This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Sam Feldman, partner, A&F Music Ltd.
A&F Music is a dynamic 50/50 partnership between Sam Feldman and Bruce Allen that is fast approaching its 50th year.
Even more astonishing given that Feldman and Allen, together since 1972, have operated from separate offices in Vancouver since 1979, when Feldman broke away, leaving with all but one staffer.
Despite the initial Cold War between the flamboyantly intense Allen, and the button-down Feldman, their business relationship turned Canada's whole music industry upside down, and led to undisputed international stature for both.
Today, there are a number of divisions under A&F Music, including Macklam Feldman Management, Bruce Allen Talent, Watchdog Management, and The Characters Talent Agency (Vancouver).
Allen, primarily concentrating on artist management, has taken four Canadian acts, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, and Michael Bublé from the ground up to global success. As well, he brokered Martina McBride's career for over a decade.
Clients under the A&F banner, represented by Bruce Allen Talent, today include Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, Jann Arden. Anne Murray, Bob Rock
Dave Pierce, and Darcy Oake.
Throughout the years, Feldman has been involved in management, bookings, film and television production, live events, music publishing, and related entertainment businesses.
Last year, Feldman divested his interest in The Feldman Agency, long a towering presence in live entertainment in Canada, to focus more on artist management.
Macklam Feldman Management's clients include Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan, Lyle Lovett, the Chieftains, Jordan Smith, Ry Cooder, Melody Gardot, Colin James, County Line Runner, Fieh, Ylvis, Ariel Posen, Yenkee, and Ludic.
Meanwhile, Feldman remains a work in progress: a fast runner just now racing hard between second and third base in his career; still always two steps ahead of the others in the game.
Was it hard last year to give up your stake in the Feldman Agency to two of its senior executives– president Jeff Craib, and vice president Tom Kemp– after 47 years?
It was with mixed emotions. Whenever you have done something from literally a basement suite with one phone into what it became, for sure, there's some emotions in giving it up. But, overall, no regrets on the decision. It was the right thing to do. I wouldn't want to be there right now, frankly, given what's going on. But apart from that, it was definitely time to do that.
Did you retain any financial stake in the Feldman Agency?
Jeff and Tom fully bought you out?
One hundred percent.
What are Jeff and Tom's strengths that you felt confident they could take it over? Why did you feel confident? Obviously, they came up with the money.
(Laughing) Yeah, there was that point.
What are the strengths of each that gave you confidence that they can run the company?
Well, the truth is the agency business had really gravitated out to Toronto. It (the agency) started in Vancouver, as you know, but really as the club scene diminished the agency business gravitated to Toronto, particularly after Shaw Saltzberg - (who came aboard in 1982 and had been a prime catalyst in the emergence of the agency) - left (in 2001).
So many of the local Vancouver clubs have disappeared including Richard's On Richards, The Railway Club, The Town Pump, The Starfish Room, Club Soda, and Graceland.
There were only two agents left in Vancouver and I just wasn't engaged in the agency. To a large extent, they (Jeff and Tom) were already running it. So I didn't need to look further than that. They were doing most of it. They may have had some oversight from me. They might have had some client input from me. But overall, they had already been running it.
Look, our business is fluid, and things were changing. I couldn't be engaged to be honest. Frankly, it was 80% of my aggravation for 10% of my money to be really blunt. It just wasn't making sense, and the dynamic within the agency business is that the people that are on the front line feel that they are doing all the work, and deserve the lion's share of whatever they are doing. I can understand that.
Opening an office in Toronto in 1993, headed by Steve Herman with agents Bernie Breen, Jeff Craib, and Richard Mills, was a major step for S.L. Feldman & Associates as it was called then. You tried to go head-to-head with The Agency– unrelated to The Agency Group - owned by Michael Cohl and his companies, Concerts Productions International (CPI) and BCL Entertainment—that then dominated the market in eastern Canada.
That foothold and expansion in Toronto re-shaped your company, but there was considerable animosity between the two of you.
You first tried to co-ordinate work with The Agency, but with two different schools of business thought, inevitable conflicts arose that couldn't be fixed. In 1994, there was an integration and The Agency ceased to exist leading to such bands as Rush, April Wine, Glass Tiger, and Honeymoon Suite coming onboard.
We rolled it all together. We fielded an all-star team and built it up from there. One of the reasons that we grew as an agency if you really looked at it across the country, was that in Toronto the agency business, when the record business started, the agents were all about the artists, as they should be, but they destroyed their market by overcharging. They just killed their market so their artists didn't have anywhere to perform. In Winnipeg, there was Frank Weiner with the Hungry I Agency who had the middle of the country wrapped up. He was on the other side. He would basically get $1,500 or $2,000 from some club, and give the artist $500 or $1,500. So he killed the artists. For whatever reason, we ended up doing things in a fair way, where we got the artist not only a decent paycheck, but we got them return engagements. So the market stayed. I think that is really one of the reasons that our agency took over the entire country.
Toronto then had a mini-star system due to acts having successful local or even national hits, while in Vancouver you and Bruce had a more restrictive market with lesser-known (nationally) club bands, and you two had to fight for each piece of new territory.
We looked south, and we looked to Europe all of the time, and to this day.
In 2002, you and Steve Macklam launched Watchdog Management. The division badly floundered until Darren Gilmore arrived in 2004. Darren has emerged as a significant international management player in his own right, and now represents for management Peach Pit, Mother Mother, Corb Lund, Big Wreck, Winnetka Bowling League, The Man Who, and songwriter Jim Vallance.
Well, one of the things that happens when you've got established talent is you have to dedicate a significant amount of time to it (the roster). Clients get a little older, you get a little older. Do you want to stay there (at that level) or do you want to stay in it at all? So we have always had our fingers in developing talent. That was the original reason we started Watchdog. It was for the purpose of developing talent. We had a couple of people running it, and then Darren came in, and he ran with it. He's a very hard-working, aggressive guy. He's put together a good company. He's been able to get real traction with some of his artists, Mother Mother and Peach Pit and so on.
