Industry Profile: Vinny Cinquemani
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Vinny Cinquemani, senior vice-president, S.L. Feldman & Associates.
Few people have had a bigger impact on live music in Canada than Vinny Cinquemani—an American who now holds dual citizenship.
Many people never knew that Canada had Canadian artists until he began booking them.
In the ‘70s, as Canada hit a sweet spot in terms of music and creativity; and as audiences nationally began to open their doors to domestic performers, Cinquemani arrived in Toronto from New York where he had been a singer.
After stints as an executive at several Toronto booking firms—Concept 376, Music Shoppe International, Platinum Artists, and The Agency, Cinquemani came to S.L. Feldman & Associates (SLFA) in 1994 as VP of artist relations.
He was named president of SFLA in 1996. In 2010, he stepped down as president to act as senior VP.
A fierce and competitive negotiator, Cinquemani is the principled backbone of Canada’s booking world, renowned for devising artist career strategy; for his unwavering support of his management and artist clients; for realistically evaluating their expectations; and for tracking down the tiniest detail of a business deal.
He has won Canadian Booking Agent of the Year honors at Canadian Music industry Awards an unprecedented 10 times.
With offices in Vancouver and Toronto, SLFA represents 180-200 artists. Cinquemani’s personal roster includes Rush, Jann Arden, Johnny Reid, Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan, Finger Eleven, Burton Cummings, Tom Cochrane, Sloan, Holly Cole, Amanda Marshall, Kim Mitchell, David Wilcox, and Dala.
Last year, SLFA opened Parallel 49, a boutique-booking agency in Santa Monica, California, that represents recording artists and variety entertainment for the concert industry for bookings at performing arts centers, festivals, fairs, casinos and special events.
How competitive are you? How tough of a negotiator are you?
I am extremely competitive. That’s why I sign bands today. And I’m extremely competitive with what I do. I have been blessed with a gift. The difference is this. I know what I’m doing, and I’m secure at what I’m doing. My relationships with clients and managers are managed properly. Expectations are managed. So when we sit and talk about reality, I know reality. I know what the right ticket price is.
So you can go back to the act and say…
No, no, no. It’s all done before. If I’m told, “I want $550,000 versus 90%,” I will start the conversation with, “The last time we played this venue we went in with this much. We made this much. This is the success that we did.” Normally, most of the bands that I work with, if they made $300,000 aren’t going to be asking for $450,000. It’s (fee structures) all relative to ticket prices, which is another issue. It’s about ticket prices. It’s the ticket price that wins or loses.
As far as being competitive, I’m extremely competitive. My work ethic is to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day to be successful, and I always win. If I go in on behalf of my client or with a Feldman client with a promoter, I’m going to win. But it’s not going to be winning by dragging someone over the coals or ripping them to shreds unless someone screws my artists. If someone screws my artist, I will rip them to shreds, period.
As far as negotiating goes, you know what is realistic?
I have been doing it for a long time. If the research is done, and the expectations of my client and myself are agreed upon, then we (also) have the promoter who trusts me because they do so much business with me. It’s not going to be, “Here’s Vinny on the phone. He wants 50% more than what the band is worth.” They know when I come in that it’s (the fee) realistic and honest, and that these are great bands. You have to realize how much money the promoter makes, but it is also a business where they have to make money to stay in business. So we are realistic.
So the negotiation concept is, “How do we make this work?”
The greatest deal ever is when both parties walk away feeling good. Even if I get them to feel good, and it’s not good, that’s the bottom line. The best deal is when both parties walk away happy, even if my negotiating and relationship with that promoter facilitates that happiness. We understand that the promoter is in business, and that they have to make money to continue to stay in business. I don’t go into negotiations on behalf of our clients without being totally prepared on what we [manager and artist] are looking for based on the individual market, city, and past performances. But if I’m going in, and I need something, I pretty much guarantee you that I will get what we want. It is all based on capacity, and ticket prices, it isn’t a magic elixir.
In 2010, you stepped down as president of SLFA after 12 years. Why?
I have so many bands that I am personally responsible for—major clients—that the change now gives me time to concentrate on touring. Running the touring division has been a joy. What I do best is that I’m a signer. I signed most of the big bands in the country. I work with the big headliners, and with big management companies. Things have never been better. Tours are doing well. Everybody is happy.
