604 Records may be one of the most successful record labels in Canada, but at the same time 604 is an independent label in the truest sense of the word. With a diverse roster and a history that spans over 19 years in the music industry, 604 has produced hit records, and has proven itself as a nurturing place for artists to develop at a comfortable and sane pace.
Throwing the fact that the label has been responsible for some of the biggest hits in the history of recorded music, and the story just gets better. Fan-favourites Marianas Trench, Theory of a Deadman, Dallas Smith, and “Call Me Maybe” star Carly Rae Jepsen are some of the better-known artists on the roster. With an elaborate fan base, 604 doesn’t fear for the future of the music industry – instead it is looking forward with excitement to a future of streaming, live performances, digital platforms and great content for the fans.
It is surprising now to look back at the creation of 604 in 2001, as it only evolved into the label it is today through pure accident. “What label?” was what Chad Kroeger asked when Nickelback’s attorney Jonathan Simkin called him and said, “Hey man, here’s something interesting, I think I just started a bidding war on our label.”
Previously, Kroeger had merely had an ad hoc interest in developing other bands, while Simkin was pursuing an ad hoc interest in structuring the business side of his client’s activities – something the duo dry-ran in 2000 when they negotiated a deal with TVT Records for one of Kroeger’s earlier discoveries, Default, the original project of Juno award-wining 604 artist, Dallas Smith. Simkin was in LA shopping around another of Kroeger’s pet bands, Theory of a Deadman, when Nickelback’s hit “How You Remind Me” changed everything.
“There was a moment in 2001 where stuff that Chad appeared on or produced, and I represented, occupied four spots in the US top 15… and that’s when all hell broke loose.”Jonathan Simkin
Incredibly, 604 Records mutated out of a misunderstanding between Simkin and a rep at Atlantic. “Are you shopping the band Theory of a Deadman, or are you shopping your label?” he asked. Simkin remembers answering the question as if it happened in slow motion… “Laaabeell. The word came out like alphabet soup. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms,” he recalls, “but it was one of those life-defining moments. I’m still amazed I said it.
Ultimately the creation of 604 all came down to a meeting between Kroeger and Simkin, and two of the most powerful people in the music industry, in the most expensive hotel in New York. And it was all done on napkins. “It was surreal. It was utterly surreal,” recalls Simkin.
Simkin and Kroeger spent the next few years observing, learning, and finding their feet in a perilous industry that greeted them with humongous expectations. “The truth is, for the first year and a half this was a one album label,” Simkin says, referring to Theory’s eponymous debut, eventually released in ‘02. “I knew enough to know that I really didn’t know anything. I was like, let’s learn. That’s what we did, and really it took a couple of years for us to settle into what we were.
Now in 2020, 19 years later, new 604 artists are charting across genres. Marianas Trench is sitting on platinum sales and tours internationally, while Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” hit #1 in multiple countries around the world, and is one of the highest selling digital singles in history; now Carly has released her fourth studio album Dedicated Side B, a companion album to 2019’s Dedicated. Country music star Dallas Smith is breaking records across Canada and is the #1 most played artist on Canadian country radio, and is expanding internationally now with a US record deal.
The balance of the 604 roster points to the breadth of the label’s vision. Simkin came from a background of alternative rock in his youth, and cites the Velvet Underground, Eno, Peter Gabriel, Joy Division, the Smiths, and the Cure among his favorites. Growing up in Hanna, Alberta, meanwhile, meant that Kroeger consumed a steady diet of country and metal, resulting in a diverse combination of talent around the label. “But the thing we have in common,” Simkin notes “is we’re both song guys.” This belief in songs has led the label to numerous hits, including Theory of a Deadman’s “Santa Monica” Marianas Trench’s “Cross My Heart” and world-wide sensation “Call Me Maybe” – which was a hit literally as it went out the door. “We are definitely about artist development,” Simkin states. “Chad’s an artist and I spent most of my professional career advocating for artists, and that gave us a hell of a pro-artist perspective. It’s about patience. We don’t bail on our acts, we can afford to take our time, and we’re not reporting to a Board of Directors that wants to know what’s going on right now. And we’ve struggled at times, but it has sure paid off on bands like Marianas.” Marianas Trench boasts two Platinum albums, a Juno, as well as multiple radio hits, #1 videos, and MMVAs.
“In Canada, we’re an independent record label in the truest sense,” Simkin says. “We own the recordings, we pay for the recordings, we have our own in-house marketing department, and we have an enhanced P&D deal with Universal, which means we can opt in on various services on a band by band basis.” He also mentions that “staying independent” ranks as the 604’s greatest triumph. In 2015 Dallas Smith’s, ‘Tippin’ Point,” was the highest selling digital single for a Canadian country artist in history.
The summer of 2014 brought big and progressive changes for 604 as the label moved to its own building, featuring professional recording studios, a soundstage, a streaming studio and offices. From here, the artists can go through the whole process of creating music, to recording music, to releasing and selling music digitally – all within one building. “We can do the entire process from start to finish literally within these four walls” says Simkin. “We can make content here, and great content,” as the label has their own studios, engineers and producers on hand. 604 artists don’t have to worry about the cost or time restraint on their music in this building, as 604 believes in their artists and gives them the time and resources needed to create.
The 604 Records building also creates a space in which artists can meet, grow, and work together. “I wanted to create a facility that could be a hub of activity for artists in Vancouver,” notes Simkin. “This cross- pollination of artists leads to good songs and good business,” as it brings writers, musicians and producers together to create great songs that would never have come to exist without these relationships.
“I wanted to create a facility that could be a hub of activity for artists in Vancouver.”Jonathan Simkin
This building and community is 604 Record’s biggest asset going forward in the industry – artists can create great content here for the fans, completely independently. From this building they can stream live performances, film the recording process, hold events, and create new and ingenious content – as well as put out the music their fans love, and organize artists to perform live around the world.
“No one really knows where this industry is going,” says Simkin. “I wanted to build a facility that provided maximum flexibility for whatever happens in the industry going forward.” And that is just what this building is – the ability to do anything and everything on their own, no matter what direction the music industry takes. 604 Records creates for the fans, and their artists have fans that are true to them and to the music, no matter the state of the business.