Not many post-secondary graduates can claim the recording, distribution and promotion of a music project as part of their curriculum vitae. But with the April launch of Bent River Records at MacEwan University, students now have an opportunity to get a ground-floor look at how the recording industry works and incorporate these skills into the curriculum of design, music, arts and cultural management programs.
At least that’s one experience that Paul Johnston, an assistant professor at MacEwan and its head of recording, hopes students will carry away with them.
“The fact that there are programs at MacEwan in a number of areas, particularly arts and cultural management, these are components so necessary for a label to function,” said Johnston, who got the idea to start Bent River when he relocated to Edmonton from Montreal in 2014. “I thought it would be useful for students to do something that’s current so they can get a better idea of what to look for when they get out of university.”
University-based labels are nothing new. McGill in Montreal had one, and a few exist in the United States. What makes Bent River stand out is that it integrates its functions with learning programs at MacEwan.
Johnston, who’s produced five Juno Award-winning albums while in Montreal, knew that the work involved in getting Bent River off the ground would be a laborious undertaking. He’s been working on it since 2014 with Rose Ginther, the chair of MacEwan’s arts and cultural management program.
“Running a label on my own would be impossible. By incorporating the label into a university, the students benefit through experiential learning, and the artists get more support than they might elsewhere. It is mutually beneficial.”
One of those students was Mallory Chipman, who was one of three artists to have projects launched by Bent River.
“I learned that it certainly takes a village to get a project going and that’s one of the amazing things about having a label backing you,” said Chipman, whose jazz recording, Nocturnalize, was launched in November. “You have a group of hardworking people who ultimately become resources, who are there to help you with marketing, design or grant writing if you want it.”
Bent River as an education model is only one motive for Johnston, however. He’d also like to continue to grow its relationship with the local community and the national music scene. “So far the projects we’ve done have been jazz-related and the reception with the jazz community was strong,” he said. “Bent River Records is a work in progress. We will not strictly be a jazz label, but rather an art-music label. We have a pop record planned for next year. There are some great artists in Edmonton and I thought it would be better for them to be better known in the rest of the country and vice-versa.”