Industry Insider: Canadian Idol judge Jake Gold; CEO of The Management Trust

March 8, 2012

Industry Insider - Jake Gold
Our latest ‘Insider‘ is a famed International Artist Manager whose image is synonymous with the television series Canadian Idol, after his appearance on the judging panel for six seasons of the popular talent show. He has established himself as a key player on the international music scene over the space of three decades, and been an instrumental force in the development and sustenance of notable artists’ careers such as: The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, Big Wreck, Crash Karma, Adam Cohen; and Sass Jordan; His innovative management company also represents an impressive award winning lineup of well established Producers and Sound Engineers (‘Doc’ McKinney, Jeff Wolpert, Laurence Currie, Maks Gabriel, Marvin Dolgay, ‘Me & John’, Moe Berg; Russell Broom; twin unit “Ryandan”; and Terry Brown).

Born in America, but raised in Canada, Jake Gold is Director and CEO of Toronto-based Music Professional management company, The Management Trust (referred to in short as ‘MGM Trust’). Gold has been awarded ‘Manager of the Year’ three times by the Canadian Music Industry; and he shares the running of his business with Shelley Stertz, and the ‘entrepreneurial’ force that is Dani Matte. In addition to his work as a sought after manager, Gold is also Vice-Chairman for CIMA, the organisation responsible for global representation and advancement of independent Canadian artists. Jake is a board member for the MMF (Music Managers Forum); he sits on the advisory board of the OMDC; and has been either moderator or panelist at Australia’s Pacific Music Conference, Pollstar’s Concert Industry Consortium, Vancouver’s NewMusicWest, CMJ, SXSW, North By Northeast and Canadian Music Week.

Ngawara Madison caught up with Jake Gold at London’s prestigious Landmark Hotel last week, for a chat about his role in his clients careers; in particular, Adam Cohen’s current international tour; what makes for a good ‘Idol’ audition; the pros and cons of catchy pop songs; the process of ‘artist development’; and got his definition of ‘the X Factor’: “They make people feel something that they didn’t feel before they saw them.”

* Jake Gold with Hedley star, Jacob Hoggard when he appeared as a contestant on Canadian Idol:

This conversation touches on:

The logistics of the business of Career Management
The organic evolution of Jake Gold’s business.
The similarities between Artist management, and Producer management.
The ongoing nature of an artist’s commercial development.
Advice for a good ‘Idol’ audition
How to get on Jake Gold’s radar [don’t approach him until you NEED him!]
The distinction between a ‘Pop act’ and a ‘Creator’.
What makes a star : “you know – the intangible..”
The subjective nature of music: “I cant deny that I like particular songs, but it doesn’t mean then that I like the artist..”

(Interview Below)

Jake Gold

Ngawara Madison, Music Vice: Hi Jake! Your company [The Management Trust] represents producers AND artists. How do the two roles compare and how did you become involved in these two provisions? Is it regular for music managers to represent a range of client types, or it is more regular for managers to stick to one particular client niche?

Jake Gold: I think I kind of fell into the Producer Management thing! I’ve managed artists for a long time – over thirty years! I fell into it because I have a lot of experience negotiating contracts, and I’ve seen lots of producer’s agreements. I also have a really good staff that can deal with a lot of the logistics involved; you know: billing, understanding royalties, those kinds of things… Really, a lot of it is the same in that it’s all ‘career management’.

Was the evolution of your clientèle base a planned thing, or an organic move?

Jake: Yeah… It sort of just happened, you know! I had one guy approach me saying,“I need you to look after my business!”… So I started to look after his business… and then another guy approached me and said: “You know, I’ve heard you’re working with this guy – can you do the same for me?” and I was like, “Sure, I can do that!”

Then before you know it, there was another one! Then I met this woman called Danni Matte – she was this young woman just out of school – kinda entrepreneurial – and at the time, she was managing a young producer – so I said:
‘Why don’t you come work with me? I’ll teach you the business, and you can head up that division!”

Now Danni and I have like 14 producers/engineers/mastering engineers! They are all symbiotic because sometimes our producers are working with our artist clients; sometimes our mastering guys are mastering our producers’ stuff; sometimes our engineers are the engineers on some of our producers’ stuff…

It sounds like a record label – you have your personal team all involved with the same project at once…

Jake: Yeah, but its not a record label because we’re not actually making the records – our producers are making the records with an act; we’re not putting up money for the records to be made…

How do you come into the situation then?

Jake: We’re the “other half of the deal” in a lot of ways…

How about your artists that you manage; how do you find them? Someone from a Licensing Protection Agency said to me a while ago that the current industry motto is: “If you are right and you are ready, we’ll find you!” What is to be said for an artist showing initiative in going out and looking for the ‘right’ people to work with on their new ‘undiscovered’ project?

Jake: Its interesting you say that, because it makes me think back to when I first started out in the business. I remember taking a meeting with an A&R person – it was an assistant A&R person in New York when I was first starting out – and this person said to me, “It’s cliché but the strong salmon swim to the top; and we sit at the top waiting for them to come!”.

So you don’t necessarily ‘seek out’ the talent? You just observe emerging talent and and let the key players come to you?

Jake: I could be running around looking for ‘the next big thing’, but its not in my nature! I’m looking for someone who is out there creating a buzz on their own already – someone who shows they’ve got some initiative.

More and more people keep saying that! Its like the industry has changed its methods over the past generation; it’s not like back in the 1960s, when Talent Scouts were out there actively seeking artists for development deals. Nowadays there’s so much eager talent out there, it seems the industry can afford to wait until the last minute before getting involved. It seems that the idea of the ‘Development Deal’ seems to have gone out the window…

Jake: No, you still need to develop [the artist] – its all still raw! You still need to develop it! There is always some kind of development process going on. That is unless the [act and music] is just perfect the way it is!

