It’s good to be the top rock and roll guy in Canada.

Sure the Canadian dollar could be a bit stronger and the economy a bit more robust, but from a music standpoint, Canada is kicking some serious ass right now. Not only are American acts doing incredibly well in the country, but Canada’s own domestic artists are selling more tickets than ever and building a following to help propel them onto the global stage. And with new venues continuing to open in major cities like Edmonton and smaller locales like St. Catherines, more artists are electing to launch Canada-centric tour runs that keep them in the country longer.

Much of the credit for the success of the live music scene goes to Paul Haagenson, President of Live Nation Canada, who has spent the last decade strengthening the country’s gig economy. Live Nation has offices in Toronto and Vancouver as well as Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. Amplify recently caught up with Haagenson to learn what’s new with America’s northern neighbor and to find out why he’s so bullish on the Maple Leaf nation.

What’s keeping you busy in 2017?

We’re doing more shows than ever in more places. It speaks to the fact that people everywhere want to participate in live music. Our job is to get the most artists up here to satisfy the demand, which we’ve proven is really, really healthy. Notwithstanding the dollar, it’s our job to work through this with artists and create a reason for them to come up here.

Is Toronto still the strongest market in Canada?

Yes. We had our biggest year ever at Budweiser Stage. Toronto’s on fire and is one of the best concert markets in the world. It’s got everything. People have re-embraced going down to the lakeshore, as an example, so I’d just say we’re doing more shows, more people on our Bud Stage than we’ve ever done. It all speaks to just giving people the most opportunities to see artists in the best places possible. You look at what Daryl Katz has accomplished in Edmonton, building Rogers Place, one of the most beautiful arenas in the world. It’s completely re-energized the market. We go in and knock down doubles and with artists that previously might not have sold as well. We’re going to do more shows in Edmonton than ever before, and it’s a city of one million people. If we deliver it properly and fairly priced and take care of people in all the right ways, they’re going to keep coming back.

How about the tertiary markets, are they seeing a resurgence like the major cities are experiencing?

Yes and this year’s proved it. There’s more shows in more places than ever before. You get new venues in places like St. Catherines or Moose Jaw. It’s very healthy. They want it as a part of their lives. They want experiences. You knock down a play in between Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Calgary, you want to go pick up another one, and you go play Lethbridge. London’s a fantastic market in Ontario. You go knock down a Kelowna. You can go play Kingston. So that part, again, is healthy and I think that the industry also understands the flexibility in making the financial part of it work. It’s great to get out and service more fans. It’s what people want. They want music.

They want to rock out.

Yeah and they want to be entertained. They want to share. They want to be in social environments, and so we’re doing that. We’re doing more shows in majors, but we’re also doing more shows in secondaries because they’re great markets, and they’re great routing plays. There’s a big distance between small towns and big towns.

What do you think of Roger’s Place, the new Edmonton building?

Oh, it’s mind blowing. Every single person who walks in comes out kind of speechless. From a consumer standpoint, all of the little things to make your experience enjoyable have been taken care of, not to mention the design is beautiful. The access is fantastic, all those things. (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman’s saying it’s the new standard. They’re not all going to be like that, but we keep setting the bar higher and more people are going to go to shows. That goes for everybody.

What are some Canadian acts that you believe are poised to break out in 2017?

Definitely City and Colour. Alessia Cara, Nav, PartyNextDoor, Jessie Reyez and Daniel Caesar are all very strong. The best play is when these artists decide to go commit to a Canada run and the whole thing blows out. Same thing with Bryan Adams, who will go out and play small markets. From a fan perspective, it’s phenomenal. These guys are going out and literally giving it up to the people, and they all sell out.

When these tours get booked, are you seeing more of the agents and managers saying, “Let’s increase the Canada run,” or just do straight Canada-only tours? 

I think everybody just recognizes the health of the country and the health of the industry. It’s a sort of open dialogue, and our job is just to create as much opportunity for these artists and to take them everywhere we can and deliver them to as many fans as we can. And it’s definitely well-received. Agents and managers are really open to it.

Live Nation has always been a big acquisition company, but you don’t see a ton of acquisition activity in Canada. Why is that?

It’s time to build beyond the healthy platform that exists and time to reimagine, reinvent and grow. We plan to continue to create live music-first venues and sites that accentuate the power of the live experience — that goes for clubs to boutique outdoor sites, all the way to a signature and spectacular festival site. Demand for live music is at all time high and we need to deliver the experience for people in the very best environments. 

Interesting.

We’re just making sure that we stay on top of everything, and like I say, it’s all about creating the right opportunities.

Live Nation has its headquarters in California in the US, but it has a lot of Canadians that are key to the company. Do you think the Canadian side gets a little boost because of the backgrounds of people like CEO Michael Rapino?

We still have to hold our own. Michael pushes everybody hard, and I think everything’s got to stand on its own merit.

You don’t get a break as you’re a fellow Canadian? Don’t you have a secret handshake?

No. No. There’s a polite wave maybe, but no break and no secret handshake.

So what about festivals? When is Toronto going to get its own Lollapalooza?

We’re working on it, trying to put a couple pieces together and make a killer site. We’ve got a little work to do there and tie up a couple ends on that one. We’re trying to create the optimal lane to take care of people properly. If you’re going to do it, you got to do it right.

What’s been the biggest change for you in recent years?

I think we’re just continuing to acknowledge that we have a great domestic industry. We’ve gone far beyond ‘How many American acts can we get up here?’ That’s important, but how much time we spend in the Canadian domestic industry is also really important to us. And I think it absolutely can’t get overlooked. July Talk and the Arkells are going to sell out Bud Stage this year. City and Colour is a global artist. Here is a band that sold 32,000 tickets over two nights at Bud Stage and then goes and takes his solo show into towns like Courtenay and Trail, B.C., playing 500 seaters and thrilling people beyond belief.

I always point to the success of Rival Sons who have broken through to American audiences.

Not to mention the huge success of Drake and the Weeknd. There’s a whole pile of domestic artists that have really healthy careers who we support because they’re all going to the next global level after some healthy development here in Canada. This country is punching above its weight class in terms of its global impact on music, and that comes from a really healthy domestic industry that supports each other and facilitates opportunities.

Dave Brooks
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Dave Brooks

Founder & Executive Editor at Amplify Media
Dave Brooks has over 15 years experience as a writer, including eight years as the Managing Editor of Venues Today. He started Amplify in 2014 to give the industry its own voice and turn up the volume on live entertainment.
Dave Brooks
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