This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Neill Dixon, president, Canadian Music Week
Canada’s music industry has been centered in Toronto for decades.
With a metropolitan population of 6 million---a mega-city since Jan. 1, 1998 following the consolidation of six municipalities--Toronto has long drawn music industry players and musicians daily from every corner of Canada.
That the global music market takes notice of Toronto is underscored by the staggering success of Neill Dixon’s Canadian Music Week--now in its 34th year--one of the leading music conference/festivals in the world.
Canadian Music Week 2016 will deliver a solid week of music-related events from May 2-8, including appearances by over 700 bands.
There is a formidable list of speakers confirmed this year, including: Neil Warnock, Head of Worldwide Music, United Talent Agency, Martin Goldschmidt (managing dir., Cooking Vinyl), Simon Wheeler (dir. of digital, Beggars Group), Geoff Taylor (CEO of British Phonographic Industry), Vick Bain (CEO, British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors), Charles Caldas (CEO, Merlin Network), Steve Barnett (chairman/CEO, Capitol Music Group), Daniel Glass (founder/pres. Glassnote Entertainment), Jo Dipple (chief executive, UK Music), Mark Davyd (Music Venue Trust), Paul Pacifico (CEO, Future Artists Coalition), Alison Wenham (CEO, AiM), Jeffrey Remedios (president/CEO, Universal Music Canada), and producers Tony Visconti, and Eddie Kramer and others.
Canadian Music Week was launched in 1983 by David Farrell and his wife Patricia Dunn-Farrell--then co-publishers of the weekly Canadian music trade, The Record. It began as The Record Music Industry Conference and was modeled on competitor RPM Weekly’s “Three Days in March” conferences in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Dixon’s marketing company Chart Toppers was initially hired in 1983 to book speakers, and organize panels. Over the next few years, the convention morphed into Canadian Music Week, and Dixon became a co-partner a couple of years after it began.
Dixon had opened Chart Toppers in 1985 to handle a wide variety of functions in the music industry, including record promotion, concert event production, television production, and sponsorships. Among Chart Toppers’ consulting assignments were working with the Juno Awards, Molson Breweries, Pepsi-Cola, Ontario Lottery Corporation and others.
When Dixon took over Canadian Music Week fully in 1993, he transformed the event in order to address the evolving global reach of the music industry.
What Dixon has achieved with Canadian Music Week amidst ongoing seismic disturbances in the music industry, which transformed the conference multiple times, has been largely been because of his uncanny ability to continually reset the conference to tune into all sectors of the music, radio and technological sectors while paying close attention to the changing nuances of each sector.
What is the economic impact of Canadian Music Week on Toronto?
It had an economic impact last year of $22 million (Canadian) to the city.
How many people registered for the 2015 conference?
It was 2,600 industry professionals, and another 5,000 musicians. Last year, there were close to 800 bands that played. It bounces around between 700 and a thousand.
Do you expect the same turnout this year?
Yes. There’s close to 700 bands for sure.
Two months out from the conference, what salaried staff do you have?
About 20. We have all of the administrative staff, and we also work with some project consultants. We can’t afford to put them all on salary. But we do have a conference manager, a festival manager, and an international buyer in L.A. who work on the conference.
You must take pride in having your daughter Danya involved (as VP of programming) in the conference.
Yeah, she’s amazing. She’s really come along. She got it right from day one. She has an amazing personality. She was here part-time, and before that she was going to college. But she’s been solid here for the past three years.
A pivotal figure for the conference is its senior international consultant Gary Taylor who works from Vancouver.
Gary Taylor is another character—that‘s the only way that I can describe him—that has been with us 15 or 20 years. We go back to the early days. He was a musician (with the Classics), and quite the club owner (King of Clubs, Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, Gary Taylor’s Show Lounge and others).
How much government support and sponsorship revenue support does the conference receive? How does it break down?
I would say that about a quarter of the money we raise comes from funding, and the rest is from sponsorship, ticket sales, advertising, registrations etc.
