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From making music to making records for Austin label entrepreneur

Peter Mongillo

Like so many other members of the Austin music community, Jared Canada devotes a lot of time and energy to supporting something he loves. You're not going to find him on stage, though. As the owner of Sundae Records, he's one of a handful of people in town helping local bands share their music with fans.

Canada has been at it for only about a year and a half, but in that time Sundae has released some of Austin's more interesting records, including music from the Dikes of Holland, A Giant Dog, the Zoltars and Followed by Static. It's an impressive feat, considering Canada's only prior experience releasing music came from a CD he put out with an old band.

"It was overwhelming," Canada says. "I bought some books; I really don't know how much I learned. I spent a lot of time on the phone figuring out the process, a lot of emails back and forth."

Canada, 30, was born and raised in Norman, Okla. At 15, he began a love affair with music, but he wasn't particularly into underground/hardcore bands like Black Flag or Minor Threat that owned and operated their own labels. At the University of Oklahoma, he was a film and video studies major, and before finishing in 2001 he moved to Austin to make music videos. He soon gave up on that idea when he realized he was more interested in playing music than making videos.

That's also when he was drawn to the idea of starting his own record label. "Seeing the wealth of different types of music in Austin, and this underground, independent drive that people have rubbed off on me a little bit," he says.

An opportunity came when the band he played guitar in — the Dailys, which also included future Dikes of Holland members J.P. Bohon, Trey Reimer and Chris Stephenson — decided to start a label to release the band's CD (fifth member Scott Twitchell eventually moved back to Norman). The five bandmates took a swing at running the label as a group. As for many other underground bands that have made similar attempts, dividing responsibilities was a challenge.

"Everyone's got other priorities, and is busy, and having five people jointly own a record label, it just didn't work out," Canada says. It didn't cause any hard feelings, though: Canada still lives with all but one of the members of the Dikes of Holland.

Canada's second attempt at a record label came after the Dikes of Holland formed, when the band wanted to record its music but didn't have a way to complete the process. Canada, already in need of a new computer, bought a laptop and offered to let the band use it to mix its recordings.

"They don't have any songs on their MySpace page, and I thought there was an opportunity to help not only as friends but as a music fan," Canada says. "I was like, 'All right, guys, I have a laptop — record on it.' It sort of just snowballed from there."

The first release on Sundae Records was a split 7-inch (a small record that usually contains one or two songs per side) featuring the Dikes of Holland on one side and a Norman band, the Mean Spirits, on the other in early 2010. That was followed later that year by two more Dikes of Holland releases (another 7-inch and a 12-inch, full-length album), as well as records from Austin bands A Giant Dog, Followed by Static and the Zoltars.

Living under the same roof as the members of the Dikes of Holland allows Canada to have an intimate working relationship with Sundae's most popular band. Canada and his housemates hold regular meetings about how to promote the group or deal with any problems with a release. It's a setup that Bohon, who has known Canada since the seventh grade, says the band always has wanted.

"There was always a dream of having a place where we could record and practice, even when Jared was in the (Dailys)," Bohon says. "Jared is under the same roof as four out of five members of the band; he practically is a band member."

Aside from his prior relationship with the Dikes of Holland, Canada doesn't have a set formula for how he goes about choosing bands to sign. (He pays a fee — he declined to say how much — to each band on his label.) He happened upon the Zoltars when he came home from work and Stephenson was recording lead singer/songwriter Jared Leibowich in his living room. For the most part, though, it's all about going to shows.

"I'm single, I don't have kids, I don't have pets, so I felt like I had the means to put out a couple records a year, so whenever I saw someone I thought was good, I let them know."

That's how he found ELVIS, an Austin-based hard rock band that will release its debut full-length, "Crime of the Scene," on Sundae this fall.

"I knew they were recording, I've always liked ELVIS, but I didn't really know any of the guys," Canada says. "I saw (ELVIS lead singer) Brian Rowland at a show and introduced myself. They gave me the CD and within a week agreed to put it out."

The upcoming ELVIS release illustrates some of the pitfalls of operating a small, independent label. The album was slated for a late summer release, but when the recordings got to the record-pressing company, one of the tracks didn't sound right when it was pressed to vinyl, and the release was delayed. It's been a learning experience for Canada, who says that the number of players involved in putting out a record — the band, the people doing the art, the press — adds an unpredictable element.

"There are always delays," he says. "It never goes like you anticipate."

So far, it's gone well enough to keep Canada interested in continuing the business, not that he's made any money from the label (he has a day job at a medical supply company). The cost of pressing a record varies depending on the number of units, size, thickness and appearance, but a run of 300 7-inch singles at United Record Pressing in Nashville starts around $700. When the records are delivered, Canada sells them at local record stores (visit any of Austin's independent shops and you'll find releases by Sundae) and online. He gives copies to the bands (the number of copies each band gets depends on the agreement with the label) to sell at shows and on tour, where they're liable to do well moving albums in music-hungry towns without the same band saturation as Austin.

So far Canada says he has just about broken even with everything he's put out. That's not entirely surprising, given vinyl's popularity in recent years. In 2010, 2.8 million units of vinyl were sold in the United States, according to a report from Nielsen SoundScan. While many of those albums were reissues of older albums (the Beatles' "Abbey Road" was at the top), independent bands (mostly big independent bands such as the Arcade Fire and the Black Keys) are driving the trend, accounting for 60 percent of the sales. Those numbers are increasing, too, with vinyl sales from January to March already up 37 percent from the first three months of 2010.

Going forward, Canada would like to move beyond just breaking even, but he's happy with the progress he's made in such a short time. "I wish I knew more about promotion, getting the press side of it ready back then," he says. "I think I've come further in that regard than anything else, but for that matter so has vinyl."

pmongillo@statesman.com