This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jim Cressman, president, Invictus Entertainment Group.
In 2006, Jim Cressman partnered with Ron Sakamoto to create Cressman Sakamoto Agency, a full-service booking, and brokering agency that was initially based in Calgary, Alberta.
One of Canada’s leading concert promoters, Sakamoto's showbiz clout is formidable. His empire includes his four-decade old concert firm Gold and Gold Productions that has handled tours by Bryan Adams, Kiss, Santana, and Van Halen as well as with such leading country acts as George Strait, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, and Keith Urban.
After six highly productive and profitable years, Cressman and Sakamoto recently amicably dissolved the Cressman Sakamoto Agency.
On June 1, 2012 Cressman launched Invictus Entertainment Group, based in Penticton, British Columbia, that will continue to focus on touring, and agency representation.
Also on June 1, 2012, Sakamoto launched Sakamoto Entertainment, providing representation and event production services.
For decades, working in Nashville was the ultimate goal for Canadian country artists, and many have relocated or worked there since the 1970s.
The international success of Shania Twain, as well as U.S. breakthroughs by Terri Clark and Paul Brandt, opened the door for Canadians in Nashville in the '90s. However, over the past decade, Canadian country acts have faced lessened opportunities in the U.S., but increased tour work at home.
This shift came about, however, as there was resistance by major labels based in Canada toward directly signing country acts. Major labels in Canada tend to opt for production, distribution or licensing link-ups with independent labels, instead of signing country artists directly.
This is largely because of uneasiness among major label executives in Canada over the costs associated with creating competitive country music, and skepticism about securing U.S. release commitments for Canadian acts.
Meanwhile, Cressman—first as an agent at The Key Entertainment Group in Calgary, Alberta, and then at the Cressman Sakamoto Agency--was able to build up a roster of leading Canadian country acts; and an impressive portfolio of secondary and tertiary market contacts that have expanded the market base in Canada for international touring acts as well as benefiting his own roster.
Invictus Entertainment Group’s roster consists of Canadians Terri Clark, George Canyon, Emerson Drive, Charlie Major, Aaron Pritchett, One More Girl, Brett Kissel, Paul McGuire, and Ryan Laird.
The Cressman Sakamoto Agency is no more?
Have you bought the agency?
Technically, it’s share redemption. I bought Ron’s share in Cressman Sakamoto Agency, and changed the name to Invictus Entertainment Group.
Cressman Sakamoto Agency had a good six-year run. Why the split?
Anytime you have a 35-year old age gap with your partner, you go into a partnership as the junior guy; knowing that a buy out or some sort of a succession plan is inevitable. Let me say that Ron was magnanimous. He made it clear that he always wanted to hand me the agency, and the business that we built. He wanted me to have it.
Why break apart now?
It was a good time from the perspective of equity with the company. Financially, we had had a couple of good years. Let’s face it, in five years if we had expanded, and hired new staff, and were not as liquid as we are now; if Ron wanted to be bought out then, that could potentially have created hard feelings. Ron and I mutually felt that it was better to deal with this in a proactive manner when we both felt the time was right. I am thankful that we have a mature enough relationship to be able to broach it without things getting weird or contentious.
Are you representing the same artists as previously?
All of the artists came with us, with the exception of Johnny Reid who had left prior to this share purchase. He will be represented by Feldman (S. L. Feldman and Associates). He was offered some international opportunities that I can’t offer at this juncture. He was classy about it (leaving). He was really good about it.
What acts do you now manage?
George Canyon and Charlie Major.
What staff will Invictus Entertainment Group be operating with?
We have five people. Everybody who was at CSA (Cressman Sakamoto Agency), with the exception of Geoff Tanizawa. Ron and I shared him between CSA and Gold & Gold. We are all here (in Penticton) except Erin (Erin Alridge, dir. of marketing and artist relations) who operates from Vancouver, and flies in and out when needed.
Basically, you are a booking agency?
We are in the artist representation business. We can augment or retract that service model as needed. We book clients. We manage a couple of clients who require less of a hard-line manager and more of a consigliore; a little bit of counsel. We also program entertainment into secondary and tertiary markets, which complements what we do with the agency.
