Matt Maw, director and lead artist manager for new Indigenous-owned and operated management and record label Red Music Rising, found out about his First Nations heritage when he was four. But he didn’t start investigating what it meant until much later in life.
Maw, now 32, was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, but his mother’s side of the family are Chippewas of The Thames First Nation. “We had no inherent connection to our cultural heritage until we reconnected with my mother’s family,” says Maw, an only child, whose father is white. “It was something that both of us were excited about.
“For a long time, I didn’t think it was a big deal, because I hadn’t started examining the process of my own cultural history, and then subsequently exploring what reclaiming my cultural history and my Indigeneity looked like,” Maw explains.
Until such time, Maw immersed himself in another passion that wound up shaping his life and career path – music. He took piano lessons from an early age and sang in the choir through high school. He then moved to Toronto to attend Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts (now Randolph College), studying music performance and theatre. While he quickly realized he wasn’t cut out for performing, he was still really passionate about music.
Maw returned to Waterloo and managed a Sunrise Records in a mall, booked some local shows for bands, and occasionally deejayed. A graduate of Harris Institute told him about the music business and tech school. A few months later, he was back in Toronto, and started at Harris. “It was fastest year of my life,” he says. “I learned a lot.”
“My primary focus with Red Music Rising is to assist Indigenous artists and Indigenous people”
From mid-2012 until the start of 2013, he held two simultaneous internships, one at Arts & Crafts. “To be able to peek behind the curtain and see how they operated was special,” he says. He also worked for a spell at Vapor Music Group (now Vapor RMG), a studio, and music licensing and jingle company.
Maw’s first paid job was in 2014 with Collective Concerts, which provided a “crash course in the world of live music and running multiple venues [The Horseshoe Tavern, Lee’s Palace, Danforth Music Hall] and programming,” working as social media and marketing manager, as well as a production manager. “Working out of the back of the Horseshoe and seeing all my favourite bands come through, and soundcheck seven feet from my desk, was an absolute dream come true,” he adds.
After 15 months, Maw accepted a position as label manager of newly formed Home Music Co., a partnership between Nettwerk and Marked Music’s Khaled Verjee and Andrew Kennedy, after they purchased and re-branded Bumstead Records. Maw, who signed BANNERS and DYLYN during his two-plus years there, calls that stint “an expedited education from a Canadian label perspective.”
By that time, Maw says, “Things stated to percolate in the Indigenous music scene. I was a white-looking Indigenous person working in the music industry, and A Tribe Called Red were making waves and gaining attention with the music industry, and bringing issues to light and making an impact socially and musically.”
APTN reached out to offer him a full scholarship to attend the eight-week Artist Entrepreneur program, put on by Coalition Music’s Canada’s Music Incubator. “My cultural and personal and professional life up until that point had been fairly separate,” says Maw. Through the CMI course, he met Indigenous music industry veteran Alan Greyeyes, who in turn introduced him to Jarret Martineau, co-founder of the Indigenous-run Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) Records, who offered him an eight-month contract in the Fall of 2017 as label manager.
“This is what I needed to be doing,” says Maw. “I needed to take all of what I’d learned in my mainstream, predominantly white industry, and the knowledge and the reputation that I’d built, and the network, and apply it to help accelerate and proliferate Indigenous artists, but also the Indigenous industry within music.”
When he finished at RPM, in May 2018, he started working as an artist manager associate for Six Shooter Records, whose roster includes Tanya Tagaq, Riit, and, at the time, The Jerry Cans. He left in March of 2020, and by June had been offered this “dream job” running Red Music Rising – a partnership between Coalition Music and The Aboriginal People’s Television Network, via APTN’s holding company Dadan Sivunivut.
“The way that I’ve been describing Red Music Rising is it is a holistic music company,” says Maw. “We’re artist managers, but we’re also a full-scale record label.” There are other Indigenous labels in Canada, such as Sweetgrass, Hitmakerz, Aakuluk, Moon, Musique Nomade, and, the aforementioned RPM, but Maw says he wants to take what he learned at Arts & Crafts and apply it.
“Ethos-wise, the sense of community that they managed to foster was so integral to how they grew as a brand and how their acts were branded,” he says. “I think that’s vitally important, and is something I’m striving to create with Red Music Rising.”
His first management signing is producer/artist and cultural educator Boogey The Beat, whose contemporary EDM samples powwow singers, but “chopping and screwing and making big-stage festival dance music with it.” On the label front, in late October RMR released a single by the artist Drives The Common Man called “Night Vision,” and on Friday, Nov. 6, iskwē and Tom Wilson (featuring Chuck Copenace) released a collaborative single, “Blue Moon Drive.”
So far, he’s been finding artists through existing relationships. “It just comes down to community and word of mouth and networking,” says Maw. “I’m hearing from people from all across the country who are making vastly different-sounding music, who are reaching out to work together, or to collaborate in some capacity with artists that I’m already working with.”
And how does his mom feel about him exploring his Indigenous side of the family and integrating it into his career?
“She repeatedly lets me know how proud she is that I’m reclaiming my own identity, and my own culture,” says Maw. “But also, that my primary focus with Red Music Rising encapsulates what I want my life’s work to be – to assist Indigenous artists and Indigenous people in general.”