Has sponsorship revenue grown significantly for you in recent years?
It has grown but there is now far more competition for the dollar. Sponsors are now inundated (with sponsorship requests). There are now so many festivals and events that there are just that many more people looking for sponsorship.
At the same time advertisers’ demands have increased. They now seek analytics indicating audience demographic data.
Absolutely. It used to be (providing) signage and a logo. Now it’s experiential marketing. Where they can touch (engage) the customer.
Many advertisers want a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages consumers to participate in the evolution of a brand.
Yes. It’s more sophisticated now because you can get metrics on what’s happening and what people are doing and what they are spending, especially with RFID-enabled wristbands with a cashless feature.
[RFID-enabled wristbands not only provide historical data at events but enable ticket holders to connect with social media, potentially promoting not only bands, and the event itself, but also products that could advertise via social media.]
There are some formidable speakers confirmed to speak at your conference this year.
We lucked out because there’s some really great ones.
How far out do you begin seeking speakers and panelists?
It’s hard to believe but with the international people and the spotlights it’s two years in advance, and for the regular conference keynotes and what not, we start right after we finish (a conference). It’s starts a year out.
Any music executives on your bucket wish list to be keynote speakers? Lucian Grainge, the chairman and chief executive at Universal Music Group?
Lucian Grainge is at the top of the list. You can just go down the Billboard Power 100 list or the Vital 50 or whatever. There’s a long list of people we’d like to have. There is also Michael Rapino (pres./CEO, Live Nation Entertainment) whom I am seeing this week at ILMC (International Live Music Conference) in London. That’s a great conference. We go way back to Labatts. Those are the kind of people that we are after. A lot of it has to do with timing.
[Canadian born Rapino worked at Labatt Breweries of Canada in Toronto for 10 years in various progressive marketing and entertainment roles. While at Labatt, as dir. of entertainment and sports, he worked closely with Labatt's-owned Toronto Blue Jays. He subsequently became head of Labatt's Marketing brands. Upon leaving Labatt, 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, and was named global music head in 2005.]
< Has American manager Irving Azoff ever been to Canadian Music Week?
Never. We have been after him for years. He’s not in a big hurry to go out of the country.
What countries are being featured this year?
The spotlight is on the UK, and the focus country is Ireland.
[As part of the UK spotlight, the Complete Music Updates (CMU) Insights team will present a three-hour session during the Canadian Music Week music summit hosted by CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke.]
This year Canadian Music Week has added a one-day international summit, The Mastering of a Music City, aimed at expanding the discussion of developing music cities around the world. How did--what you are calling “an international creative-economy summit”--come about? Did you suggest it to Music Canada?
No. It was kind of a mutual thing. How it started was three years ago we started a Music Cities Panel at Canadian Music Week. The first year it was more about the upcoming alliance between Austin (Texas) and Toronto. Over the years, it (the panel) has progressed. It has got more sophisticated, but it has always had that at its core. Then came the “The Mastering of a Music City” report (launched at MIDEM 2015) which kind of put everything into perspective, and opened the opportunity to look at this as something more than just a Toronto-centric, “Wouldn’t it be good if we were a music city kind thing?” and “What is a music city?” So it has developed now into a worldwide phenomenon where there are not only historic music cities that are justified (being named a music city) because music was born in these cities. Like blues in Chicago or country in Nashville or jazz in New Orleans or rock and roll in Memphis. You can go on and on.
[Put together jointly by Music Canada, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), and Music Cities Convention in Brighton, England, The Mastering of a Music City was inspired by Music Canada's Report on Toronto's 2012 Music City initiative with Austin, Texas, and then directly by Music Canada and IFPI's report “The Mastering of a Music City, Key Elements, Effective Strategies and Why It's Worth Pursuing.”]
You travel more than most of us, going to conferences in what could be considered music cities including: Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Manchester, and Nashville. It must have struck you that there are parallels to the Toronto/Austin music cities axis.