Darren also has developed a top-notch production pool of producers, engineers, songwriters, and mixers including Matthew Koma, Ryan Guldemond, Dan Book, Dylan Bauld, Ben Kaplan, Ryan Stewart, Dave Ogilvie, Jay Van Poederooyen, and Sam Watters. You've never looked at developing a production division?
It's not that I haven't looked at it. I just don't think I had the time to really do it effectively. It is an interesting side of the business. You can't do absolutely everything. Our priority was the clientele that we had.
Also under the A&F Music umbrella is The Characters Talent Agency (Vancouver), and the INF Influencer Agency, which manages a roster of top online personalities in the beauty, fashion, lifestyle, home, parenting, wellness, and travel spaces. You also established, developed, and ultimately sold the local Vancouver radio station, SHORE 104.3 FM.
The Characters is booming for us up to now. I love the INF Influencer Agency ladies (co-founders Jessica Thomas Cooke and Hilary Chan-Kent) that we've partnered with, and I love being involved in the influencer area because I think that things are changing, and you have to not block yourself out of different areas that might circle around back to what you do at the core.
Are there managers you admire in terms of how they service their acts?
I really admire Jon Landau. His dedication, his commitment, and his integrity with respect to (Bruce) Springsteen is phenomenal. He's a really smart guy. A true manager's manager. I do admire Roger Davies. He does a great job. And I admire Bruce (Allen). Bruce is an incredible manager.
Your management clients are scattered with various agencies in the U.S.
Yeah, they are spread out a bit. James Taylor is with CAA. Sarah is with CAA in America. Diana is with CAA. Lyle is with Paradigm. Jordan is with CAA. The Chieftains are with Opus 3 Artists. Melody is at William Morris. Elvis is with Marsha Vlasic, (president, Artist Group International). In Canada, Sarah, and Diana are with TFA (The Feldman Agency). I'm not sure who else is.
A number of your management clients are seniors: James Taylor, Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello, and Lyle Lovett. Among the middle-aged are Diana Krall, and Sarah McLachlan.
Then there's master uilleann piper Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains who is now 81.
At an older age, people generally look for security in their careers. With that security now being jeopardized due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the music industry's decade-long downturn of lessened recording and music publishing revenue streams, these performers may be thinking. "I don't have many years left." Once things get squared away, and back in place, they may have to make a decision about continuing to work and at what pace.
You know. It's a good point, but I think that these artists, fortunately, the ones that we represent, are on this planet to do what they do. It (performing) is their driving force. They don't retire. They always make music. They always want to appear in front of people. It is what they want to do. It is what they are built to do even if they have a balanced life and families. Ultimately, they return to it (performing). Whether there are four people in the audience or 40,000, they seem to want to be there for a certain amount of every year. I don't think that things are going to change so dramatically when we get over the bulk of this situation.
That these people won't have a touring environment that they can plug into at some level? We are not sure whether this (the COVID-19 pandemic) is going to make people so nervous that they won't want to be at a mass gathering. We are not sure if the economy will be so bad that they can't get as many people out. But whatever the situation will be, and it has always been this way through every depression or every war; and there has always been an attraction (for people) to see somebody perform. So I can't see that changing. It may go up or down by some percentage, but I really don't see it changing. Also, these artists will continue to do what they love to do at some level. I don't see any inkling of anyone wanting to bail completely. None of them have come anywhere close to mentioning that.
Yes, but there will performers now aware of their own mortality seeking increased financial assurances as they go on with their careers.
Well if you are an established artist in your 60s and 70s, you should be secure financially, and fortunately, our artists are. There just are no issues there. They have done well. I like to think that we are part of that process. Even if they had to stop now, I don't see any older, more established artists here that couldn't carry on for the balance of their lives. If we are looking at Jordan Smith, Melody Gardot, Fieh, Ylvis, or Ariel Posen - some of these younger artists—they are not there yet. They are developing their careers. They are more about can they bank on a career that can sustain them financially so they can survive in the world? That's a different deal altogether.
We mustn't overlook that James Taylor, Ry Cooder, Lyle Lovett, and Elvis Costello, in particular, are in superb creative shape. Still on top of their games too In his recent CelebrityAccess profile John Loeffler, executive VP, Marketing & Repertoire in New York, BMG, spoke of artists like James, Rogers Water, John Fogerty, David Crosby, and Huey Lewis on his roster doing some of the best work in their careers. There are also artists like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison continuing to make vital music for their fans with so many avenues like streaming, films, TV syncs, and touring open to them still.
There's a reason why Tony Bennett is still out there (at 93). And Willie Nelson is still touring at 86. It's nuts. But it really is what they were put on this planet to do. So I just can't see it stopping. Our job is to make them secure financially as we possibly can.
I can't imagine James Taylor nor Elvis Costello not making music.
Impossible. Impossible. Elvis Costello probably has 5 projects going on right now. Even Sarah McLachlan, who is very family-oriented, is writing music all of the time and going out on many tours. I don't see anyone stopping.
(Steve Nieve's Easter Sunday's webcast "The Daily Improvisation" featured a surprise half-hour appearance by Elvis Costello who joined his keyboard player for several remote collaborations including a new song "Hey Clockface." Costello mentioned going into a Paris recording studio in February to record 9 songs with a group of local musicians Nieve had assembled; tracks he hopes to release soon if he can get back into a studio to mix them. Moreover, Costello said he had time booked at Abbey Road in London before the halt of business in the UK put a stop to his European tour as well as the recording dates.)
Even Paddy Moloney from the Chieftains. When (the band's harpist, pianist, oboist) Derek Bell passed away (in 2002 at age 66), someone asked me if Paddy was going to stop. "Not a chance," I said, "Paddy will never stop until he dies. and then frankly even then I'm not so sure."
(Asked if there is a difference in being an older piper, Paddy Moloney recently told Jeff Kaliss of the San Francisco Classical Voice, "Well, you can put that little sweetness into a tune, and twist it in such a way that it's not what I'd call trash. I like to play and give it its full passion, because I have such great respect for the traditional music.")
Four years ago I interviewed Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn at the Mariposa Folk Festival. We had to squeeze the interview in around his 90 minute soundcheck in which he ran through guitar parts. He's 74, and he practices every day.
