|Sam Feldman (l) & Bruce Allen
Industry Profile: Bruce Allen & Sam Feldman
By Larry LeBlanc
This week in the hot seat(s) with Larry LeBlanc: Bruce Allen & Sam Feldman
Given the long history between Sam Feldman and Bruce Allen, partners in Vancouver-based A&F Music, it is surprising the two have never sat together for an extensive interview.
But this relationship has at times been stormy. Since 1979, in fact, the two have operated from separate offices in the city.
“It’s as good as it can be between us now,” Feldman says. “It’s been almost 38 years.”
Bruce Allen Talent—like S.L. Feldman & Associates, is a division of A&F Music. Over the year, Allen has taken four Canadian acts, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, and Michael Buble from the ground up to global success.
As well, he has brokered a sizable country career for Martina McBride, and reignited Anne Murray’s career. He also manages leading Canadian producer Bob Rock
With more than 70 employees in offices in Vancouver and Toronto, S.L. Feldman & Associates has a towering presence in entertainment.
As Canada’s largest full-service talent agency, it represents over 200 artists, ranging from Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Jann Arden and Nelly Furtado.
S.L. Feldman & Associates has various divisions, including Music Supervision Services, Watchdog Management and, notably, Macklam/Feldman Management which oversees the management of the Chieftains, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, Tracy Chapman and others.
As well, it has an interest in Characters Talent Agency.
Prior to Feldman and Allen teaming up in 1972 under the umbrella booking firm Bruce Allen Talent Promotions (that became A&F Music), Allen had managed local club acts Thin Red Line, Five Man Cargo, and Crosstown Bus.
Feldman had worked for a Vancouver booking agency, then booked Uncle Slug and Sweet Beaver on his own, managing the latter.
When Allen and Feldman began, there was just two of them, and a part-time receptionist.
In 1979, Feldman began running the booking division—renamed S.L. Feldman & Associates. At the same time, he had considerable domestic success managing Trooper, the Headpins, and Doug and the Slugs.
It was Allen, however, who had the high-profile management triumphs: Bachman-Turner Overdrive followed by Loverboy, Red Rider, Prism, and Bryan Adams.
Not everything Allen and Feldman have touched has turned to gold.
With several partners, the two launched Penta Entertainment in 1988, with a label, Penta Records, distributed worldwide by Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch. After several unsuccessful releases by Raymond May, and Paul Laine, it was folded within two years.
Feldman's scope expanded globally in the mid-90s with his management joint venture with Steve Macklam who had earlier managed Canadian bluesman Colin James. Macklam came with the Chieftains and, soon afterwards, brought fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell into the management fold.
Under Allen’s management, Bryan Adams is Canada's most successful international pop star—period. His career has spanned three decades, 15 albums and worldwide sales in excess of 65 million albums.
Despite declining U.S. sales in recent years, Adams has maintained his international sales base, particularly in such markets as the Pacific Rim and the United Kingdom. He is known in countries where other western rock acts have seldom, if ever, performed.
As well, Allen has deftly guided the global career of the Canadian contemporary crooner, Michael Buble.
Edgar Bronfman, Jr. [Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Warner Music Group] recently announced that any new acts coming to Warners will have to come in on under a 360 deal.
BRUCE: So I guess we won’t be starting any acts with Warner Brothers.
SAM: Universal is doing (360 deals) too. What the labels are doing is a continuation of cutting their own businesses off at their knees. They are going to force managers who are on the fence about digital distribution business to do those things. A lot of artists just won’t do these kind of deals.
Labels don’t supply the kind of infrastructure or services to deserve that kind of grab of the income stream.
In a sense, it’s easier for us to back into their business than it is for them to back into our business. Artists also have to have an advocate; and a corporation can’t be an advocate.
Are the labels today too thinned out to be effective?
BRUCE: (Cutbacks at labels have) forced us to staff up. We now have marketing people and radio people. People we never used to have before. We would rely more on their resources.
The record companies are still at their best as distribution pipelines. They still have money to invest in acts. They can profile artists better than anyone. I have a lot of friends at record companies. I enjoy working with them. Record companies have been slashed back and what is left are some very good people. [Sony Nashville head] Joe Galante has a wonderful staff. Diarmuid Quinn is a top guy at Warner Brothers (in Burbank, California). David Joseph, who runs Universal UK, is fantastic. All I am working with is good people. I’m not working with idiots or a bunch of punks who were assigned to me.