You don’t mean being a concert promoter though?
We partner with the municipalities who have brand-new field houses or hockey arenas in mostly tertiary markets, but also some secondary markets that are a distance away from major markets.
You act as a co-promoter?
Yeah, but it’s sort of being more of a broker or programmer. I would call it a broker. They put up the money; we provide the access to the artists, and all of the services.
Why did you and Ron decide to launch the Cressman Sakamoto Agency in 2006?
Ron has always had an incredible passion for country music, and that was where my passion laid as well. We wanted to take the artists that I brought at the time—Johnny Reid, George Canyon, Emerson Drive, Aaron Pritchett, Charlie Major---and we added some artists later…
Well, the two of you actually bought The Key Entertainment Group in Calgary.
We essentially bought out the shares of Key Entertainment. It was an asset purchase, we bought out Key Entertainment, and partnered. And Ron provided some opportunities for some (Canadian) stars to get on some major tours. One of the first tours that we did was Johnny Reid on the front end of Terri Clark and Brad Paisley. Then, through the years, Ron’s influence certainly helped to attain opportunities for some of our artists that were needed for their development.
The Key Entertainment Group was a regional agency.
It was. Key functioned as well as it could have given the roster that it had. The principals were Greg Thomas and Linda Bakken.
You grew a good roster while working as an agent at Key.
I grew a good roster. I would say that in my 5th or 6th year, I really started to hit my stride as an agent; and I started doing a lot of great deals. The reason I ended up buying out Key was the principals couldn’t afford me the commissions I had earned in 2005. I just had this monster year. They owed me a nice six figures, and they were candid with me that they didn’t have it. So I said, “Okay. What do you want for the rest of the company?” I had a roster that included Johnny Reid, George Canyon, Charlie Major, Emerson Drive, and Aaron Pritchett. They all came with me. I certainly appreciated that.
Obviously, you had been dealing with Ron leading up to your partnership together.
Yeah, yeah. I was doing a lot of work. So I caught Ron’s attention. Ron and I talked about creating this joint venture. That we would bring to the table some of his influence (as a promoter); and I could do the legwork (on the agency) and together we could create something bigger than what I could create just being an independent guy on my own.
In 2006, there was a hole in Canada’s country music market for what you two planned to do.
Few agencies were booking country music in Canada.
I think that there was an opportunity for someone to take a concentrated and focused approach to the format. For me, it was attractive because I knew the format. I grew up on a ranch listening to country music. Ron Sakamoto was a natural partner because he is so respected in Nashville. But the format needed someone to take charge. (CSA) was also an intelligent way for me to co-exist on the landscape with other (Canadian) agencies out there. Let’s face it, if I had gotten into the indie rock world or the adult contemporary world, I would have been picking a fist fight with some real heavyweights. That’s not a smart way to go for a young independent upstart.
The heavyweights would have been…
Feldman, and The Agency Group. Yep.
Not the way to start as an independent boutique agency for sure.
Definitely not, right? We never confined ourselves with (the country) format but we mandated that we wanted to take one aspect (of the music industry), and do a really great job. That focused approach, I think, gave us an edge.
There weren’t many places Canadian country artists could go for bookings either.
I think that you are right. There were limited opportunities for people who were strong in the country music format. The reality is that a lot of tour models, and a lot of the paradigms that work in other formats are also applicable in country music. But country music is also a unique format in that it does have its own culture. A lot of the business is soft-ticket business with festivals and fairs; and you are interfacing with a lot of small town people. Sometimes, you need a personality that interfaces or works well with people who come from that type of background.
A similar paradigm to other formats is only recent with country. Go back 10 or 15 years, and country was a separate entity. There were no Taylor Swifts or Kenny Chesneys. Nobody blowing up those big shows.
There were Garth Brooks, and George Strait, but they were anomalies. You are right. Now the hard ticket base in country has become broader. In my mind, country music has really become the new pop format, and the new home for the singer/songwriter. If Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan came out as new artists today, they would probably find a home on country music radio before they would find a home on alternative rock or pop.
What is country music today? The genre is so diversified.