As president of SLFA you had numerous administrative duties.
Administrative duties and things I did begrudgingly. I’ve always been an agent who signs bands, who plans concert tours, and comes up with strategy and things we need to. That’s what I have always done best. Now everybody helps with administration. It wasn’t something where I could be fully creative. I could be creative, maybe, 35% of the time. Even though, you have help and partners and other senior VPs, everybody has their own problems. To be able now to spend 90% of my time being creative is a joy. I’m extremely happy that things are things going so well. The company is doing tremendously.
Another strong year for SLFA?
We are coming off another great year. It has been many consistent great years. Based on the world, based on the economy, based on the financial climate, and all of the doom and gloom and everything else at this point, we’re coming off a fantastic year. This has been one of the best years that we have ever had. And it’s been that way for many, many years. It’s fantastic to say that in this day and age.
How many acts does SLFA represent?
Music acts, we have 180 to 200 acts.
What acts do you directly represent?
The personal stuff goes from Rush, Simple Plan to Johnny Reid; and to Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven, Jann Arden, and Burton Cummings. He’s one of my first clients that I signed. He just finished the West with Live Nation and sold out in advance quicker than last year. I work with Shaw Saltzberg, (senior VP S. L. Feldman and Associates in Vancouver) on Bryan Adams, and Sarah McLachlan.
Johnny Reid is your most recent signing.
I’ve been a fan for years. I remember going with a friend to his show at Massey Hall. I stood by myself in the corridor—I don’t normally sit at shows; I will stand at the edge and watch the show—and I watched his show standing in the corner. I heard this voice and I was like, “Wow.” I chased it (the signing) for one year, and signed Johnny five months ago. We are so excited to have signed him. He’s one of the great talents. When you listen to the voice, and the songs, and watch the audience reaction…It’s so hard when I describe him. I tell my friends that he reminds me of Bruce Springsteen meets Bryan Adams meets Rod Stewart meets Elvis Presley because he’s the consummate entertainer.
Johnny recently completed a 30-city arena tour in Canada with Live Nation.
He sold out 30 arenas coast-to-coast. Thirty cities, doing 11,000 to 12,000 people a night in places like Winnipeg and Edmonton. Doing Coldplay business. Just gigantic. He’s one of the few (Canadian) artists that has sold a million records. His current album (“Fire It Up”) has sold over 120,000 copies (in Canada). He’s one of the rare breed that can sell records and sell concert tickets. We are planning a few festivals next summer, and we are working on another tour next November and December.
How do the agents at SLFA operate? By artist or by geography? It seems to be a mix of both concepts.
It is a mix of both. For our major clients, we have responsible agent situations. So for Rush, Simple Plan, Johnny Reid, Jann Arden and whatever, I am the liaison with the management company. Any bit of business with them has to go through me; or if it’s (senior VP) Jeff Craib with Hedley or Nell Furtado; or Shaw Saltzberg with Bryan Adams, we all have to go through the responsible agent.
With headliners, we each negotiate the deals. If I’m dealing with Live Nation, I negotiate the tours on behalf of my management company, and the (artist) client. I negotiate it, period. Jeff just did 30 cities with Hedley, which he negotiated with Live Nation.
Shaw negotiates with Live Nation or whoever it may be, including AEG. We just did 30 Canadian shows with Bryan Adams, which was gigantic. It was the biggest numbers he’s done that I can remember. He played coast-to-coast and sold out in advance every show. It’s one of the highlights of the year. Sarah McLachlan recently played Quebec for the first time in nine years and performed at Le Festival d'été de Québec in Quebec City, and did almost 80,000 people.
So other agents have bands as responsible agents. We also have customers' agents in Toronto and Vancouver that have certain accounts that they book. They handle clubs, colleges, universities, festivals and so on. So I can call directly or if we have agents in the west who are booking a festival, and they will call me directly to book one of my responsible bands. So we do a little bit of both. The club level is different. The arena level is different. They (customer agents) book it all. But having 50 people call one casino for two dates doesn’t make a lot of sense. So we try to coordinate with the person who is doing that.
Last year SLFA opened a boutique-booking agency in Santa Monica, California, called Parallel 49. Will this office provide greater opportunities for your own roster?
