This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Darren Gilmore, president, Watchdog Management.
Vancouver has rightly long been hailed as an artist management hot spot, but right now Darren Gilmore is providing a sizzle unmatched in the western Canadian city in decades.
Overlooked, perhaps because Watchdog Management works alongside powerhouse affiliates, The Feldman Agency, and Macklam Feldman Management, is that Gilmore has emerged in recent years as a significant international management player in his own right.
With offices in Vancouver and Toronto, The Feldman Agency represents over 100 artists—including Michael Bublé, Shawn Mendes, Bryan Adams, Burton Cummings, Paul Anka, Jann Arden, and Johnny Reid.
Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam formed Macklam Feldman Management in 1995 when they partnered to manage the Chieftains. Today, it represents such leading artists as James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Diana Krall, Ry Cooder, Sarah McLachlan, Elvis Costello, Melody Gardot, and has just signed “The Voice” winner Jordan Smith.
The pair launched Watchdog Management in 2002. The division badly floundered until Gilmore, a former drummer, and a respected engineer/producer in Vancouver’s vibrant film and TV community, arrived in 2004.
Today, Watchdog Management represents not only one of Canada’s most popular pop bands Hedley, and the international electronic music wunderkind Matthew Koma, but also such prominent acts as Mother Mother, Big Wreck, Charlie, and Jordan Hart; such prolific producers/writers as Brian Howes, JVP, Dave Genn, Sam Watters, Ron Aniello, Michael and Louis Biancaniello, Ryan Stewart, and Dan Book; and legendary Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance.
Watchdog Management, The Feldman Agency, and Macklam Feldman Management are part of A&F Music Ltd., co-owned by Feldman and Bruce Allen whose operating division Bruce Allen Talent, representing Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, Anne Murray, producer Bob Rock, and director/composer Dave Pierce, operates from its own offices in Vancouver.
At a news conference on Feb. 11th (2016) British Columbia premier Christy Clark announced that her provincial government would be providing a $15-million grant dedicated to the revitalization of the local music industry. So obviously Vancouver has its own challenges as a music industry center.
No doubt about it. We have watched the business and the community slip, and it would be so great to get it back. It was my inspiration for getting into the music business in the first place. Growing up on all of those bands, and the big managers here, and the big producers that came from here.
[Premier Christy Clark’s announcement was a response to a 77-page report from Music Canada that focused on rebuilding British Columbia’s music economy by creating more opportunities for up-and-coming musicians, increasing childhood music education, and allocating funds to support live music venues, among other things. The report cited the province’s prohibitive liquor laws, competition from funds and subsidies available in other provinces, and the high cost of living in B.C. as impediments to a thriving local music scene.]
The Vancouver region has produced such artist as Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, David Foster, Nickelback, Diana Krall, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sarah McLachlan, Hedley, and Marianas Trench; such key labels as Nettwerk, and 604 Records; as well as the Nimbus School of Recordings & Media which is now developing a new generation of music industry talent.
Yeah. (Producer) Garth Richardson is doing great things at Nimbus. The local scene just keeps going and going. There are a lot of smart people here, and a lot of people working hard. A lot of great talent. There are still a lot of talented and creative people here. What was nice around this event that we just had with Christy Clark was seeing the talent and business community coming together. How important it was for everybody to be there united and embracing such a positive change for our business. It was great to see the artists (including Chad Kroeger, Matt Good, Dan Mangan, Mother Mother’s Ryan Guldemond, and Michael Buble) turn out, in particular.
Climate, geography, lifestyle, Vancouver still has a lot going for it.
Vancouver is one of the most beautiful, and most livable cities in the entire world. You come to Vancouver, and you realize how hard it would be to ever leave. I came very close to moving to Los Angeles a few years ago, but I realized that I just can’t leave. That it would mean giving up too much. Vancouver is a beautiful city. It’s clean. It’s cultured. You have the ocean. You have the mountains. B.C. (British Columbia) is such a special place, and Vancouver is such a great city.
