“We’re excited because I think we do something that they don’t do, so there’s a nice complement there,” Shipley tells Billboard. “The best thing about it from our perspective is it allows Numero to continue to do what Numero does, which is run incredible A&R and acquisitions staffs, without having to get bogged down in a lot of the day-to-day stuff. Because of that I ultimately think we’re going to be able to spread our wings and really ramp up our acquisitions over the next decade.”
Shipley has known the Secretly Canadian partners since the late ‘90s when they purchased the assets of his now-defunct first record label Tree Records. Numero Group, founded in 2003, then relied on Secretly Canadian’s in-house production company, Bellwether Manufacturing, to handle some of its production. As the label has grown over the past 10 years from three employees losing money to a staff of 11 that reported over $1 million in profit last year, Shipley and his partners began looking for someone who could help manage their growing infrastructure needs. He reached out to Chris Swanson in an email this January.
“I felt like we weren’t being as successful as we could be because none of us [at Numero Group] were specializing in anything,” Shipley says. “We all ended up just kind of being general workers as opposed to being really good at doing one thing, and I couldn’t see any way for us to do that that didn’t involve hiring at least 10 more people.”
Excluding Numero Group, the Secretly Label Group has 26 shared employees across North America and Europe. SC Distribution, its Bloomington-based distribution company, distributes the member labels and several other independents, including Ghostly International, Sacred Bones and Tri Angle, worldwide. In 2011, the Swansons and Van Arman started the artist management company Fort William with Ami Spishock, and last year the three partners launched a new publishing company called SC Publishing.
“We’ve become friends with Tom and Ken and Rob over the years and when there was an opportunity for us to become closer partners, we jumped at it,” Van Arman says. “They’re just brilliant at contextualizing and packaging and execution, and for Numero Group to be aligned with Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar and Dead Oceans is a dream come true.”
Van Arman said Numero Group was particularly appealing as a partner because of its focus on unearthing great music of the past as opposed to building a new repertoire. Numero Group has been nominated for three Grammy awards for its work reissuing forgotten soul, gospel, folk and rock music, including the work of Syl Johnson and Ohio’s Capsoul Records.
“We didn’t want to become part of another alternative or indie rock kind of label that would be competing with or repeating what we’re already doing,” Van Arman said. He added that Numero Group’s expertise in presenting older music to a new audience would be helpful as the Secretly Label Group’s catalog increases in age. The first Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar albums were released in 1996.
On the group’s new name, Van Arman called it an overdue simplification.
“It was always a mouthful for our employees to be like ‘Hey, I represent Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian,” he said. “‘Secretly Label Group,’ dropping the ‘Canadian,’ was a good way to brand the connection between the labels and refer to them all with just one moniker.”