We’ve always had deals there (in Los Angeles) with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and with others in the past. The L.A. office with Parallel 49 is a great opportunity. It is basically dealing with the PACs, and with a lot of the theatres and so on. I think that it’s a real good opportunity. Shaw Saltzberg is totally involved there. He’s spending a lot of time in L.A. and Richard Mills (VP of performing arts) is doing The Tenors with them. I’m happy that if I need help with something, I can call on them.
There are two affiliated management companies under SLFA’s parent company, A&F Music: Macklam Feldman Management, and Watchdog Management. Is there pressure to better service their management clients?
Not all. I work for my artists, first and foremost. Working with them as a management company is no different than working with Eric Lawrence (of Coalition Entertainment which manages Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan and Finger 11) or Ray Danniels (of SRO Management which handles Rush) or anybody else because they have experience. They know what the facts are. There’s no conflict whatsoever.
But you have to pretty well take on their management acts.
Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t know if we have all of Watchdog’s roster. I don’t know that personally. I can tell you that the acts that Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam have, we are happy to have. The same with Bruce Allen.
[SLFA, a division of A&F Music co-owned by Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman, has various divisions, including Watchdog Management handling Hedley, Chantal Kreviazuk, JVP, A Fine Frenzy, Mother Mother and others); and, Macklam Feldman Management which oversees the management of the Chieftains, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, Ry Cooder, Colin James, Pink Martini, and producer Tommy LiPuma.
Over the years, Bruce Allen has taken four Canadian acts, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, and Michael Bublé from the ground up to global success. Bruce Allen Talent currently handles Bublé, Adams, Jann Arden, Anne Murray, and renowned Canadian producer Bob Rock.
Prior to Feldman and Allen teaming up in 1972 under the umbrella booking firm Bruce Allen Talent Promotions (that became A&F Music), the two had each separately managed local club acts in Vancouver, British Columbia]
Under what circumstance did you come to Canada from New York 36 years ago?
I was musician at that point. I had met (singer) Burton Cummings shortly after he had left the Guess Who. My wife and I had been married six months. We came to Toronto primarily for me to be a musician (with the duo GCB), and then I got into the agency business when I met Tom Wilson at Concept 376 which, at that point, was the biggest music booking agency in Canada. However, the moment I joined everybody left the company to form The Agency which was ironic because years later I became president of The Agency.
You were at Concept 376 for only a year.
Yes, I went to Concept 376 for a year, and stayed with (owner) Tom Wilson. Our first tour was the Hollies, managed by Robin Britten. The opening act was a band from Australia, Sherbet, being managed by this young guy, Roger Davies. We did the tour, and we did theatres across Canada. It was just a few years after the Hollies had “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” in 1972. I remember going to Massey Hall for the first time. It was like going to Carnegie Hall in New York. The Hollies were fantastic, and Sherbet was a great band as well.
As the Canadian music industry was also just breaking out, you went to several agencies following Concept 376.
After a year, I was invited to join Music Shoppe International as an agent, with Ron Scribner (as GM). I went there and started building the concert division with Triumph, Rush and other bands I signed. Burton Cummings was my first Canadian signing. I was in Music Shoppe for a while, and the company was changing. (Agents) Ralph Jolivet, Mike Greggs, and I left and formed Platinum Artists. I was a vice-president with that company signing Luba, Parachute Club, Gowan, Max Webster and others. We built and built and built the roster. After 10 or 12 years at Platinum I went to The Agency (1985) and became president of The Agency, the biggest booking company in Canada at that point.
[Platinum Blonde, Parachute Club, Luba, Gowan, and Strange Advance were among the acts that followed you to The Agency, which was owned by Michael Cohl and his companies, Concerts Productions International (CPI) and BCL Entertainment (co-owned with Labatt’s).]
Michael Cohl owned part of it. (Co-head) David Bluestein did too. Bluestein later left to work at Brockum (BCL Entertainment’s merchandising division, The Brockum Group) and I took over the company. We had a great 12 or 14 years until we merged with SLFA (in 1994).
The Agency had been going to go head-to-head in Canada with Vancouver-based SLFA, which had opened an office in Toronto in 1993. There was considerable animosity between the two firms.
They opened up in Toronto, and we all decided to fight with each other. It was fruitless because all we were doing was losing money. It made no sense whatsoever. A year later, I joined S.L. Feldman as VP as artist relations. I became president in 1996.