Some local musicians, however, have left for Ontario where the provincial government there announced in 2013 a $45-million contribution to its local industry through the Ontario Music Fund.
The studios here are on life support. Mushroom Studios closed down (in 2013) and it was an iconic studio. In the last couple of years there has been this Ontario Music Fund, and you see Vancouver bands having to get on a plane and go to record in Ontario because it’s half the cost of recording in their backyard where there are some of the greatest studio ever.
In the past few years, starting with the closure of Richard’s on Richards in 2009, Vancouver’s local club scene has greatly diminished. There’s now concern over the looming sale of The Railway Club.
Oh, the clubs all went away. The Town Pump, The Starfish Room, Club Soda, and Graceland. They were such a big part of my youth, and playing in some of the crappy bands that I played in when I was coming up. There was just such a vibrant scene. Some of the greatest would come to town and play The Town Pump or play the Hungry Eye. You’d see these fantastic acts, and there was such a vibrant club scene.
There is still a visible club scene including shows at The Roxy, The Backstage Lounge, Rickshaw Theatre, Biltmore Cabaret, Media Club and, of course, The Orpheum.
Yes, the venues are still getting a lot of shows. Those are bigger sized venues. The Orpheum is 2,500 people. I’m going out less to clubs than I once did.
For decades, every musical genre you can name, including alternative rock, metal and punk and EDM, has flourished in the city.
It’s true. I think that I’m dabbling in each one of them.
There’s still a number of promising young local bands in Vancouver including Yukon Blonde, Handsome Tiger (aka Hussein Elnamer), and Dirty Radio,
There’s always great young talent coming up. We are fortunate for that here in Vancouver, and we are very fortunate for that in Canada. You look at the talent pool that is coming up, and if you look at the stars that are impacting globally, per capita, we have a huge amount of talent coming out of Canada. It’s great being a part of that.
Watchdog Management directly operates as a separate and viable division alongside Macklam Feldman Management, and The Feldman Agency under the A&F Music umbrella. How much staff does Watchdog have?
There are 7 direct staff, and some shared staff services as well. We are all in shared services here.
Watchdog launched in 2002. Two years before you arrived. Who was running it previously, and what was the business strategy?
Essentially, it used to be an A&R source for the management companies, and the agency. Sam started Watchdog with Tara MacDonald who was then was managing Hot Hot Heat. She then left, and Adam Wacht came in.
How did you come to work at Watchdog in 2004?
Bruce and Sam’s first receptionist Jane Silverman (a secretary/assistant who doubled as receptionist) is the mother of my best friend in high school. When I was growing up, playing in bands, and doing my music thing--I ended up in engineering and producing and doing music for film and TV—the whole time Jane would say, “I know that you are into your music stuff, but if you ever want me to introduce you to these guys just say the word.” It was in the back of my mind, but I never did anything about it.
Despite working from separate offices Bruce and Sam remain partners in A&F Music.
They are very tied together. There’s no doubt about it.
And they both cast a big footprint.
Yeah. They both cast big shadows. Absolutely.
The experiences and contacts you have developed working with them obviously led to even further opportunities.
I’m blessed to have mentors like Sam Feldman, Bruce Allen, and Steve Macklam in my life. All of the people here. I’ve learned a ton from all of them.
Over the years many of those working locally have wanted nothing to do with the mainstream that Sam and Bruce represented. Were you hesitant about meeting with Sam?
Not at all. No. It’s not in my personality at all. I was gung-ho. In fact, there’s a pretty funny story. I agreed to do meet with Sam. Stan (Silverman) actually sent a fax to Sam to connect us for the meeting. I guess that says what year it was. It was in 2003 or the end of 2002. I met with Sam, and he really liked me. You could tell. We hit it off. I came recommended by close friends. They all went back a long way. They had a long history together. So I had a great meeting with Sam.
You met with Sam, but he didn’t immediately give you a job.