I couldn’t agree more. It used to be music written about a way of life. Now, it’s music that inspires a way of life. I think that the future is very bright in country music just given the fact that, although product is an important part of it; it still comes down to being a lyrically-driven format. It is still a format where songs matter for the most part.
And a song still has to feel country.
It used to be fairly common in an urban population to hear people say, “I hate country.” Now you will hear people say, “Well, I don’t listen to country all of the time, but I really like Taylor Swift,” or “This Eric Church guy is pretty cool.” You do hear that. Fifteen years ago, it was very staunch (opposition).
I remember thinking when Bob Seger had a #2 Billboard pop hit with Rodney Crowell’s “Shame On The Moon” in 1982 that Bob could be a country artist. Today, if Bob Seger was a new artist, he would absolutely be a country artist.
Absolutely. Seger would be a country artist today. Springsteen would be a country artist today. I think that bodes very well for the format. The other thing that we are really seeing in the format—and something that is strengthening it in my mind—is a diversification. When Nashville all starts sounding the same, and all of the artists start wearing cowboy hats, it’s predictable that the format begins to choke itself out. But when you have got exciting, edgy, pop-flavored, rock-flavored, Southern rock and traditional country artists all competing for airplay in the same format, you end up with this beautiful mosaic of music that is on opposite ends of the spectrum, but still part of the same family.
[Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s version of “Shame on the Moon," the lead single from the album “The Distance,” spent four weeks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart, and topped Billboard’s adult contemporary chart. The song went to #15 on Billboard’s country chart.]
I’m not downplaying radio because it’s still important but…
Especially in country.
Radio indeed is very important in country. But for years, radio segmented and segregated music. Today, the internet blurs musical genres.
Well, the access to music is so proliferated now that I think that the next big thing is going to be a trusted filter. That’s what people want. Pandora is broad; and some people find radio to be too narrow. I’m old school as far as formats are concerned. I find radio very comfortable. I find putting my iPod on shuffle a little alarming. I might end up with a George Canyon next to Metallica. To me, that’s weird, but I’m from that (radio formatting) generation. In another generation, that may not be weird.
Until three years ago, many rural people in North America were still reliant on dial-up for the internet. That has changed and country artists like Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean and others have been very adept at mobilizing social media to boost their careers.
Yeah, you could get along with the Gary Cooper strong silent type image in country music in the ‘90s. Guys like Alan Jackson and George Strait were known for their great interpretations of songs; for having tremendously strong country voices; but they weren’t known, necessarily, for wild and wily stage shows or for charisma. Charisma in sort of the Garth Brooks sense of the word; if you know what I mean.
Like a rock star.
Yeah. Now I think that with Twitter and even Facebook; with social media interaction, people are becoming more used to stars becoming more accessible. So being the strong silent type is going to be more and more of a struggle for the artist that wants to be very private, reticent and conservative in their interaction with fans. We are just coming into a world now where people expect artists to be accessible. That’s entirely new. Country, more than any other format, has to really wrap its heads around that. Country stars have been able to sing and engage fans on an enduring basis when they wanted to, obviously; but the proliferation of social media has turned the tables a little bit on that. People who were not driven to engage fans in a social media format are almost forced to now. It’s a sign of the times.
Canadian country artists have been slow to realize this. They are behind their American counterparts, generally.
Yeah, I wouldn’t disagree with that. But a lot of our Canadian country stars are picking up speed on the social media front as quickly as possible. Sometimes trends move north to south; and sometimes they move south to north. In social media, I think that Canadian country music stars are doing a good job of getting caught up; and getting on top of it. There’s this sort of rush to arms. “Got to have this Twitter, and a Facebook page. I’ve got to get moving.”
Social media is a lot for any artist to understand.
It is. And it’s a lot of maintenance. You have to remember that Terri Clark, George Canyon or Johnny Reid, these are artists that are busy touring. They are busy songwriting; they are recording albums. They all have time to spend with their respective families. To add the daily social media upkeep to that, until it becomes habitual, it is a bit of a burden.
You have a balanced roster of veterans and emerging artists. Has that been conscious strategy?