Absolutely. It is apparent when you do travel. I think the other kind of thing that has been happening in the last 5 or 10 years is the growth of festivals around the world. A lot of them are close to metropolitan centers. They may be a metropolitan festival or they may be close by a city; but they have a huge economic impact on the region, and certainly the city, if they are close enough.
According to a recent independent study commissioned by AEG Europe, The O2 arena in London generates an additional income of $573.15 million (U.S.) a year for London. It also attracts up to 7.2 million visitors a year. Governments are more aware of these type of economic indicators today then ever before.
That’s true. They want their clients, if you want to call them that, to be more accountable. Now they are asking for financial impact studies from major events. We have been doing them now for four years I guess.
[AEG commissioned the consultancy firm Why Not to assess the social and economic impact of The O2 since its opening in June 2007. The study looked at The O2’s position as a visitor attraction, employer and catalyst for regeneration. The report found that the venue generated a total economic impact equivalent to more than double the original investment in the Millennium Dome, while providing a range of additional social, environmental and commercial benefits.]
Countries like Canada, Britain, Australia, and The Netherlands have significant cultural policies in place, and they are aware that the branding of music cities represent increased revenues from tourism and other sources.
Absolutely. Obviously some of these cities like Austin with “The Live Music Capital of The World” and “Music City U.S.A.” for Nashville are using music as branding. That’s another component of the Music City Conference. So the conference is a culmination of best practices of things that have gone on or are going on in different cities around the world. It is a basically a forum for sharing knowledge and hopefully getting some statistics that people can use. Not everybody has access to some of these bigger studies that have been done to help them along with their local councilor or with city and provincial governments, or their state government.
Quite a coup having so many high-end speakers coming in from other parts of the world for The Mastering of a Music City.
We are pretty excited. The caliber is really high. I think that the discussions will be at a great level. I wished we had made it longer. But when we started the discussions we had no idea of how it might turn out. We still don’t know, but it looks good. There seems to be a lot of interest in it.
The irony is that a study came out two weeks stating that Austin, Texas has lost 1,200 jobs in the music sector over the past four years.
I saw that. Everybody is subject to economies. If the whole ecosystem is suffering obviously the music component is going to suffer as well.
Meanwhile, music’s ecosystem is up in the air. Universal Music Group has become the first recorded music business to generate a billion dollars of revenue from streaming services in a calendar year. And YouTube is growing quicker than everyone else. There are predictions are that the majority of revenue in the future will be from video content. Global entertainment is in a transitionary period.
Absolutely. Absolutely. We go into that a lot in this year’s conference. It has been morphing every year. I guess that the one reason that it’s still here is that we try to keep it relevant.
Your marketing company Chart Toppers had an advisory role with the conference launched in 1983 by David Farrell and his wife Patricia Dunn-Farrell. You were basically a consultant in the early years?
That’s right, and we worked and developed that property which was The Record Music Industry Conference. It grew quite rapidly, and we became partners with them. It was one of those gradual things. We did more and more work on the conference.
For 14 years, the conference was an adjunct to Canada’s Juno Awards. In 1991, the Junos went to Vancouver—its first time outside Ontario—and the conference lost $100,000 (Canadian), partially because it had launched a public festival that year. You had to really regroup after that?
Well, it sent us back to Ontario that’s for sure.
Any halo effect of the Junos obviously didn’t happen.
Yeah, we were in the shadow of the Junos. No question about it. As soon as we got out of that—not by design; it was just one of those things that happened—we got out of that (Juno) time period. And we didn’t follow the Junos around. Previously, the Junos used to be in Ontario, and then they decided to hit the road. That (Vancouver) was one of the very first road events that they had. We realized that the business was based here in Toronto. That most of the infrastructure was here. So we could go out at any time of the year. So we did go out at a different time of the year, and we realized that we were getting a lot more attention afterwards because we are not those guys doing a conference when the Junos are on.
As a result of Canadian Music Week splitting away from the Junos, the conference changed and became more business to business. Splitting from the Junos freed you up?
You fully took over running the conference in 1993.
