Julien Paquin is a man who clearly loves his work. The President of the Paquin Artists Agency, his eyes light up when he’s asked about the summer music festivals across Canada he has on his upcoming itinerary. Yes, it is his job to check out the fests on which he has booked many of his agency’s clients, but it is obvious that his ongoing passion for music makes such a task a pleasure, not a pain.
"From a business standpoint there are ones to attend to make sure everything is good, then there are others that as a music fan you want to get to all the time. For me that list includes Hillside, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Festival D'ete, and Osheaga. They're ones I try to get to whenever possible, then there are so many new ones popping up."
That enthusiasm plus his well-honed skills as an agent has brought Paquin much success within the Canadian music industry over the past 23 years. Over beers in a Liberty Village watering hole close to Paquin’s Toronto office, we got him to reminisce about that career as well as offering up some cogent reflections on the current live music landscape in this country.
His surname is well-known within the biz, as he’s the son of noted music promoter, artist manager and entrepreneur Gilles Paquin. Based in Winnipeg, Gilles founded Paquin Entertainment Group in 1995. This multi-faceted entertainment company has Paquin Artists Agency as one of its divisions, and Julien has always concentrated his efforts there.
Julien Paquin started with the agency in 1993, and has headed it as President for the past 15 years. He has skillfully managed the impressive growth of the company, which now has an estimated 160 artists on its roster.
The younger Paquin stresses that there has always been a healthy space between father and son in the business. “Even though my father and I have been working together forever, I have never reported directly to him within the company. The agency was separate.
"Even though Gilles was the founder of the agency that was not his thing, he had other areas of interest. He didn’t have to be day to day with it. That allowed myself and the other agents to grow, and just go to him with the bigger problems, not the day to day.”
Gilles Paquin is still very hands-on in the management side of Paquin Entertainment Group, handling the careers of such artists as Randy Bachman, Bachman & Turner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Del Barber, and Donovan Woods.
From its Winnipeg base, Paquin Artists Agency moved its head office to Toronto in 1999. Julien recalls that “in Winnipeg the agents were myself, Rob Zifarelli and Darcy Gregoire. Rob and I moved to Toronto and Darcy stayed in Winnipeg, then started a company with Doug Kirby called Live Tour Arts.
“When Rob and I moved here we had a real impact in the first five years. We were young, indie and roots-oriented. The company wouldn’t be where it is today without Rob, even though a lot of artists he had left with him. Darcy and Rob now work together at UTA, and all three of us are still very good friends.”
Paquin notes that their entry into the Toronto industry was well-received. “We weren’t a big threat to anyone when we arrived, so they were glad to have us and they gave us opportunities.
"We did not have a big contemporary roster then, but we had knowledge from the family entertainment side, and that’s still a big part of what we do. We had the knowledge from touring shows that were in large theatres and even arenas, and that learning curve helped. The fact I can now cut an arena deal with Serena Ryder or The Sheepdogs or Corb Lund, that came out of our knowledge of family entertainment.”
From a roster of around 60 in 1999, Paquin Artists Agency now represents approximately 160 acts. Many of these have been with the agency for a large part of their career, as Paquin notes.
“Serena Ryder and Fred Penner have been with us almost the whole time. Buffy Sainte Marie and Randy Bachman are in the double digits, Corb Lund for 15 years with a break in there, The Sheepdogs for maybe seven years.”
He describes Canada as “our bread and butter of our business, but the agency does work internationally. We book The Strumbellas in Canada and Australia, and we represent The Royal Winnipeg Ballet around the world. We will help our artists find partners in the US too.”
Paquin Artists Agency has a very eclectic roster, but it was an emphasis on roots music and singer/songwriters that has played a key role in its success, as Paquin acknowledges.
“As a company we had to pick a lane early on. A lot of the mainstream artists were already represented. Triple A and Americana, that was a path we saw. It wasn’t about radio or record sales, it was about music fans hearing something and then wanting to go see them.
“We had to find bands that were left of centre but had a connection to sell tickets without radio. That cycle worked, and far before that lane had a path with CBC, the way it is now. Serena Ryder and Tegan and Sara were selling tickets way before radio. They were great artists. It was about finding the great artists before thinking about radio formats.”
“That rootsy Americana area is one I love. Hanging out in Nashville and Austin and seeing those venues and artists in that style is fantastic. At the same time, what I love is seeing a star, someone that delivers onstage, and that comes in all forms.”
Paquin stresses that as an agent “the key relationship is with the manager. Their job is to strategise with us. Am I on the phone constantly with Serena, Corb or Whitehorse? No. The relationships are with those managers, like Sandy Pandya [Ryder], Shauna De Cartier [Whitehorse], Joel Carriere (The Sheepdogs) and Joanne Setterington [The Strumbellas].
“That is the important connection. I don’t need to call and hang out with my artists, that’s not what I’m here for. We have a business relationship in a business that is not a conventional business. You have to make sure the artists are trusting in your judgement and you trust in theirs, but the key and most important relationship is with the manager. The artists want to know they can look me in the eye and sense 'Julien knows what the plan is and that plan is reflective of who I am.'"
Paquin is acutely aware that the ongoing decline of the record business means that live performance and touring is now more important to an artist’s career than ever, thus elevating the role of the agent.
He observes that “between an artist, a manager, a promoter, a ticketing company, and a label, that fan dollar is being cut up a lot more these days because that is the only dollar anyone is making any money off. How do you expand that dollar? That is a challenge.”
To Paquin, “there are not enough festivals.There are not enough people consuming live music. How do we get them to consume more? I don’t mind having a small piece of the pie, I just want that pie to get bigger! It can and it should get bigger.”
Surveying the current highly competitive music festival scene in Canada, he notes that there will be casualties but is optimistic that expansion will continue. “I stop short of saying there are too many festivals,” he says. “That’s like saying there are too many new movies opening each week or too many new restaurants. The good thing about all these fests is that you are presenting more live music. Those in the industry may go ‘ohmigod there are so many festivals,’ but we need to step back and think that the music business is small compared to movies, food and all these other forms of entertainment.
"We want more people to go to more shows. Why will they do that? Because there are more good shows and more festivals. In the short term there will be some hiccups, some survival of the fittest, sure, but my hope is that when we look at the landscape in five years there’ll be more festivals thriving.”
"When Shauna De Cartier started her new festivals [Interstellar Rodeo] out West, well there’s nothing wrong with that. They have great music and her festivals have grown every year. She’s not going anywhere.”
Paquin Artists Agency has long represented many of the acts on the Six Shooter label, including Whitehorse, Danny Michel, and the currently hot Strumbellas. Six Shooter head De Cartier praises Paquin to FYI, noting “he is a a straight-shooter. He always tells it like it is — but he does so with a lot of heart, too. He’ll unflinchingly go the extra mile without ever complaining about it. And you can always count on him to go into battle for you if that’s what needs to happen. He’s an excellent negotiator, and well liked and trusted by promoters and artists alike. One of my favourite things about Julien is that he’s not afraid to take risks — he is willing to push the boundaries and move artists ahead faster and further. I think the world of him in every respect.”
Julien Paquin currently serves on the boards of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), the Unison Benevolent Fund, and the Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA), a national arts service organization for Canada's presenting and touring sector.
He has certainly earned the respect of his industry peers, being recognized as Agent of the Year at CAPACOA and at six Canadian Country Music Awards.