Mad Child has just come from the shower. He immediately informs me that he’s wearing sunglasses, not “because he thinks he’s cool,” but because he’s tired. Which is understandable. Mad Child, one of the four members of the Juno-awarding winning hip hop group Swollen Members and founder of Battle Axe Records, along with his band mates Prevail, Moka Only and DJ Rob the Viking, has had a hectic couple of years rising to the top of Canadian hip hop. Add to this the fact that he is the “creative overseer” of his independent record label, Battleaxe Records, and the sunglasses-indoors thing doesn’t seem so bad.
Mad Child (born Shane Bunting in North Vancouver) has always had business on the brain. “I guess since I was a kid, besides being creative, my other passion was business. It’s just something that I love doing.”Battleaxe Records is a perfect culmination of these passions, and its success is rooted in more drive, determination, confidence and family support than you can ever learn from books.
In 1996, when Swollen Members was first born, they decided to put the name Battle Axe Records on the back of their first 12-inch single, so, as Mad Child says, “It would look like we had a label. We knew we didn’t want to bother sending our music to [industry] people to hear what they thought of it. We already felt confident in what we were doing.” But, he had no idea of how to run a record label. “We were just faking it in the beginning,” he says. Once the Members started becoming successful, winning their first Juno for Best Rap Recording in 2001 for their debut album Balance, they realized that Mad Child had an affinity for business. Battleaxe Records became his baby—and he began to take it very seriously.
“For a couple of years I worked super-hard non-stop on the label. I was living in my office,” says Mad Child, who borrowed $20,000 from his family and put a lot of what he earned back into the company. Family support seems to be one of the foundations that have made Mad Child, and Battle Axe, what they are. “For a while [my family was] probably wondering if this was the right thing for me, but as far back as I can remember they were always real supportive,” he says. The secret behind Battleaxe’s growing success seems to be that they, too, are like a family. Prevail’s roommate works there, they all spend a lot of time together (“We’re a tight unit,” Prevail says), they all support each other, giving each other props, and they all share a common goal: global success—not just for Swollen Members but for the whole Battle Axe label.
Although Battleaxe is a collective effort, when Mad Child started, he didn’t ask anyone for help. He didn’t contact any lawyers or business managers, “It was all me learning by myself.” He made a few mistakes, like signing a deal with a distributor that went wrong, but he saw it as “a stepping ladder” which led him to new distribution deals with Caroline in the United States, and west-coast label Nettwerk in Canada. Battle Axe’s Canada-only distribution deal with Nettwerk (which has Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies among its clients) is unprecedented in the music business because the profits are split 50-50 between the label and Nettwerk. It’s never been done before, which proves that not only does Mad Child know what he’s doing but also that his confidence in Battle Axe is well founded. Says Mad Child, “The advantage for us is that we’re working with excellent people we can trust. Going to [Nettwerk], you’ve got 18 years of experience that you can learn from as you go.”
Mad Child is eager to learn and his determination to take Battle Axe “as far as it can go” is what feeds his drive. But although he’s still new at the game, he plays by his own rules. In an interview with Saturday Night magazine, Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk said, “Mad Child’s still learning the rules, but he’s already breaking them.”
From its beginnings in Mad Child’s bedroom, Battle Axe Records now has five employees and mountain-view offices in Vancouver. They have plans to release at least seven full-length albums this year by Battleaxe artists, and are committed to maintaining their focus on artist development. There has been talk of expanding into management, an avenue that Mad Child is admittedly “excited to explore.” Recently signing a major deal with Virgin Records is another step towards Mad Child’s ultimate goal of global success. “I can put it this way,” he says, “I’m definitely setting something up for me and the rest of the guys. I’m definitely not planning on stopping in the near future.”