Just the Facts: CMW's Keynote Speakers

With the Canadian Music Week (CMW) conference less than three weeks away, prospective attendees are having to make some tough choices on which sessions to catch.

There is certainly no shortage of options, as the CMW brain trust has assembled another top-notch batch of speakers and panelists covering all aspects of the domestic and global music biz.

We’ve perused the sked, and three keynote interviewees, in particular, grabbed our attention.  Scott Borchetta, John Giddings and Michael Rapino are all self-made entrepreneurs who have had fascinating and financially very successful careers, and their insights are sure to be both entertaining and informative.

And the speakers are...

Scott Borchetta - Founder Big Machine Records: Keynote Interview April 20 Osgoode Ballroom East, 11.45 am --12.45 pm

The 54-year old- American businessman and record executive is best known for founding Big Machine Records and for discovering singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. He started the label in 2005 with 13 employees, as its president and CEO.

In 2015, he became the new in-house mentor on American Idol for the program's 14th season, a clear recognition of his astute understanding of the music business.

Taking risks in business comes easily for Borchetta, a former race car driver. Prior to revving up Big Machine, he paid dues as a staff member at the Nashville divisions of DreamWorks Records and MCA Records as well as MTM Records.

He grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California in the 1970s, and his father, Mike Borchetta, worked in record promotions for several Los Angeles record labels, including Capitol Records, RCA Records and Mercury Records.

In 1978, when Borchetta was 16, his father moved to Nashville to start his own independent record promotion company. Scott played in rock bands in California, then bass in a country band in Nashville, prior to working as a record promoter, first independently and then with record labels.

In 2005, Borchetta made the decision to leave Universal Music Nashville to start his own independent record label, Big Machine Records. Soon after starting the label, Borchetta signed his first artist, Taylor Swift (whom he had met in 2004), when she was 14 years old. Over the past decade, Swift has become one of music's biggest stars.

Big Machine is also home to such acts as Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Florida Georgia Line, and Reba McEntire.

In 2015, there were industry rumours that  Big Machine was on the block for $200 million, but Borchetta remains at the helm as majority owner, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Borchetta is known for making innovative moves. In 2012, he sealed a unique deal with Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) that allows Big Machine artists to participate in terrestrial and digital radio revenue streams. He paired with radio chain Cumulus Media to start a record company and helped designer John Varvatos start a label that signed multiplatinum act Zac Brown Band.


John Giddings - Agent/Promoter, Solo Agency, London, UK: Keynote Interview  April 20 Osgoode Ballroom East, 3--3.50 pm

Giddings took the classic route into live music and along the way became one of the biggest and best-known agents and promoters in the world. 

Responsible for many of the most high-profile tours of recent years including The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Genesis, Celine Dion, Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Giddings also revived the famed Isle of Wight Festival, described as the Woodstock of Europe.

John graduated from England's Exeter Uni in the 70s, having learned the basics of booking bands as a social secretary, before becoming an agent at MAM just as the punk rock boom hit.

In no time, Giddings was representing The Adverts and X-Ray Spex before moving onto The Boomtown Rats, The Ramones and Iggy Pop. In the early '80s he formed TBA International and worked with Paul Young, Alison Moyet, Big Country, Howard Jones, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. In 1987, Giddings literally went solo - forming the Solo Agency Group.

His ascent from massively respected British music agent to global touring legend was meteoric. Soon, he was a key player in the world of global stadium tours.

The Isle of Wight Festival is something of a personal crusade, however. He attended the legendary 1970 version of the fest, as a music-mad 16-year-old. Acts playing included The Doors, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Free and Jimi Hendrix, with Bob Dylan making a surprise appearance. Giddings took note of the exciting developments and the germ of an idea began to take shape. Many years later he was able to realise his lifetime dream/ambition to make the Isle of Wight famous again for something other than yachting regattas.

The first Isle of Wight Festival line-up he put together boasted The Who and David Bowie as headliners, and the fest has flourished under his leadership. His CMW bio notes that "the sight of John rocking around the festival on his golf buggy is a familiar and reassuring sight to the fans who return year after year. Along the way, they have been treated to some amazing performances from the world’s greatest artists, including The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Jay Z and Neil Young. The event has grown in both stature and calibre and is now as much part of the British calendar as Wimbledon and the Proms."

The bio adds that Giddings "is an astute businessman and surfs his way between corporate business and rock and roll with sharp skill. He has worked with the most powerful people in the world of live music, notably Live Nation."

Known for his keen wit, Giddings is sure to entertain his CMW audience.


Michael Rapino -  President and Chief Executive Officer of Live Nation: Keynote Interview April 20 Sheraton Hall C, 3--3.50 pm

The Canadian has been President/CEO of Live Nation since 2005, and there is no denying that he is one of the most powerful players in the international music biz.

In 2015,  Billboard placed him at No. 2 on their Power 100 list, up from 4 the year before., and he remained in 2nd place in 2016. That is a heady position for a lad from Thunder Bay.

Under his leadership, the 8,000-employee Beverly Hills-based live-­entertainment giant continues to expand globally and report strong revenue growth.

The Billboard profile in 2015 stated that "When it comes to his leadership strategy, Michael Rapino subscribes to a simple formula: 'low drama, high performance -- we are not ­solving world peace in this industry.'

The piece quoted Apple's Jimmy Iovine (a director on Live Nation's board) declaring that  "Michael Rapino is one of the most exciting executives to come into the music space. He has continued to build on a unique collection of assets that can help the industry move forward."

Superstar singer Shakira is another fan, calling Rapino "a partner in the truest sense of the word. He's one of the smartest guys I know, so it's only natural that I turn to him for counsel and advice when I most need it. He always makes himself available to talk through plans and ideas with me, and on all fronts is a real supporter."

Bono once noted that "people know Michael's reputation as a hugely ­successful businessman, but see him at a show and it's clear what drives him. You'd think every gig is his first, he's such a fan of live music. He's a very special guy -- someone who has dramatically transformed an entire industry but has no drama about himself at all."

Rapino's career in the business began in Thunder Bay, where he first began booking acts (Jeff Healey was his first artist). He explained to Billboard that he was ambitious from a young age. "At 20, I decided there was nothing else I wanted to do in life besides run a global live entertainment company, I was never all that excited about being in the record business, but I loved those two hours [of a show]."

The Globe and Mail reports that Rapino graduated from his hometown university, Lakehead, with a business degree in 1989, then spent a decade at Labatt, much of it as director of entertainment and sports marketing.

After Labatt, Rapino was a partner in Core Audience Entertainment, which was bought by Live Nation in 1999. He later headed Live Nation's European and international music divisions, before being promoted to CEO in 2005.

His career choice has certainly paid off financially. Billboard noted that "he lives in Los Angeles' tony Brentwood neighbourhood, where he ­reportedly paid $14.8 million in 2013 for a 52,000-square-foot estate (his compensation that year: slightly more than $8.9 million).

"As his career has flourished, Rapino has endured some growing pains -- "management of the ego," for one. But power? "I'm not that consumed by it," he says.

"It's very transferable ... I admire the creators. The hardest part about being in business is it takes a certain skill to run the track and another to figure out how to lay the new track."

Personal note: Rapino is married to Jolene Blalock, who played T'Pol on Star Trek: Enterprise. He hired her for a beer commercial in LA, they wed in 2003, and have three sons.



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