Ron at home during lockdown. Pic: Tammy Kitchener
Ron at home during lockdown. Pic: Tammy Kitchener

Working Through Lockdown with RGK's Ron Kitchener

Kitchener’s integrated music entertainment company RGK Entertainment straddles the border with offices in Toronto and Nashville. He struck a pot of gold at start-up when his Open Road Recordings snagged limited Canadian rights to burgeoning crossover country act Taylor Swift. Since then he has built a sizeable empire with a roster of Canadian acts that includes Tim Hicks, The Road Hammers, Hunter Brothers, Sons Of Daughters, Jessica Mitchell and Madeline Merlo. He’s one of Canada’s hardest working and most successful music entrepreneurs and artist managers. We caught up with him to find out how lockdown was affecting him and the acts he works with.

We're almost two months into quarantine, how are your businesses doing financially?

Ron Kitchener: We’ve always been a management-first focused business with a label to develop artists for the global market. Now for the sake of planning, we have to pro-actively consider the rest of year based highly on revenue from streaming and licensing, this will make for a rough p & l but it is what it is. We are committed to our roster and the long game as always, so we will weather the storm, let’s just hope it’s not too long of one. 

Have you or will you apply for any federal help to assist you in keeping staff on the payroll and what does it mean for you working on both sides of the border? 

RK: Our business manager and I are looking at all options right now. While we are good for the short term. The unknown of “getting back to normal”  makes it difficult to budget on some expansion plans that were previously being considered.  I am blessed with a great creative and hard-working team and we will maintain all current full-time staff as we are quite stacked with music releases and keeping our artists busy online; catering to and growing their communities.  As for our office and business in Nashville remains the same other than I am unable to be there every other week. 

How is the lockdown affecting your roster of acts?

RK: No one is panicking, it’s our role as managers to figure out ultimately how revenue can be earned even when out of our control so lots of communication on how short term reality should not affect the long term goals. 

So in the meantime everyone’s staying focused and keeping busy creatively and promotionally, there’s certainly added concerns about the musicians and crew that have been loyal over the years and they will all take a hit financially. Country music, for the most part, means the most profitable earnings are across summer dates for new to mid-level artists.  However, artists like Tim Hicks who headlines his own shows more than he plays festivals had a unique ’20 touring and music release strategy spread out over 8 months so that’s been altered a bit.

While it’s a by-product of unfortunate times, amazing things happen when creative minds have extra time on hands. Hunter Brothers released a stripped-down version of a new song that provides hope and support at this time, called Just Wanted You To Know, and Jason McCoy’s We Are One initiative is very inspiring and came together quite fast with the amazing support of artists and musicians worldwide

Is RGK involved in any community fundraising projects?

RK: All the artists (and some with the help of sponsors) have been involved in multiple local and national events and exclusive “online concerts” to raise funds and awareness. Our roster and my personal focused support targets are local food banks, local health care and Unison.  We are working on two initiatives now; one in tandem with a client and another because it’s a fun idea that we hope attracts some partners.   

What notable roster moments have taken place at RGK since mid-March?

RK: We are stoked about new music on the horizon from Hunter Brothers, Tim Hicks and soon from Sons Of Daughters and The Road Hammers!  And while we have been so excited about unleashing new Madeline Merlo music (three new songs out now), we’ve been blessed with the bonus of her appearing on NBC’s Songland season premiere episode and winning the opportunity to collaborate with Lady Antebellum on a song which fast forward has now become a major single release to USA radio. By nature of many eyeballs watching that show, it’s elevated her profile and we are wonderfully buried in media requests and opportunities.  The time is right for the world to discover Madeline as she’s developed into an amazing multi-talented artist!

How are you keeping your spirits alive with the family here in Ontario?

RK: While no one would ever wish for a “break” like this when you are on the go like I have been for many years, it’s good to take a wider view on life priorities, do new things with the family you’ve never had the chance to without the benefit of going away on vacation.  While the work hours during the week are still heavy and aside from a little added time to catch up on Mexican recipes, documentaries and non-fiction books, I am hopeful that when things resume back to some sense of normalcy, we will apply ourselves to a new business reality; progressive or challenging and we will have to work even harder collectively to remind consumers of how important entertainment and live music events are to our well-being.

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