SAM: I’m not too sure about the 360 deal. The labels either have to provide these services or they have to provide a lot of extra money to buy those income streams. You can count on two hands, if you are lucky, the number of managers today that can do the job effectively. This is a very unique skill set. It is just not like you can have a corporation and appoint a manager. Nor can you have a corporation appoint an agent. It’s a Moroccan Bazaar and artists need an interpreter. We are the interpreters, and we are the artist advocates.
BRUCE: The record companies are looking for people like Sam and I. People that they can work with. Get that synergy working, and you can still do a pretty good job. Can you sell 26 million records? Of course, not. But you can get your act established, get them to be a live act, and get them a career with the record companies involved.
Bruce, you and Nettwerk Group CEO Terry McBride are friends but your views differ on the music industry
BRUCE: We are 180 degrees apart in lots of way. Terry, at best, is ahead of the curve which, to me, is worse than being behind the curve. I am still a believer of the record company system. I know it’s broken. I know it may never be fixed. But it is not dead yet. I still use it, and it has helped me tremendously. I broke Michael Buble. I could not have done that with Terry’s model. I had to do it with a major.
So you don’t buy Terry’s model of acts as independents?
BRUCE: The big thing in the industry now is being independent, independent, independent. The majors are old school. Fuck you! The majors have done some things that have been, maybe questionable, but I enjoy working with them. I enjoy the people they have on staff.
Independents, all I see with them is that they go to the majors for distribution. Nobody has sold as many records on the internet as they have with traditional CDs. I think there is still a spot for the record labels.
Sam, do you have the same view?
SAM: I agree. But it is more difficult for an artist who doesn’t have a profile to get the majors to do all of the things that Bruce talked about. It is really tough.
Bruce can make demands of a major with a commercial act like Michael Buble. With Ry Cooder, you can’t necessarily do that. Do you instead look for a boutique label or another distribution partner for that type of artist. Even with Joni Mitchell.
SAM: Absolutely, there’s been a lot of controversy about Starbucks putting music in the shelves. Whether they should or shouldn’t or if they care enough about music. I don’t care about anything of that. All I care about is that Starbucks gets people buying coffee, and if there’s a CD on the counter, there’s a good chance that people might buy it.
For Joni, the deal with Hear Music [a Concord/Starbucks affiliate], was fantastic. She sold more records than she’d sold in 17 years. A lot of people got to hear her music who hadn’t before. For Norah Jones, maybe, it wouldn’t be a great thing. Maybe it would be. It just depends on the artist and whatever a label can do for you.
BRUCE: I’d love to do a 360 with Disney [The Walt Disney Company] because they can bring something to the table. If I ever had the right act, I’d go there. That’d be a 360 deal that works.
Would you do a 360 with LiveNation?
BRUCE: No. Who’s going to market the music? They are a touring company. They aren’t going to staff up with 90 people to sell records. They will have Warners or Sony as a distributor instead.
Two decades ago, a Canadian wouldn’t have had the chance to manage Martina McBride. At best, her manager would have been from Nashville or from Texas. Is it a source of pride what has happened in her career?
BRUCE: I have a lot of pride in her. I was not well versed in country when I started with her but I think I am now. Her husband (John McBride) has been a great help. He’s very active in her career. It’s a little team we have that has done pretty good. I don’t have 10 country artists. I have one. That’s enough for me.
I am surprised that Shania Twain hasn’t knocked on your door.
BRUCE: I had a meeting with Shania Twain but it didn’t work out. We are still friends. It was a different deal than what I would take.
Has Anne Murray retired as she has hinted at for years?
BRUCE: If you talk to Anne today, she probably will not tour again. She wants to take time off, stand back, and make sure she wants to do it again. If she doesn’t, she’s gone out on a high note. She is starting to work on a book that we will hopefully have out by October.
Sam, you just signed Tracy Chapman. What attracted you to her?
SAM: Why wouldn’t we? She’s a great artist and she certainly fits into our mode. Her first album sold 17 million. Steve saw her in Europe and he was just raving about her live show. I flew to San Francisco to find out what I was dealing with. It turns out she’s really sweet, really thoughtful. We just thought that this woman needs some help.
It’s clear from our roster that we are just not looking for the next big thing. If it comes along, fantastic. But we still have the same philosophy we had when we took on the Chieftains. Let’s hit some doubles. I feel good working with artists that if every radio station went off the air tomorrow our artists would still be working and doing very well.
Would you work with a commercial pop act?