Given the circumstances of the merger, is there a rivalry between the Toronto and Vancouver offices of SLFA today?
No. I can tell you that when I came from The Agency to Feldman things were a little tense at first but after a year or so things started getting better. Now there’s no problem whatsoever. It’s a great relationship.
Canadians tend to talk about how their artists have become global acts; rarely do they discuss how many Canadian artist managers are now international players.
Absolutely. Just look at Rush, one of the biggest bands in the world, with Ray Danniels. I have worked with the band for 35 years with Ray. Things are going sensational for Rush. He called me last week to tell me, “Hey Vinny, I just got the phone call, and Rush is going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in L.A. in April. They got the nod.” I’m so happy. They are doing the best business that they have ever done. It’s one of the biggest bands in the world.
[On Dec. 11, 2012, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea announced, at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, that Rush will be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, 2013, along with Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, the late Donna Summer, Albert King, Lou Adler, and Quincy Jones.]
Then I look at Bruce Allen, and the job that he’s done with Michael Bublé. He is one of the biggest superstars in the world; and we represent him as an agent, and whom Bruce manages. I’m in wonderment sometimes looking at such great talent. I look at the situation of Michel Bublé going on sale at O2 in England, and selling out 10 days. That’s a superstar. That’s someone who has been groomed and who has been developed and who is a fantastic person. He’s a fantastic artist who has sold millions of records, and Bruce does 10 O2s which is the statement of the year to me.
Of course, there’s also Steve Macklam and Sam Feldman with Macklam Feldman Management.
Of course. Steve Macklam and Sam Feldman have been successful (as managers) for many years. From working with the Chieftains to Joni Mitchell to Diana Krall and Elvis Costello to Norah Jones through all of her big Grammy wins to James Taylor. All of the things that they have done. And they are working now on other new things.
There are a lot of other great managers in Canada, but there aren’t a million of them. There is also, of course, Eric Lawrence and Rob Lanni who have won many awards as a management company but they have been overlooked somewhat by the industry. But look at the careers of (their management clients) Simple Plan, Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven and the things that they do.
With a number of Live Nation executives in America being Canadians do you ever step back, and think about the accomplishments of Canadians Michael Rapino, Michael Cohl, Arthur Fogel, Riley O’Connor, Steve Herman and…
These are the biggest and most influential people in the music business. Let’s go back and start with all of the names. These are people I want to acknowledge, right? As an agent, I’ve worked with Michael Cohl, Donald Tarlton, Norman Perry, and Brad Parson. Gerry Barad (COO, Live Nation Global Touring), I met at Perryscope (Perryscope Concert Promotions in Vancouver), and he also worked at Brockum. Gerry is doing Live Nation Global Touring for the Rush tour in America; and he’s doing Madonna with Arthur Fogel.
Live Nation, to me, is Clear Channel, as well as House of Blues, MCA Concerts, CPI (Concerts Productions International). Donald K. Donald, and Perryscope Concert Productions; all the companies that I worked with when I started in the business. The chairman of Live Nation Canada, Riley O’Connor, for example, I have worked with for 35 years. He is a friend. I work with him with most of my major bands, personally. I worked with him when he was with Perryscope in Vancouver. Riley started out as an electrician.
[Since 2007, Riley O’Connor has been chairman of Live Nation Canada, which dominates Canada’s concert field. In 1977, after five years abroad working in stage production in Europe (including as the chief electrician for the Who and working with Elton John, Queen, and the Rolling Stones,) O’Connor returned to Canada, and co-founded Perryscope Concert Productions in Vancouver.
In 1989, O’Connor moved to Toronto to become project manager and dir. of talent and production operations at Concerts Productions International. Prior to Live Nation, O'Connor was House of Blues Concerts Canada’s senior VP of Central Canada operations.]
Canadians changed the live music business.
Michael Cohl (now head of concert-promotion company S2BN Entertainment) changed the business based on global touring. (Live Nation chairman of global music, and CEO of global touring) Arthur Fogel worked with Norman Perry, and with Michael Cohl. Arthur Fogel is just a fantastic story. I knew Arthur when he worked at CPI. He was assisting Norman Perry. In fact, I knew him at The Edge (also known as Egerton’s in Toronto) where he was the (night) manager. I started working with Arthur when he was a tour manager for one of my new bands, Martha and the Muffins, who had the big international hit “Echo Beach” (in 1980).
