Local label Out of this Spark will be celebrating its fifth anniversary at the Tranzac this Saturday.
For many grassroots musicians, the music industry can be an intimidating environment. The daunting challenges of producing and releasing an album can discourage even the most committed artists. One has to wonder: is there a way to build a small, responsive music label that can support artists and allow creative freedom? Can a label be niche and independent while still being sustainable? Stuart Duncan founded his record label Out of This Spark in an attempt to provide that alternative. The company will be celebrating its fifth anniversary on February 25th.
Duncan moved to Toronto from Guelph in 2006. He had been working at the Guelph University radio station and promoting concerts around the area. In the process, he got to know a tight-knit community of musicians who, for the most part, burned their own CDs and bound them by hand.
Duncan noticed that these homemade efforts tended not to gain much mainstream traction. Some artists were reluctant to sign with larger labels, because they worried they’d need to cede artistic control.
Duncan figured he could start his own label as a middle ground between the do-it-yourself and those bigger labels that his friends had been frustrated with.
At the time, Duncan’s friends Jamie Bunton and Casey Mecija, of Ohbijou, were putting together a compilation called Friends In Bellwoods. Duncan thought of this as the perfect opportunity to start his label. Not only was the album a fundraiser for the Daily Bread Food Bank, but it was also meant to be a grassroots effort.
For that compilation, Duncan was able to get distribution through Sonic Unyon, and the project evolved from there. The label now supports eight bands, including Evening Hymns, Forest City Lovers, and Snowblink, among others.
Distribution wasn’t the only problem Duncan found facing small bands. He also recognized a need for a good, supportive venue. That was where the Tranzac came in.
“When I first came to Toronto it seemed everything was very niche, circles of people. So you would have this circle of musicians, but you wouldn’t really have much cross-pollination between,” he said. “The Tranzac was the first space in Toronto that I found was really a cross-pollination of all those different types, beyond ages, and types of music.”
Duncan and Out of this Spark have been actively involved with the Tranzac ever since. The label has hosted numerous events there, including the first Friends in Bellwoods release, and releases for the D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers. The Tranzac has also hosted several of the label’s anniversary celebrations, and will host the upcoming one.
Duncan anticipates a bright future for Out of this Spark. He hopes the company will continue to grow slowly, while maintaining its original focus: publishing music while allowing the musicians as much control and input as possible.
“We just have to stop pretending that we can become one of those larger labels and just find a way to have as much impact as we can in our own immediate community,” he said. “I think the future is a bit of a movement back towards where we were when we started. Smaller scale, still putting out music, but not so much worrying about the bottom line and trying to reach this arbitrary level of success that some of these large indie labels have had.”