Absolutely. You never want your inventory to be redundant. And you always want to make sure that there’s a balance so that you can service the marketplace well; but also so that you don’t have artists on your roster who are frustrated or wondering whether or not another artist is superseding them in terms of opportunities; because, maybe, they are both male hat acts; or, maybe, they are both young female rising stars. We’ve stuck to one format (country), but I have consciously balanced the roster with exactly what you said. Veterans, upstart young new artists, and artists that are different enough in profile and musical styling so that we don’t create redundancies on our roster.
Picking up a new country artist for bookings in Canada is difficult. Usually there’s no label involved, and there may not even be a manager.
Every agency faces those issues. When we consider developmental talent, one of the first things that I take into consideration is, “Does this new artist conflict with an artist that I have already made commitments to?” That’s a big question right off the top. Once I get past that, I want the music to be good, and it has to be unique. That matters just about more than anything else these days. Then we do our best to surround them with a team. For me, that means reaching out to a label that is most likely a subsidiary of one of the majors. Maybe, I will look at their roster, and go, “Okay, they don’t have anyone of this ilk currently on their roster that they are working. And they are doing a good job.” So you reach out, and you develop some partnerships. Hopefully, you can strategically build that artist with a team.
You You might need to find management for the artist as well.
It’s the same thing on the management side. We do the exact same thing. We’d go, “Okay, this is an artist that requires; maybe not a lot of development as far as their product, musically; but they are going require a lot of day-to-day assistance and a lot of work in the interim. So you look at a (management) company that may not have redundant inventory; that is doing a good job; and you try to team the artist up with the right fit.
It’s difficult to find a manager for any country act in Canada.
That’s a fair statement.
Not only are there few managers but there’s no money being made off a new act for at least three years.
Or more. Absolutely. You end up expending a lot of resources with little return at the beginning. So you are really rolling the dice in picking up a new act. That’s something that a lot of people in the industry don’t say out loud, but it’s the truth. You don’t want to distract your attention from clients you have committed to; and whom are contributing to your bottom line by taking on a number of developmental clients who may not end up contributing to your bottom line down the road. It really is rolling the dice, especially today, when there aren’t the resources there were 10 or 15 years in terms of labels to give you the assistance that you need to break an act.
With the dearth of country management in Canada, and with few direct country artist signings by major labels, Canadian country artists are forced to do many things in their career on their own. That’s true even with a label deal.
Yeah, yeah absolutely. It’s a new day of age. And a lot of the labels are understaffed, and overworked. That’s just the way it is now. The revenue model changed so rapidly for them that they had to move so drastically to keep up. That meant cutting staff. It meant that they were tapping out their resources more so than they ever had to in the past. So the onus is back on the artist. But I don’t think that is such a bad thing. Artists usually have more business intelligence and business acumen than a lot of us in the industry, including myself.
Artists are dealing with their careers 24/7; whereas their manager or label will only spend a few hours a day thinking about them.
Totally. And artists are interacting with fans 24/7. They are onstage. They see how people react to their new songs or to their new music. Artists have a lot more to contribute to their own careers than purely creativity and songwriting. With my artists, if I have any interaction with them on singles choices, I will go, “Why don’t you play these three songs that you are considering in the next four or five shows; and let’s see what the audience reacts with. Let’s see how the energy that you are feeling back from the audience during, and after the performance of the song. Gauge that; remember it; and let’s make a decision based on what consumers want,” which is how almost every other business in the world works.
You are known for being candid with artists.
I don’t feel that you do artists any favors by being an obsequious 'yes man.' The days of that type of manager and agent are coming to an end. There’s no excess in an artist’s career anymore; for people to hang around and hang on in order to edify their ego. Artists need to surround themselves with people who are going to produce results. More than ever, everybody on salary needs to produce something now. Or everybody who takes a piece (a percentage) needs to contribute. That has become more and more imperative as the artist revenue model continues to alter its sources of income.
Over the past few years, you have really developed the smaller markets in Canada.
What we are doing isn’t exactly new and novel. Guys like Riley O'Connor and Paul Haagenson back in the House of Blues Concerts (Canada) days, those guys were taking Triple A level shows into small markets here years and years ago.
