When two musicians took on a drummer to form a band, little did they know that they were actually drumming up a new business. Founded in 1993, Sonic Unyon got its start making tapes of its and other local bands’ music. Eventually it developed into a music distribution business, and managing large scale festivals like Supercrawl, Hamilton’s free music and arts festival, and Seven Sundays in the Park, a popular annual music concert series.
“A hobby turned into a job,” says Tim Potocic, the drummer who now co-owns Sonic Unyon. “It all stems from music, and trying to figure out our place in the music industry.”
And just as the industry has evolved, so has the company. As Potocic explains, there was no internet when Sonic Unyon started 20 years ago.
“The last decade has seen a complete change to the revenue model: moving from physical inventory to streaming digital experience.”
In the early days, Sonic Unyon took a hands-on approach to the artists they worked with, overseeing everything from managing and recording to distribution. OMDC funding helped, too, through the Ontario Music Fund, as the company developed artists from complete obscurity into career musicians with a fairly well-recognized name, such as Young Rival, Steve Strongman, and Terra Lightfoot.
“We had our own label and our own sense of what we do,” says Potocic. It’s an approach they’ve maintained, even though they sold the distribution side of the side business in 2008. These days the focus is on managing artists and some of Hamilton’s most popular events.
“The state of music is such that you have to wear a few different hats, and maintain lots of revenue sources,” Potocic notes. “It’s also more fun to have more than one iron in the fire.”
In 2009, Sonic Unyon took on Supercrawl, growing it from 3,000 attendees to 200,000, and hosting acts like Broken Social Scene, Sharon Jones, and Charles Bradley. Potocic credits the community with being a vital partner in the festival’s growth, and the OMDC for supporting them as they’ve grown considerably from what he characterizes as an experiment.
“They are the best music staff in the country,” he says. “They are music industry people too, so they really get it. We want to be able to service our artists we are dedicated to in the best way we can, and they help us do that.”
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