Yes, in 1993. It got to the point where we wanted to take the conference to the next level. “Let’s do a festival. Let’s do this. Let’s do that.” At that point, David had decided he was going to go into the digital world with his magazine (The Record) which was a bit premature. He was ahead of his time. So he decided that the conference wasn’t going to be part of his core business. He said, “Do you want to buy our shares?”
You re-shaped the conference which also became more accessible to young industry people. You launched a musicians’ level conference called TuneUp targeted at musicians and entry level people, and expanded the event further with the Canada Music Festival.
Yes, we repositioned the conference. We weren’t servicing readers of a magazine anymore. We were now servicing the music industry. Obviously, radio was still a huge part of it, but it was more about the music at that point.
You had been servicing the Canadian radio industry.
Yes, the Canadian radio industry.
Over the years you have emphasized that you try to keep Canadian Music Week as cutting-edge as possible.
Yeah, we try to be on the edge. No question about it. We are not mired in history.
When Canadian Music Week started in 1983, there were few international music conferences/festivals. Today, there are so many with similar programming. Canadian Music Week’s appeal is from its positioning. Being in Toronto and being able to draw speakers, panelists and registrants from diverse markets including from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South-East Asia.
I think the unique thing about Canadian Music Week is that for the past 15 years we have been very focused on international development, export marketing, and the development of bands We have made a concerted effort to bring those people to Canada to make it a lot easier to do B to B business. That has been the driver for us. Every year, we do an international country spotlight and we also do an international country focus. That galvanized our programming because it has been going long enough now that there are 400 or 500 people returning from various territories that have been here from back when we did spotlights on India, China or Japan etc. So it’s been about building the conference with a more international flavor and, as you know, it’s pretty difficult to make a living in Canada in the music business. You really need those international markets to round out your business plans, and your career. So that’s been our push and hence that is why the flavor of the conference is different. A lot of people do export development, but it’s not as focused as what we are up to I don’t think.
Some of the music conferences seem quite inclusive. The attitude of South by Southwest seems to be, “We’re here if you want us; this is what we do.” Or CMJ, where the attitude seems to be, “If you want to break the American college market, we’re here.” Canadian Music Week, instead, seems to try to provide opportunities going both ways—exporting and importing.
We are going both ways. I think that it is working. The Canadian business is so much more sophisticated now than it used to be. I think that young bands and managers, and labels here are looking outside the borders the first year of business.
Whereas years ago, bands would come to Canadian Music Week seeking a record deal. Now it’s, “Can I tour in these territories?”
That’s exactly right. We draw a lot of new faces every year. We will get somebody pointing out who is new in the room. Every year there is an influx of new faces. It keeps the conference fresh.
When you took over Canadian Music Week in 1993, the focus had been on bringing the music and radio communities in Canada together. You re-shaped the event by expanding and diversify activities in order to attract representatives from related industries?
I can recall a conference moment in 1993 when many music and radio executives attending scorned the idea that digital technology would soon transform the music industry. Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, warned attendees that if they were not in the digital business in 10 years they had better polish up their résumés. Everybody in the room was, “What are you talking about?”
I know. Everybody was shaking their head.
That was a dividing line moment for the conference in many ways.
That was. Even he was low tech. He had a slide show but on that slide he had a supermarket shopping cart full of CDs. Then he held his arm up in the air, and he said, “I’m holding a pin, and at on the head of this pin in a digital world, it can hold more information than this whole shopping cart of CDs. So if you are in the business of selling CDs, you should polish up your résumé today.” That upset a lot of people. But that was so prophetic. Back then only tour and road managers had electronic mail. Nobody called it email. Electronic mail. Most people didn’t know what it was. So for him to say, “Here’s your future, and it’s not bright” that upset a lot of people.
In the early days Canadian Music Week attracted a mixture of recording and radio industry people. So the speakers and panelists were people who could address the challenges in those industries. Of course, there weren’t many conferences back then.
