They’ve worked with some of the best Canadian musical talent: Michael Buble, Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams.
That’s no small feat: Taking local talent from a tiny country and developing them to the height of fame on the world stage.
It’s the reason talent agent Sam Feldman and music manager Bruce Allen are considered heavyweights in the Canadian music industry; and they’re both based right here in B.C.
LISTEN: What it takes to be a leader in the ultra-competitive music industry
So what does it take, leadership wise, to make it in such a competitive industry?
For Allen, it’s about staying focused, and making sure his energy is directed where it should be: at his talent.
“One thing I’ve tried to do my whole career is I’ve tried to run a small management firm,” he says.”
Because, if you look back at history in the management business; if you look back at the great acts – whether you start with Elvis Presley, and go to The Beatles and go to the Rolling Stones, and go up to U2, Sting, The Police, stuff like that – you’ll find the one thing they have in common: one manager, one act. So I’ve never had a big roster.”
But but handling stars is a big job with consequences – and big pressure. How much room is there to ask for help when it comes to making decisions?
Feldman says you can’t make it without teamwork – but you’ve got to find that personal groove too.
“We’ve got a young staff that’s been around a while. It clicks pretty good. Everyone understands how each other operates. We all understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths. And, certainly, for the purposes of identifying talent and developing talent, we’ve got a very strong team in place. And it’s collaborative,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, for me to get personally excited about something, I’ve gotta hear about that in music, and really, really like it. If the business is way too tough to be driven by just dollars, you’ve really gotta identify and love what you’re pushing.”
The entertainment industry has changed so much, and continues to change almost day-to-day. That’s a challenge for anyone trying to stay on top of trends, and it requires the skill to lead as an entrepreneur.
“No matter how the medium changes, talent wins in the end,” says Feldman.
“You’ve got to identify people with strong talent. Then it’s all about the delivery system, and you’ve got to be cognizant about how to deliver their talent through as many people as possible, no matter what that particular medium is. Whatever the change in paradigm, you’ve got to identify strong talent and be a very, very large advocate for that talent.”
Feldman says part of that is putting yourself in the trenches, staying on the front lines of the business where you can see the changes happening, instead of letting yourself get comfortable or detached.
“If you’re not keeping yourself aware of how to best act for your client, then you’re really not doing your job,” he says.
“It’s very important for us to stay on top of how to get things done. But at the end of the day, if you’ve got great talent, the delivery system does tend to come to you. And then you have to identify and make the right choices.”
Allen sees it a little differently.
“I find it fascinating to sit there and have them show me what they are doing, the data they have, and what Facebook is doing, and what all the different platforms are doing – Pandora or Spotify, for instance – and all the things they say are pretty mind-blowing,” he admits.
But he says he’s not ready to give up on the old school.
“The problem I have with it is, when you look at the people who are selling concert tickets today, most of the big acts – or the biggest acts – are still acts that come from a long time ago. And I don’t know if by selling tracks or just going through the way they’re selling now, I don’t know if we’re really building long-term stars,” he says.
“When you see the 70,000 people a day down at Desert Trip – where we had Neil Young and Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, and The Who – they said they could have done it for fifteen nights. Those fans – those fans are going to be there forever, and I don’t think fans like Justin Bieber – I don’t think they’re going to be buying Justin Bieber box sets when they’re 40. It’s all short-term stuff.”
Either way, working in an industry that’s always changing, Bruce and Sam have managed to stay at the top of their fields, both leaders in the music industry
“People are always a challenge,” says Feldman.
But he says leaning to work with people who aren’t always your average Joe is the job.
“In our business, there’s no formal training, there’s no school, there’s a lot of strong opinions, there’s a significant amount of sociopathy, there’s a lot of egocentricity, and you’ve got to navigate all that, and try to get people to work as a team in spite of some of those character traits,” he says.
For Allen, it’s about learning to compromise with his talent as they develop.
“The toughest thing for me is that I am so singularly focused, and the artists do grow, and they have families, people they have to look after, this-and-that. You have to build their schedules around their lives, and for me – it was building my life around my schedule,” he says.
“Back with Bachman Turner Overdrive, we’d tour sometimes for a year at a time. We’d go home and get a week off here, a week off there – now we’re saying, ‘Okay, the guy has children, he needs to be back there, so we’ll work two weeks on, two weeks off.’ And it’s fiscally irresponsible, but it’s the way we’re forced to do it now.”
These days the music industry is a little less sex, drugs and rock n’roll, and more tech, touring, and work-life balance.