Sam Feldman: Canada's Wise Guy Is King of the Road

Sam Feldman has held a commanding presence over the west-coast music scene for near half a century, and helped put more food on the table for Canada's touring musicians than most anyone else in the country--and yet, for all his success, he probably has the most under-stated profile of any of the nation’s music moguls.

And that’s just Sam, a power-broker who has cultivated a low-key public profile all the while building an empire that spans the globe. 

For those not in the know, Feldman is one half of the umbrella company A&F Music Ltd. whose operating divisions include Bruce Allen Talent, The Feldman Agency, The Characters Agency, Macklam Feldman Management, and Watchdog Management. His integrated entertainment empire employs about 50 people nationwide and represents as many as 300 acts spanning multiple genres that play in clubs, concert halls, stadiums and ball-parks from here to Southeast Asia each and every night.

Recently FYI caught up with Sam by phone at his Vancouver headquarter as he juggled a schedule that included air flights and conversations with key clients—a mix of global headliners and those who run the largest record and concert firms in the world. He’s a busy man is Sam.

Sam, let’s start with what you have been hatching…

“Summer’s over so we’ve been wrapping some really big tours. (Management client) James Taylor had an extensive tour that finished at Fenway Park. We had about 40,000 people there in August. We also did Wrigley Field, so we are starting to gravitate into ballparks where James is doing massive business, even after all these years.

“I recently returned from LA where I was working with my new client Jordan Smith who won The Voice last season. David Foster produced a Christmas album for him, so we shot a Christmas special for PBS to accompany it.

“Sarah McLachlan (another longstanding client) has a Christmas record coming out as well, so there will a lot of work supporting it. She’s just come off the road from a summer tour, with Josh Groban, in the U.S.

“Then we have Diana Krall who was on tour and is now starting work on her next record for Verve.

Any other management client news?

Well, Declan (Elvis Costello) never stops. It’s tour, tour, tour, tour and he just never seems to want it to end. It’s September now and he’s off to Southeast Asia – Japan, Singapore, et cetera, and then he starts his North American tour in October.

“We also manage the Chieftains who’ve only been together now for 52 odd years! They go out every spring and do a successful tour of performing arts centres in Europe and a number of special events and one-offs over the course of a year. I mean, one is never going to stop (leader) Paddy Moloney.”

He pauses, then adds: “When (Chieftains instrumentalist) Derek Bell passed away (in 2002), someone asked me, ‘does this mean Paddy’s going to stop now?’ I replied, ‘Listen, Paddy wouldn’t stop unless he was the one who passed away. And even then I’m not sure (laughing).’”

Then there is the latest addition to the Macklam Feldman Management roster, Lyle Lovett “who works six days a week and inherits the hardest working man in show biz title.”

This brings us to Watchdog Management, presided over by Darren Gilmore. Watchdog works with some of the top ‘Now-Generation’ acts with active careers including Hedley, Mother Mother, Matthew Koma, and acclaimed Canadian songwriter and producer Brian Howes (who has worked with Daughtry, Simple Plan, Nickelback, Hedley, Faber Drive and many others from his LA studio).

“I’m not so hands on other than talking to Darren and giving him some bad advice every so often. He’s doing a really good job building that company up. There’s certainly a lot going on over there.”

The Feldman Agency...?

“Jeff (Craib) runs that out of Toronto. He’s the President of the agency and business there has been brisk for sure. I mean, he had his hands full with the Tragically Hip tour. There was a lot of business and a lot of emotional navigation to be done and I think he did a really good job organizing that whole project.”

In a business of raging bulls and Brobdingnagian egos, you remain something of a low-pitched chess player…

Guffaws of laughter down the phone line, and then Sam speaks: “I’m the fourth stupid man,” he says referencing Larry LeBlanc’s CBC’s radio documentary entitled Larry and the Three Wise Men that captures the career trajectories of Vancouver superstar manager (and Feldman business partner) Bruce Allen; production and technological wunderkind Bob Ezrin and genius concert promoter Michael Cohl.

“I like to look at it this way,” Feldman continues. “They are the three wise men and I’m the little Jewish baby.” He roars with laughter, again.

"And you know where he got to,” he says of the biblical baby. I respond, suggesting it wasn't such a good place, to which Feldman fires back, “but in the end his legacy endures.”

He pauses before adding, “Can you name any of those fucking wise guys (today)?” More laughter. I presume he is referring to the three kings who followed the star of Bethlehem. This said, Sam decidedly isn't taking his exclusion from the radio program any too seriously.

Changing direction, “the business has changed but here we’re going flat out.

“It’s really obvious that record sales are going through a complete metamorphosis. I mean, it used to be that the record company was the absolute king of the hill, right! Everyone else was secondary. Now, with all that has gone on—the Internet, piracy, streaming, all these different things, the landscape has changed.

“So we are going through a sea of change, but there will be a point in time when streaming and the payment for streaming will be so prevalent that the volume in cash will increase to the artists and writers, but I don’t know how long that is going to take. I’m going to say five years, at least.

“So now we have an unfortunate situation where your record is just an expensive poster for your tour. Now, it’s really all about how you can get your artist to the point where they can sell tickets and headline their own shows. That’s a challenge so you’ve really got to amalgamate all the marketing forces when you have a tour.

“For some reason in our business very few people will put the record company, the promoter, agent, the publicist and everyone else together to map out a plan. We like to do this and we do every time.

“Since none (of the individual components) have the budgets they once had, one really has to combine all the elements to break through with enough noise to make something stand out. It’s changed a lot. In the old days I was very cognizant of what I would call ‘over-exposure’ and now the unfortunate reality is the landscape is so cluttered you almost have to roar to get people’s attention.”

With that Sam tells me he has another call coming in that can’t wait. I ask about how much the company takes in annually. He demurs. “I don’t think I should do that. All that will do is piss people off.”

And with that Sam signs off, no doubt to take care of his global empire and domestic businesses.



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