James the same thing. There's no show that doesn't have a huge sound check including even when he's doing a private (show) somewhere. He really cares.
How have you been calming your clients during this period of uncertainty?
We are having a lot of conversations about the future, and what it is going to be. We are taking a really hard look at other aspects of their careers, be it content, publishing; other ways of generating money. Probably the best one is the audiobook that we did with James. Audible Books started a program called Words and Music which James did a memoir biography ("Break Shot: My First 21 Years") which is absolutely brilliant. As of a month ago, it was over 500,000 downloads and has received just got a ton of visibility. It did great things for Audible, and it did great things for James. It's the biggest thing that Audible has ever put out there.
("Break Shot: My First 21 Years" was recorded at The Barn, Taylor's home studio in Lenox in western Massachusetts. The interviews were conducted by Bill Flanagan, the author and television executive who oversaw VH1's "Storytellers," and CMT's "Crossroads.")
Macklam Feldman Management co-manages James?
We share management of James with The Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency.
James released his "American Standard" album on Feb. 28th, and his 28-date American tour with Jackson Browne was to kick off on May 15th at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans and run through early July. You have had to postpone both the American tour and the earlier announced Canadian tour.
It hasn't been indicated as yet what the new dates will be. Only that concert-goers should hold onto their purchased tickets. You and so many managers are seeking Fall dates, but with so much entertainment and sports competition, there's pushback. It has been predicted that it won't be until mid-2021 that live entertainment in North America will be fully restored. Any ideas?
Yeah, I have a few ideas. This is the epitome of the old line that if you want to make God laugh, make plans. We had been preparing for this tour for almost a year and a half in that we made a deal with Audible Books to have James' audio memoir come out at the same time as his album. A new album that he has been working on for the last 4 ½ years.
The whole point, consistent with our job, is to raise the bar of awareness for any artist so ultimately you can get to the real revenue source and the thing that they are really in business for which is to stand up and play for people.
Lo and behold we had a great success. It's the biggest ticket sale James has ever had in his entire life.
All of this fell right on top of this COVID-19 pandemic that came up really fast. When I saw it coming, and we had this tour scheduled for the summer, then through some relationships that I had, I got in touch with a seriously high-level - I'm going to call him a medical planner. But that would be the understatement of the year because this is a guy who had been in the Navy for many years; worked at the CIA; worked with the government; and worked for the damage control person for the state of New York. If there was ever anything like a nuclear bomb, a huge earthquake, he's is the guy who does the aftermath. The reason that we put him on was to develop a series of protocols for safety backstage, and with the audience, that went beyond: "Don't shake anybody's hand; don't touch your face; and make sure that you wash your hands," because if we were going to go forward, I wanted everybody to be safe, all the while knowing that we may have to pull the plug.
It became really clear very fast that we were going to be putting people at risk if we started to tour in Canada in April. So we started to think, "How do we reschedule?" When nobody on the planet knew exactly when this thing was going to hit, and when it was going to end. So you try to use as much information as you possibly can.
It's astonishing how quickly new COVID-19 pandemic information came forth on a daily basis. It's only been March 11th that WHO's Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic due to the rapid increase in the number of cases outside China Two days later, President Trump finally declared a national emergency. Ever since, we have been inundated with updated information that would affect decisions being made about James' tour.
Well, that's exactly right, and literally, I was watching it day-by-day because (wife) Janet and I had a planned trip to Africa that we had to cancel four days out. But that's exactly right. It really was a day-by-day analysis of what to do. Ultimately, we decided to move a bunch of these dates to later in the summer including the Canadian dates. So we started with the Canadian dates, and we put out an announcement that we would be rescheduling these dates and, really the great thing is that a hard lesson, that less than 2% of the people asked for their money back. They know that these dates are going to happen at some point in time.
Then we started watching the American dates and we realized, "Well, that's not going to happen." So we re-routed. Brian Greenbaum at CAA, and (promoter) Don Fox did a great job of re-routing this tour into later summer, but with the caveat, the understanding, in my mind that we had a 50/50 chance here at best, but we have to have place holders. I also now have a routing a year from now that will replicate this original routing because I have to have an insurance policy for my client. This is phenomenal tour and, as I mentioned, it is completely sold out, so we don't want to just drop it, and start over. So we are trying out every contingency possible. And that's just one client. There's Elvis Costello who is in England. There's Lyle Lovett. It's havoc for everybody. No question about it.
There are sports franchises also competing for those dates in the Fall, basketball, and hockey. Arenas may want to accommodate you, but their sporting event commitments are also a factor.
Yeah, well, that's exactly right. We were able to work around most of that. That is probably going to be more problematic next year as we fall right on top of the sports season. But we've always dealt with that. You need to juggle and do the best that you can. Once in awhile the routing isn't exactly perfect, but we manage to navigate around it.
Other than with your partner agents, and promoters have you been talking with other managers to see what they are thinking about today's events?
Other than Bruce (Allen), not a lot. Not really. Everybody is in the same boat. It is kind of common knowledge (what's going on) because you know who is holding the venues. Your agent is normally dealing with other managers. They are dealing with your artist plus a bunch of other ones. And so are the promoters, frankly. Everybody knows what everybody is trying to do
Is Don Fox at Beaver Productions in New Orleans the national promoter for the entire James Taylor tour in America?
Don does most of the dates but not all of the dates. There are some promoters of record, and there are some places where other promoters or venues might be the more effective way to do it. But he does most of the dates.
Don is one of the most fiercely independent American promoters of all. Both Bruce, with Bachman Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Michael Bublé, and Bryan Adams; and you, with Carole King/ James Taylor, Norah Jones, and James Taylor, have worked closely with him for decades. Are the other promoters you are working with on James' tour independents?
