For Shauna de Cartier, founder of the independent record label Six Shooter Records, an intuitive approach to her business suits her best.
De Cartier, originally from Edmonton, started the label almost 20 years ago, with one artist on the roster: Luke Doucet. Eventually, she moved to Toronto with the business, and has since established what is truly, not just optically, a diverse and real Canadian-representative roster of musicians, including The Rheostatics, Zaki Ibrahim, The Strumbellas, Riit, William Prince, and Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq, among others. Nine people of their 13-person staff identify as female. Six Shooter Records also includes the Six Shooter Management company, Girl on a Horse Publishing, and the Interstellar Rodeo music festival, back home in Edmonton (and in Winnipeg as well, from 2015 to 2017). Recently, she was the 2019 recipient of the Entrepreneur Award at the Canadian Independent Music Awards gala. But none of these successes would have happened if de Cartier didn’t, as she puts it, lead with her heart.
“My decision-making style is very steeped in emotion,” she says via e-mail. “How does it feel to me if I make one decision, versus how does it feel if I make another. This sounds flaky, and maybe it is, but I like to think about it in terms of leading with the heart. All of the other parts of me feed into that, whether it’s my head or my gut. I acknowledge that this is a style of doing business that makes me more vulnerable than some of my colleagues, and ultimately, I’m okay with that. Art is a business of emotion.”
This is the part where I tell you that the robust conversation I had with de Cartier in early July doesn’t exist anymore. Call it a Mercury Retrograde flub, or a technological nightmare come to life, but what we spoke of — the minute details of her work life, where she talked about delegation, and her role shifting from day-to-day management to bigger-picture strategy – is lost forever. But since piecing together this article with my notes and research, and e-mails from de Cartier (brief but fully-formed thoughts, delivered while understandably busy with running the Interstellar Rodeo this year), I’ve come to see this portrait of her as a decision-maker. How her position in Canadian music really does have an impact on a community, or artist, and it comes down to a vulnerable approach in her business.
Often, vulnerability is seen as weakness, but emotional awareness is a crucial strength. And this is no more true than in art, a wholly emotional endeavour.
Prioritizing what may feel good over what may seem like a “good business decision” has led Six Shooter down a path of great international success. There had been, de Cartier admits, some decisions that weren’t financially that lucrative, but the passion for the project, the artist, or the art itself felt worth it. Taking on Tagaq, for example, who is so spine-tinglingly brilliant, was a decision she made because it felt like the right one. And, of course, it was.
De Cartier also told me that values factor into how she makes decisions and what sort of strategy she’ll take, whether it’s working on a project, hiring a new employee, or anything else. Alignment is key. “I learned early on that you can negotiate almost anything: your vision, your goals, money, strategy, etc.,” she says. “But you can’t negotiate your values. They simply are what they are. In fact, they are who you are. If you work with people whose values aren’t in alignment with your own, that relationship is not going to work out.”
The label’s motto gestures toward an ephemeral approach to business with the crisp, “Life’s too short to listen to shitty music.” Though the motto is going to change for the label’s official 20th anniversary, the sentiment of going with pleasure, with what feels good – essentially, with your heart – is immeasurable, in an industry so often stuck on other measurements of success.