Music business by the pint
Since they graduated from Queen’s, Artsci’06 classmates Brian Smiley and Craig Hill have been busy building careers in the music industry with their companies YYZ records and 2+2 management. But their businesses have an unlikely humble origin – Alfie’s Nightclub.
Brian and Craig met through mutual friends, but they started hanging out and trading CDs when Craig became a DJ at Alfie’s in 2003. “I was one of the lead bartenders [there] on Friday nights, and they were talking about bringing in a new DJ, who ended up being Craig,” says Brian. He adds that they bonded over a shared love of electronic and house music.
After graduating, the two returned to Toronto, where they started Rollin’ & Scratchin’, a weekly dance party featuring DJs and live acts. Craig says the recording label formed after bands started leaning on them for management services. Rather than rely on other labels and booking agents to manage bands and produce their albums, they decided to “do it all in-house and keep it as one big happy family.”
The pair named their record label YYZ after Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where Brian worked summers as a landscaper during his student days. He pitched the name to Craig in an informal way. “We were having a beer at the Queen’s Pub and talking about how cool it would be to start up our own record label,” he recalls, adding jokingly that he didn’t even like the name YYZ at first. “Years later, when it came time name our label, we knew exactly what the name was going to be.”
The rest, as they say, is history. In the two years since its inception, YYZ records has released 10 albums, and 2+2 management has represents a roster of 10 clients.
Despite roughing it out in an industry where monetizing music can be hard, Brian says business has moved at an “accelerated pace” since their companies joined Embrace, a Toronto-based concert production and promotion company. Under Embrace’s wing, Brian and Craig attended the College Music Journal Music Marathon, a conference in New York City where bands from all over the world perform showcases. Their bands have also played the trendy SXSW festivals in Austin and Miami Music Week. But Craig says a major success came two years when Ford Canada licensed a song by Kid Street, one of their clients, for a television commercial: “Not only is it making the band and ourselves money, but it’s exposing their music to a huge range of people that would have never heard this band before,” says Brian.
With many Queen’s alumni living in Toronto, he says he and Craig often meet fellow alumni who are working in the music industry. Brian notes that the shared Queen’s nostalgia is a “core foundation” of networking. “You’re constantly running into alumni. I can always say I was the bartender at Alfie’s or QP, and they have an image in their head of themselves having a drink at QP,” he says. “I have to wonder many business ideas were forged over a pint at the QP.”