'Fresh Energy' Keeps Bloomington Indie Music Label Moving

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Ben Swanson helped launch Secretly Canadian with his brother and friends while at IU in the mid-1990s. Ben Swanson helped launch Secretly Canadian with his brother and friends while at IU in the mid-1990s.

After more than 20 years, a Bloomington-based music label is continuing with its mission of showcasing the independent music scene locally and globally. Secretly Group, which includes the Secretly Canadian, Dean Oceans, Jagjaguwar and The Numero Group labels, has worked over the years with artists including Grammy-winner Bon Ivar, Major Lazer, Yoko Ono and Dinosaur Jr. It has grown to include the labels, a distribution business and a presence in New York, Chicago, Austin, London, Paris and Berlin. Secretly Group also handles management, publishing and counts more than 100 employees.

During an interview on a special edition of Inside INdiana Business Television from Bloomington, co-founder Ben Swanson discussed what sets the city apart. "Bloomington is interesting because it's a small, college town. It's interesting because it's in a constant state of flux -- there's always a new crop of kids -- for good and bad," he said on our set located at the Upland Brewing Co. Wood Shop. "But the good part about it is there's always this fresh energy and so there's never this, like, large incumbent that's sort of stifling innovation or anything like that -- I guess we're the large incumbent stifling innovation at this point -- but, I think that's that's the biggest asset to Bloomington."

The Monroe County city boasts a recording scene that includes over a dozen music labels. Swanson says despite massive changes within the industry with the advent of digital sharing and streaming services, the focus and growth opportunities remain with the musicians. "For us, our core is our artists, and it's really just working as deeply with our artists as we can," said Swanson. The label, he says, will continue to look for artists "pushing culture forward and really leveraging their creativity."

Secretly Canadian was launched in 1996 by Swanson, his brother and friends in the dorm and Indiana University campus radio station. Growth has happened "out of necessity," Swanson says. He noted that some small, early successes helped lay the foundation and "we really didn't know what else to do with our lives, so we just kept, you know, pushing at it and reinvesting in the company."

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