SAM: I would never say never. I am not an anti-commercial guy. Our Watchdog Management division is a pop division (with Hedley, Jon McLaughlin, and A Fine Frenzy). There are probably certain people I wouldn’t want to work with but I’m not snobby about it.
What is an artist’s definition of success today? Success might mean having a great recording and live career. Or it might mean making great music and being able to work on a more limited scale.
SAM: Artists are all different. Ry Cooder is going to Europe with Nick Lowe this summer. We are being told he can do 10,000 and 20,000 people a night in many places. People are standing by with cheque books in hand. Ry will not work a venue bigger than 2,000 seats. Come hell or high water. He feels that he cannot connect with a bigger audience, and that the sonics won’t be right. That’s just the way he is.
How do you and Steve Macklam handle day-to-day management?
SAM: We try to figure out who can push the buttons of people we need to motivate. Steve is more hands on day-to-day with a number of the artists. But we cross over a lot. It depends on what the function is. If it is setting up the marketing (of an album), we probably both do it. If it is a tour, we’ll both do it. If it is a re-negotiation or signing with a record label, we’ll both do it. We are both on the road a lot, Steve a bit more than me. He covers Europe and South East Asia more than I do.
Bruce, you used to shake your head and ask, “How can Sam make any money from these (artistic niche) acts?”
BRUCE: I sometimes still shake my head at things that Sam does because I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do it. But he knows how to do it. Sometimes too, I sit there in wonderment, and go, “Wow.” But Sam is a real musical guy. He has very eclectic, very weird tastes. I can’t deal with those types of people.
Well, you did manage (Cajun star) Zachary Richard years ago.
BRUCE: Sam does it better than me. He’s got a great bedside manner. I don’t have that.
SAM: It’s funny that our basic DNA comes through. In the beginning Bruce had Crosstown Bus, a commercial top 40 band. I managed Uncle Slug that was led by this SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) radical with a bunch of draft dodgers. Trooper was more mainstream but my musical tastes have always been more towards blues, R&B and original music.
What happened for me on the management side was Steve Macklam walking in and asking, “Do you want to manage the Chieftains together?” I felt that was a good idea because they are so collaborative. We could network out from that and build the (management) business.
The Chieftains are a group that doesn’t get radio airplay but is always working.
SAM: I’ve never been crazy about having a pop act, spending 18 months in the studio and being stroked by the A&R department before being switched over to the radio promotion guy who says, “I really don’t like this” or “You aren’t giving me enough money (to promote your record)” Then bang, being gone.
With the Chieftains, I thought, “Why don’t we just hit a couple of doubles?” The Chieftains can sell out theatres. We can build everything up. Macklam came up with the idea for “The Long Black Veil” album in 1995 with the collaborations with the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Sinead O'Connor, Sting, Van Morrison and others. That took the Chieftains up a whole bunch of notches.
Then, with (Canadian singer/songwriter) Sarah McLachlan coming up, I said, “Why don’t we do a (Canadian) subscription seat tour throughout the summer (of 1995) with Sarah?” That was a win/win for everybody.
We really advanced the Chieftains’ career significantly and, in the process, we met a lot of people. We were in Japan, and there’s Joni Mitchell. Lucky us. Steve had known her, and we started to manage Joni. We spent a year getting to know her. Of course, that was a big signal to a lot of people. Then there was Diana Krall, Norah Jones and on and on.
Picking up Norah Jones in 2002 on the eve of the release of her first album “Come Away with Me” was a lucky break.
SAM: Bruce Lundvall [Blue Note Label Group president and CEO] sent over her album. It was amazing. Before the first song was over, we were talking about how to get involved. It was just that good, although you would never have guessed it would get such radio airplay or sell 22 million copies. As if anyone is ever going to do that again.
While Sam and Steve developed Norah Jones and Diana Krall internationally in recent years, Bryan Adams was one of the first artists from North America to have a global career.
BRUCE: Bryan Adams himself was a big driving force about going to break Europe in 1983. He knew about that market from living there.
You weren’t happy about Bryan touring the UK and Germany then with Tina Turner when you and A&M were trying to break him in the U.S.?
BRUCE: I wasn’t thrilled about it at all. I had a record company jumping all over me about going there. I had (A&M co-founder) Jerry Moss telling me that if we went and did all this European touring with Tina Turner I might as well kiss Bryan’s career goodbye. When a guy like Jerry Moss says that, you listen to him. But we held firm, and it worked out. It was a dangerous game for me because getting America then was very important.
