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Working For the Weekend: With Steve Mann from File Under: Music

By Maya-Roisin Slater

Steve Mann.
Photo: Sarah Whitlam

VANCOUVER — Steve Mann was a plastic guy. Hawking vinyl lettering, ink cartridges, and raw sign making materials at a soul crushing office job, a life in sales was not exactly shaping up to what he’d hoped. Away from the water cooler he led a double life in an indie rock band called Philoceraptor, a project which Mann himself says he “Didn’t completely screw up.” During this trying time in his life is when he met Karen Hood through a co-worker. Sensing he needed a change, she asked him to combine his love for music and savvy at selling non- biodegradable goods as a manager for the label she was running, File: Under Music. It’s been three and a half years since that holy union, and Mann’s soul is now notably un-sucked. Hood started the label herself in 2007, signing a young Dan Mangan and helping him build his successes. Before her first foray into the music industry Hood was a councilor, and her business partner Lisa Stewart an actor. “I wonder how hard it would be to start a record label?” they asked themselves. And here they are ten years later in an upstairs Chinatown office surrounded by boxes of CDs and records, with a whiteboard on the wall tracking File: Under Music releases that became so extensive they stopped updating it in 2013. We sat down with Mann in this very office to get some juicy details on the thrilling ins and outs of a nine-to-five in this crazy ‘ol thing we call the music industry.

BeatRoute: What do you do at File: Under Music?

Steve Mann: I’m a label manager, which means I have to do many things to keep this machine rolling. So specifically I would say anything that has to do with the input of music, so finding artists and making sure everything’s set up properly. So art, production, to getting it out here, figuring out how we’re going to promote a record, setting up budgets for that and also all the writing and copy and creative we do to so people can find out about the music we put out.

BeatRoute: What’s the hardest part of your job?

SM: There are two really hard parts. One is figuring out what to do with the industry at any given time because it changes so fast, and the big change is that sales are decimated compared to what they were and unfortunately the fact that sales are decimated, people don’t really understand what effect that has on getting people to love artists again or connect with them. On the other side of the coin it’s dealing with artists. Because as much as I love artists—and I do love artists—it takes a lot of communication so they know what’s best for them. And I try not to say that condescendingly because I mean it with all the love in the world. There are things that I’m sure they think will work, that I know because I’ve done it for so many records, so many releases, that just don’t work. But it’s because they’ve never done it before and they don’t know any better. So like, “We want to put this record out right away and we just finished recording it!” Well it takes six months to set up everything to do that properly, please believe that that’s true. So I guess one way to put that is earning the trust of our artists, and trying to turn their music into business. People shit on that as a concept all the time, but I think it’s a very noble pursuit in a very Ayn Rand-ian sense, I think the best way to show value for something is to get money so there can be more of it. So as much as it might bug NEEDS one day that I’m like, “I need you to do your social media a little better, and I’m going to put an ad on this thing.” It’s because I want them to make more money so they can make more music and they can go and make this bigger and better. So that’s a difficult bit of terrain to traverse, I think I’m not horrible at it because I’ve been on that side of things, I know the value a little bit more than a soulless record executive.

BeatRoute: Do you think your experience as an artist before working with File: Under Music has affected how you do your job?

SM: It’s definitely made it easier. Because I can appreciate things, like there was an artist I spoke to about doing a thing with and he was really hesitant because he wrote a record that was a break-up record. And he thought as much as it was a good idea to do the things that we were talking about doing, he’s like, “I can’t put this record out right now, because if I put it out my relationship’s really over.” And I was like, “Your relationship is really over, right?” And he was like, “Yeah it is, this just makes it real.” It’s just like you know what I totally understand it, hit me up when the time’s right for you. As much as I know this will work, I’m not going to force you into it. Because nobody’s going to be happy at that point. So the empathy definitely does help, and it also helps me talk people through the dark times if you will.

BeatRoute: So, what’s your favourite part of your job?

SM: Being able to listen to so much music all the time. And the fact that I can see through the code a bit and see there are paths to success. It’s very, very, very difficult. I think Vancouver’s especially challenged sort of compared to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. It’s just geography. We’re trapped by the mountains, the next market to the East being Kelowna, we’re trapped by the ferry you need to get to Victoria so you lose a lot of your cash just trying to get there, and the border is only going to get harder to cross from here on in. Whereas if you’re in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa, you have those three cities to bounce between and as soon as you get your visa and you drive around the great lakes you go through three Canadas’ worth of people. So I find in Vancouver there’s almost a mindset of there’s no point in really trying because all we can do is fail, and I think Vancouver sells itself short a lot of times for that. My greatest joy will be when I can figure that out for bands and help them be really successful.

For more on the File Under: Music singles series, visit fileundermusic.com.

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