No. I would say that it is split up between Don, Live Nation, and AEG and in San Francisco, we use Gregg Perloff (of Another Planet Entertainment). You know it's funny but there's a tendency for people to dismiss Live Nation and AEG with a "They are this or they are that" comment. Yet, these are…look, our business is made up of people no matter what corporate environment they are in. Michael Rapino is just a great guy. Super smart to accomplish what he's accomplished. It's just incredible. I have a lot of dialogue with him. Arthur Fogel is excellent. Jay Marciano too at AEG is too, and Debra Rathwell (AEG) is great. There's a lot of good people out there. I like Gregg Perloff out of San Francisco a lot. He's excellent. I also love (Ron) Delsener (at Live Nation), as crazy as he is. Delsener gets it done, man. He just turned 105. He's still working. Ron Delsener has forgotten most of what these guys know today. He's just crazy. We have relationships with a lot of promoters. It breaks your heart when you have to give a date to one guy and not another. But also when you just have to circle back to making the best decisions for your clients and hope that it's the right decision, and you've picked the right guy.
Do you try to stay loyal to the promoter who first worked with your client unless the offer, ticket price or the venue don't add up?
Yes, I do, but it's not as simple as that, Larry. If you are dealing with an artist that is going to do sold-out business, okay, the decision really is what is the venue and what is the ticket price? At the end of the day, there is the amount of money; that the promoter gets this, and the act gets that. Any manager who simply works on who is going to give him the biggest guarantee isn't going to be around for very long because if they get the biggest guarantee that means that some times they have to have a ticket price that exceeds what their client should be getting. And the minute that happens, they can't come back to that market. So the first decision is what venue, what ticket price, and who is the best person? Who is in control of that venue from time to time? Who is going to do the best job of marketing in a way that you find respectful to your client?
The unprecedented shutdown/postponement of live entertainment has been unanimous and worldwide leading to a series of financial moves by promoters, and by ticketing and talent agencies, designed to protect their businesses against the COVID-19 closedown as concerts and sporting events have been canceled.
*Paradigm Talent Agency laid off 250 of its 600-plus employees, and payroll being reduced for those remaining at the company.
*In its first round of layoffs, Endeavor - which includes entertainment agency WME, fashion and athletic agency IMG and mixed martial arts powerhouse UFC - let go about 250 staffers.
* On April 13th, Live Nation announced a "cost reduction program" with a target of slashing the company's annual costs by $500 million during fiscal year 2020. The company also announced a $120 million credit facility guaranteed by JPMorgan Chase, with the potential to increase it to $150 million.
*The U.S. event management and ticketing website. Eventbrite laid off 45% of its workforce after cutting $100 million in costs,
The Paradigm Talent Agency was first to deliver a shock wave throughout the industry with its mid-March announcement.
Yeah, it seemed a little fast. I'm not them. I don't know what their financial situation is, but it seemed a little fast. Nobody then knew where this thing was going. But I'm not sure what their financial predicament is. Unless you are making Bleacher face masks you are going to be affected by this thing, and everybody is just going to have to deal with it, accordingly; and everybody has to be really sensitive to their employees at this time.
No artist wants to lay off their bands, but with no touring, and if they are operating with a $60,000 to $80,000 a month payroll, and there's more than four months off the road, they may not be able to sustain those losses.
Well, every artist has a different structure. Some people have their touring cycles (and pay backing musicians per tour), and other people have their bands on payment for the full year. Everyone is different, but I do think that a lot of accommodations are being made. I do know that in most cases no one is backing off (from staffing). In fact, it's no different for us with our staff. We haven't laid anybody off, and we haven't cut anybody back. We've had discussions with everybody. "Nobody really knows anything for two or three months so work from home. Work hard. In fact, if you want to find an online course that will up your game for what you do, we are happy to pay for it. Make yourself better. Get some bullets in the gun, and let's come out swinging when this thing is done."
Over the years so many managers have worked with California-based clients who have faced seasonal fires or even something like the 1994 Northridge 6.7 (Mw), blind thrust earthquake near Reseda, a neighborhood in the north-central area of the San Fernando Valley. As a result, some managers have suggested to clients to have rainy day plans, including 6 to 12 months living expenses and supplies set aside. Have you ever suggested anything similar to your clients?
We have a policy of never getting involved in our clients' inter finances. We don't touch their money. Most of them have either good accountants or business managers; or, if we think those people aren't right, we certainly are going to say something. Most of our clients are at a level where they can sustain this kind of financial hit almost indefinitely.
Well, some of the younger artists from your London office under Dave Meszaros, they wouldn't be.
Unfortunately, the younger developing artists, they don't have any money to start with. So they are really in rough shape. If they were relying on any kind of touring income, that is going to be rough. It's not like there was a nest egg there put aside to start with. Our job is to navigate through this thing and see if we can find them some income or advances just to keep things going until we know where this whole thing is going to land.
This COVID-19 closedown could provide a sign to younger artists to take steps to better plan for the future. Also with the time available, it's a good time to release and market music.
Well, it's a good time to create music, okay, because if you are not going on the road then you are home. The world is upside down. The emotional challenges are everywhere. Normally this would charge the creative process in a high-voltage way. Most artists will tell you that they are not writing their best hits on the back of a yacht drinking champagne. It is usually when they are going through their toughest times which is where a lot of times you see the career arc level out with artists. They are doing their best work when they are hungry. So, maybe, that's good. But as far as artists planning for the future the big question for everybody is are people going to change their basic human nature? Are we doing to have the Roaring '20s like after the Spanish Flu– the 1918 influenza pandemic lasting from Jan. 1918 to December 1920, which infected 500 million people; about a quarter of the world’s population at the time–or are we going to have an immediate recession/depression/inflation situation?
We will see how people behave once live entertainment fully returns.
Hopefully, there will be a few changes for the better because really when you think about it, you just need to think how big this change is. Just think of the simple pleasure of going out to dinner with some friends. Now, how much you'd appreciate that if you could do that. Hopefully, we will appreciate the smaller things even more.
You weren't born in Canada.
