This is the story – as told by founder, Graeme Boyce.
In Your Nut Shell
Raw Energy developed a top-drawer roster of illustrious bands and a catalogue of music that primarily targeted the skate and snowboard markets throughout the nineties. Our albums were licensed, released and marketed by several distributors around the world: A&M Records (Canada), Labyrinth (USA), Black Mark (Europe) and Shock (Australia).
With the help of many people, Raw Energy positioned itself as a music industry trailblazer; identifying, acquiring and releasing the best raw and energetic music of a very talented generation. In the process, its management evolved and grew not only a distinguished brand name but also a valuable trademark, recognized and trusted around the world. After launching a graphic-driven merchandise line, Raw Energy also hired creative and marketing staffs for a filmed entertainment division in 1995, Raw Energy Film & Video, and other brand extensions involved in marketing and promotions, from The Raw Energy Film Festival to The Raw Energy Beach Picnic.
Although our artists today can be heard freely online, music also appears on movies like “White Lies”, “Canadian Bakin”, and “Naked City”, as well as licensed to several popular television productions from “Sesame Street” and “The Rez” to “Black Harbour”. Raw Energy, as a brand, is not just about music anymore.It is about acquisition, integration and collaboration; bundling assets and marketing successfully.
Collectively, I always thought it makes a powerful and influential force; it’s about youth though. I hope you agree as time goes on, people are less motivated by their passions and more about the economic reality of the day. So, within youth, you’ll certainly find raw energy – as well as also in those who refuse to let the candle go out!
I started the label simply to maximise my time and personal expenses incurred attending local shows in the eighties, while writing for a music trade magazine called RPM Weekly.
Together with John Stewart, in those very early days we began to manage the career of King Apparatus.We organised shows in and around Toronto – our handcrafted and photocopied posters screamed: “London’s best ska band”, as the city’s newest headliners still attended either Western or Fanshawe. In 1991, we invested in and created the first International Ska Festival, which was held at the old Masonic Temple on Yonge Street.It was very much a success, stressful but fun.The Goofs provided security and utilised the extensive network of (co-managed) S.H.A.R.P. (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice). We managed and grew the band and their fan base for three years before releasing their music commercially on cassette and eventually on CD.
Shortly thereafter, we generated a hit single for King Apparatus (“Made For TV”) on local station CFNY, fuelling the label’s early growth at campus radio and enabling us in 1992 to sign a distribution deal with A&M Records Canada. In the early 90s, after the release of “Welcome”, we began our illustrious relationship with Random Killing; as Drew has provided “reinforced vocal emphasis” in the studio for our King A debut – and then rather quickly began to grow the roster. Raw Energy released five Random Killing albums.
We signed the 3-year deal with A&M and a lot of people in the “alternative” circles questioned our decision to exploit the manufacturing and distribution resources of a major label, due to the fact ‘the indie scene’ was at this time raging across North America retailers. Its success was brief, as mediocre talent was a drain overall and generally ill-advised, and support at retail collapsed within a year.At the expiration of our contract with A&M, many indie labels lay on the side of the road: dead on the road. Radio station formats were maturing and programmers were certainly not as adventurous as they were at the outset of the FM revolution, and subsequent evolution.
We still had a pulse though.In the summer of 1994, after placing a classified ad seeking investors, we met Robert Roche. By then, although we had signed and released albums from many great bands including Dinner Is Ruined, King Cobb Steelie, Mundane, Leanne Haze, Throbbin Hoods and Top Secret, as well as follow-up albums from both King A and Random Killing, we were getting by on “fingernails and spit” (to quote Mark from the Hoods). Yet in the summer of ’95 and actually supported financially by punk bands from across Canada, we released a compilation called “On The Road to NYC” – as we had bought a trade booth at the New Music Seminar and sold sponsorship packages to cover expenses.
For the show, we also compiled and published and sold ads to various companies and organizations a useful touring and retail guide of Canada: A Cultural Industries Directory aka ACID.We had been feuding with A&M during this time and released the compilation on an offshoot label called Raw Eggs – its first and only release – but marketed completely independently by our in-house staff.
Over the decade we released many compilations in fact. The first was simply called “Raw Energy”, and the next “Dead On The Road”. They all feature (mostly) unsigned bands, including some that we actually signed in the months to come, and a cartoon or graphic illustration on the cover. They also all feature punk music – keeping in mind that “punk” is an attitude not a musical style. Our most popular was a joint effort between Raw Energy and Shock in Australia called “Twentybandcomp”.The last one (1999) was called “On The Road To Amsterdam” and features Canadian reggae bands – an interesting bookend, seeing as our first album was ska music.
After signing Random Killing and releasing their album “Welcome…” containing the massive hits “Patios & Beer” and “Undertaker”, among others, we disastrously signed All Good Children. The latter turned out to be the reason we would never ever sign a band from Hamilton. They did not have the right attitude. They were the only band we ever dropped. But during this time, we had contacted other labels that were releasing and distributing “alternative to the mainstream” music in other lands, one of which was Labyrinth in Chicago, who had a targeted distribution deal with Rotz Records. We shipped a lot of our new CDs to them and then one day they went bankrupt. We never got paid and never got our stock back. Tough lesson to learn. But it wasn’t our last.
