“Behind the Show” is an ongoing series where we spotlight the work of people who help make concerts happen! Let us know who we should interview next: [email protected]
This week, we chatted with Lucas Canzona. Lucas has worked in the music industry as a concert promoter, talent buyer, stage manager, production manager, brand partnerships agent, and now as an artist manager at Fairwin Ent. Lucas also co-created a Live Entertainment and Event Marketing course for Ryerson University.
Backstage Pass: How did you get your start in the music industry? How did that lead to where you are now?
Lucas Canzona: I got my start promoting shows in high school. My science teacher was from Vietnam and he’d go back to a developing village each summer with money he raised over the course of the year. It was really interesting to me because we’d raise some money with him and he’d bring back a video showing the bunk bed we bought for the orphanage, or supplies we bought to repair a roof. I’d never seen such a direct link before – it showed me that with some more work, the impact could be multiplied. My friends in bands at the time also didn’t have anywhere to play because we were all underage, so I started a non-profit [The Sound of Change] to combine the two and put on local all-ages shows to raise money for different international development projects.
The first show took place during the 2011 East Africa drought – it sold out before we opened doors, we sent all proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, and it proved the concept was viable. 18 shows later we were amongst the first to promote Canadian bands like Alvvays and PUP.
That start was a crash course in figuring it out as you go. At the core of it I knew I was really good at the left-brained stuff – making ideas work with zero budget, pushing my artist friends’ creative work to the world, finding people really good at what they do and empowering them in their arena – and what I do now is an extension of that.
BP: For most of your life you lived in Ontario. What influenced your move to Los Angeles? What differences between working in the Toronto area vs. LA have you found?
LC: In 2018, I had moved to Nashville from Toronto. We were rapidly building out the teams for our clients, and more and more of our partners were in LA. We’d have these weeks flying to LA where we’d cram a month’s worth of meetings in, and it just made sense to live in the middle of that, near the decision makers.
I noticed while in Toronto, a lot of industry peers were taking their cultural cues (or orders, if they were a Canadian branch of an American company) from across the border. Why not go to the source myself?
To a Canadian, the scale at which people operate in LA is amazing. The ideas and the respective swings people have to take, are just way, way bigger. There’s an energy to that.
BP: You’ve worked as a concert promoter, talent buyer, production manager, brand partnerships agent, and an artist manager. Do you feel like that’s a natural career progression in the industry, or is it more that you just like to try different roles?
LC: I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d tell you they’ve had a natural progression through the industry. Each of my lateral moves has come from saying “yes” to some big unknowns with a healthy dose of curiosity, or following a gut feeling. I’m also not done moving around and testing new waters; I never want to be!
BP: Having worked in so many different roles, how have you seen the industry change since you started about a decade ago?
LC: With an early artist I worked with, we were still focused on “road dogging” it and playing as many cities as possible, with the hopes that we’d make a few new fans each night. We don’t take that approach anymore – venues have been partially replaced as curators by playlists – now we watch where fans are engaging with the music, and then make plans to tour there.
When I started, the artists I worked with sold a lot of CDs and vinyl. Now we have real conversations about the decreased value of physical music to an early stage artist. With one client, we recently ran a digital marketing campaign in Southeast Asia to develop the streaming fanbase before a physical release – and when the vinyl came out, we shipped to 21 countries in the first week. That kind of fan accessibility from your computer or phone, if you do it right, is incredible!
Social media used to be pretty egalitarian – we could reach anyone that wanted to hear from us, with ease and for free. Now it requires a lot more tact and budget to reach your own fans. Owning your own communication channels (email lists and text lists) has never been more important.
BP: How do you think the industry will evolve in the post-COVID era?
LC: I think the power balance will shift a bit away from artists, towards promoters, as demand (or legality) of medium and large scale shows will take a while to return to pre-COVID levels.