He told me, “You seem like a nice kid. Thanks for coming in. We aren’t looking for anything right now.” I was then working at Western Post and developing acts; doing things on my own, networking, and meeting (music industry) people. It sort of stuck in my mind that this was the next step for me. “I have to work there. This is the place.” So I reached back out to Sam, and I asked for another meeting. I came in, and we had another great meeting. This was months and months later. We had another great meeting. and then he had me back in for another meeting. I met Steve Macklam, and I met Jeff Craib (president of The Feldman Agency). I met some of the others staff. We ended up having 8 interviews.
You approached Sam at a good time because there was a concern with the principal players there that they were no longer street savvy.
That’s exactly right. On the Macklam Feldman Management side at that time it was Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, and Diana Krall. On Bruce’s side, it was (Bryan) Adams, and (Michael) Bublé). There was just the sense that the roster as a whole leaned AC. Hugely successful, but it leaned AC and they felt, “We need some street. We need someone young that is going to be out there sniffing around for bands.”
And it couldn’t be them.
It couldn’t be. They were too busy.
Plus, at their age, they weren’t remotely in touch with the street. That’s the reason to hire someone younger like you.
At that point I was developing some acts, I was producing, and I had some relationships. I had some relationships at Nettwerk, and with some people at Bruce’s office too. I guess that I made a compelling enough pitch with my attitude which was, “I’m coming to work here. That’s it. No ifs or buts.” I was pretty aggressive about it towards the end. I think Sam bought it. That’s the sort of personality that he likes. I think that my aggressive nature and gumption to stay in his face, and to have a plan for myself, sold him. So he gave me a three month trial run. I had to leave Western Post where I was making almost double the money and go and roll the dice for myself in the music business. For people that want to get into the music business that is just what you do.
Were you then married?
I was not at the time. I’ve been married now for 10 years. But I was engaged at the time, and I talked to Amy about it. She said, “It’s now or never.” So I walked away from Western Post, and I’ve been here ever since.
When you arrived at Watchdog what did you start out with?
Well, I came in with my own cell phone and my own computer. There was no staff and no acts.
By then the music industry in Canada had written Watchdog off as being Macklam Feldman Management Junior.
I think it was more than that. I think it was being seen as a failed artist development company of a successful company. They couldn’t break any acts. They couldn’t build any staff. There were a couple of things that got scouted that got fed into the agency. But the company just wasn’t happening. Sam was going to shut it down. That was the three month trial run. He said, “Look there’s this Watchdog division which you may be suited for. We were going to shut it down, but if you can make a go of it, then, maybe, okay. Impress us.”
With several partners, Sam and Bruce had launched Penta Entertainment in 1988, with a label, Penta Records. After several unsuccessful releases it was folded within two years. Sam probably figured Watchdog was going the same way. What had been the thinking behind launching Watchdog in the first place?
I think it was, “Can we have some boots on the ground in the clubs because we are not there looking for stuff? Does it fit the agency? Does it fit management? Can we develop it? Do we manage it inside Watchdog? Do we manage it inside Watchdog until it’s built up, and can be absorbed in one of the management companies?”
What job title did you have when you came in?
I came in as an artist manager, and that was it.
What act did you first bring in?
I’m racking my brain here. I brought in a progressive heavy metal act called Insipid. Three brothers from Vancouver. I managed them for a short period of time. I had a bunch of label interest on them. They were great kids, but it turned out not to be a fit. I managed this young girl...oh this is great. You are taking me down memory lane. I managed this young girl Sandra Laratta. In her band were a bunch of members of Hedley. How I ended putting Hedley together later on was bringing in a couple of members from that band once it broke up, and I put together the second version of Hedley. Then what else? There was a young girl Alexz Johnson who was on that show “Instant Star” (who played the role of Jude Harrison, a young singer who wins a musical competition, and is signed by a major record label).
She was on the show when I met her.
