DATE: 2006 NOVEMBER 27th
PLACE: E-mail
WEBSITE: Unicorn
Michel St-Pere is the founder of one of the most active canadian label Unicorn Digital. I asked him some questions .....

Hello Michel, please may you introduce yourself ?
I was born in 1967 in Montreal Canada. I started to play guitar at 9 and released a first 45rpm at 14 years of age. That was my first experience with the reality of the music business. Later on I started to work on a project called MYSTERY that released a first CD in 1992. That CD was made to get a record deal, although we came close to get a deal, the industry was very cold towards this project, which led to the creation of Unicorn Records.

Tell me something about your band Mystery and some news about the forthcoming album.
Mystery's last CD is "Destiny", released in 1998, and in 2000 Unicorn released a compilation CD called "At the Dawn of a New Millennium". There will be a new CD that will be released in January/February 2007: it will be called "Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face". I have been working on it for a long time. It should have been finished a long time ago but life sometimes takes you on a different path. And my work with Unicorn has become a real passion and that is now taking most of my time. But the new CD will be out early 2007 and this time it is true. The mastering has been done, Jonas from XINEMA will be doing the cover and I must say I am very pleased with the final result. I hope to start working on a new album very soon, I think it is important to keep doing music, it gives a balance to your life.

You are currently celebrating the tenth anniversary in Unicorn Digital and I think it's time to strike the balance. First of all, can you tell me how and why Unicorn was born?
Since a very young age I have always wanted to create a label. When there was no interest from the industry for MYSTERY, I decided to create the label. At the same time I became aware that there was a prog community when I discovered a copy of Cyclone Magazine by accident. In an instant I was not the only one in the world with a passion for that music anymore. I contacted the magazine and the editor sent me a list of European contacts that might be interested in MYSTERY and that is how it started. That was just before the Internet became popular. After releasing 2 CDs, MYSTERY started to receive some good reviews in prog magazines and I started to receive some demos from other bands, the first one I received was from a Jazz fusion band from Montreal called SPACED OUT. At the same time it was clear to me that the other members of MYSTERY did not want to go in the prog field so I decided that I might as well use the label to help other artists that are not finding a good ear in the industry. The first band that was signed to the label was SPACED OUT, about one year after I had received their demo and the rest is history.

Why the name "Unicorn" ?
I do not really know. The only thing I know is that I was very young and thought that one day I would have a label and it would be named UNICORN RECORDS. That was before the internet and I later found out that there were 2 or 3 other Unicorn Records in the world so the name has been changed to UNICORN DIGITAL in 2005.

At the beginning, Unicorn was properly considered as a prog-jazz specialized label, with the only exception of Xinema: why have you decided to broaden your horizons later ?
Not really! In fact the label started with MYSTERY which is more AOR, NEO prog style. In the beginning the demos I received were more Jazz fusion oriented, and that is why I was considered more prog jazz at the time. The label's mission is to release great music, Prog or not. Still the definition of Progressive Rock is very large and hard to define.

Which way do you select the artists usually? Do you follow your musical tastes ?
I receive a lot of demos. Unicorn prefers to release artist that have an almost finished recording, so the first selection is made there. The quality of the recording and song writing are the most important criteria in selecting new artists. Then another important step is to find out what they think Unicorn can do for them, if their vision of the industry is out of proportion, then I know it is not good to be working with this artist. And finally I would not release something that I don't like so yes my personal tastes are the first judges in the selection of new artists.

How many demo-cd's do you receive monthly ?

I would say about 10-20 each month. Most of them are already aware of Unicorn's work so they know if it fits on the label or not. Out of the 20 demos, maybe 3-5 are impressive enough for me to contact the artist and find out what they are looking for. The worst part of my job is to say "No" to someone, I still have all the negatives letters I received for MYSTERY and I know they are not the best letters or email to start the day with.

Why a young band should prefer to sign a record deal ? I mean, more or less everybody can arrange a small home studio for a decent recording with basic technologies and Internet is a powerful commercial vehicle….

