Last Gang Records
Years with Company: 7
E-mail: [email protected]
Clients: Stars, Keys N Krates, Anand Wilder, Mondo Cozmo, Maia Friedman
Last Gang is an indie label with humble, Canadian roots now doing business on a global scale. With notable releases from acts like Mother Mother and Death from Above 1979, the outfit has amassed a raft of awards and accolades unusual for its size. As the label’s General Manager, Chris Moncada tends to the current roster and signs new artists, among other duties.
I had a preexisting relationship with the founder of the label, who’s now the global president of MNRK [pronounced “monarch”] Music Group, Chris Taylor. Chris and I worked together on a project where he was the attorney and I was the label for a band. In early 2015, I was ready for a change, and he came to me with an opportunity to take on the General Manager role at Last Gang Records.
A year later, the label went to eOne Music. Then Hasbro bought eOne and things changed again. Last year, Hasbro spun off the music piece to The Blackstone Group, which rebranded us as MNRK. Last Gang remains a standalone brand and ecosystem underneath the MNRK umbrella.
Soup and Nuts
I was at a major. I loved what I did there, but I had gone through the motions. I’d done marketing, 360 business, and digital marketing for several years. I’d kind of run the track a couple times. It was a very interesting idea to take the reins of a small company. To have a soup-to-nuts purview of A&R and marketing and finance and manage a passionate team, that was interesting to me. It remains so to this day.
Not much has changed. We’re still driven by that same artist-service ethos. It’s always been about putting great art on a pedestal. And when the opportunity came to do that with a more holistic view, I had to jump.
Starting 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 it. One of the older dudes who’d been in the mailroom for a few years pulled me aside and was like, “Hey, I hear you did a mail run in 15 minutes.” I’m like, “Yeah, isn’t that great?” He’s like, “We take half an hour.” Full stop. “Okay, I got it. I’ll slow down.”
I ended up zipping through the first eight floors and, when I got to the music floor, really took my time. “Hey, what’s this Soundscan report I’m handing you?” “What are these charts?” “What’s all this stuff pinned on the wall?” Some people were like, “Get the fuck out. I’m busy.” But a lot of people were really good about explaining things.
Learning at Warner Music Canada
I was lucky enough to bounce around in that silo before I jumped. My years in marketing got me in the mud with artist managers and understanding their concerns. As a youngster at a label, you might not understand the pressures on an artist manager from promoters, agents, lawyers, or others. But I got a chance to work with amazing artist managers who opened up the kimono to let me see everything. I learned that the label’s not everything. All the other gears have to turn in tandem to make the whole thing work.
When I moved to the merchandise and 360 side, I got to look under the hood at contracts and business affairs. That was really valuable, understanding contracting not only as it pertained to recordings, but also to enhanced rights.
I like to have buy-in from at least a majority of the group, because people work harder if they feel personally invested in something. We critique as a group. It’s a very democratic process, for the most part. Ultimately, I decide what gets to the final boss and what the deals are going to look like, with the help of business affairs.
The Musical Glut
There’s so much new music. I’ve been around long enough to remember when the digital revolution hadn’t made accessibility such a task for small labels and independent artists. We’re up against the 50,000 songs that come out every week. [We’re] trying to stay on the cutting edge and get people’s eyes and ears on the stuff we’re invested in. It keeps me awake at night sometimes. We’re a thimble-full of amazing content in an ocean of songs.
As a young person, I remember musical tastes being very siloed. I think that started to change in the mid-'90s with festival lineups becoming more diverse. Lollapalooza comes to mind. You would see A Tribe Called Quest and all this golden-age hip-hop on these predominantly rock lineups. I remember, as a young rock fan, listening to [Public Enemy’s] Fear of a Black Planet and having my mind blown.
I’ve never had this conversation with Chris [Taylor], but I think the ethos of the label has grown from swimming around in that ecosystem. In the early years, the sound was very indie electronic, with Metric and DFA [Death from Above]. If you look at the roster now, you’ll see some of that still there, like with Low Hum and STARS and Mondo Cozmo. But we have been leaning hard into modern folk, with Maia Freidman and Loving and Anand Wilder. There’s a lot of space on the label for progressive dance and electronic rap, like Keys N Krates and Harrison. There’s lots of space for sounds, and it’s something we’re proud of.
If all the labels are playing roulette, we’re going to put more chips on fewer squares. Others, especially the majors, will kind of paste the board and promise to “upstream” something when it pokes its head up. I get that model, but we take a different approach. I like to make bigger bets on a smaller group.
Anything we do a deal on, especially if a band is a touring artist, it’s almost a given that we’re going to do vinyl. It just becomes a question of - okay, is it a double? Is it a single? Is it going to be a special color? Is there going to be a poster in it? That’s where the discussion starts.
We did a really cool picture disc for Record Store Day for Mother Mother that sold out. We’ve done cassettes that the bands love to sell at their merch tables. The download stuff, it’s obviously slowed down. Now, all the buzz is–is the next format NFTs, and what does that look like? It’s kind of like the Wild West right now.
Committed to Artists
We’re going to give as much blood and sweat [to any artist] as they want. If I sign a two-record deal with you and you deliver those records, I’ll be happy. But if you say, “I’d love help with this,” I’m ready to dive in, as is the team. We love what we sign and want the art to live and breathe as the artist wants it to. We are ready to help, whether it’s tour support, finding co-writes or old school A&Ring. It’s a bit of a lost art, and we take pride in that.
The Artist’s View
If you can take the perspective of the artist and be a sponge in every direction, you’re going to be a better promoter, a better artist manager, a better lawyer or label rep. It’s about empathy and trying to understand the push and pull of the industry as a whole.
We’re big time. When you think of Secretly [Canadian], when you think of Sub Pop, you should think of Last Gang. We’re not here to just fly around the edges. We want to be in the ring with the labels I consider to be our contemporaries.