I was born in Shanghai. My dad was born in Harbin, China (the provincial capital of Heilongjiang province). There were a lot of Russian Jews that came there to escape the anti-Semitism in Russia, Then they gravitated down to Shanghai which was more of a free port. You didn't need a passport there. So there were French and Iranian people, everything. My mum was born in Russia, but her family had to take off, and they ended up in Shanghai. My grandfather owned a fur store, and my dad sold paint. My mom was a classical pianist, and my dad was an actor in a little theatre. Then when the Communists came, my grandparents, who had been trying to get into America, their first visa was Vancouver. So they got to Vancouver and then brought the whole family over, and then thought, "Wait a minute what's wrong with this?" They came in '49, and for us, it was '51. I was just a kid at the time. I was 2/ ½ or three years old.
(Besides being well known for its historical Russian legacy, Harbin serves as an important gateway in Sino-Russian trade today. The settlement, founded by the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway, turned into a “boomtown,” growing into a city within five years. The majority of settlers in Harbin came from southern Ukraine (Russian Empire). The city was intended as a showcase for Russian imperialism in Asia. American scholar Simon Karlinsky wrote that in Harbin: “The buildings, boulevards, and parks were planned - well before the October Revolution - by distinguished Russian architects and also by Swiss and Italian town planners," giving the city a very European appearance. After Russia’s Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, more than 100,000 defeated Russian White Guards and refugees retreated to Harbin, which became a major center of White Russian émigrés, and the largest Russian enclave outside the Soviet Union.)
Did you really work in pulp mills in Prince Rupert, British Columbia as a teenager?
Prior to you and Bruce teaming up in 1972 under the umbrella booking firm Bruce Allen Talent Promotions (that became A&F Music), you two had each separately managed local club acts in Vancouver. In the beginning, Bruce managed commercial top 40 club acts Thin Red Line, Five Man Cargo, and Crosstown Bus. You managed Uncle Slug that was led by this SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) radical with a bunch of draft dodgers.
One of the ironies is that Bruce didn't want to be a manager. He was going to be an agent, but he became a manager. You soon took over the agency business as he built up his management business. Was Bruce any good as an agent in the early days of your partnership?
Bruce was 24, and I was 21. We were really young. Think about the young guys you meet today as interns, and just imagine them doing what we were doing. So Bruce started this network of clubs, and club bands, Top 40 bands, and he was very good at that.
Working with Crosstown Bus from Lassiter's Den that used to be on Victoria Drive and Broadway.
That was the first one, Way back where he ran into Five Man Cargo. I think he started being an agent/manager. Back then all of the titles were all mixed up. We were really young guys. So he was booking these things. I came in. I think that one of the reasons that I came in was that Bruce did want to be a manager. He wanted to manage Thin Red Line, Five Man Cargo, and Crossstown Bus, and he wanted somebody to look after the agency side of the business. In a funny way, the DNA kind of set then. If you think about character, Bruce is a phenomenal manager. He's a "bust down any kind of wall" kind of guy.
(In 1979, Sam Feldman and Bruce Allen had just stopped working together under Bruce Allen Talent. Sam moved to another office with the booking division, which was renamed as S.L. Feldman & Associates. It was soon controlling the local market. At the same time, Sam had considerable domestic success managing Trooper, the Headpins, and Doug and the Slugs. It was Allen, however, who soon achieved the international management triumphs of Bachman-Turner Overdrive followed by Loverboy, Red Rider, Prism, and Bryan Adams, and domestic success with Powder Blues Band.)
The uncomplicated description of Bruce is being a screamer/ranter. But, as with Irv Azoff, he's a strategist. As you are too. You both continually interact with each other. Tactics successfully devised by you and Steve Macklam for the Chieftains and Diana Krall were later utilized and refined further by Bruce for Michael Bublé's career.
Despite differences in delivery, both you and Bruce are realpolitik tacticians.
One hundred percent. Stylistically, absolutely tactical, but by being that way (like Bruce) you lend yourself more to management when you are taking someone's position, and that's it hell or high water. Whereas, as an agent, you wind up a little bit more in the middle. You don't want to lose your market for the variety of clients that you've got. You need to be able to phone people the next day. You need the market to continue to exist.
You had considerable domestic success managing Trooper, the Headpins, and Doug and the Slugs.
I had some solid Canadian successes. Like with Trooper
And missed the mark considerably with the likes of Chrissy Steele, and A Boy On A Dolphin. Like many other Canadian managers at the time, you were chasing American labels and radio airplay for your acts.
Yeah, to get to that. People used to ask, "What's the toughest point about your business?" And if you think back to those days when all of the power was with record companies, and with radio stations. Ultimately the record company was the first stop. So you would have this experience where you had some artist in the studio, and the music is being played back, and there's an A&R there from L.A. Everybody is loving it. "This is the greatest thing ever." People then used to routinely take a year to make a record, right? So now you've got the record, and you are excited. Now it goes to the promotion guy who didn't snort enough cocaine or whatever, and for whatever reason, he doesn't think it's right for radio.
At that point, the artist or band was gone. That was the end of it.
Right. There was no development, and there was no alternative way. It was really frustrating getting record companies back then to do what they were supposed to do for the money that they were getting. It was really, really, frustrating.
Still, Trooper, which sold six times Canadian platinum - 600,000 units - of its compilation "Hot Shots" album in 1979, resisted touring extensively in America?
Basically, we had gone to the States a lot. We had lost a lot of money touring as best we could. Here is the killer, Larry, an anecdote. I just thought if I could get these record company guys come up here (to Vancouver) and go to a sold-out arena show, then maybe they get it. So I did that, and we had a sold-out show at the (Pacific) Coliseum in Vancouver. Completely sold out. The band is rocking. I'm looking around for the 6 record company guys I brought up (from MCA Records in L.A.) and they are all in the bathroom snorting coke. So after that Trooper had this huge success in Canada and, all of a sudden, "Raise A Little Hell" (1978) starts to catch a little action in Midwest America, particularly in Detroit (eventually reaching #59 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart). So what do we need to do? We need to put the band right on top of that to explode it. Well. MCA paid attention. They said let's put together a little showcase. We are going to do Pine Knob (Music Theatre in Clarkston outside Detroit) and bring everybody in." By then the band was like, "We aren't doing that again." There was a huge argument. I believe that was pivotal, and that (showcase) might have broken them (in the U.S., but I couldn't get them to do it for love or money or hell or high water. And that was the end of that. They were huge in their day. Absolutely. They are still friends and clients of the booking agency.