My good friend Stephen Stohn and I worked with her. She was booked by The Characters Talent Agency on the acting side, and I was brought in to oversee the music side (of her career). I ended up getting two really big U.S. record deals for her. I signed her to Capitol Records and then she got dropped when (Capitol Records president) Andy Slater got cut (in 2007). They dropped 60 acts and a bunch of the staff. Then Charlie Walk (as president) signed her to Epic Records. She never got an album out there, but she was a great artist. A real great writer.
[Filmed in Toronto, “Instant Star” ran from 2004-2008, and was produced by Linda Schuyler and Stephen Stohn of Epitome Pictures which also produced “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” “Instant Star” began to air on CTV in Canada prior to being picked up by Viacom-owned digital cable and satellite television channel The N, now TeenNick, in the U.S. The show was cancelled after its 4th season.]
Was Hedley a game changer for you? The band’s success is so enormous in Canada. It must have opened doors for you.
Yeah and it became very clear to Sam that I was a manager as opposed to finding and developing acts (for Macklam Feldman Management, and The Feldman Agency). “Maybe we book them. Maybe we manage them.” It was very clear to Sam and Steve both that with Hedley that Darren was a manager.
Apparently, you never saw Hedley front man Jacob Hoggard on season two of “Canadian Idol.”
I never watched those shows. There was a young girl that I knew from the studios who said, “There’s this young artist, and he’s incredible.” She showed me some footage of him performing this song “Trip” that he wrote. I saw him performing on a breakfast television show, and I knew he would be a great songwriter and a star. That’s when I started chasing him down. I had no idea of the “Canadian Idol” connection. Fortunately, he came third and Sony Music Canada never picked up his contract up. He never got branded as being “Idol,” and we were able to build a real business around him.
Hedley starts a national tour with a pair of dates at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 7th and 8th
We are there for a week for pre-pro (pre-production) and yes we have two dates on The Rock (Newfoundland). There are 28 arenas on the tour down from 34 on the last tour. It’s a lot of towns. It’s a lot of Hedley.
Hedley is arguably Canada’s leading pop band at the moment.
I think it is probably the “biggest pop success story” in Canadian music.
Well, I’d argue Nickelback.
You would, and you would be right. I’d say both the Tragically Hip, and Nickelback, but they are both rock bands. I mean in terms of a pure pop acts which Hedley is. Yeah Nickelback has sold 30 million plus albums. It’s non-comparable. But as a pure pop act, yes. The band has had 16 #1 videos at MuchMusic. Never been done. This is their fifth arena tour. They sell a ton of concert tickets and T-shirts. They still get enormous radio airplay, and support from all sides of the media. They are 11 years into their career and the fact that the trajectory still seems to be going up and not down, 11 years and 6 albums in, is remarkable.
Despite their unquestionable success Hedley has been virtually shut out of the Canadian Junos Awards over the years except Jacob hosting last year, and the band winning a Juno for pop album in 2012 for “Storms.”
You are right. They are the Susan Lucci of the Junos. But they are up for Group of the Year this year. Hedley has been a great thing. It’s been a great success story. It’s a great success story for Universal Music Canada. It’s a great success story for LiveNation. It’s a great success story for The Feldman Agency. It’s a great success story for our management division. They are such talented guys. All you need to do is to go to one of their shows to realize why their business is so solid. They are so phenomenally good live.
During the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver Hedley performed its hit ”Cha-Ching.” A proud moment for you to be in BC Place watching them perform?
Oh yeah. What a phenomenal thing to be part of that closing ceremonies. Anything to do with the Olympics was great. We had a few shows around the Olympics, but the closing ceremonies, yeah, that is a memory that will never fade. It was a lot of fun.
What have been the obstacles in Hedley attaining similar success in America? Other popular Canadian bands like Tragically Hip, and the Sam Roberts Band have also hit the same wall in the U.S.
I think that in pop music the song catches or the song doesn’t catch. It certainly hasn’t been that we haven’t had the ability to get them down there. We’ve have had major label releases on every album, and have had huge beliefs from the record companies. You just have to listen to a Hedley album and see them play live to realize that there’s talent there, but it’s (about) pop radio. Songs connect or don’t connect. There’s not so much a middleclass of pop. You are either Katy Perry or you are a loser.