I also think that geographic decision-making centers will become decentralized. We’ve had thousands of people be able to work remotely just as or more effectively through COVID times, and that will lead to more people refusing to pay sky high rent just to be close to the people they want to reach or within commuting distance of the office.
BP: You’re currently working as an artist manager, what does a ‘typical’ day of work look like for you?
LC: A typical (pre-COVID) day would be waking up, meditating with the Headspace app, then putting out fires over email for 30 minutes with an Earl Grey. Then a workout, then 3-4 hours of working on emails, scheduling, checking in on tour submissions, and special projects over more tea and lunch at our shared office or favorite cafe. Then two meetings in the afternoon around town, dinner with another manager or agent, and a show or showcase in the evening. Finally, a couple of emails very late – scheduled to send in the morning of the time zone of the recipient.
If we’re in the midst of a release week, that 3-4 hour “heads down” email time will become 7-8 hours.
BP: What’s the most challenging part of artist management? What’s the most rewarding?
LC: The most challenging is often being the earliest champion on an artist team – being absolutely certain that you’ve found gold and then spending the next three years going through hundreds of people dismissing what you see, while you soldier on in your nonsensical belief that you’re right.
The most rewarding is coming up with an audacious idea in the middle of the night, and then standing at the back of a sold-out venue 4 months later as your artist hits their first note!
BP: How do you typically find/choose new artists to work with?
LC: The most direct is via word of mouth from my friends. I’ll listen to absolutely anything from a few people who have an incredible ear. I also follow a couple curators who consistently showcase gems early and often – one of them recently had me on a plane to another country for a dinner with an artist a week after I first heard him.
I’m never going to convince myself into working with an artist – I actually make it a practice to try to convince myself out of each one. The ones that I can’t shake – those become the most brilliant partnerships.
BP: In the past, you helped create a Live Entertainment and Event Marketing course for Ryerson University. What do you think are the most important information or skills a university student can learn when it comes to the industry?
LC: It’s important to strike a balance between learning the “textbook” processes in the industry, and getting your hands dirty to see what it’s actually like. No one is sticking to the budget if a show is struggling, few agents will fairly quote a fledgling promoter if they smell money, no stage manager will enforce a no smoking policy if a performer lights up in front of an encore sold-out crowd. We tried to infuse a healthy dose of that “real” in the Ryerson University course after introducing everything in theory.
I learned these things after getting stomped on in my early days by showing too many of my cards or being overconfident. I like to remind an agent who bait-and-switched me on one of my first shows of it every time I see him – because we’re now friends.
Also, learn to keep your emails concise!
BP: Having worked behind the scenes for so many years, do you have any interesting/fun stories you’d like to share?
LC: An early think-outside-the-box memory is when we were trying to get label attention for the first band I managed. We designed 10 slick press packages, prepaid for 10 pizzas addressed to A&Rs, and taped the packages to the inside of the top of the boxes. I think the delivery guy got through building security at 7 out of 10 labels. It didn’t land us a deal, but we got our name on the radar as we watched social media fill up with those A&Rs sharing their excitement – and the ones that didn’t get a pizza loudly feeling left out.
BP: What do you think are the most important qualities or skills someone should possess to be successful in the industry? In artist management?
LC: I think an artist manager should be supremely organized, be logical enough to see pitfalls before they arrive but bold enough to see the merit in big ideas, and be able to separate their ego from their work because it’s often a thankless job.
I think an under-celebrated quality is being able to treat everyone with respect and legitimate interest regardless of their stature or ability to help you. In an age of overstimulation, focus is a superpower.
BP: What advice would you give someone who’s interested in becoming an artist manager?
LC: Find an artist you think is the greatest, and convince them to let you manage them. Don’t overcomplicate it beyond that.
Well said, Lucas! Much thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. Want to keep up with what Fairwin Ent is up to? Follow them on Instagram!
If you work behind the scenes in the live music industry (or know somebody who does) and want to share your story and perspective, visit our Contact Us page to let us know!