With consolidations and staff downsizing by record companies over the past two decades, labels figure less in the touring equation today, but can still be pivotal.
Well, to me, you work with the cards that you are given. So in my view, what I find kind of crazy is some big artist goes on tour and that the manager meets with the agent; the manager meets with the promoter; and the manager meets with the record company. All separate meetings. I don't understand that. To me, for example, going back to the Bette Midler tour (The Divine Intervention Tour supporting her album "It's The Girls!" in 2015). Bette Midler hadn't had a record out in 7 years. So yes, she's a well-known name, but we had to re-launch her to some extent. We came up with a concept for a record. We had the record promoter from Warner Bros. in the room with the promoter Arthur Fogel (Chairman of Global Music & President of Global Touring, Live Nation) every minute. So that any time that there was any marketing it was twice as much and twice as big. It's not that difficult to announce both a new record and a tour in one commercial or one print ad. So you are really doubling up on all of your marketing. You are doubling up on your visibility, and obviously, your promotion. There's more to talk about. So I think that you have to get all of the assets into one room and have them all on the same page to get the biggest bang for your buck
With several partners in 1988, you and Bruce launched Penta Entertainment with a label, Penta Records, distributed worldwide by Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch. After several unsuccessful releases by Raymond May and Paul Laine, it folded within two years. You two were trying to nail down Canadian government funding while having 360-degree type control of the label's signed acts. Is that where you began to think, "Why are we chasing acts for radio?"
That might have been part of the process, but I wish I'd given it as much thought as you just credited us. What really happened was John Ford (previously an executive with RCA Records) had the experience to run a record company. Bruce and I both had some hit acts. I think we had (producer) Bruce Fairbairn involved. Bob Krasnow (Chairman of Elektra Recorda) made a deal with us. I will never forget that we went to this convention in Miami. I'm looking out this hotel window about four floors below the ocean, and I see a shark swimming which I thought was ironic. Anyway, we had this meeting with Krasnow who was an electrifying guy. He could really fire you up. But what we didn't know, and what we had found out was, that Krasnow had given a speech a few days earlier where he said that he was never going to do any deals with any more labels, and bring anybody else in. That he needed to consolidate the efforts and the promotional abilities of his staff which were tremendous. He didn't want to thin them out in terms of doing deals. Then he turns around and did this deal with us. All the people working at Elektra were looking at us like we were Martians.
Your scope expanded in the mid-90s with the management joint venture Macklam Feldman Management with Steve Macklam who had earlier managed Canadian bluesman Colin James. He came to you with the Chieftains and, soon afterward, he brought in Joni Mitchell followed by Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Pink Martini, Melody Gardot and others who joined the management fold.
The Chieftains are a group that doesn't get radio airplay but is always working.
The whole radio thing was really when Steve walked in with the Chieftains. I just thought, "Let's hit some doubles. This is a way to take us outside of our borders and expand on that." That worked, obviously.
You and Steve could network out from the Chieftains, and build the management business?
Well, that is it. Like with a lot of guys, I was juggling two things. I was building up the booking agency, and managing some artists. In hindsight, management is not a part-time job. Despite the latitude or the opportunities that might have been created by the booking agency, it's very hard to focus enough time. So that meant I had to have partners. I just couldn't do it all myself because I just couldn't dedicate enough time to what an artist really needed.
Steve walking in and asking, "Do you want to manage the Chieftains together?" might sound like a strange fit. But it was good idea because they could sell out theatres, and be so collaborative with other artists.
Steve came in, and the Chieftains were looking for management, and he was a very independent guy, and he wanted, I guess. a bit more structure and clout and so on. So he thought this would be a good thing to do together. So I said I thought so too because the Chieftains were selling out theatres in America, and I saw that this was a way to get into America. I will never forget the first meeting we flew down to L.A. and we were in the Four Seasons' boardroom, and I met the guys, and instantly loved them. Fantastic guys. We just hit it off, and the rest is really history.
Steve came up with the idea for "The Long Black Veil" album in 1995, putting them together with the Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, Sinéad O'Connor Sting, Van Morrison, Marianne Faithfull, Mark Knopfler, and others. That took the Chieftains to a completely different stature. And that catapulted us into a place where we were connecting with other people so we could expand our business.
That really advanced the Chieftains' career significantly and, in the process, you met a lot of significant artists. You were in Japan, and there was Joni Mitchell whom Steve had known, and you two started to manage Joni. You spent a year getting to know her.
Of course, that was a big signal to a lot of people. The fact that we were fortunate enough to manage Joni Mitchell raised the bar for us considerably. No question. Then there was Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder and so on.
Coming aboard to represent the Chieftains and then others of that ilk was an opportunity for you to have your feet in both the arts world, and the commercial side of live music. Booking in the arts entertainment performing arts center (PAC) sector then was largely uncharted territory for most bigger agencies who considered PACs to be high maintenance; where dates were booked as part of a subscription series.
I didn't see it like that. I saw it that the Chieftains were working with artists that were more in the mainstream. Not commercial in the sense of hair bands but really, really credible musicians. Then to be in the studio when they recorded with Sinéad O’Connor, and Ry Cooder and watch this level of musicianship was awesome and just to be involved with it was prideful. To be honest it didn't really matter. A venue is a venue. I just never put walls up like that.
The PAC sector itself was changing at the time. For decades, PACs would book shows directly, often risking a loss which was sometimes underwritten by sponsorship or endowments. That evolved into them doing co-promotes with outside promoters which remains in place to today, and along came PBS-TV to reflect the musical changes. Up to that point, PACs had been largely symphonic programs, a sprinkling of and jazz and world beat, and Broadway-based productions.
Mostly for sure because they had subscription series, but I can remember see Miles Davis at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre even before I got in this business.
Did it take long to understand the complexities of the American regional markets?
Honestly, the answer is no. I'm guilty of not knowing what I am supposed to be able to do. It didn't really bother me. I only saw tremendous opportunity. I never thought, "Uh-oh, this is different from any of our stuff." I had had a fair amount of dealings with a lot of American agents, and American music business guys through my years as an agent, from when I was buying talent from them. So i had a pretty good feeling of who was who in the zoo, and how it operated. Nothing really bothered me.