I remember the band’s self-named debut in 2005 being released by Capitol Records in the U.S. in 2006 with a different cover.
That’s right. They started out on Capitol on the first album. No Universal company (in the U.S.) picked them up. Then I had a bidding war between Capitol and Atlantic and I went with Capitol, and made a fortune. Then Andy Slater got fired, and Jason Flom took Capitol over (becoming chairman of Capitol Music Group), and they dropped a bunch of acts. They dropped some staff. Virgin had just signed Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and they said, “Look we don‘t need two of these.” So there you go.
What is Hedley’s label status in America today?
On this album (“Hello” released via Universal Music Canada) we don’t have a (U.S.) partner at this point. We are working on other markets. We just went through a successful release in Canada. The album has been certified gold, and we have this massive tour on deck. We are plotting out the rest of the year in regards to France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, and the other territories where we’ve had releases.
Has Hedley toured much outside North America?
We’ve played the U.K., France and Germany and had releases there. We aim to get to Australia and New Zealand because we had a gold single there with “Crazy For You” (from the 2013 “Wild Life” album).
To break a territory with a rock act, you have go there again and again. You haven’t done that in most territories.
We have in the States. In regards to overseas there’s an element of support from the record company, and the costs of touring that goes into it.
The dilemma for top Canadian bands that have not broken elsewhere is do they stay at home and make big money or go outside the country and lose money? Hedley makes so much money touring in Canada that it’s probably hard to talk them into losing $15,000 on a string of club dates elsewhere.
Oh, it’d be a lot more than $15,000. You are out thousands and thousands of dollars. Then you are dealing with a record company that only wants to spend so much because albums don’t sell like they used to. So how deep do they want to get supporting an international release? There’s no doubt that is a reality of our business, and that problem is getting worse and worse.
But it’s a problem you’ve got with Hedley, right?
I guess that you could look at it like that, but you can flip it around and say that Hedley will sell more albums, concerts tickets and T-shirts in Canada than bands would in the States. On the last tour they had one of the Top 100 tours in the world. Just in Canada. The band is such a phenomenal success here that you have to ask yourself where do you want to spend your time and your resources.
So the strategy is to take the top paying dates in Canada, and fit in the lower playing dates from elsewhere?
That’s exactly right. You balance the interest, and the commitment from the record company in those marketplaces. That has to be there. It’s pop music. You aren’t really going there and grinding out clubs. It’s sort of different depending on the style of the band. Working with alternative rock bands is a bit different than with a pop act. You really need the momentum of media and radio to break a pop act and have the hit that you need to move the needle. That’s just what the business is like.
You have to have believers which are hard to find in this new music industry environment.
You have to keep trying. I think that’s my message. We keep trying. No matter what happens on any release. If the A&R person gets fired, or the band gets dropped, we keep coming back to the table, and getting releases. They are that good of a band. We keep trying to get them in front of people album after album. Hopefully, the right song will connect at the right time at U.S. radio.
You have worked closely with producer/songwriter Brian Howes for years.
Howes is coming up on 10 years (for management). He was with DDT and my band opened up for DDT, and one of my oldest friends was the guitarist in DDT. So it just goes back to that. The Howes thing is great because it’s great that we have built this community with some of these acts. He has been deeply involved in Hedley’s success.
And with Daughtry.
Oh yeah with Hinder, Daughtry, Nickelback, and Puddle of Mudd. I don’t know how many #1 rock hits that he’s had. He’s been very successful.
Having Brian involved in so many of your projects provides not only a continuity for your bands, but a Motown-styled work environment.
Brian and his studio partner, engineer and mixer JVP (aka Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen), and I have worked together for a number of years, and they have been working with Hedley for a number of years. In fact, before I managed Brian, the first ever album project that he did was half of Hedley’s first album. He went on to do Hinder and Skillet. His career went through the roof. Hinder’s album (“Extreme Behavior”) sold 4 million units. But the first thing he ever did was Hedley’s demo deal. So he’s been around since minute one.