Bryan Adams is a global star today but, ironically, his weakest market is the United States.
BRUCE: Absolutely. It something we are addressing. Our commitment is to work in the U.S. for the next six months. Bryan came up with this idea of doing solo shows. It has taken away the thing of him being a pop star or the romantic balladeer or whatever people wanted to pigeon-hole him as. To see Bryan onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee with an acoustic guitar and talking about where all of these songs came from, is thrilling.
Anyone who sees the show loves it.
You both want the U.S. market back?
BRUCE: I do. At one time, I was more driven about it than he was. But he’s now found a way where he’s comfortable (performing) there. We stayed away from the three band packages, with REO Speed Wagon, Journey, Heart or whatever.
But Bryan would love to get a song on the radio.
BRUCE: That’s true. There’s no doubt that is his goal. But artists of his ilk and with his history aren’t considered (by U.S. radio) anymore. Everybody wants to play something new. Bryan Adams, John Mellancamp, and Bruce Springsteen are from another era. Radio is hard for us in the United States. But Springsteen doesn’t get any hits from U.S. radio either.
Bruce, when Bachman-Turner Overdrive broke in 1973, I recall that you didn’t have that much experience working in the United States.
BRUCE: I had minimal experience. Just booking clubs with bands like Five Man Cargo and Crosstown Bus. Some American agencies would help us out by giving us dates here and there. We’d go down to Portland or to Chicago. So when Randy Bachman came to Vancouver with Brave Belt (that later became Bachman-Turner Overdrive) and wanted to make a management deal, I felt he knew a hell of a lot more about working in the United States than I did.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive kick-started the rock era in Canada from Vancouver.
SAM: Ontario had a mini-star system because there was a population base to support it. A band from Vancouver didn’t have that. (To work with bigger audiences) they had to cross the Rockies or go south. So BTO was doing a different style of rock and roll. In Ontario, you had a lot of Rush clones.
Brave Belt came to Vancouver because you and Bruce could work them.
SAM: There was a nightclub circuit in western Canada that we were tied into that enabled us to work talent and build the booking roster.
BRUCE: When we started there were 18 clubs in Vancouver playing music. In every one of those clubs there were bands playing some original music buried amongst the hits of the day.
Bruce Allen Talent was the only game in town for years. You had everything, the one nighters, high schools, all tied up.
BRUCE: We had a booking monopoly on everything in British Columbia, period. Bands came here because they could make money. Sam and I had figured out a point where the club made money, where the band made money, and everybody was happy. We didn’t have any competition. But we never got into price gouging or selling bands out cheap just to get a commission. We had a nice thing going until the music changed. Disco came in, and everything changed. But for years there was a really healthy scene here because we dominated the market.
In 1972, you made a booking alliance with Tommy Wilson’s Concept 376 in Toronto that enabled Canadian bands to tour across the country for the first time.
SAM: We made a deal where we would represent all of their talent for western Canada, and they would represent our talent for eastern Canada, insuring that artists would have an agent on the ground in both territories to look after them.
BRUCE: Sam would go out of his mind when he would deliver bands for $2,500 for a week in Vancouver, and our bands would get $1,000 a week in Ontario.
Did the success of Bachman-Turner Overdrive change your business?
SAM: BTO was seminal because they happened quickly and Bruce began to spend much of his time on the road with them. But we didn’t want to give up the agency business; it’s a good business. So I continued to develop the agency, and Bruce developed the management side.
Didn’t you try to follow Bruce by managing Trooper and then Doug & the Slugs?
SAM: Totally. The plan was to have this agency and to manage. Neither one of us got into this business to spend our lives booking clubs. It was just a means to an end.
The first band I managed, Uncle Slug, did original blues. When the draft dodger singer left, they got offered a record deal from Studio 3. The piano player, I think, said “There’s a clause here saying that they might make us put strings on a track.” So they broke up. Then I saw Applejack which became Trooper.
Their 1979 MCA compilation album “Hot Shots” sold over 600,000 copies in Canada. That’s a sensational figure.
SAM: The band sold out coliseums and big arenas in Canada but didn’t break in the U.S. It was a syndrome for some (successful Canadian) bands. It was frustrating. Admittedly, I didn’t have the experience as a manager either.
BRUCE: That goes on today with the Tragically Hip. That’s a Canadian phenomenon.