Picking up Norah Jones as a client in 2002 on the eve of the release of her debut album "Come Away with Me" was a lucky break. Blue Note Label Group president and CEO Bruce Lundvall sent you and Steve the album?
That's right. By that time, we had the credibility because of the incredible artists that we represented.
Come Away with Me" won 5 Grammy Awards in 2003, and has sold 27 million copies to date.
I can still remember when we heard Norah's record . Steve and I were having a meeting in New York, and Bruce had sent it over. We knew she was Ravi Shankar's daughter, and we knew that there was an interesting story. We weren't chasing it per say. It was like, "Let's just throw this on," and half-way through the first side, it was "Holy shit!" It was very clear that this was going to be a voice like….there's these voices where when Aretha comes on or when Ray Charles comes on, certain people come on you and know exactly who it is. We knew that this was going to be a voice that was going to be a cornerstone.
By the same token, remember what was going on at that time. It was the grunge scene out of Seattle, and here comes Norah with a very soft thing but again I guess this goes all the way back to the philosophy with the Chieftains which is that this is an artist who, at a bare minimum, we can build to an extent where we can have a strong theatre business, and have a great and long career.
Well nobody knew that she was going to sell millions and millions records.
It was the only time in my entire career that I had to go into a record company and tell them to take ads off television. She was sick of being overexposed, and she was dead serious. I had to say, "She's not going to do any more press or anything unless you take these things off because it's just overkill. The market's on fire. You don't even know if these ads are helping. Why don't you let the market do what it's doing, and then figure it out?" Which they agreed to. But, it is the only time where I've seen the market being ahead of the marketing. It was insane.
In total, the album appeared on the Billboard 200 for 164 weeks.
It was #1 for close to a year.
A tour that shaped your management philosophy was James Taylor and Carole King's Troubadour Reunion tour of 2010. It celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first performance together at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in November 1970 and was a continuation of their reunion at The Troubadour in November 2007. This was putting 2 + 2 together and coming up with an 8 with dates throughout Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
James and Carole wanted to do this Troubadour Reunion at The Troubadour to commemorate the anniversary. So we put that together and I remember standing at The Troubadour watching this show, and I'm looking at peoples' faces, and I've never seen people be transported like this in my life. It was just beyond belief, and it just made me think that "The DNA of this is a lot bigger than what is going on in this club." So we thought about it, and we thought that a tour could really work. We met with Carole and James down at James' Barn in Lenox, and then when we put it together we came up with an idea that rather than blast the thing out and market the hell out of it, we would start at the Hollywood Bowl, and we would do nothing more than one billboard on the Sunset Strip. Nothing else. That was it. Nothing more. One show. One billboard. We had the whole tour routed. It was done. But, with that one billboard, we sold out in a day. So we added a thing saying, "Second day added." Boom. Sold out. Third date. Boom. Sold out, and fourth. So once we had the four days sold out in a heartbeat based on this, we announced that we were going to go across the country. Tickets sales were off the charts.
The tour also reignited both of their careers underscored by James' 2015 LP "Before This World," debuting at #1, becoming his first #1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, coupled with an arena tour status for him.
For James, prior to that, depending on the venue, we were doing between 6,000 to 9,000 people a night. Decent.
A quiet 6,000 to 9,000 people a night.
Yeah, fairly quiet. Before I got involved his touring was a bit of a hodgepodge. It was basically touring whenever he wanted. There was no structure to it. So I think that was part of it, but there was no question for Carole and James, and for us, it definitely launched us to a different level. I saw every one of those shows. I couldn't get enough. It was fantastic.
You and your companies were thoroughly integrated into the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. You and Bruce were on the committee to recruit artists for the opening, and the closing show and Shaw Saltzberg was on the committee for the Paralympic Games that followed. Your agency booked a large number of your artists, and many of the live stages throughout the city, and many of the affiliated corporate performances.
Was it a proud moment for you to be in BC Place for the opening ceremony on Feb. 12, 2010, and see Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado onstage together performing “Bang the Drum," which was written by Adams and his partner Jim Vallance as a tribute to the Olympic athletes present, playing to a worldwide audience of 3.2 billion people?
The Olympics were phenomenal. It was so great to work on that. We originally had a consortium with Michael Cohl, Donald Tarlton and a bunch of people that were going to produce (all of the entertainment) for the Olympics. Then we suddenly realized this goes beyond our skillset. It became pretty clear that we weren't suited to that. They brought in (dancer, choreographer, music-theatre director, and producer) David Atkins from Australia who was tremendous. He brought us on to do the music part of it. It was great.
Rogers Arena opened in 1995 (as General Motors Place or GM Place), and was built to replace Pacific Coliseum as Vancouver’s primary indoor sports facility and, in part due to the National Basketball Association’s 1995 expansion into Canada, when Vancouver and Toronto were given expansion teams. The building has hosted shows by the Rolling Stones, Madonna, U2, and Lady Gaga, and events with Queen Elizabeth II and the Dalai Lama. Time for a new arena for Vancouver?
There's time in a lot of places for venues dedicated to music and entertainment, and not converted hockey rinks. It's a decent place to see artists if they have good production and they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. I don't have a problem with it.
(Rogers Arena, a multi-purpose arena–capacity 19,000 for concerts–in downtown Vancouver, is best known for being the Vancouver Canucks' home base. In 2010, General Motors declined to renew the naming rights and a new agreement was reached with Rogers Communications.)
How do you as a manager handle strong-willed artists? How do you handle situations in which you see an unpleasant side of that artist, a side that is challenging?
