FYI Industry Profile: Nigel Jenkins of Laughing Heart Music
The lure of the music business has proved irresistible to Nigel Jenkins. The Halifax based lawyer turned artist manager started out playing guitar and writing songs for different bands in the Maritimes, prior to turning to law as a career.
He retains a small number of clients as an entertainment lawyer, but his primary focus is now on Laughing Heart Music, Jenkins’ artist management company. "My entertainment law practise represents maybe two to five per cent of my time now. I’m still a practicing lawyer in Nova Scotia but am not actively seeking out clients," he explains to FYI.
"The artist management stuff is so intensive and demanding in terms of time and my presence in various markets so it is hard to take on new legal clients. Frankly, I get more enjoyment out of the artist management work. When I ducked out of legal practice I had been working at a family law firm and I found that rather difficult and unrewarding work.
"I’ve been a lifelong musician and worked with bands for over a decade in different capacities and wanted to stay involved in the music industry. Artist management wasn’t an intentional choice, but in retrospect it was a good fit. All the right things happened to lead me here. I got lucky that way.”
Laughing Heart Music turned a year old this month. "I started building the company in Jan. 2015 then incorporated Sept. 14, 2015," Jenkins told FYI when we reached him in Halifax for a phone interview this week. "With the anniversary, it was nice to take a little time to reflect on that and send out a press release, but both acts I work with, Ben Caplan and Hillsburn, are extremely busy."
Right now, Jenkins' focus is on Germany, for his flagship artist, Ben Caplan, begins an extensive European tour there this week, including a Reeperbahn Festival showcase.
“I’m dealing with some merchandising issues now so Ben has everything he needs on the road,” he explains. “He and his band are over there rehearsing now, with a new upright bass player. It’s a gigantic tour. Basically two full months and most weeks it is six shows a week, with lots of driving.”
Owner of perhaps the biggest beard in Canadian music and one of its biggest and deepest voices, Caplan is a real road warrior, as Jenkins explains. “His first album came out in 2011 and since then he has played over 1000 shows. He is playing somewhere in the world for eight to ten months a year.”
Caplan and Jenkins go way back. “I first met Ben through his partner, Taryn Kawaja. I grew up in the same small town as her, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and I played in some of my earlier bands with her older brother Dane.
"The working relationship with Ben started about two years ago. He was going on a U.S. run and needed a tour manager. At that time I’d just quit my big law job and was available. He knew I was smart and dependable enough to handle things on the road. Since then, I have done different tasks for him leading up to taking on full-time management of his career.”
Until recently, Ben Caplan was managed by Coalition, out of Toronto. “It was an amicable parting of the ways,” says Jenkins in explaining the shift. “Rob Lanni at Coalition has been an incredible source of information for me and has rather taken on a mentoring role for me personally as I’ve taken over. He’s an incredible gentleman and so generous with his time. The change [in management] was official as at the end of August.”
Being in bands earlier has helped give Jenkins an understanding of the business, he acknowledges. "Absolutely it helps. It is nice to understand what it means to put in the time to write and rehearse and perfect a stage show. I also learned a lot as a tour manager and grant writer and working with social media leading up to management."
"The last recording project I was part of was a group called Say Fire, based in St Johns, when I was doing my undergrad degree there. Aley Waterman was the front person, and we did a lot of songwriting together. She has done a project since called Gala that Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta! produced. My best friend and longtime musical collaborator Gerald Coleman was in Say Fire too."
LHM's second client is rootsy Halifax-based band Hillsburn. Jenkins explains that "they're just coming off their first Canadian run. It was extremely successful, with a few shows outside this region selling out. It was beyond what we expected."
He recalls that "I met Hillsburn as they were in the process of signing a label and management deal with Ground Swell Music. Ground Swell was a client of mine at the time, as I was doing their grant writing, social media, online marketing and advertising for some of their bands like Hillsburn, The Town Heroes and The Stanfields." That relationship evolved into Jenkins taking on Hillsburn's management.
He is now getting solicitations from other artists looking for management. "Some are interesting prospects, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin. I want to provide the level of service that I currently offer to my two artists. Between myself and one part-time employee, we’re working around the clock."
The hard work is paying off. Both Caplan and Hillsburn have received multiple nominations for the Music Nova Scotia awards in early November, with Jenkins also notching an industry nomination. "That is very flattering," he notes.
As for the story behind the evocative company name?: "I have always written, and have had a few poems published that won a couple of small prizes," Jenkins explained.
"One of my favourite poets and writers is Charles Bukowski. My friend Gerald sent me a poem called 'The Laughing Heart.' I won’t paraphrase it, but it reflected my feeling at the time I was making the decision to pivot out of the legal world pretty accurately.
"I wanted to take that and carry it forward into my new adventure."