[As chairman of global music, and CEO of global touring at Live Nation, Arthur Fogel directs its music division in the acquisition of live musical events around the world, and has overseen mega-tours of U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pink Floyd, Sting, the Police, David Bowie and Neil Young.
Fogel was tour manager for the Toronto new wave band Martha & the Muffins before hooking up with Concert Productions International in 1981.]
Michael Rapino and I worked together on “Another Roadside Attraction” (a now-defunct traveling music-and-arts summer festival developed by The Tragically Hip, the first of which took place in 1993), and with Tom Cochrane when “Life Is A Highway” was the #1 song in Canada (in 1992). We worked on so many things together through CPI at that point.
To see what these people are doing is an amazing thing. I am really proud to be part of all of this growth in Canada.
[Canadian born Michael Rapino worked at Labatt's Breweries of Canada for 10 years in various progressive marketing and entertainment roles. While at Labatt's, as dir. of entertainment and sports, he worked closely with Labatt's-owned Toronto Blue Jays and with CPI. He subsequently became head of Labatt's Marketing brands.
Upon leaving Labatt's, Rapino co-founded Core Audience Entertainment, which was acquired by SFX in 1999, creating SFX Canada. After running Clear Channel Entertainment’s Canadian operation, Rapino ascended to the head of its European operation in 2001, before being named global music head in 2005.]
There are seemingly few promoters able to work nationally in Canada. In essence, there’s Live Nation and AEG.
We have also worked with The Union Ltd. in Calgary. They are doing a number of our bands. Not just in Calgary and Edmonton but also in Toronto and other places. They are expanding. Of course, in every city, there are local promoters.
Veteran Canadian promoters Paul Mercs, and Ron Sakamoto do dates across Canada as well.
Ron does a lot of the country stuff, but I think that he’s doing it primarily with Live Nation. He has been doing country for years. Paul Mercs, I’ve known for a long time. Paul used to be at Isle of Man Productions way back when. He’s a great guy, and he’s a great promoter. He does everyone from Pearl Jam to Merle Haggard and George Jones so he does well. But, as far as who does the bulk of the business in Canada with our major headliners, it’s Live Nation. We also work with AEG.
Propelled by a strong dollar, and a sizable demand for live music throughout the regions, Canada has been a productive territory for touring for decades. Canada hasn’t undergone the same economic storms as in the U.S. or Europe.
No. Traveling from Canada to parts of the U.S.A. or to different parts of the world you see the difference. When I came from New York City 36 years ago to start in Canada, it was totally different. The more that I travel, and the more we go back, I see the differences of the U.S.A. I see the differences of the U.K. and Australia and different places compared to Canada. Canada has one of the only solid and consistent economies in the world right now.
There’s considerable stability in the Canadian market. No banks clearing their books of bad loans and no large-scale housing closures.
In fact, real estate is booming in Toronto. I know that Vancouver is getting hit a bit, but it (real estate) was overpriced there. With a population that is 10% of the U.S.A., Canada’s live music (scene) is doing great. A great part of the reason is that we have great acts second to none; and we have a wonderful star system.
Whereas when I first started working in Canada we had one or two bands (popular nationally).
Canada, however, remains a challenging country to tour in because of its size and lack of population. Does climate play a factor in live music being so popular? During its brutal winters Canadians want to go out to clubs; and once summer comes, they want to party outdoors.
I think that is part of it. I guess we’d have to look at (U.S.) places like North Dakota and Minneapolis and so on. How good is it there? But Canada, in essence, has also had a lot of innovators, and entrepreneurs in the concert business, from Michael Cohl, and Donald Tarlton to Riley O’Connor and on to all of the promoters that we have worked with. I can speak for myself, and for our company S.L. Feldman & Associates, that we have really been really artist-oriented. We have always wanted to build a company that is artist friendly and work for the artist. But I think that the climate may have something to do with it as well.
Well, Atlantic Canada usually gets socked in for the winter.
And Saskatchewan and Alberta gets frozen over.
