By Jesse Thomas
The bar famous for giving bands like Blue Rodeo, Ron Sexsmith and the Barenaked Ladies their first break is now catching a break of its own—signing a national distribution contract with Warner Music Canada.
“The label (Cameron House Records) began as an idea two years ago,” said bar owner and label co-founder Cosmo Ferraro, 25. “I don’t know exactly how it started…It just came out of hanging around the bar and casual talk. We bounced the idea off some fellow musicians and other people in the industry and eventually we had something.”
In just two years, the independent label has made giant strides, signing acts, putting out four records and now signing a national distributing contract.
“We had a launch party two years ago and it took about a year after that to get our first album out,” said Ferraro.
The labels first release was a debut album called “Pistol” by country songstress Kayla Howran.
“For the most part, we are learning as we go,” admits Ferraro. “There are a lot of things we didn’t see but we’ve been finding the right people and the making right contacts and we’ve been gaining some momentum as we go.”
This distribution deal with Warner is a significant step for the indie label.
“It has helped a lot and immediately makes us more legitimate and we look more attractive to artists,” said Ferraro. “It helps us go after bigger names.”
This isn’t just a pop up idea for Ferraro and his friend longtime friend and label co-founder Mike McKeown.
“President of Warner Canada, Steve Kane has been a regular visitor to the bar since the 80s and was introduced to us though a mutual friend,” said McKeown, 25, president of Cameron House Records. “We set up a initial meeting and from there everyone seemed to have the same ideas and vision. We’ve had some early success but we’re working hard with some great musicians here and the music speaks for itself.”
Big name Toronto musicians, like Doug Paisley, Feist, Hayden, Jason Collet and The Sadies have connections with the venue and still stop in to play.
“The amount of musicians and friends I have met through the bar is a really incredible,” said Tarantuela frontman Jay Swinnerton, who was signed and released his album “Good luck black cat, bad luck” with label.
“The Cam is a special place,” said Swinnerton who also bartends at the bar. “There is a rich musical history here and the feeling of the past hangs on the walls—you can feel it.”
Swinnerton said the record deal has helped break down barriers that would take years of hard work to pull off and he remembers when the band got their first chance to play at the Cameron.
“We had the opportunity to fill a couple slots for a friends band and we gave Cosmo a copy of our CD and he was listening to it quite a bit in his truck and he felt we were a good fit for the label.”
Releasing their first album with the Cameron House was a confident decision for Swinnerton.
“We had been playing that album live for a longtime,” said Swinnerton. “That was the advantage to our album as we had a lot of work put in to it and they let us release it in our own fashion.”
What Cuddy likes best about the label is the opportunity to work with friends and learn together.
“I think we’re a lot further along than we thought we’d be,” said Cuddy, whose first album “Devin Cuddy Band Vol. 1” was released on the label last year.
“When we started we didn’t have a lot of music industry experience but the business is changing, he said. Cuddy credits Ferraro and McKeown for having a great eye for music and developing new ways of promoting music.
The Cameron House is unique in that a lot of times you are playing to musicians in the crowd. So for me it’s been a great place to find other musicians and start bands,” said Cuddy. “I like the small intimate feel of the room and it’s like a stepping stone. You learn how to play to different crowds and you learn how to craft your show.”
Director of national publicity for Warner Canada Steve Waxman has known Cuddy for a long time. Devin’s father, Jim Cuddy, and his band Blue Rodeo have been with Warner for more than 25 years.
“Devin’s an extremely talented pianist,” said Waxman. “He certainly has his own style and sound, different from his father. But certainly, I think the music that his father has made has touched him as well.”
Waxman said, Warner distributes a number of independent labels and they have contacts with major music record stores across Canada and over 100 different indie record stores.
“We have an intensive team here (at Warner) and we know that our fans listen to all types of music and we want to expose all that to them,” said Waxman. “We have a luxury of picking and choosing what we go with, so we go with what we love.”
Waxman said Canadians have always been keen on roots music and the artists on Cameron House Records all fall into that category of music but each one are twisting the genre in their own way.