Latest Gang Records
Years with the company: seven
The Web: lastgang.com
E-mail: [email protected]
Customer : Stars, Keys N Krates, Anand Wilder, Mondo Cozmo, Maia Friedman
Last Gang is an independent label with humble Canadian roots now doing business globally. With notable releases from acts like Mother Mother and Death from Above 1979, the outfit has amassed a slew of awards and accolades unusual for its stature. As the label’s general manager, Chris Moncada looks after the current roster and signs new artists, among other duties.
I had a pre-existing relationship with the founder of the label, who is now the global president of MNRK [pronounced “monarch”] Music Group, Chris Taylor. Chris and I worked together on a project where he was the lawyer and I was the label for a band. In early 2015, I was ready for a change, and he came to me with the opportunity to take on the role of General Manager at Last Gang Records.
A year later, the label went to eOne Music. Then Hasbro bought eOne and things changed again. Last year, Hasbro gave the musical piece to the Blackstone Group, who renamed us MNRK. Last Gang remains a standalone brand and ecosystem under the MNRK umbrella.
Soup and Nuts
I was in a major. I loved what I was doing there, but I had been there. I had been in marketing, 360 business and digital marketing for several years. I would kind of run the track multiple times. It was a very interesting idea to take the reins of a small business. Having a complete view of A&R, marketing and finance and managing a passionate team was interesting for me. It is still so to this day.
Little has changed. We are still driven by this same ethic of service to artists. It’s always been about putting great art on a pedestal. And when the opportunity arose to do it with a more holistic view, I had to jump.
Start in the Mailroom
I was pushing the mail cart at Universal. I would start at the top of the building and work my way down. I was so eager to impress that I was flying through. One of the older guys who had been in the mail room for a few years pulled me aside and said, “Hey, I heard you did a mail in 15 minutes.” I’m like, “Yeah, isn’t that great?” He’s like, “We’re taking half an hour.” Full stop. “It’s okay I have it. I’m going to slow down.
I ended up walking the first eight floors, and when I got to the music room, I really took my time. “Hey, what’s this Soundscan report I’m handing you?” “What are these graphs? “What’s all that stuff pinned to the wall?” Some people said, “Get the fuck out. I’m busy.” But a lot of people were really good at explaining things.
Learn about Warner Music Canada
I had the chance to bounce in this silo before jumping. My years in marketing got me in the mud with artist managers and I understood their concerns. As a young person in a label, you may not understand the pressures put on an artist manager by promoters, agents, lawyers or others. But I was lucky enough to work with amazing artist managers who opened the kimono to let me see everything. I learned that the label is not everything. All other gears must spin in tandem for the set to work.
When I switched to the commodity side and the 360, I was able to look under the hood at contracts and business deals. It was really valuable, understanding the contracts not only in regards to the recordings, but also the enhanced rights.
I like having the buy-in of at least the majority of the group, because people work harder if they feel personally invested in something. We criticize as a group. It’s a very democratic process, for the most part. Ultimately, I decide what will happen to the final boss and what the deals will look like, with the help of Trade Affairs.
The musical overabundance
There’s so much new music. I’ve been around long enough to remember when the digital revolution didn’t make accessibility such a task for small labels and independent artists. We are faced with the 50,000 songs that come out every week. [We’re] try to stay on the cutting edge and get people’s eyes and ears to the things we invest in. It sometimes keeps me up at night. We are a dice full of amazing content in an ocean of songs.
As a young person, I remember that musical tastes were very compartmentalized. I think that started to change in the mid-90s with more and more diverse festival lineups. Lollapalooza comes to mind. You’d see A Tribe Called Quest and all that golden age hip-hop on these predominantly rock bands. I remember as a young rock fan listening [Public Enemy’s] Afraid of a dark planet and having your mind blown away.
I never had this conversation with Chris [Taylor], but I think the ethos of the label developed by swimming in this ecosystem. In the early years, the sound was very electronic indie, with Metric and DFA [Death from Above]. If you look at the list now, you’ll still see some of it, like with Low Hum and STARS and Mondo Cozmo. But we looked a lot at modern folk, with Maia Freidman and Loving and Anand Wilder. There’s plenty of space on the label for progressive dance and electronic rap, like Keys N Krates and Harrison. There’s plenty of room for sounds, and that’s something we’re proud of.
If all the labels are playing roulette, we will put more chips on fewer spaces. Others, especially the majors, will kind of stick the board and promise to “turn up” something when it points its head. I understand this model, but we take a different approach. I like to make bigger bets on a small group.
Format the thought
Anything we make a deal on, especially if a band is a touring artist, it’s almost a no-brainer that we’re going to do vinyl. It just becomes a matter of – okay, is it a double? Is he single? Is it going to be a special color? Will there be a poster on it? This is where the discussion begins.
We made a really cool picture disc for Mother’s Day Record Store that sold out. We’ve made tapes that bands love to sell at their merchandising tables. The download stuff, it’s obviously slowed down. Now all the buzz is – is the next NFT format, and what does it look like? It’s kind of like the Wild West right now.
Committed to artists
We will give so much blood and sweat [to any artist] as they like. If I sign a two-disc deal with you and you deliver those records, I’ll be happy. But if you say, “I’d love to have some help with that,” I’m ready to dive in, and so is the team. We love what we sign and want art to live and breathe as the artist intended. We’re ready to help, whether it’s touring support, finding co-writes, or an old-school A&Ring. It’s a bit of a lost art, and we’re proud of it.
The artist’s view
If you can take the artist’s point of view and be a sponge in all directions, you’ll be a better promoter, a better artist manager, a better lawyer or label rep. It’s about empathy and trying to understand the pushes and pulls of the industry as a whole.
We are high time. When you think of Secretly [Canadian], when you think of Sub Pop, you have to think of Last Gang. We’re not here to just skim over the edges. We want to be in the ring with the labels that I consider our contemporaries.