In fact, I remember bringing Howes to the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island (in Vancouver) to see Jake with the old Hedley line-up. We knew that Jake was a superstar. He was sitting on some pretty good songs. He’s a phenomenal songwriter as is Howes. We put them together, and we were soon cooking with gas.
Then Hedley happened and so did Hinder, Skillet, and Daughtry. Howes has been really successful. He’s won Juno producer of the year a couple of times, and he’s doing some great things. He just finished up doing some things with Keith Urban. He working on another Skillet album right now. He’s doing great.
Your management client Matthew Koma is an extraordinary talented singer, songwriter, and DJ. And he’s from Long Island. How did you come to work with him?
Yes, he’s from Long Island, and he lives in Los Angeles. Here’s what happened. One of my very best friends Dan McCarroll, now president of Warner Bros. Records, was running EMI Publishing years ago. Matt was a very young kid, and he was a writer for them. He was looking for management. Dan said to me, “There’s this young kid. I don’t know if he is going to become Bruno Mars or Dr. Luke, but he’s going to do something. You should meet him.” I met him. I realized that he was phenomenally talented, but it would be years of developing, grinding and believing in his talent, and not really know what the clear path to success was going to be. Some times you don’t.
Didn’t Jimmy Iovine sign Matthew Koma at one point?
Jimmy Iovine signed him to Interscope maybe four years ago. He has since moved to RCA.
How did you come to work with him?
What happened was Sebastian Ingrosso from the Swedish House Mafia, and (Swedish musician/DJ/record producer) Alesso were working together, and they reached out to one of the A&R guys at Interscope, and said they were looking for some top-line writers. Not all of the usual suspects. Someone fresh. And this A&R guy said, “Well, Jimmy just signed this kid who is a great writer. So they sent a track and he wrote with them. That song “Calling” featured Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic) who did some writing on it as well, and it was a huge song in the electronic space. It was a #1 hit in Europe. It was a very big song. So another situation came up. There was young DJ producer that Interscope was developing named Zedd. So Matt co-wrote a song with Zedd called “Spectrum.” That ended up being the #1 dance song in the world that year (2012). Then Matt wrote a song with Zedd called “Clarity” that features (British singer) Foxes. It won a Grammy (for Best Dance Recording in 2014). It was a whopping hit.
Then he worked with Tiësto, Hardwell and Steve Aoki.
Funny enough this Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Tom Petty fanatic has ended up arguably as the #1 top line songwriter in the whole electronic music space.
He and Ron Aniello remixed Bruce Springsteen’s "Rocky Ground," a single from his 2012 album “Wrecking Ball.”
He did the Springsteen mix and he just finished producing Shania Twain. He’s worked with Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Hilary Duff. He’s really diverse. He’s a great writer. He’s a great producer. He’s a great DJ.
That must keep you busy.
There’s a lot of juggling for sure because he’s writing, producing, DJing, and he’s an artist. A lot of the work is booking the bigger festivals which he plays. He played Coachella and Ultra last year. He’s playing on all of the upcoming Lollapalooza South American dates. He has had a residence at The Wynn in Las Vegas for the past year. He’s headed for a string of dates in Japan and South Korea. He’s all over the place.
One of your newbie acts is singer/songwriter/actress Charlie. I watched her video “Ghosts” on YouTube, and I was greatly impressed
At 17-years-old and to be able to write like that, and have a voice like that. And she acts... It’s pretty exciting. She’s from Calgary, and she’s now living in Vancouver.
It’s all about development now.
I think so, yeah. She’s got the X factor for sure. You just have to meet her once and hear her talk. She’s got the star personality, and her voice is incredible. The fact that she can write as well as she can at 17 is a great sign of things to come. She has a bright future for sure.
