was inside the company [Virgin/EMI]," said Remedios. Drew became a 50-50 partner in Arts & Crafts, which went on to sign Feist, Stars, and Jason Collett. For the label's 10th anniversary, they launched the music festival Field Trip, which will host two days at Fort York this June 3-4 (Remedios will attend as a fan).
He recalled 2015 as a landmark year for him, turning 40 and was engaged to be married that summer. Six weeks before his wedding Lennox called him, wanting to meet first thing in the morning, revealing by phone he was leaving Universal and wanted him to get on a plane in the next 48 hours to meet with global chairman Lucian Grainge.
Remedios was leaving for Mexico City, where Arts & Crafts has an office, but the "classic greatest sales guy in the world" convinced him to re-route, he told Kardi. So he met with Grainge and the team.
"Not that I was bullish, but I was like, 'Do I want to do this? Am I the right fit for this? Where is the company going? What is the place of majors in the larger music ecosystem,'" Remedios said. If he took the job, he would approach it "entrepreneurially."
Grainge said the senior executives at Universal around the world are "like-minded, entrepreneurial, artist-focused people."
On Sept. 21, Remedios started as the CEO and president of Universal Music Canada.
"I've come into Universal Canada at a time when Randy did an unbelievably amazing job running that place for a couple of decades and at a time of transition, it was incredibly difficult and now I would say that music is still a frontier town. Which sheriff is going to annex the territory is still getting figured out. For the most part, the pirates have been run out of town; they're still around and if you want to find them you can still find them but it's just not worth the bother anymore."
He mentions that music now is generally consumed equally between physical, download and subscription.
"We're in a time of experimentation. And that experimentation comes not just on the technical level and on the consumption level but also happens in the creation level (artists) -- whether it's singles, the length of a record, which used to be constrained by technology -- it no longer is. Frequency of release. Some of it's really healthy and it's exciting; some of it's challenging." He notes that “exclusives,” for instance, “could be great for business, not great for fans.”
Kardi closed the interview by asking Remedios to look ahead at the future of the Canadian music business.
"This is about the fact that right now it's our time," said Remedios. "It's our time as Toronto. It's our time as Canada. It's our growth as a leader country in the world. If Toronto's going to truly viewed as a world class city then let's start with Torontonians viewing ourselves as world class and we need to have universal belief in our own talent.
"It's our time to be confident as an industry, to take artists from here, sign them here, and development them out to the world from here. And it's a huge mandate of mine and I have the support of the entire Universal Music Group on doing that I've got some amazing international colleagues here -- Steve Barnett, Ashley Newton, the Capitol team. It's an honor and a privilege to work with these folks. And we, Canada, have their support to developing at home and taking this out into the world. As many Canadian artists we can break here, that matters around the world."