In 2005, Joel Carriere founded Dine Alone Records at his home in St. Catharines, Ont. Thirteen years later, the indie imprint is renowned as one of Canada’s top record labels with nearly 30 employees, offices in Toronto, Nashville, L.A., and Australia, and an artist roster that includes City and Colour, the Lumineers, and Dashboard Confessional.
In addition to Dine Alone Records, Carriere and vice-president Lisa Logutenkow also oversee Bedlam Music Management, spin-off labels New Damage Records and Haven Sounds, and even Dine Alone’s own line of hot sauce.
Read on to discover how Carriere and Logutenkow turned a love of rock music into a growing empire.
Workopolis: You both had experience in the industry, but could anything have prepared you for starting your own management company and record label?
Carriere: I think everything prepares you for the next thing in front of you. There was a really wealthy gentleman who had a label that was kind of a hobby, and I worked there for several years just watching him make mistake after mistake. That really prepared me more than anything – watching someone waste money and fail miserably at doing something that I wanted to do and loved, which is be involved in music.
You launched a music company in 2005 as the record industry was seemingly collapsing. Did people think you were crazy?
Carriere: I think everyone’s been saying that since we started. Apparently, I’m still nuts because I work with bands that write their own songs and play their own instruments.
Before, it was definitely a bloated industry, and it was just deflating after the Internet opened that tap. Our strength is that we’ve always managed to navigate between everything that’s popular and find a path for us. Even in the climate of Drake and the Weeknd dictating what everyone listens to in Canada and Toronto, we’re putting out really great records – the Lumineers are still selling hundreds of thousands of copies, and Dallas (Green) can still sell more than three thousand tickets.
As long as we stay the course and follow our heart, as cheesy as that sounds, it seems to work so far.
How did you build your company during a time when people were buying fewer records?
Logutenkow: We didn’t start in the days of millions of dollars being thrown around and everyone flying on private jets. We came from a D.I.Y. punk background. We worked hard to do as much as possible for ourselves, and to do it frugally.
When the piracy was happening, for us, all of our projections were based on where we just started. We weren’t looking at a band that sold 50 million copies and is now only going to sell one million. For us, it was: that band sold five thousand, next time they’ll sell 10 to 20 thousand, because we helped get them on the radio and helped grow them. I think starting from a modest place helped us a lot.
Our main world is the rock world. Pop and hip-hop songs are top of the chart on Spotify and that’s where a lot of the revenue is coming, so that changed things for us. We had to figure out different ways of releasing products. For instance, not putting out an album but a single instead. Vinyl’s also still huge for us.
You’ve gone from a very small operation to an international company. How have you dealt with growing pains?
Logutenkow: We’re still figuring it out. Communication is a huge thing we work through every day. In this office (in Toronto), it’s so easy to walk to the person outside and talk. As easy as it should be to pick up the phone and call someone, it continues to be a struggle.
When people get so busy, it’s not so much of a priority to call the person across the world and tell them what’s going on. You just want to get your stuff done. So, we’re still figuring it out.
The U.S. costs a lot of money. Marketing a record in the U.S. puts us in a whole different bracket of budgets. It’s a struggle, but we also know that market is so much bigger, and if we’re going to continue to grow, we have to try.
If we keep trying and it’s not successful and things aren’t growing, we’ll have to decide. But for our upcoming year, we have more U.S. releases than we’ve ever had that we’re releasing around the world. So, it’s a continuous growth process, but people are starting to recognize us as a global company.
Dallas Green has been a core artist for you since the beginning, when you put out his first record as City and Colour. You’ve been with him as he’s accumulated platinum albums and Juno Awards. How has that partnership developed?
Carriere: We worked at the same mall when he was in his late teens and I was in my early 20s, and we established a friendship and trust that’s continued throughout the years. You hit your road blocks and disagreements but so long as you’ve got each other’s backs – and our greater goal is to put out his art in a way that doesn’t go against any of our ethics or morals and doesn’t burn him out – it’s business as usual for us.
He comes in the office, we hang out, we have beers, we go to basketball games. I know now having managed a bunch of different bands and doing the record label a long time, it is a very special relationship. I don’t think we recognized it was as special as it was when were younger.
What would surprise people about your job?
Logutenkow: That partying is exhausting? (laughs)
And for mine and Joel’s roles, it doesn’t stop. I slept at the office last night.
What on earth made you expand from songs to sauces?
Logutenkow: All of us like spicy food. Jordan (Hastings) from Alexisonfire, he and Joel were always talking about hot sauces. He has a bit of knowledge of how to make a hot sauce himself, the flavour profiles and what ingredients to use. We were just like: Food, music, and booze go together really well. It’s around us all the time.
We thought, OK, releasing a sauce is kind of like releasing a record. The only problem is with a record, you put everything into the release. Releasing a sauce, the release date doesn’t matter. Your marketing budget for that one product is spread out forever. You have to keep people paying attention to this one thing year over year. Whereas with a record, you get another record in a year or two and you focus on another one.
Does your job still feel like a dream?
Carriere: Yes and no. I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished. But you end up getting cut a lot, and your scars heal but they’re there. The first eight years or so, we didn’t get to see the ugly side of it, because we were running such a small independent style – a very family vibe. Then we started seeing the entitlement of certain artists and the betrayal of certain employees. You get to the ugly side of it as you grow. There was an innocence and a charm when we started that I miss. But at the same time, I understand with growth you just have to get a tougher skin.
But then, we are now in this beautiful new 10-thousand square foot building that’s like some crazy concept dream that we had. On the weekend, Dashboard Confessional came by and had drinks and cranked up tunes and we were here until three in the morning. And times like that, it’s like: This is the best.