These days working with a new pop act you have to build up their social media with YouTube and Twitter activity before seeking out a label.
You’ve nailed it completely. We have her writing and working with our network of songwriters and producers that we rep or we are close to from other projects that we’ve worked for. We had her in Los Angeles working with a bunch of people and some really great songs came out of that. And she’s been working with the production team at Westsonic Music out of Vancouver which is how we met her. But you are right. A lot of the development process nowadays with these baby acts, it happens right here. The content creation is right here. On my staff here, we have a full-time digital media/social media specialist. Marketing today starts at the grassroots, and we have to develop the artist’s brands and their fan base right from here.
That’s true with a pop act. With emerging rock bands, you have to still run them through every shithole club in the world.
(Laughing) That’s right. That’s true. That’s how it starts. They are out there grinding. Mother Mother (originally from Quadra Island) is an example. They have a huge live business. It started tiny. and you build it, and you build. They are always touring and playing shows.
How long have you been managing Mother Mother?
Oh, jeez for 7 or 8 years. Every album besides their EP. I’ve been there for 5 albums, and they are very successful. They are a festival headliner. They did 5,000 paid in Edmonton the last time through there. They do a really solid club business all through the States. They are building a great business and they are phenomenally good live. You are right about an act like that. Just keep them out there. Keep them touring. Keep them in front of people. Acts like that sell themselves. The show is that good. But with pop music (acts) you really do have to start with the socials and the press and making sure that they are content heavy and you are connecting with the fan base that way. You just do not tour pop the same way.
After several records on Last Gang Records, you switched Mother Mother to Universal Music Canada, and Island Records released the band’s biggest album to date “Very Good Bad Thing” in 2014.
It was. But it was great working with Last Gang. They did a great job with the band. And Universal has done a great job. They are one of the top three played acts at alternative radio consistently (in Canada). They get a ton of airplay and support at alternative. Ryan (Guldemond) is such an unique talent. Ryan (Guldemond) is such a unique talent. He’s a genius. The band members are some of the nicest people you could ever meet. I try to work with nice people You want to fight for people that you love. I’m fortunate to work with a lot of people who are great people.
Meanwhile, there’s the band’s song “Bright Idea” in the Kraft Food commercials.
That was a very good thing. They did very well from that I will tell you.
Managers used to primarily oversee just recording, touring and personal appearances. Today artist management is so complex.
Oh yeah. It’s a big world. It doesn’t really matter where you have success. It’s that you have success (with an act). So a Kraft commercial could really move the needle financially and in other ways. You have to be thinking very entrepreneurially. What you are doing on-line. What you are doing in the touring space, and with syncs, with sponsorship endorsements, and with personal appearances. There’s lots of ways to develop an act and you have to be thinking about all of them. That’s the job.
You aren’t from Vancouver originally?
Essentially. I was an Okanagan Valley boy. My mom passed away when I was quite young, and our family moved to Langley, a suburb of Vancouver.
You grew up during one of Vancouver’s golden musical ages. A period when top international bands like Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, the Cult, Metallica, Poison, AC/DC, and Motley Crue recorded at Little Mountain Sound alongside locals Loverboy, and Bryan Adams. Were you among those fans waiting to meet bands outside Little Mountain Sound?
Yes. You’d go and try to see them going out for sure. Just as a fan. Damn right. I was an Adams’ fanatic when I was kid growing up. I grew up in Vancouver so there was the managers Bruce Allen, Sam Feldman, and producers like Bruce Fairbairn, Bob Rock and Mike Fraser working with some of the biggest bands in the world. These were my producer and the manager inspirations. That was the era of music of music I grew up on.
What bands did you see in the Vancouver clubs in those days? All of the Seattle-based bands?
That’s right. There was the wave of the Seattle bands coming up the coast. You could see Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana playing The Town Pump. On top of that there was a really phenomenal local scene. There were great bands like DSK, DTT, and Muscle Bitches. When I was in my late teens there was a real fun music scene here and there was a strong music community.
You were a drummer?