Since that time, a lot of communities have cropped up with new field houses, and new hockey arenas. In 2009, Penticton (British Columbia) built a new hockey arena (the 5,200-seat multi-purpose South Okanagan Events Centre opened in 2008). A new one cropped up in Dawson Creek, British Columbia(The EnCana Events Centre). A new one in Abbotsford, British Columbia (The Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre opened in 2009 with 8,500 seat capacity). Oshawa now has a nice 5,500 seat performance venue (The General Motors Centre) with multi-use facilities.
So more performance venues have popped up in tertiary and secondary markets over the years. We have really made it a mandate to find a way to make Canada bigger and deeper. Geographically, Canada is a huge country. The issue we have is that a lot of international agents look at Canada and sort of pick out 8 to 11 major markets, and that’s where the Triple A artists go over and over.
From my own roster, I had quickly surmised that I was not going to be able to make a living for a lot of these artists time and time again unless we made Canada bigger and deeper. Take these artists into places where people are aching to spend their money to see top-notch entertainment. They don’t want to drive five or six hours to the nearest major market to see a big show.
[Canada has been a productive territory for touring artists for nearly a decade propelled by a strong dollar, and a sizable demand for live music throughout the regions. It was not just the major metropolitan centers that began cranking out strong box-office numbers. In the past decade, acts like Bon Jovi, the Backstreet Boys, Sheryl Crow, Motley Crue, the Eagles, and Elton John have played all types of venues from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia; towns and cities that were traditionally ignored in the past.]
How were you under Cressman Sakamoto Agency able to book Rihanna at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton in 2010?
Rihanna was booked, and toured with Live Nation in Canada; and as a co-operative (date) with Live Nation, we were able to plant Rihanna in Penticton in between her Vancouver and Calgary shows. That year Rhianna played Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Penticton.
How did you get her 17 trucks into Penticton?
Let’s just say it wasn’t easy.
Last summer, the Cressman Sakamoto Agency did an eight date Kiss tour through northern Washington, the lower British Columbia mainland, with the final date in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Yeah, that date was a Cressman Sakamoto Agency initiative along with Events Wood Buffalo, and the city of Fort McMurray. That tour started in Spokane, went to Everett, Washington, up to Abbotsford, Kamloops, Prince George, Dawson Creek (all in British Columbia), and ended with a big outdoors show in Fort McMurray that sold 10,000 tickets in a matter of minutes. (Kiss manager) Doc McGhee can verify this but I believe that they set a record for merch sales that night for the band in Fort McMurray.
We also did small market shows on the likes of Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood and others.
[According to media reports, Kiss was the biggest concert in Fort McMurray history. According to MacDonald Island Park, it took a mere 30 minutes to clear the concert facility, and a further hour and 15 minutes to get everyone off the island. With 500 volunteers, 150 security (including RCMP, bylaw and emergency services personnel), and staff from Events Wood Buffalo and MacDonald Island Park, the event was almost incident free.]
A lucrative run of dates for Kiss?
A very lucrative run for all of us. It did very well. Kiss had never been to most of these markets.
No big act has played some of these markets.
You are right. We have a John Mellencamp tour, which is similar. Moose Jaw just opened a new performance venue (Mosaic Place), and we have John Mellencamp in there for their inaugural Triple A show on June 24. He’s doing a tour with AEG and they have been really gracious with our company to work with them in the secondary markets. So we delivered John Mellancamp offers in co-operation with cities in municipal-owned buildings in Abbotsford, Penticton, Prince George, Dawson Creek, and Moose Jaw.
It used to frustrate Canadian labels when their top American country acts wouldn’t play Canada because they could make so much more money on the U.S. fair and festival circuits.
After Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and others began playing secondary Canadian markets, attitudes changed.
You took advantage of that attitude change.
Yeah, with Reba, Carrie Underwood, ZZ Top, Toby Keith, Maroon 5, and Train. We really worked hard. Thankfully, we have gotten great co-operation from the municipal and building (management) side from these communities that see a lot of beneficial economic impact. We have also had great co-operation from the management companies, and the agencies in the U.S. Their attitude has been, “If the show is produced properly; if it sells out; and our client has the opportunity to add to their major market run by picking up three, four or five secondary markets, why not?”