Other than the generosity of my own family and friends, our first serious investment came from Linda Cook’s parents.We blew it, literally, on All Good Children, of all bands in the world.
Linda was instrumental to our literal survival during those very rough years. A year later, when Robert Roche (and his promises) came into our lives, we didn’t have a business plan, but the following year we did. Into the offices with boardrooms the size of tennis courts we confidently went.We certainly learned quickly there were sharks in the waters; if we could write a cheque for then we could enlist the capital services of Bay Street “professionals”, or for we could hire Kim Kelly – guess which route we chose?
Kelly, among others of his ilk, helped shape our business plan and vision, which grew from ten pages to over 100 pages in length. I believe if you’re leading a band these days and you’re looking to be signed to a label, then you should have a business plan; likewise, if you’re an entrepreneur (with a great idea) and you’re looking to be also financed, then you too should have a business plan. Ours grew because the sharks feed off other sharks – and the bigger the plan the better.
Along the way, we met Steve and Tony and John – all of whom had money, but all had lessons to teach and not money to give us at this point. We persevered and honed the pitch. Steve had us close to a serious investment from a company called Durkin Hayes. They had made a bundle by selling millions of cassette tapes at truck stops – and one of the owners had a son who snowboarded, ironically for the Spazz team.
We knew Mike from Spazz – who was friends with Greg from King Apparatus – and thought the investment was a done deal… until D-H suddenly was bought by leading investment firm Soloman Bros in NYC. Why? Because they were cash rich. We could have spent their money very well.
Our business plan now included Raw Energy Music, Raw Energy Film & Video and Raw Energy Multimedia – all marketed together rather neatly under the umbrella of The Raw Energy Group of Companies.The opportunity outlined in the plan was to eventually open Raw Energy clubs, an investment brokerage (we assumed we’d need to manage all the bands’ money properly, as well as the fans’) and an airline, et cetera. We faced an interesting dilemma at this point when starting to think big – investors unfortunately don’t believe you can handle the growth or they themselves can’t think that big. It’s tough to find the right match – and so the search continues to this day.
As well, after publishing a few early websites, we recorded the pilot for Raw Energy Radio. We really thought radio stations would snap up a program appealing to boarders heading to the hills on weekend mornings. It led us to John Walters, after radio stations impolitely declined.Apparently, they were playing enough Offspring and Green Day to satisfy their listenership. We launched Raw Energy Radio on Walters own VCBN and produced a show every Wednesday night which was listened by fans online globally. Our success spawned The Anger Channel, a series of six personality-driven weekly shows marketed by Raw Energy Promotions.
Love him or hate him, Robert Roche got us to MIDEM. It was there we met Borje from Black Mark, a well-respected death metal label. Next thing you know, we had 12 of our hardcore titles released in 21 territories around the world which, in the wake of A&M’s contract ending, we began to import into Canada ourselves and distribute to skate shops, hemp shops and coffee shops across the country. But no advance. Robert disappeared. Later and oddly, investigating RCMP thought we were his money-laundering operation, in the wake of his StyleRite swindle. Despite fielding desperate many calls from little old ladies out west looking for elusive Robert and money, as were we, he had truly disappeared and we could not help them locate him.
We bounced back and thereafter signed, produced and released a string of great albums from Five Knuckle Chuckle, Three Impotent Males, Trunk, Marilyn’s Vitamins, Tirekickers, Toe To Toe (from Australia), Out of Hand, Jersey, Double Standard and Space City USA, augmenting the titles from Random Killing, Mundane and Throbbin Hoods.The most recent bands signed and distributed are the now defunct Do Nothing Suburbians, Racer, No Connection and Cut Off. Though we may not heard of the last of the latter. Unfortunately for them, and us, Oasis – a new national distributor, formed by a variety of senior music industry execs – funded and launched courtesy of a lucrative IPO – did not survive. Our stock ended up in the hands of EMI.
Although we knew the senior staff at EMI, I did not approve the distribution of our titles through their retail network, and simply would not support their unauthorised sales efforts. Thus, we closed our office after our 10th Year Anniversary Party, rather than work for a major label. Inevitably, the albums were returned to us…after four years. The albums were then made available to raise money for the Al Kindi hospital in Baghdad, via Doctors Without Borders. King Apparatus used to do benefit shows for this organisation in the early days – and all of the bands have supported various causes over the years, from environmental to anti-racism and anti-misogynist.
It is in this spirit that we hope it was time and money well invested.
Graeme Boyce Toronto, ON (Canada)
Graeme Boyce is still writing, promoting and creating new projects. Visit Civilized Productions for a taste.
You can reach Graeme here with comments or questions.