The Label Makers: Little Symphony Records

Little Symphony Records Collage: Andrea Shipka

The Label Makers is a monthly feature spotlighting independent record labels from across so-called Canada. This month’s featured label is Little Symphony Records based out of Edmonton and Halifax.

In response to the cacophony of the world, there is the bottomless well of Spotify’s soothing playlists composed mainly of neo-classical and ambient music. If you’re feeling on edge, you can browse Focus, Sleep, Instrumental, and Ambient genres and take your pick of Spotify’s incredibly popular curated playlists like Peaceful Piano, Deep Sleep, and Dreamy Vibes.

When they were first imagining Little Symphony Records (LSR), co-founders David Shoults and Brandon Cathcart wanted to understand how independent neo-classical and ambient artists could tap into the genres’ huge listenership that Spotify had proven was out there. To defeat the algorithm, LSR believes, you have to work together. 

“Our theory was that if we create this network of artists who are consistently collaborating with one another and on the same playlists and being listened to by the same people, we might be able to create this blob that rises through all of the noise and have success algorithmically speaking,” Shoults explains. “So initially the aim [for LSR] was collaboration and then very quickly we realized that we want this label to have a strong sense of community.”

Primarily operating out of Edmonton, with the exception of Shoults who is now based in Halifax, LSR is a full-service record label with a focus on neo-classical and ambient music as well as “community, continual growth, and mutual success.” Today, LSR’s roster has over forty artists from around the world, although many are Canadian. As the roster grew, so did LSR’s team which alongside Shoults (a musician, producer, and the label’s A&R rep) and Cathcart (an audio engineer) includes Andrea Shipka (an audio engineer and visual artist), and the label’s media coordinator, Eline Callens.

Before starting LSR in 2019, Shoults and Cathcart, who met in university in 2010, would get together several times a week to brainstorm ideas for different projects. There was a board game, a podcast, an app, but the duo didn’t stick with anything for much longer than a month until the label. “Honestly, I think it is probably the sense of purpose,” Shoults says about why LSR was the project they stuck with. “I’ve had a lot of satisfaction working with many wonderful artists and being able to have a genuine impact on their career.”

One of LSR’s first steps in building their community was to create an online space (they eventually settled on a Discord server) for their artists to connect and collaborate. Shoults initially planned to help foster community by pairing artists up to collaborate. He says that one of the biggest signals their community was flourishing was finding out that artists were already working together. “The moment I realized that things were really working well was when I messaged one artist and said, ‘Hey, I want to set you up with someone [to collaborate],’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ve already been chatting. We’re working on a song right now.’ The collaboration aspect has been the biggest indicator of success for us,” says Shoults. In October, LSR will release a compilation album of collaborations between their artists.

Although Spotify’s streaming numbers prove there is a huge audience for LSR artists to engage with potentially, a downside is that most of this audience are passive listeners. Even LSR curate Spotify playlists with their own artists, and their most popular playlist (with close to 20 thousand followers) is called Quiet Music for Reading. 

“It comes down to a perspective shift. The majority of my job is chatting with artists and trying to widen perspectives,” Shoults maintains when asked how he feels about the way instrumental music is primarily consumed. “It definitely feels bad to make music that people are supposed to ignore, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different. In some ways, it’s just as valuable to be able to create music that is giving somebody an experience.”

If you were to read or snooze while an LSR artist plays, you would miss a lot. When it comes to their artists, LSR prioritizes sonic curiosity and an interest in pushing boundaries. In the label’s early stages, Edmonton-based musician Peter Belec connected with Shoults and Cathcart through a mutual friend and asked to join the label. At the time, Belec was a jazz guitarist and guitar instructor and didn’t have much experience composing ambient or neo-classical music.
“All we’re interested in is: what’s your music like, what are you like as a human, and sometimes we’ll consider your overall image or brand because that can be really important in terms of differentiating yourself as an artist from the pack,” Shoults explains.

But even if you don’t have a personal brand, LSR can help with that. The label’s website highlights eight ways they can support artists, including production, mixing and mastering, artwork design, and artist branding. While career goals vary from artist to artist, LSR supports their community in any way possible.

“Something that is important to us is having a balance of financial success for artists, creating music that they’re passionate about, and reaching an audience who actively want to listen to them,” says Shoults. “One of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced when working with artists is coming up with a plan for them.”

“To us, everything is a partnership,” he adds. “There’s nothing that we do that we charge money for. Everything is based on the song that we’re releasing together, which, for lack of a better term, is the product we are selling together. Between different artists, who is contributing what differs, but at the end of the day, it’s an equal partnership to try to get the music out there.”

The Moneygoround 
“Be Nice to Everyone You Meet (demo)”