The key has been making sure that the events go really well and finding a mutually reciprocal situation where everybody is happy with what they get in terms of an end product.
The turning point in changing that attitude were successful Canadian tours by Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn.
You are absolutely right. With any new business initiative, it takes few enterprising individuals to tip their toe in the water. Then once that’s been done, there’s a track record set. All of a sudden, I could go back to some of these U.S. agents who we had not created a rapport with and go, “We have had this list of artists in the venue.” That immediately gave them some comfort to go, “Obviously, they are doing something right.” And, of course, all of these (American country) managers, they all talk to each other. The agents talk to each other.
If we can create a favorable experience, and the artist makes more money coming to Canada than they have historically in their career, and a community of people-- who might have had to drive four or five hours to go and see that artist in a major market--if they are getting what they want, it is a win across the board. That’s been our objective through creating these opportunities on both sides.
Who are your “first call” American agents to book acts in Canada?
They have all been great, actually. Nate Herweyer and Curt Motley at Paradigm Talent Agency Nashville; Marc Dennis and Darin Murphy at CAA (Creative Artist Agency); Keith Miller and Becky Gardenhire at William Morris (William Morris Endeavor Entertainment). All of them have been great in understanding and appreciating what we are trying to build here for our mutual benefit. Without their support, it would have been very hard for us to make it to the next level.
They have been tremendously supportive of this initiative; especially with the American economy where there are often challenges these days in meeting bottom dollar amounts (fees) on their clients in the U.S. touring market. Some of those artists have toured a lot in the U.S. over the years. When they can come and break some new ground in Canada, and it’s a win/win for everybody, why not?
Also supportive has been (Canadian) Nick Meinema at The Agency Group(recently named VP of The Agency Group Nashville, and the head of the Fairs and Festival Department for North America). He’s a hard working, diligent guy. He’s also been great..
For much of the ‘90s, the Canadian dollar was low too. Bringing American acts to Canada became more feasible as the Canadian dollar began to climb in value.
Oh, you have no idea. That was a huge factor. When those artists don’t have to take a 40% punch on the chin, that makes a big difference. Let’s not kid ourselves, if our dollar was sixty cents, this initiative would have a hard time getting off the ground.
The American dollar is currently up over the Canadian dollar again.
That’s nothing new over the past 30 years. As long as it is 10% or 15% (in difference) that is tolerable.
[For years, the Canadian dollar trailed behind the U.S. dollar, but U.S. based booking agents and acts traditionally seek the same advance and payment guarantees in Canadian cities as they get in American cities. Although Canadian concert promoters collect gate receipts in Canadian money, they pay out in U.S. funds, excepting percentage gate deals which are calculated in Canadian funds.]
Overseeing tours of international artists obviously presents opportunities for your roster.
Certainly. Reba, for example, took Victoria Banks as support for a number of her Canadian dates. Both last year, and the year before (in two legs). Reba played Fort McMurray; and we did two sold out shows in Newfoundland; and a lot of places where an artist of her stature hadn’t been, like Dawson Creek, and Prince George (in British Columbia). First off, she did fantastic business; and secondly, she gave an opportunity to a Canadian artist to develop her craft in front of an audience that she wouldn’t be able to draw on her own.
It has always been more difficult getting Canadian acts into the U.S. than American acts into Canada. Ever since 9/11, it’s been even more difficult.
Without a doubt. It is more difficult to get across the border, and perform in the continental U.S. than it is for a U.S. artist to come here. That probably does have something to do with 9/11 but, more so, Canadians are used to American artists coming up here to tour. It’s not as proliferated as a concept in the U.S. to have international artists go down there (from Canada) and then return to their homeland.
Well, there’s also a bleed over of U.S. media into Canada. American artists are largely known in Canada.
Exactly. That’s a great point.
Your hometown is the village of Donalda, Alberta.
It is just north of Settler.
A one-street town?
Absolutely. I got into a lot of trouble in a one-street town.
[Donalda is home to the World's Largest Oil Lamp, a 42-ft. high structure. It is also hometown of Canadian model/actress Tricia Helfer who hosted the Canadian television fashion program “Canada's Next Top Model” and played the humanoid Cylon Number Six in the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica” TV series.]
