Open Road Recordings, which has been honoured four times as Record Company of the Year and three times as Independent Record Company at the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs), is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary with the latest single (“Bounty”) by the chart topping Dean Brody, in advance of his fourth album, Crop Circles, set for a November 5 release and the launch of the debut album (Throw Down) by fast-rising country artist, Tim Hicks. The album is the sales story of the week in Canada as it holds down the #1 spot for all Canadian artists, genres
Founded in 2003 by Ron Kitchener (RGK Entertainment), who was first named Manager of the Year at the CCMAs in 1998 and then took the honours for an unprecedented 11 consecutive years between 2002-2012, Open Road has to date sold over two and a half million albums by artists like Taylor Swift, Johnny Reid, The Road Hammers, Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, Rascal Flatts and Reba McEntire.
“I had some designs on running an independent label,” says Kitchener. “I was already wearing a lot of the hats. Even as a manager, I was very involved in the marketing plans with the team at MCA (Universal), which was the label for Jason McCoy and Doc Walker, the only two artists on my management roster at the time. I felt that I had a good handle on what country fans were thinking and had a somewhat hands-on role in that area as much as managing the artists.” Randy Lennox at Universal was very encouraging and wonderfully supportive of the venture and a partnership with Maplecore Ltd under Grant Dexter allowed the set up and launch to be seamless.
In September of 2003, Open Road’s first release was Everyone Aboard by Doc Walker. Sins, Lies and Angels, by Jason McCoy, the 2001 CCMA Male Vocalist of the Year, became the label’s second release in November of the same year. The following year, Open Road signed Johnny Reid, whose three albums for the label: Born To Roll, Kicking Stones and Dance With Me established the Scottish-born singer as a major star in Canada. The latter two records both were certified two-times platinum and named Top Selling Canadian Album at the CCMAs.
By late 2005, Kitchener had opened an office in Nashville where he met Scott Borchetta who had just founded the Big Machine label and was touting the talents of a 16-year-old singer/songwriter by the name of Taylor Swift. In 2006, Open Road cut a deal to release Big Machine projects in Canada and, in January of 2007, released the self-titled debut Taylor Swift album. By September of that year, Kitchener was handing her a gold album on stage at the John Labatt Centre (now Budweiser Gardens) in London, Ontario. Open Road would also give Swift her first #1 single (“Teardrops On My Guitar”) and sell over 1 million albums and millions of her singles. Swift went multi-platinum on Fearless and Speak Now.
Open Road enjoyed a period of impressive growth from 2008-2011 but still maintained the boutique label mentality with which it had started. Emerson Drive, High Valley Tara Oram, The Higgins, Prairie Oyster, Ridley Bent and Dean Brody were signed to Open Road during this period. “With Dean, we worked out a multi-level deal where we would manage him, publish his songs and put out his records,” says Kitchener. “That has worked out very well for all involved.” Open Road also continues to work radio promotions for Florida Georgia Line, the break through USA act on Republic Nashville after being first on smash hit, Cruise and taking to # 1.
The current success of Tim Hicks is in part a result of the convergence of the record label and the management company. “Our mandate has always been to be extra attentive on the A&R side, really focusing on songs and developing acts slowly, not rushing them. Over the last 18 months, we’ve worked with three new artists, two males and one female, and Tim Hicks was one of them. We had a very organic plan to developed him; drive a social media story, go to radio and build a fan community around the song ‘Get By.’ The groundswell created between January and the summer led to the release of his album last week. We’re now over 100,000 paid single downloads. Tim is a perfect example of our new thinking as far as our strategy for the company.”
Taylor Swift “Fearless”
Taylor Swift “Speak Now”
Johnny Reid “Kicking Stones”
Johnny Reid “Dance With Me”
Johnny Reid “Born To Roll”
Taylor Swift “Taylor Swift”
The Road Hammers “The Road Hammers”
Dean Brody “Dirt”
Rascal Flatts “Nothing Like This”
Digital Gold Singles
Dean Brody “Canadian Girls”
Dean Brody “It’s Friday”
Tim Hicks “Get By”
Emerson Drive “She’s My Kind of Crazy”
The Road Hammers “East Bound And Down”
Johnny Reid “Missing An Angel”
Taylor Swift “Teardrops On My Guitar”
Taylor Swift “Our Song”
Taylor Swift “Picture To Burn”
Taylor Swift “Love Story”
Taylor Swift “You Belong With Me”
Reba “Consider Me Gone”
Reba “Turn On The Radio”
Rascal Flatts “I Won’t Let Go”
Dean Brody “Canadian Girls”
Florida Georgia Line “Cruise”
Taylor Swift “Ours”
Florida Georgia Line “Get Your Shine On”
Indepedent Record Company of the Year (2004-2006)
Record Company of the Year (2009-2012)