You can throw in Winnipeg, and Manitoba too. You are right. It’s a country that is long to tour, and most of the Canadian headline bands like to go out in January and February. We have traditionally done tours then because the competition (from international acts) is not as big. Canadian acts like playing across the country. Most (international) acts that come to Canada will be playing Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and sometimes Winnipeg, or Toronto and Montreal. You may have a point.
Emerging American bands tend to play regionally in the U.S. Similar Canadian bands almost immediately seek to play right across Canada, and will drive 1,200 kilometers for a gig.
It’s true. Canadian bands and artists—even the major acts—are used to playing and traveling a long distances in Canada. I will give you an example. I’m in the middle now of planning the next leg of the next Rush tour. The band is only playing one day on, and one day off. It’s a very, very big show. I think there are nine or 10 trucks and six buses. It’s a long haul. However, they will—hypothetically—go from Ottawa to Halifax with a day off. Most people would say that it’s too many miles; it’s too far. Mind you that we are doing it in the summer of next year (2013) so the weather is better. But traditionally playing in the winter, we route bands based on the availability of venues, how many days they play on, how many days off, playing the best towns and cities that we can collectively agree upon. A big part of success in touring right is touring at the right time.
Do the managers of the international acts that SLFA represent understand the geographic of Canada? If they are from overseas, they usually want as many dates in the shortest of time. They may want 30 dates in a short space, and you can’t always give them 30.
No. It really depends on the demand.
And the distance between dates.
And the distance too. It depends on what level band. If we are talking about a brand new band that needs to play, and needs to start building a following or work as an opening act, that makes sense. But, if it’s a band that means something, that is a headliner—whether it’s a theatre headliner or an arena headliner—of course, it’s the distance. But it’s also the availability of the right venue.
A very, very important thing.
Playing the right gig is as important as playing a city. There are many, many times that we decide not to play a city. It may look lucrative but, by the research and everything else, we know it’s not going to work.
A big part of the success of S.L. Feldman & Associates has been working hand-in-hand with managers, promoters, and labels. It is not an adversarial relationship. It is no longer me versus you. We work collectively together. We make decisions, and collectively sink or swim. We are very fortunate because we have been swimming most of the time.
Certainly, labels are now more junior partners in this relationship? In the past, labels were more active partners; often informing you when an act would tour.
Correct. But it is still important (to have label support) depending on the demographic or the genre of the band that we are discussing.
Primarily on a domestic act?
Yes. I’m talking domestic. On a domestic act, the genre and type of band mean a lot. If it’s a pop band a hit single is a hit single. If the label is going to work it; and the single is a hit; and the album is coming out; we do need to get as much input, co-operation or synergy between the label and the promoter; whether it be Live Nation or whatever it may be.
It’s an important thing. And, no it’s not like it used to be. We basically now sit down with the management company that we represent—sometimes with the artist involved—and plan. It is no longer the rock and roll business of preparing two months in advance. We’re booking shows a year in advance. I‘m working on tours eight months to a year in advance. We work things out.
Times have changed. It’s not like, “Let’s put a record out, and go on tour.”
I just finished an arena tour with Simple Plan from Montreal who have sold about seven million records. We finished 18 arena dates. They all sold out. Six of them, we expanded the capacity by 1,500 to 2,000 people. That’s a big deal. That’s successful. We took a month or more debating the ticket price; debating about putting the right package together; talking about playing the right venues; and skipping cities. We want successes. So, instead of doing 25 shows, we did 18 shows.
Meanwhile, the band is playing all over (the world). They are playing in Australia, Japan, and Dubai. We only had so much time. We worked very hard. I had the promoter on the phone with the managers working on all of this; discussing and debating it. It took forever to do it but the bottom line was that we made the decisions that we did and it was successful.
Years ago, most labels bankrolled tours. Today, major labels in Canada only have a handful of directly signed artists anymore; whereas they had up to 35 artists directly signed in the early ‘90s. Indie labels, having the majority of Canadian acts, are generally unable to fund touring. So the labels now take the lead from you on the touring of their artists.
That’s true. Very few artists now sell the CDs or albums that they did in the past.
With the scarcity of strong artist management in Canada, and with most Canadian acts being on indie labels, artist development has shifted onto the booking agencies in Canada.
That’s true. Totally different than the U.S.A., although American agents are getting much more involved (in artist development) due to the shrinkage of the record companies’ involvement.