Tricia grew up about five miles apart. I rode the bus with her almost every day from grade one to 12.
That’s all cattle ranching in that region.
Yeah cattle ranching, and a lot of oil and gas activity. Our family ranch, which I grew up on, had 16 quarters of land. Four sections of land. At the peak, we were running a thousand head of cows. It was a large operation.
Did you do any rodeoing as a kid?
I did do some rodeoing when I was in 4-H Light Horse Club. I did win an Alberta Wide Steer Riding competition. I never did graduate to (riding) bulls. I have a little bit of fear in an animal that big.
You enrolled in a broadcast journalism course at Mount Royal College in Calgary but left to take a radio job in Brooks, Alberta.
I had interned at Q91 (CKSQ) in Drumheller. I had a great tenure there. Russell Thomas hired me for my first job in Settler. He ended up programming the station in Drumheller which was the head of the (local) network. Oddly enough, he is one of the key council members in Fort McMurray, and has been very helpful in helping us to develop our (concert) initiatives there.
Doing the news on-air at Q13 Radio (CIBQ) would have been a big deal at age 20.
I showed for my first morning there doing the morning news. The morning man had a CD, and it started skipping. It must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back because he got out of his chair and walked out of the station and jumped in his car and drove to B.C. (British Columbia). This is my first morning at the radio station; and it’s like 5:30 in the morning. It wasn’t like I could call anyone to come help me. He didn’t even tell me what he was doing. I looked outside and his car was gone. So I sat down in his chair, figured out the board enough to walk my way through that first morning. I ended up doing both his job and mine for two weeks until they found a replacement. I was at the station for just under two years.
You then went to Calgary to work at Country 105 (CKRY-FM).
I started there in a promotional capacity. Phil Kallsen was the assistant program director and music director when I got. He really fostered me with on-air opportunities, and allowed me to develop my radio skills.
Country 105 was then the powerhouse station in the market.
It was. At the time, Country 105 was the undisputed king of not only the format but the market in Calgary. They are still a very powerful station, but at the time, everyone was listening to that station. It was a big coup for me in my career, and life to work there; even in a minimal capacity.
It was a glorious time to be in my early 20s and working in that world. It was a lot of fun. I appreciate the experiences you get in radio; where no day is ever the same. That’s a lot like the world that I work in now.
You left Country 105 for a drive-home slot at CJAY.
I had started doing some overnight, evening and weekend shifts on Country 105. I heard about an opportunity on the drive home show at CJAY, and applied for it. They were rock and classic rock. I was there for eight months in total. I have always been a collaborative spirit but to jump in the middle of a drive-home show that featured a lot of personalities and characters; and be the new guy in the mix, I just found it too challenging; and too different from what I had done before.
You left a paying job at CJAY to take a job as an agent at Key Entertainment on a straight commission. That’s crazy.
Yeah straight commission. I was basically handed the phone book and told to go and find my accounts. At the time, they had a small client list (of Canadian country artists). Patricia Conroy, Rick Tippe and George Canyon was our initial roster I recall. It wasn’t bad at the time. I didn’t have the festival and the fair accounts. I was sort of the guy trying to convince to corporations to book acts. In Calgary, I did find quite a bit of opportunity there convincing corporations to bring in country acts for stampede parties and other staff events.
Why did you move your office from Calgary to rural Penticton, British Columbia in 2007?
My wife (Kristie Marleau) who helps run the company with me; she is our contracts manager—and I, we have always loved the Okanagan Valley. We loved the climate. We had this great office in downtown Calgary that we were paying an arm and a leg for. We were competing for space with all of the oil and gas companies who seemed to have endless amounts of money in the early 2000s. Most of the time when clients came to town, they wanted to go to dinner or have a coffee. We found having a physical office in Calgary was impractical and a waste of money.
I had always wanted to keep my overhead contained because I had never wanted decisions that negatively impacted the careers based on my financial needs. So we decided. “Let’s move to Penticton. We love it there. Let’s work out of our home. If it works; it works. If it doesn’t we can always move back to Calgary.” Well, in that year, we doubled our business. So our overhead went down; and we were performing even better. We haven’t looked back.
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.”
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