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Doug Paisley in Toronto last week (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Doug Paisley in Toronto last week (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Music

Canadian labels pass on Toronto singer-songwriter Doug Paisley Add to ...

Everywhere but Canada, you say? Pity. For his reflective, listenable new album Constant Companion, Toronto singer-songwriter Doug Paisley is receiving recognition south of the border and abroad, but not here.

And even with the airy-voiced superstar Leslie Feist singing his praises, no Canadian record labels have signed him up.

It seems that alt-country, in the case of gentle songsmith Paisley, refers not to the twanging music genre, but to countries other than his own.

"It's not really what I expected," the easy-going artist says over drinks at the Cameron House pub in Toronto.

"The album is made, the artwork is made - everything is paid for. It's just a matter out putting copies of it."

Paisley is signed to a small Brooklyn-based company, No Quarter, which does not distribute its records in Canada. To help Paisley secure a Canadian deal, the famous Feist (who duets on the album's beautifully trembling Don't Make Me Wait) approached at least a pair of Toronto-based indie outfits, including Six Shooter Records and Arts & Crafts. Both labels passed, even with the album already the recipient of favourable mentions in big-sway publications Uncut, Mojo and The New Yorker.

"It wasn't a musical decision," explains Shauna de Cartier, owner of Six Shooter. "Doug's record is great, he's great, and maybe I'll change my mind. But as a label, we like to work with artists on a holistic level, and are less interested in working on just one piece of the puzzle."

Very simply, a limited deal with an artist, no matter his or her fine record or apparent promise, isn't very workable. "Without the international rights, it's challenging," de Cartier says.

Major labels, grappling with the perilous decline of album sales, are seeking new streams of revenue. And concert promoter Live Nation has jumped into the fray by signing megastars Jay-Z and Madonna to so-called 360˚ deals involving record distribution, ticket sales and merchandise marketing.

For small independent labels, the all-encompassing deals are nothing new. When Bernie Finkelstein signed Bruce Cockburn to his True North Records in 1969, he also became Cockburn's manager; he still is to this day, even after he sold the label. In 2008, True North, now owned by Linus Entertainment, expanded into concert promotion and booking.

Arts & Crafts and Six Shooter (which until recently operated a small retail outlet for CDs and merchandise) typically signs its artists to management deals as well. But Paisley wasn't looking for that. Moreover, Canadian labels were being offered only the domestic market for album sales. Very simply, a limited deal with Paisley, no matter his fine record or apparent promise, was unworkable. "Without the international rights, it's impossible to make money," de Cartier says.

The redheaded Paisley has been a working musician for a decade, with a pair of albums now to his credit. To his predicament, his reaction has been twofold, one professional and one emotional. "I can understand why they would take a pass," he says. "The Canadian labels wanted the opportunity to exploit the album worldwide. But you can't help but take it personally."

Practically speaking, Paisley may not be hurting as much. Constant Companion, no scruffy product, cost roughly $4,000 to make at Hayden Desser's Skyscraper National Park studio, with most of the money budgeted for guest performers Feist, the Band's Garth Hudson, Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan and others. He is selling the album on iTunes and at his live shows, including a cross-Canada tour of small theatres with the duo Bahamas that begins on Wednesday at Hamilton's Casbah, with a Thursday show at Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio.

It's not what he anticipated, and it's not he wanted, but to Paisley's mind the lack of a Canadian deal isn't necessarily such a bad thing. "If I do okay with iTunes and selling it myself," he reasons, "there's going to be a point where a label is not going to be able to offer me anything better than what I'm already doing myself."

Is Paisley rationalizing his rejection? Probably, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. More and more, particularly with independent artists, albums are either a calling card to get musicians a gig or a souvenir of those live shows.

"Gonna get by, gonna get through," Paisley sings on the gracefully loping End of the Day. In the long run, then, it's all about the long run itself. By dint of sheer perseverance, a worthwhile troubadour is able to make a go of it, record deal or not. "If you just stay around through all the adversity and all the time it's going take, I'm almost willing to guarantee you that it'll work out," Paisley says. "There's an admirable folly to it."

Doug Paisley plays 13 dates across Canada beginning on Wednesday in Hamilton and concluding on Dec. 9 in Vancouver. For the complete schedule see dougpaisley.com.

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