Avante Records Interview
with Marshall Zacharias and Amanda Falk
Big record labels are all
about marketing who sells, who gets listened to, and artists are signed
and dropped without most music industry executives batting an eye. It is
therefore refreshing to find that upstart independent record label Avante
Records based in Winnipeg, Canada, has built a family atmosphere among
its staff and artists. In our continuing expose concerning the state of
the Christian music industry in Canada, The Phantom Tollbooth sits down
and chats with Marshall Zacharias, the president of Avante Records. We
also caught up with one of the label's brightest stars, Amanda Falk, who
was first featured in The Phantom Tollbooth during the summer of
Although Avante Records
first opened its studios in 2003, it has quickly accomplished what nobody
else has been able to do for decades in Canada. The label has kept its
artists on torrid touring schedules, produced quality albums and stayed
the course of remaining ministry focused. Avante Records has served as
the launch pad for twice Grammy nominated rapper Fresh I.E. and Juno Award
winner Amanda Falk (the Juno is Canada's equivalent to a Grammy). Falk
has also been the recipient of numerous major Canadian music awards.
Avante Records began with
a vision held by Zacharias and his wife Malynda who had just retired as
touring artists. They felt God had given them a plan to use their experience
to disciple, mentor and develop aspiring young artists. They soon partnered
with Family Life Network in Winnipeg and with the assistance of Delbert
Enns reopened a studio that had been dormant for a number of years. "The
only request he made was that we had to give up ownership and it had to
be a ministry," said Zacharias.
When asked what has contributed
to the success already enjoyed by Avante Records Zacharias was quick to
respond, "It would have been impossible to get through the first three
years without some major support from the Family Life Network." When pressed
for an answer beyond the obvious need for financial backing, Zacharias
was just as quick to deflect praise to his staff and artists. One gets
the impression that the Avante executive is so ministry-focused that it
does not occur to him at times that he has stamped that same image upon
the hearts of his people.
Falk who was raised in small prairie town is a shining example of how honoring
God's vision for ministry can catapult a music career. In just two years
Falk has experienced a meteoric rise to the top of the Canadian music scene
and with her Juno Award this past spring beat out some tough competition
such as Thousand Foot Krutch and Reliant K. It is not surprising given
Avante Records' mandate to hear Falk said, "I know people always want to
acknowledge the artist but it is such a team effort. When I was accepting
various awards I was just wishing they could all be there to celebrate
with me. It is a combination of hard work by so many different people."
Falk then goes through various members of the label's staff and tells me
how appreciative she is of their efforts on her behalf.
"We try to partner with
the artists. We don't own every piece of their furniture and real estate,"
said Zacharias. "We work extensively with Fresh I. E. We work with him
on bookings, management and producing his records. The partnership is strong,"
he said. Continuing to talk about the rapper Zacharias said, "He gained
a lot of press with his Grammy nomination. He is a hardworking minister
and wherever he goes favor follows him."
Every spring Avante Records
holds a four week talent search as a means of discovering new talent. The
event is a collaborative effort between the label and a Winnipeg Christian
radio station CHVN. In conjunction with the talent search artist improvement
seminars are held. Topics include; communication, stage presentation and
developing songwriting skills.
Another innovation that
has proven successful for Avante Records is The Ultimate Pajama Party For
Girls. The ministry was the brainchild of Malynda Zacharias. Falk described
the events, "We partner with churches and youth groups to reach the girls
in their community, churches and drop in centers. Every church basement
is transformed into this ultimate pajama party." Falk described for me
a retro style set that is constructed consisting of shag carpets, lava
lamps, tube lighting, pillows and pictures.
"We have a speaker who shares
her personal story about finding self worth. I tell a few of my own stories
along similar lines," said Falk. She talks about the time set aside for
open discussion and how one on one or in a group setting girls can talk
about esteem battles they may be waging. Falk also performs in a relaxed
atmosphere during the evening.
"There are a lot of fun
activities (such as) a pizza party and a chocolate fondue fountain," Falk
said. She joked, "I figured the first day that I was on the tour
that if I overdid it on chocolate I would never want chocolate again but
that hasn't happened yet."
Not to pose a pun but Zacharias
sang the praises of Falk, "She has worked extremely hard at touring and
traveling. In 2005 she did 130 shows. She is teachable, moldable and faithful.
Those are the things that we can work with. Those are the things that we
are going after (in other artists).
Canadian Content rules have
long afforded Canadian musicians and singers an opportunity to have their
work played on radio stations in Canada. In mainstream music the protectionist
tactic allowed time for Canadian grassroots musicians, songwriters and
singers to hone their craft and now the public is not short changed on
quality when their work airs. The same CANCON rules apply for Christian
artists. Zacharias said, "In the past, when you listened to a song you
might have said to yourself, 'That must be a CANCON artist because the
quality was not up to par.' I believe that is changing and we are hearing
artists who are doing better recordings as the (industry matures). I think
we are going to see Canadian (Christian) radio embrace the artists not
because they have to but as a result of them falling in love with the (quality
of their music). I believe we are going to see a different attitude toward
the Canadian artist in the next couple of years."
Looking into the future
Zacharias said the long term success of a label such as Avante Records
will be dependent on the label's ability to retain artists and expanding
their horizons. We will without question have to expand our touring into
the United States and possibly the British market. That will be our goal.
Secondly there may be a need for us to partner with larger distribution
and marketing companies."
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.