The label is not really finding the bands anymore. We are finding the bands. We are listening to different acts on Facebook, on the internet and everything else. We hear so many different songs it’s amazing. We get to hear things that we never did before unless the lawyer or manager would come to us, or a record company would come to us.
Our company is being barraged with music. You try to listen to what you can. Of course, it’s nice when a president of a record company or one of the major managers that you have a relationship with is playing you something that they happen to like. But, in many cases, we find the act, and we give it to the manager. In many cases, we call up the label, and tell them that we have seen this act. But the act has to move you. You know that. It has always been about music.
Performing is a cornerstone of any successful artist’s career.
To me, 90-95% of all of the successful things that we do are based on live. Traditionally, many bands that we work with, like Rush and so on, have been based on live. Rush has sold millions of albums, but we built it (their following) by 10 people at a time. You were able to do it back then.
Today, artist development is definitely in our hands—myself, the agents in Canada, and the management companies that are really active, and good. Like you said, there’s a lack of great management companies in Canada. There always has been. More have come along, thank goodness, but good management is still lacking.
Right now we have to figure out how we protect the integrity of our headliners' live performances. And their careers. How do you do it? What do you do? The bottom line is not touring for no reason. The bottom line is not touring to make money for one more time. People do that. I understand it. But every major headliner that we have that goes on the road goes out for a specific reason. We have a cause. We know why we are going out. It’s not like some bands that just play festivals. I get it. We play festivals. It’s wonderful. You make money, and so on. But, when you tour, you should tour for a specific reason.
You are from New York City?
I was born and raised in Manhattan on 94th and 95th street and First Avenue on the edge of Spanish Harlem (also known as East Harlem).
What schools did you attend?
PS 151, and Wagner Junior High School, Brandeis High School. I didn’t go to college. My family couldn’t afford it and by then my interests were strictly in music.
What did your parents do?
My father worked for the post office, and my mother stayed at home. I have an older brother who worked as an executive at a tool company.
As a kid were you attracted to his record collection?
No. When I was young, I had one of those little record players. We had no money. So when the needle went, we put in a nail. It was terrible, but it made some sounds. Growing up, my father would be playing Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. I got into that music. Later on, I started listening to my own music, and listening on my little transistor radio to Scott Muni and all of these wonderful people at WNEW-FM.
As a young boy I’d hear a DJ say, “I have this song I have to play for you. This is band I found and they are fantastic. You don’t know them, but I’m going to play three songs by them. Listen to this band. They are called the Who.” Or it was the Pretty Things or the Yardbirds. It was a wonderful time of discovering, and it turned me onto music. I loved blues back then. John Mayall, Peter Green and then I loved the Stones. But then I found an album called “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles.
You saw Bob Dylan perform at Gerde’s Folk City in the West Village in New York City.
I saw Bob Dylan play Gerde’s’ Folk City, and Jimi Hendrix at the Café Wha? I was really young, maybe 14. We used to go down to Greenwich Village. There used to be the Night Owl, Café Wha?, The Village Gate, Café au Go Go, and Gerde’s Folk City. Around 1965 or ’66, I saw Dylan there with my then girlfriend who is now my wife. Traditionally, back then there was no alcohol. We had an ice cream soda or pop, and we watched three bands like the Night Owl had.
So you saw Jimi Hendrix before The Experience.
We also went to the Café Wha? It was a dump. It was down in a cellar. A terrible venue. It had more cockroaches than you could imagine. The band onstage, I can’t remember the name. It was probably the house band. The owner or manager came out and said, “I have a surprise for you from Seattle, Jimmy James and the Blue Flame.” Onstage, this guy comes on, I had ever seen or heard of him, and he commences to play guitar like I’d never heard before. It was mind-blowing.
I saw the Lovin Spoonful, and the Magicians, a four-piece band with Gordon Bonner and Alan Gordon, who wrote “Happy Together” (recorded by the Turtles) at the Night Owl, and Lother and the Hand People who used the theremin way before we heard it on “Good Vibrations” with the Beach Boys. I also saw the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
The first show I saw in Central Park was the Central Park Music Festival sponsored by Rheingold Beer with Ron Delsener and Hilly Kristal in 1966 with the Beau Brummels, and special guest, the Vagrants with Lesley West.