The big one was the Radio & Records Convention that used to happen at Century Plaza in Los Angeles. That, of course, was in the halcyon days of music. There was a ton of money around, huge parties, and crazy going-ons.
Which happened at Canadian Music Week too.
Well, yeah (laughing). That and some of the early Billboard conferences. There wasn’t a lot of conferences back in those days, but Radio & Records certainly was the inspiration.
There was MIDEM as well.
And MIDEM, of course.
You are a habitual global conference goer. What conferences do you look forward to?
I divide my time between the music conferences that are showcase conferences, and some of social media digital tech start-ups. On the digital side, there’s the San Francisco MusicTech Summit. There’s also Digital Entertainment World in Los Angeles. There are some conferences that are purely social or are purely marketing which I don’t go to. Danya covers those. But those two I particularly like. As far as music, I don’t know if this will be the last year of MIDEM. It is looking kind of dodgy, so I don’t know. Certainly in Europe, there’s Eurosonic Noorderslag in The Netherlands, and there’s The Great Escape in Brighton and Hove. To me, those are probably the two for me. Actually, the conference and festival Liverpool Sound City has been growing every year, and now they have moved into the docklands (Bramley-Moore Dock) which is an historic area where they have renovated all of these warehouses.
Of course, there’s Music Matters in Singapore.
Yes, Music Matters, absolutely. It’s the major event in Asia. They get people from Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, India, you name it because Singapore is in the dead center of—it’s equal distance from all these places, including Australia. So it’s certainly the main one in the region.
You have attended BIGSOUND in Australia.
BIGSOUND is an exceptional event as well. It’s run by a government agency (QMusic, which is Queensland's music industry development association). They do an amazing job. It’s highly recommended.
[BIGSOUND is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. BIGSOUND has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council of the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.]
You were born in England. How did you come to grow up in Canada?
I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne. A Geordie. It‘s a long story but the short version is that my parents decided they wanted to see the world. They left England when I was three, and they went to the U.S. When I was 6, they went to Bermuda where we lived for 10 years. Then my family emigrated to Toronto around 1962.
What did your dad do?
He was a school teacher. He could get a job anywhere, especially at a prep school or something of that nature. There were a lot of British prep schools around the world. Bermuda was an English colony so it was easy. He was at the grammar school there. We lived there for 10 years.
You attended high school in Toronto?
I did. I went to East York Collegiate, and then West Hill Collegiate in Scarborough. We lived in Guldwood Village.
Did you have any early connections to the music business?
No. There was no connection to the business. There were no relatives in it. I was just a music fan. Basically, that’s where it started. I collected records. The Stones, Them, and the Animals.
Did you go to local clubs like The Gogue Inn, The Modern Age or the Broom & Stone?
Yeah, The Broom & Stone. The Gogue Inn was the club that had three rooms?
Yes. It had three floors of music.
I’d also go to Yorkville Village. I’d see the Ugly Ducklings play. The Paupers was another band that I followed.
So you were a rocker rather than a greaser?
Yeah, I was a rocker.
You played bass in the band Misty Blue.
Yeah. Going back then.
What did you study at Hammersmith College in London?
Well, it’s a college of art and building. I was going to be an architect. I was there for three years
Were you booking bands while at college?
I was, yeah. Back in those days a lot of the British bands were just bands around London.
Were you the social convener at the college?
That’s what I was, yeah. It was my job to ferret out bands.
You returned to Canada in 1967 and became a club owner.
What happened is that I got totally into music while I was at college. I loved architecture, but I quit and I came back to Canada, and started a club here in Toronto called Grumbles.
I recall shows at Grumbles by such performers as Valdy, Ronney Abramson, and Ellen McIlwaine, and a week with both Jim Croce and Randy Newman.
That was a heck of a bill that one.
What made you think you could open a folk club?
I spent half of my time in clubs or coffee houses when I was in college in London. They had some amazing coffee houses. Then the folk music boom was happening here. So it was an entry for me to get into the business.
Bernie Fiedler operated The Riverboat in Yorkville Village which booked most of the leading folk and singer/songwriter acts of the day.