Bruce, did being on the road with Bachman-Turner Overdrive so much cause a strain between you and Sam and the staff in Vancouver?
BRUCE: The strain was when I came back home. As long as I wasn’t in the office, there wasn’t a strain on anybody. When I came back, I would step into the business, and try to take over. I’d walk in and go, “What the fuck?” It couldn’t work. Sam was put in an untenable position because he was working with these people all of the time. The problem was my own ego or immaturity. It didn’t come from Sam.
SAM: Bruce was like a Green Beret coming home from war while we were all expecting him to calm down.
Sam, you walked out with the entire staff, except for Bruce’s personal assistant, and opened up another office.
SAM: We weren’t getting along. Basically, Bruce wasn’t supporting the stuff I was trying to do. I thought, “I can’t make these things bigger, and make more money if I don’t have the support of my partner.” When I said we should split the company up, Bruce said “Let’s keep it together.” I felt I owed that to him.
Bruce, why not split up the company?
BRUCE: I always believed that the agency was going to be continual. It was going to go on and on. Acts come and acts go. I fought hard to hang onto the agency because I knew that if all of the acts I was managing didn’t like what I was doing and left, at least I had some cash flow coming in (from the agency).
The booking agency was bankrolling the management side as well?
BRUCE: Without a doubt.
Did you two then still trust each other?
SAM: There was always trust on the money. We just had different ways of doing things.
Sam, after moving out did you then concentrate on the booking agency as your core business?
SAM: I focused on all of it. But I was always trying to do management. There was Trooper, Doug and the Slugs, the Headpins, Chrissy Steele and A Boy On A Dolphin.
In hindsight, to be running and building an agency and trying to put the time and effort into managing as well, my odds of success were not good. Management is like pushing a rock uphill. You can delegate more effectively in the agency business than you can in the management business. In management, artists want to you to be there.
When we took over The Agency in Toronto (in the early ‘90s) and became a national company, there was staff that could do a lot of the management of the agency. I’m still involved but not so much on a day-to-day level.
Bruce, by the time Sam left, Bachman-Turner Overdrive had cooled down, and you were working with Prism and Red Rider. What happened next?
BRUCE: I got lucky. Lou Blair came into in the office and wanted some help managing Loverboy. Then Bryan Adams came in. I was lucky. At that juncture, I could have been frozen out (of the industry).
Did the success of Loverboy put you back in the game again?
Bruce, for much of your career, you’ve worked with promoter Don Fox (Beaver Productions) in the U.S., and Carl Leighton-Pope [the founder of the Leighton-Pope Organisation]. Why such long relations with these two?
BRUCE: They understand me. They understand what I want. They are small enough that can really focus on my acts. My acts are very important to their bottom line.
Carl is an extension of me in Europe. He’s on the ground there. He knows everybody there and knows how to get things done.
I don’t think I could have broken Michael Buble through a traditional way in our industry. I needed a guy like Don Fox alongside of me. He is one of the last independent national promoters. He’s really passionate about Michael. Ditto for Adams and other stuff we’ve done together.
Michael Buble has established himself as an arena act anywhere in the world. We are now more in control of his destiny. He has a very bright future.
Because he has had three successful albums?
BRUCE: It is more than being three albums deep. People who came to see him initially thought he was trying to be the new Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Bobby Darin. But with his live performances and television appearances, Michael has established his own identity, and all that (being compared) gone away now.
Sam, for your management clients with Steve Macklam, do you have your own contacts? Or do you also use Carl and Don?
SAM: We do a lot of stuff direct with European promoters. I use Don wherever I can (in the U.S.). He’s a great promoter who knows his market, and you get a straight story from him. But because our roster has artists with different agencies in the U.S, we use a different network.
My view is that (having a management team for an act) is like casting. Some agencies, some lawyers and some promoters are right for some acts. Some are right for someone else.
Diana Krall’s next album "Quiet Nights” will be released next year (on March 31, 2009). It is her first album of new material in three years and the first since her having twin sons (with husband Elvis Costello in 2006).
SAM: The album has a South American feel to it. It is a romantic and sensual record. Diana will be touring Europe this summer. I was over at their house the other night for a Christmas carol party, belting out Christmas songs with Diana playing piano and Elvis singing backup.
You can’t beat that.
SAM: What you can’t beat is watching the cover band we got for them at their wedding in England doing Beatle songs and watching Paul McCartney on the dance floor singing along to “Back In The U.S.S.R.” That was really fantastic.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008, Larry was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.