You were a singer?
I was a lead singer with many bands (including Backyard Blues, Atlantis. and GCB). One that did well was Atlantis. Primarily, I was a musician (also playing harmonica) and a singer that was doing a lot of the business. That’s how I got into trying to do the booking business. I was booking our own dates in the Village and at Steve Paul’s The Scene. And playing outdoors and playing for free. Once in a blue moon making $1, $2 or $3. Even in the clubs were talked about it was $1 or $3 cover charge.
Were you any good as a singer?
Yes, I was.
What kind of repertoire?
I loved blues first. I got more into bigger band stuff with horns and stuff. Rock, soul and a little R&Bish feel. I loved that. I loved the Beatles, Motown, I loved all of that. So the influence was great.
Growing up in Manhattan, you’d go to the Village and then it (the scene) moved up to Steve Paul’s The Scene where I saw Sly and the Family Stone, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane or I’d go to Ron Delsener shows for $2 or $3 in Central Park. Then I used to listen outside when I played basketball all of the time as we were playing basketball right on 96th street and First Avenue. All my Latin friends would come out and people were playing percussion. The influence would just be music all of the time.
Then the Fillmore opened. It was just a tremendous place. Steve Paul’s The Scene was also an amazing place. Everybody would be there. After midnight, after the headliner played Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton would come up onstage and there were jams.
Harlows, on the Upper East Side around 82nd St. and Third Avenue, is where I first saw the Rascals. I remember going to The Garrick Theatre (a small performance space on the second floor above the Cafe Au Go Go) and seeing (the resident band) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. It was amazing. Zappa was of the most underrated, fluid guitar players that I’ve ever seen.
You attended the 1967 landmark “Murray the K's Easter Rock Extravaganza” at RKO Theatre in Manhattan. One of nine shows.
I remember meeting (Mandala guitarist) Domenic Troiano at Murray the K’s show that also featured the Who, the Blues Project, Cream, Wilson Pickett, Jim and Jean, the Chicago Loop and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels among others. It was crazy. The Mandala played and that was the first time I met him.
This was the Who’s debut in America.
That’s right. I was shocked (by their performance). I knew their records, and I knew Cream. The funny thing was that each band played three songs.
During those years, it (the scene) was a renaissance of music. It was a wonderful time. It got me hooked. The reason that I am in the business today is that I love music. It’s a passionate thing. You either have it or you don’t. I got to hear some great music and got to represent some great acts.
Frank Barsalona, who single-handedly changed the structure of live music in North America, booked the “Murray the K's Easter Rock Extravaganza.” He passed away last month (on Nov. 21, 2012).
I am really saddened by his death. He was an inspiration. When I came to Canada and I started doing concerts, I was doing things that nobody else did here. Frank Barsalona was the innovator of it all. He formed a company (Premier Talent) that did everything. When I would settle shows, or make up cost sheets, things nobody did way back (in Canada), it was because he had invented it. This guy is my hero. He was the greatest agent of all time.
[Premier Talent’s roster included Bruce Springsteen, U2, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie, Van Halen, Herman's Hermits, Tom Petty, the J. Geils Band, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, and so many more.]
You seem to balance your family and work lives better than most. Any advice for others?
I balance it better than anyone now. Let’s be honest about it. Our daughter Amanda—who lives in Atlanta—during her first 13 years, she hardly ever saw me because of travel, tours and everything; just doing what I had to do. It was non-stop. I was relentless. I was passionate, and obsessed with making everything happen while still trying to take care of the family. I remember going home one day, and talking to my wife and daughter who was 13. She was a little reluctant (with me) because she didn’t know me. I went, “Oh, my goodness.”
So, of course, I still work hard. I go to all of my shows, and fly all over the place because I love to be with my bands, and do my shows and make sure that everything is done right. But I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. I don’t take a lot of holidays. In fact, I haven’t had any holidays in a year or two. I go back and forth between Toronto and Atlanta because Amanda is (living) in Atlanta. It used to be split, but I’m back in Toronto more now.
My advice is the business is the business. Love your bands, love your managers, but you have to take care of your family.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he 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, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
LeBlanc, the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry, will be honored at the 2013 Juno Gala Dinner & Awards on April 20th in Regina, Saskatchewan.