We were miles away from Yorkville though. We went into an area that was....
Hooker territory in those days.
Yeah, it was pretty funky. Over the years the area has gentrified. We operated the club as a restaurant during the day. That’s how we made sure that we survived.
By that time, you were married?
Yes. So my wife (Joy), and I ran the club. At that point, I was also booking bands from the U.S. Mainly New York agents. Pretty much the same agents that exist now. I think Universal Attractions was one of the bigger ones.
After three years Grumbles closed in early 1973 due to the Liquor Licensing Board of Ontario refusing to grant the club a liquor license.
Selling coffee is one thing, but you have to sell a lot of coffee to make a good living. We needed a liquor license. We applied two or three times to get a liquor license. We were turned down because—and it’s kind of a crazy reason—that the area was already serviced by enough licensed establishments.
There weren’t many licensed outlets in the area.
No. There was The Jarvis House, and a couple of hotels. But the problem was that there was no residential down there. There were no condos or townhouses. It had to do with the ratio of people that lived in the area versus the amount of restaurants and bars servicing the areas. When it (the Board) hit this folk room they would not consider more. Now you can’t get enough of them. They are everywhere today. That was one of the risks of operating a club back then. We never saw that coming.
Ontario then had some unusual drinking restrictions. Licensed establishments then were required to adhere to a wide variety of regulations, including a limitation on singing, the number of patrons allowed to sit together, and most importantly the segregation of females from unmarried male drinkers. Women were only allowed to drink in the presence of an escort in a segregated ladies and escorts’ room.
The Jarvis House had a men’s entrance and a ladies and escorts’ entrance. Mixing sexes and drinking was not allowed.
How did you come to work at RCA Canada as a local promotion rep?
Well, I worked enough RCA acts at Grumbles. I had RCA’s (Ontario promo rep) Johnny Murphy hanging out there probably five days a week. I got to know (RCA executives) Johnny, Ed Preston, and Barry Haugen (national country promotions) all though Grumbles. There was a lot of reasons for them to be down there. So (national promotion dir.) Ed Preston offered me a job. I had to say, “Well, I am also booking The Jarvis House, The El Mocambo, The Hook & Ladder Club, and The Colonial Tavern.” I was like a consultant buyer to a ton of (local) venues. I was doing all these clubs. I said to Ed that the only way I could do it (be Ontario promo rep) is that I would have to continue booking on the side. But I would love to do it because I wanted to learn about the record business. So that’s how it happened. We closed Grumbles, and I got into that.
How long were you at RCA Records as an Ontario promotion manager?
Not too long. Two years approximately. Then I went to GRT Records of Canada (as VP Promotion and A&R Manager).
What did you learn about the record business?
Well in those days it was a great business. Pretty much everything I know about the record business I learned from Ed Preston. It’s funny but when you are on the outside you never look at the details. I learned a lot of the basics of publishing and royalties. The mechanics of the music business that I had never previously thought about. There were no schools or anything back then. There weren’t a ton of books, and there were no courses. I was in the business and I learned everything myself.
How long were you at GRT Records?
Not long. And I was still booking The Jarvis House. I always kept these things in case things don’t work out.
A lot of mainstream Canadian rock bands played there.
Yes. So there were a lot of rock and roll bands going in there. And there were some show bands. It’s funny but back in those days clubs didn’t have a format.
Bands also played six nights.
That’s right. They played multiple days, and they played a lot of covers.
I met your future partner Steve Propas after he opened an office in Toronto in the early ‘70s for Kevin Hunter Associates that was handling the Bells, which was performing in Toronto clubs.
That’s how I met him. He said. “We could really do a job here if we got together because you’ve got all of these connections, and I’ve got all these connections.”
You and Steve started off as managers?
We managed, but we also booked. We never stopped the booking. The booking helped with the management.
One of the early groups you two managed was Act 3, which included a young guitarist named Rik Emmett.
