Mario Labbé > Analekta at 20by David Podgorski
/ June 4, 2008
Labbé never saw this coming. In the beginning of 1988, he was already
well-known as an impresario and was representing Angèle Dubeau, when
her record label dumped her along with all of its other “regional
artists” – namely, any artists based outside London or New York.
Faced with the ruin of Dubeau’s career, Labbé decided to produce
her album himself. A few weeks later, Labbé recorded the Red Army Chorus
in Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre, following it up with the soundtrack
for the film The Music Teacher,
featuring baritone José van Dam. Analekta (Greek for “a collection
of the finest works”) had arrived, and its first three releases sold
over 110,000 copies in one year – an astounding feat for a classical
Twenty years later,
Analekta Records is a who’s-who of Canadian musicians. From orchestral
music: Tafelmusik and I Musici de Montréal; chamber music: the
Alcan Quartet, the Gryphon Trio, and the Arion Ensemble; vocal music:
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Lyne Fortin; to piano
music: Anton Kuerti, André Lapante and Alain Lefèvre, Analekta is
overflowing with talent and has become the largest independent record
label in the country. The label’s latest and biggest coup is signing
up the Canadian distribution rights to Kent Nagano’s first recording
with the Montreal Symphony.
How did this happen?
Labbé admits it wasn’t easy, but one thing that made him a success
was that he was willing to reach out to a public that was more inclined
to listen to Pink Floyd than Pablo Casals. “I’ve always had struggle
to find a way to deliver the music to people,” he says. “There
were always people who said, ‘I never needed to listen to classical
music and I still don’t’ and I said to them, ‘That’s not true.
This music is for you, listen to it, it’s good.’ The philosophy
I’ve always had is that music comes from everywhere: the type of music
it is doesn’t matter; if it’s good, it brings people closer together.”
Over the years, this approach spawned a number of innovative marketing
techniques, such as choosing to buy advertising on buses to promote
La Pietà, Angèle Dubeau’s string orchestra.
It’s a business
philosophy that’s worked for Analekta – in a supposedly shrinking
market for classical music and CDs in general, Analekta’s sales are
going up: the label has sold 14% more albums over the last year,
and its music downloads have nearly doubled. This is not a record label
that bemoans the rise of peer-to-peer networks and file sharing. Labbé
sees his own success in stark contrast to CBC Radio 2’s latest trend
of taking classical music off the airwaves in search of a newer, younger
audience. “I think it’s very sad,” Labbé frowns. “It’s the
role of public radio to disseminate insightful programming, and classical
music is precisely that. If public radio doesn’t take this on as a
fundamental mission, then it’s on the path to irrelevance.”
In the last ten
years, Analekta has been a leader among record labels in gaining a foothold
on the internet. Along with Naxos, Analekta was the first classical
record label to go on iTunes, Apple’s pay-per-download music store.
Now Analekta is increasing its distribution worldwide, working with
independent distributors in the United States and looking to bring its
artists across the Atlantic and find listeners around the world.
For a classical
record label, every artist makes a difference, and selling even a few
thousand copies can mean the difference between success and failure.
“Selling four hundred thousand copies of one album doesn’t happen
in classical music,” Labbé admits, “although it would be nice.
But there’s no real magic formula for selling thousands and thousands
of albums. But we can hold our own against other distributors in European
markets. Artists’ fan clubs follow us to find out what we’re going
to release next, and we’ve outsold European distributors on a per-capita
basis. For example, we’ve sold over 10 000 copies of Marie-Nicole
Lemieux’ albums while our competitors in France sold 30 000. They
thought it was a marketing disaster, because France has five times our
population. If it was us marketing Marie-Nicole in France, we would
have sold over 50 000 copies.”
great success has been in the recording studio with the artists. “We’ve
always had a very high standard for making records,” Labbé
says. “It’s more than just having the best recording equipment,
it’s the people who work for this label who make it what it is. Anyone
can cut notes in the studio, but they can forget that there’s a soul
behind the music, an energy you get from the person singing or playing.
We try to consider these things.”
Labbé also says
the Analekta sound is moving towards creating a CD that sounds like
a live performance – longer takes, acoustic spaces that recreate the
experience of being in a concert hall rather than a recording studio.
“We’ve been changing our sound over the years. We just started working
at the Multimedia Room at McGill University, which is an extraordinary
place to record. Before this came along we were recording in places
with a live-sounding acoustic, like churches, but they had too much
delay. The Multimedia Room is a great step forward from what we had
before and all the musicians love working there.”
releases thirty to thirty-five new CDs each year, ninety percent of
which are classical, while the remaining ten percent are jazz albums
and film soundtracks. International sales also make up a significant
portion of Analekta’s distribution – 35% of his records are sold
outside of Canada. Within Canada, 60% of Analekta’s sales happen in
Quebec, which Labbé explains is likely because Analekta has been steadily
promoting francophone artists over the years.
As for discovering
new artists, it’s not a major concern for him anymore – when you’re
the number one record label in the country, the artists come to you.
But Labbé is still thrilled when he discovers a new rising star. “We
discovered Marianne Fiset after she won the Jeunesses Musicales Competition
last year. She has an exceptional voice. It’s always great to find
new talent and work with them. It’s always a new experience to discover
what we’ll do with a young musician and what’s going to happen.”
After twenty years, Mario Labbé is ready to take on the challenges
of the future. n