Talking Canada With CMW’s Neill Dixon, Paradigm, Lower Level

The Weeknd
John Davisson
– The Weeknd
at Coachella 2018

While it’s the birthplace of concert industry legends like Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and Chairman of Global Music and President of Global Touring Arthur Fogel, as well as Michael Cohl who is largely considered the architect of the modern international tour, Canada is not just a place people come from.
The population of the whole country is on par with California (about 36 million), and there’s a thriving market for homegrown as well as international artists at all levels (see Boxoffice Insider). Festivals are catching up, and superstars continue to come from the Great White North, from classic rock royalty like Neil Young and Rush all the way to contemporary R&B headliners The Weeknd and rap superstar Drake to so many more from the land of maple leafs and round “bacon” that goes on pizza. 
Part of this success may be mandated from above. In the U.S., venues may be owned or operated in part by public entities, but the level of government support is much more direct in Canada, where it is mandated that 30 percent of all artists played on the radio must be Canadian.
“It’s a cultural industry up here, and the ‘music business’ down there,” said Canadian Music Week President Neill Dixon, who has been part of the conference/festival since the ’80s and whose experience in the Canadian concert business goes back to the late ‘60s.
While other countries support their artists directly, such as Australia and many European Union nations, Canada has the benefit of being connected physically to the world’s largest music market. 
“What that did was it built up at least a parallel business here in Canada that was sophisticated far beyond the size of the population,” Dixon added. This year’s Canadian Music Week also features the long-running Canadian Music Fest, with more than 400 artists, and not just Canadians either.
Emblematic of the market’s importance,  the lineup includes 2 Chainz, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, French Montana, Liam Gallagher, Canadian bands Ought and Sloan, and Kiefer Sutherland, who is a musician as well as Canadian. Dixon says live music is “obviously a huge part of the business here. And it’s probably the most successful part” as well, saying it all started with Cohl’s CPI, known for touring The Rolling Stones internationally, and renowned Canadian concert promoter Donald Tarlton putting Canada on the map as an international touring force of its own. 
This will be reflected in the full programming at CMW’s Live Touring Summit May 10-11, which includes discussions and speeches from people like AEG Presents North President Rick Mueller, a keynote by Ticketmaster President Jared Smith and panelists such as Evenko VP Nick Farkas, AEG/Goldenvoice’s Elliott Lekfo, Paradigm’s Tom Windish, Pollstar’s Gary Smith, and an awards show hosted by Paul Shaffer (see Pollstar’s interview with him).  
“The reason that we have a business here is because we have artists that have success at radio in Canada that they don’t have elsewhere,” echoed Rob Zifarelli, who heads Paradigm’s Toronto office that opened in August with fellow agents Adam Countryman and André Guérette. 
City and Colour
Scott Legato / Getty Images
– City and Colour
Dallas Green during City and Colour’s gig at Festival D
“That is also part of our goal – what we’re trying to do with these kinds of artists is export them,” said Zifarelli. “We represent Arkells in the United States. They’re an arena band in Canada and we’re trying to get them to the same level in the rest of the world.”
Zifarelli, who spent time at The Agency Group and joined Paradigm shortly after TAG was acquired by UTA, was quick to clarify that many of the office’s clients, such as City And Colour, are booked by Paradigm throughout North America or worldwide, but that the agency believes in Canada as a whole and is devoted to artists that may not quite take off away from home.
“We are a smaller population for sure, and we definitely have had some great success with Canadian artists becoming global stars, but we still need to focus on building it up regionally, domestically, so that they have a business to come back to if for any reason it doesn’t break internationally,” he said. “There’s a number of artists who can only tour in Canada, and it’s the same in Australia as a good side-by-side example.” 
Though the Canadian music market is very developed and hosts everything from the biggest global tours to the latest up and comers, there is still room for improvement, especially in the festival business and in the major metro of Toronto, according to Lower Level’s Ryan Howes, who is based in nearby Hamilton and a panelist at this year’s CMW. 
“Since there’s such a healthy amphitheater, stadium and arena touring business in Toronto, it just makes things a little harder for multi-day major festivals,” said Howes, whose 20-year career includes time with House of Blues Concerts Canada and as director of operations for Live Nation Canada. “Toronto’s always been a difficult market to get a concertgoer to commit to camping as well as to a multi-day ticket, so that’s why some of the more urban-based festivals like Veld Music Festival or Field Trip Music And Arts have sustained their growth year over year, because it’s a lot more accessible to the fans.” 
Another major event Howes mentioned is Boots & Hearts Music Festival, a country music fest that includes camping and in September features Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson and Thomas Rhett. 
Lower Level is putting on the Royal Mountain at Rasberry Farm in Hamilton Sept. 2, with countrymen Mac DeMarco, Calpurnia (fronted by Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame, hailing from Vancouver) and post-punk band Ought among others. Howes said that show has sold tickets in seven different provinces, 22 states and even Mexico, largely thanks to there being only a few Calpurnia dates.
Mac DeMarco
Theo Wargo / Getty Images
– Mac DeMarco
2017 Governors Ball Festival, June 4, 2017.
Canada’s major markets are mostly spread out and, although Montreal is only a six-hour drive or one-hour flight from Toronto, overall, as one might expect from the seemingly always pleasant Canadians, everyone gets along and works well together. 
“There’s definitely a working relationship among most promoters,” Howes said, noting that promoters that own or operate venues in certain markets obviously want to steer shows to those venues. “But there’s a lot of new silos and out-of-the box opportunities, such as winery concert series, new niches and areas that can really grow in the coming years.”