It depends on your position. I'm always using the saying, "Money is not for what you can have, it's for what you can avoid." If you are in a fractured relationship where every phone call is tough for whatever reason–never mind who is right or who is wrong– you look at the phone, and it's that person, and you really don't feel like picking it up, that's not healthy for anybody. You have to make a determination, and a call. Once in awhile you make this call, and you go, "This isn't worth it," because of the amount of energy being sapped up though the negativity is just not worth going through, and it's affecting other parts of the business. So in certain cases, you make a determination and say, "We should just part company." And some times the artist might feel the same way. Artists are unique individuals, and they have a variety of reasons for doing what they do, and when you have a wider clientele it's a bit of the nature of the business these days that artists are more transient. So you sort of go through cycles with them. It's not like when you are with someone in your hometown since they were 19 or something. It's a different game.
When some of your management clients have left, like Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell…..
Joni didn't leave. I left Joni.
Did you really drop her?
So that "it isn't worth it" moment happened with Joni.
You work with Elvis Costello, an individual of fearsome repute. Not only that but you have a long management relationship with his wife, Diana Krall. A balancing act with the two as clients at times?
I don't even know how long we've been working with Elvis. I guess on Diana's recommendation, he had asked us to manage him. We had a pretty serious dinner. I said, "This could be really awkward sometimes but…" We got past it. You know what? He's got a strong attitude, but he should. This guy is an incredible musicologist. He's incredibly talented. His work ethic is off the chart. He's prolific beyond control. I can't say enough about him. In all of the time that we have managed him, we have never had a disagreement. Never had a real disagreement. Sure there have been sparks, but there's never been any kind of significant disagreement. I'd to think that he's really been happy with the relationship. We can't take responsibility for everything, but I'd like to say that, we have been part of process that has seen his career come up quite a long way from where it was. I'd like to think that some of the advice that we gave was good. He's amazing, this guy.
Meanwhile, you've retained a warm business and personal relationship with the missus.
Well, Diana Krall is family. I have trouble referring to her as a client because she's just family. Her mom was. She is. She's family, I will never forget seeing her when we had a discussion with her and hadn't seen her perform and it was at the Juno Awards in Vancouver. David Foster had a party where he was inviting people up onstage to play. She came up and within 30 seconds I just went, "Wow. Are we lucky." It was just so obvious her level of genius as a piano player. Never mind the rest.
(In 2009, Feldman helped to put together a fundraiser, entitled "An Evening with Diana Krall & Friends," in honor of his client's late mother Adella who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996 and died in 2002. The invitation-only affair - the 6th organized by Krall and her sister Michelle Wigmore– featured Krall, her husband Elvis Costello, Elton John, and James Taylor, raised $350,000 for an outpatient facility as part of Vancouver General Hospital's leukemia and bone marrow transplantation program.)
Diana can be quite funny.
Oh yes. So Diana is playing the White House 8 years ago (for a Burt Bacharach and Hal David tribute), and we leave. We go to dinner at some very high-end steak place in D.C. It's later so there's only 8 or 10 people there. There's a guy playing the piano, a middle-aged older guy, and this guy is remarkably good. Just playing jazz in the background. We sort of perked up because you don't hear this level of music playing in a piano bar that often. The guy happens to notice us, and I don't know why, but he has eye contact with Diana, and he asks, "Would you like to come up, and play?" So she goes up, and she's playing the piano a bit, and sounding good. Kind of taking it easy. Just playing bits to relax. Then she comes back and sits down. The guy comes over and tells his story that he's been playing for 22 years, and he's from South America. And he says, "By the way, I have to tell you - what was your name again? - and she gives him a fake name - and he says, "Well, I have to tell you play the piano pretty good. But I just want to give you a bit of advice. If you used the pedals a bit more, you'd get much better sound." Diana say, "Okay, I will remember that."
So now the guy plays a couple more songs, and he invites her back. Well, she let's it rip, and the whole place is staring. They can't believe what they are watching. She's going from jazz to boogie woogie. It's just a tour de force. And I'm watching this guy's face as his jaw drops further and further onto his chest. She stops, and he finally comes over, and he says, "What did you say your name was?" She says, "Actually, I am Diana Krall." And he goes, "Oh my God.," he turns about 12 shades of red, "I have every one of your records. I thought I knew you. I thought you were older or younger. I'm sorry. That was unbelievable." It's just a great story.
One of your striking career disappointments was your management of Leonard Cohen amidst the financial and legal difficulties he'd been weathering for almost two years with his former management. He stayed with you only briefly. What happened?
Leonard said, "I want you to manage me, but you also have to manage my girlfriend Anjani (Thomas) who has just recorded an album (“Blue Alert") of my music (for which Leonard was both producer and lyricist.) Anjani says, "I really don't care. I am just so proud to have recorded this music. Anything that you can do would be appreciated." I said, "great." So I go in and make a deal with Sony. Anjanai and Leonard are in a room with Donnie Ienner (Chairman of the Sony Music Label Group) and 10 of the top Sony executives. They listen to the album. They know it's Leonard, so they ask, "Well, how are you going to promote it?" Leonard says, "I'm going out on tour, and Anjani is going to be on my tour. For every interview that she does I hope I will be there too because it's my music. I want to talk about this record because I'm so proud of it. I plan to be so present" ya-da ya-da. You see all of these guys beaming, right? We walk into the elevator to leave the building, and Leonard looks at me and says, "Ha, just let them try and find me." Think about it. So holy shit, right?
Now we go to the (high-end) Caviar Russe in New York. I said to Leonard, "Let's break the bank, and celebrate." So we are drinking all this vodka and eating caviar and Leonard says the following quote, he says: "You know the sturgeon general has decreed that excessive consumption of caviar can be hazardous to your wealth" which I thought was a great line.
Obviously, because Leonard wouldn't do any promo, and Anjani never performed with him afterward, her record never happened. The next thing is the tour starts to line up with AEG, and Robert Kory, the lawyer (and Anjani's ex-husband), makes a deal with the promoter AEG, and Leonard says, "You really didn't promote Anjani's record enough. I love you a lot, but sorry, we are done."
Of course, Leonard's world tour, starting in 2008, was an outrageously successful run of dates in Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. And you were dropped before the tour happened.
I'm sitting in my office right now with four books that Leonard Cohen sent me with "You saved my life" written on them. "Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you." So things happen. Artists do things for a reason.
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 1970-80. 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 a co-author of the book "Music From Far And Wide," and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.
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