In the music business, playing music represents about 5% of the time, the rest is all business. Promoting an album or an artist takes a lot of time that takes you away from doing what really matters for a band which is playing music. If someone is ready to do that then it is fine and they should go on their own, but sometimes it is better to delegates some work to others, and that is why it is good to sign with a label like Unicorn. Another good reason is that the label becomes like a family, and the promotion done on a specific artist benefits all the artists on the label. I would recommend that the artist contact other artists on the label before signing with them and find out what is going to happen once they sign with a specific label. That is the real power of internet, I mean you can easily contact a lot of people to know if you are signing with someone that is going to do a good job for your project.

Apart from the expensive and clever promotion, do you give the artists a live support, too ?
I began to do some concert promotion with some friends from the web site progmontreal.com in 2005. we did ARENA, IQ, The Flower Kings, Carl Palmer and of course the Montreal Progressive Rock Festival FMPM. The concert promotion and artist management is the next step for Unicorn, I am working on that for 2007.

Have you ever thought of a worldwide Unicorn Festival to promote your artists ?

It is funny that you ask this question because it is something I had in mind for a while now, a first incarnation of the project should see the light of day in 2007 and will tour a few cities in Canada, if the concept works well then we will see if we can export the project to Europe and the US.

I realized you never reprinted on cd any old obscure gem from the past: have you ever thought of it ?
Yes I did! But at this time it is not a priority, I have a friend who is doing this with his label Prog Quebec and he is doing a good job. But the idea of doing this has been in my mind for a while now. Maybe when I am not able to find some new and interesting artists anymore I will go back in time.

Can you tell me the first 5 positions of Unicorn best-sellers ?
1-HAMADRYAD -Conservation of Mass
2-HAMADRYAD - Safe in Conformity
3-RETROHEADS- Retrospective
4-MYSTERY - Destiny?
5-SPACED OUT - Slow Gin

Now, try to forget for a while the sale statistics of Unicorn releases and tell me which are your favourite ones …
I like them all, and my favourites depends on the mood that I am at the moment. Ring of Myth, Kaos Moon and the new Retroheads are among my favourites and my all time favourite remains to this day XINEMA "Different Ways".

Which are your favourite listenings outside Unicorn ?
I am a big neo prog fan, Marillion is one of my favourites band, I have listened to a lot of Genesis as well, more on the Phil Collins era but I got to discover the Peter Gabriel era later on. I have also been very impressed with The Watch, Frost, Echolyn. And I like other style of music , Enya is great! I have a huge CD collection but I don't really have time to listen to music that much as ironic as it may seem.

Which bands you would like to wring from other labels ?
I believe that there is a reason for an artist to be with a specific label, and at this point I am very satisfied with my roster.

What do you think of italian progressive rock scene ? Why no italian bands signed ?
I know that it is a big scene however to be honest I am not too familiar with it. I am looking at one amazing Italian prog band for the label and it should be announced very soon, however, there is 2 great Italian metal band signed on the VSR which is the metal side of Unicorn.

What's behind the choice to start a metal sub-label, the VSR ? Will it be strictly metal as announced?
The metal sub label is run by long time friend Richard Addison and he has all the liberty to take it where he wants it. So far it is metal, but who knows what will happen next. There are so many great artists in the world that I might have to create a lot of sub labels to get them all out into the world.

Reading the opinions of some italian colleagues of yours, the sales of progressive rock stuff are not so satisfactory. Do you think your trade is a passion-driven mission only ?? Or it's only a matter of country ??
No I think the situation is the same in every country. The Style is not mainstream right now but I believe that there is place for a lot a of music style apart from what we hear on the radio. But you definitely need to have a passion for it to make it work.

Can you tell me your point of view about Peer To Peer ? Do you think it's a damage that music industry should fight or it's the symptom that music industry must change the strategies ??
You know I have mixed feelings about that, but I think it is not as bad as they say it is. The goal for an artist is to have his or her music heard by as many people as possible and therefore P2P is the best thing that could happened to the music industry in a long time, when I was younger it was all about 4 track cassettes and VHS video that should have killed the Cinema industry, now more people than before go to cinema to see movies, and P2P for artists will result in the same conclusion for Concert ticket sales. I see it more as a big friendly Radio. The average people buy about 2 CDs a year and even if they would download 2000 mp3, they will still buy 2 CDs per year however their selection might be different and not dictated by Radio and Television anymore.

Thank you very much for your kindness Michel: I wish you all the best with Mystery and Unicorn Digital!!
Thank you Luca it has been a pleasure, and thank you for supporting our music like you have done for many years.

Luca Alberici