We had rooms we booked in Northern Ontario as well. So we put Act 3 through those rooms. Rik Emmett was in Act 3 before he went to Triumph. That was our introduction to Triumph.
Dixon-Propas Productions also managed Martha Reeves, who had left Motown Records and signed with MCA Records. Was she living in Toronto in the ‘70s?
No. She never lived here, but she had come through Toronto a number of times. We had met her on a number of different occasions. We had Junior Walker & the All Stars first. Junior introduced us to Martha. How did we meet these people? We booked them. We used to book The Generator. Every act that came in there we were like, “Hey, have you got a manager?” It was kind of an organic business.
While Triumph was able to get a record contract, many other groups in the Dixon-Propas stable weren’t so fortunate. So you and Steve decided to start your own record label, Solid Gold Records.
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened out of frustration. Triumph we managed and Triumph was on Attic Records.
Who couldn’t you get a deal for? The band Toronto?
Toronto. Toronto was the first act that we signed to our own label because we had shopped the band to everybody twice, three times and could not get arrested. So we decided we were going to lose this band if we didn’t put a record out because the management deal had a performance stipulation. Steps that we had to do, and a record deal was one of the. After two or three years of managing them, we thought we’d better put out a record.
Solid Gold Records is famous for its gold and platinum successes with Toronto, the Headpins, the Good Brothers, Chilliwack and others; and infamous for the recreational excesses of its executives. If you watched “Vinyl” in recent weeks on HBO...
I thought that was based on us.
Steve Propas once said me, “Do you know what I think the downfall of Solid Gold was? Too much cocaine.” It was the wild west with you two.
Yeah but it was also the era. It was the era. In the States, you couldn’t get anywhere without dealing with the indies (independent music promotion reps) which was like the Mafia that is sort of portrayed that way in “Vinyl.” So that was the era. I don’t think that we were doing anything that the majors weren’t doing or the successful indies weren’t doing. In fact, we were trying to play catch-up.
Before Solid Gold imploded you two licensed the company’s catalog to CBS Records of Canada--renamed later Sony Music Entertainment (Canada)--and used that advance to pay off your previous distributor A&M Records of Canada, and others.
Ahh, yes. That’s how it happened.
Then Solid Gold abruptly folded.
It didn’t go bankrupt. It went into insolvency, and it worked its way out of insolvency with Sony because they had those catalog items for years. Once that advance was paid off that stuff reverted back to Solid Gold. Steve still had that company (before his death in 2011). I’ll tell you where the money went. It went to paying those indie (record promoters) in the States. Back in those days it was five grand for a P1 station and there were tons of those. You could run up a hefty bill in a short period of time.
From Solid Gold, you must have had a learned a lesson of, “I’m not going down this path again.”
I did. It was a major....
You learn from your failures?
Well, I have had a bunch of those. So yes, it’s the school of hard knocks.
You had to ask, “Okay what now?”
Yes. Those were tough days.
In 1985, you opened Chart Toppers with your now ex-wife Deanna to handle record promotion, concert event production, television production, and sponsorships.
[Chart Toppers handled promotions for the Juno Awards, Molson Breweries, Pepsi-Cola, and Ontario Lottery Corporation. It also organized such national homegrown talent searches as the Great Canadian Homegrown Talent Search, and Rock Showdown.]
Sir George Martin passed away this week at the age of 90. He was one of your favorite speakers at Canadian Music Week in the late ‘80s.
Absolutely. Besides me being a huge Beatles’ fan, he is iconic. Not many people knew who the producers were back in those days (the ‘60s). Everybody knew the bands, but not so much the producers. They weren’t as famous as they have become. He is one producer that is famous. I wouldn’t say equal to the Beatles, but they did call him the Fifth Beatle. He certainly was a huge part of their career, and a ground-breaking producer.
Any other moments stick out?
Of course, the 2009 debate between Bob Lefsetz (publisher of The Lefsetz Letter) and (Kiss member) Gene Simmons. That was probably the most publicity that we’ve ever had on anything, ever.
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.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, and a consultant to the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta.
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