Were you any good?
(Laughing) Pretty damn good.
Did you play in any known bands?
I played around town in some unknown bands. We got really, really close a couple of times with one band, and flew to New York to showcase for a bunch of record companies in 2001 or 2002.
What band was that?
It was a band called the Ashes.
Who was the manager?
Adam Wacht at Watchdog managed us.
One long-standing joke about Vancouver musicians is that most have been in over 20 bands. As well, the scene is melting pot of so many diverse genres.
It really was. Particularly back then when I was playing around. People would bounce from band to band to band all of the time. Breaking up and getting back together and switching singers. You would see all of that.
You became a studio engineer.
I ended up working in music and then audio post for TV at Western Post (a post production facility in Vancouver). I was there for years. It was really great for me because I had access to their studio. So in the off hours that’s where I would be. I would meet bands out at clubs or in rehearsal spaces or out on the street or through a friend or whatever. I’d find these acts that I would be developing in the off-hours of the studio. It was great.
Was it your ambition to be a producer?
Yeah. I moved from performing music to engineering and then from engineering I started producing demos. I was trying to develop these bands. Then I realized, and I would say, “You need an agent. You need a lawyer. Those pants look stupid. The show was terrible last night.”
You found yourself acting as a manager with the bands you were working with?
Yeah. I was making demoes and shopping the demoes and I’m trying to network. I realized that I’m becoming a manager. That’s when I went back to Jane and said, “Hey Jane, you mentioned Sam and Bruce. I think now is the right time to connect the dots.” So she said, “Maybe, let’s start with Sam. He’s probably a little more approachable.” So that’s where it started.
Vancouver was then a hotbed for a lot of film work coming to Canada. Did you work on any interesting films?
No, because Western Post is owned by Keystone Entertainment which makes its own movies, and then they do all of their own posting in-house. I worked on all 7 seasons of “Da Vinci's Inquest,” either doing music, or audio post, or dialogue supervision. That television show was posted in its entirety at that studio. I worked on a lot of the Keystone movies. Do you know those “Air Bud” movies? I worked on a bunch of those. They are goofy kids’ movies, but they are fun for sound guys. Great experiences with good budgets.
You had no audio background beforehand other than playing in bands?
I didn’t. I played in bands. Through mutual friends i got hooked up with a TV composer Tim McCauley. I was quite into programming electronic music at that time and there was a show that he landed called “Cover Me.” It didn’t make it though its first season. But the musical theme of the show was house music, drum and bass, and I was into that stuff at that time. So he brought me in. The show was shot in Toronto. So I moved out to Toronto for six months to work with Tim. From there I ended up programming, and I mixed his music. I was a music editor. We worked out of Western Post on “Da Vinci's Inquest.” I ended up transitioning over to Western Post, starting as an assistant, and working my way up to running the studio.
You are obviously a music industry lifer. What drives you?
That’s a great question.
Well, we all joined the circus.
Boy did we ever. Yep. So many things drive me. Knowledge, the concept of building a career, working with great people who I want to fight for, and who I love and who I want to make a difference in their lives. That’s my acts. That’s my staff. My partners. I’m proud to be part of the legacy of this company and to build a diverse roster with everything from great pop acts to great electronics to alternative acts to working with someone like Jim Vallance who is one of the greatest songwriters that has ever lived in my opinion.
Jim recently worked with Bryan Adams on his new album, “Get Up!” produced by Jeff Lynn.
Bryan’s best album they’ve made in 15 years. It’s great. He and Adams are working all of the time. Jim is really comfortable working with Bryan, and he’s at a great point in his life with a great catalog.
How did Matthew’s career in electronic music take off so quickly?
Jim and I have an interesting history. Back when I was writing, producing and engineering, I produced some demos for this young singer, Jessie Farrell, that Jim was writing with. Jim and I really hit off. We kept in touch. It’s been great being part of his career for the past year. It’s a real cool thing for me.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia,, Ontario, and a consultant to the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta.
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