True. There’s always room for improvement, we’ve all had that engrained into us at school!

Jake: Yeah! I mean even as a manager, your job is to always remain objective and look at the situation and say:
“How can I make this better?”; and “What are the little things I can do to make this act more marketable?”;
and have a little tinkering here and there. Even things like my relationship with Adam [Cohen] – there will be moments where I will say: “You should try this instead of that”, and he’ll say “That’s a good idea! Yeah maybe I will!”
In that sense, the development of an artist is a continuous thing.

Isn’t that relying on the fact that the artist [at the point of their linking up with you], has already done as much as they singularly can, to advance their career? You’re coming in when they have already proved they can do it, to an extent, on their own…

Jake: That’s the definition – I don’t think an artist needs a manager until that point.

Until that point – so amateur musicians who think they ‘need a manager’ or ‘need an agent’ just because that is the ‘done thing’; are those individuals misplaced in their understanding of how it all works?

Jake: I think in the case of a pop act – like Justin Bieber for example – I think what you’re dealing with there is, a complete packaging system. That’s not my world. I’m not interested in being the guy who hires the choreographer, and then chooses the clothes, the haircut, the dancers… and to that extent, the songs!! You know that’s not my thing. Its not my world. I work with people who are creators.

Creators as opposed to commercialised ‘pawns’ controlled by an organisation?

Jake: Yeah..

There is a guy I know in Toronto who came up with this whole band concept – he wrote all the tunes, and worked out how he wanted to promote the project, and then he went out and sourced his ‘Good looking Lead Guitarist’, his ‘Hot Female Lead Singer’, his ‘Edgy Rock Drummer’, etc.
People who do not know the facts about this band look at the band members and assume that the act came together organically, but in fact, it was a planned set up. By your definition, in that situation, would that producer be the creator over the musicians? Are the band members purely his ’employees’?

Jake: Right, exactly, its like Disney! That’s not my world.

Ngawara: So there’s two ways of doing it?

Jake: Well, not for me! For me there’s one way of doing it! Some people say “We just need to find a talented person and we’ll figure the rest out from there”; but I will tell you that I don’t work with people who I don’t think – for lack of a better term, and it sounds a little trite – that I don’t think are stars. ‘Stars’ is talking about the ‘X Factor’, you know – the intangible – and that is important. To me that is the whole point of it all! “Do they make people feel something that they didn’t feel before they saw them?” That is key for me…

I like that idea, its like a memorable presence, or impression that is left on the audience after a performance…

Jake: Yeah, its a feeling you know. Its like… music’s emotional, you know.

Some of it doesn’t seem to me to be that way. I think a lot of the so called ‘music’ they play in nightclubs these days is godawful noise! It can hardly be deemed ‘music’!

Jake: No that’s a subjective observation. All music is emotional – it just depends on what emotions it stirs in you. It doesn’t necessarily mean its positive emotion! And what stirs you and doesn’t stir you – what even pisses you off – could make another person feel an entirely different way! I’m not personally a ‘Pop Music’ guy – its never been my thing – and yet there are a lot of people that really love Pop Music because it makes them happy and makes them want to dance. That has never been my thing personally.

What is your ‘thing’ then?

Jake: I don’t know… I’m much more…ah, I like things that are a little ‘left’. Yeah. Not to say I don’t appreciate a really good song. There are some really good songs that are considered ‘Super Pop’, that I like; but its never been my ‘scene’. I can’t deny that I like particular songs – but it doesn’t mean then that I like the artist personally.

I guess that is the nature of dubjective things – you can acknowledge something or someone as being good in its league… but at the same time, admit its not your personal ‘cup of tea’ as it were…

Jake: There are some pop songs that I actually like though.

But then don’t particularly like the production or image?

Jake: Yeah, like that “Tonight’s gonna be a good night” song* by the Black Eyed Peas! The first time I heard that song I went “wow listen to this!”; and then I was like “Oh that’s the Black Eyed Peas”. I started listening to the lyrics and I was like “Oh this is annoying!”

[*’I got a feeling’ by The Black Eyed Peas (Youtube link)]

Ngawara: [Laughs]

Jake: But the chorus was so good, and even the voices are really good…. its just when they get into the whole rap stuff/part of it…

Which is where the bands personality really comes out! That is where the Black Eyed Peas image and artistic personality is layered on top of the song…

Jake: Yeah that… but the rest of the song is good. Its a really good pop song! You can’t deny its great melodies, and everything else… I love melody! I mean what were the Beatles – they were pure melody, and great pop songs.

I can appreciate songwriting skills on their own, as separate from the artist’s interpretation of the song, if that’s what you mean. I guess a good example of separating the artist from the song is always Dolly Parton’s song “I will always Love You”, which was famously sung by Whitney Houston. There you have two classic versions of the same song [Dolly and Whitney], and most people will have a clear favourite out of the two. Its a subjective thing, which version you prefer, which singer you prefer, and which approach to the song you’d prefer… but there’s no denying it is a well written song.

Jake: Well yeah, I mean listen, there’s also different interpretations of songs too… Its like you know, think about Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. How many versions of that exist? I think there are thousands…

Probably hundreds of thousands!

Jake: Go on Youtube, there’s probably a million! That reminds me of a funny story someone was telling me the other day – they were watching the audition part of American Idol the other day, and some guy comes in, and when the judges ask him what he’s going to sing, he says: “I’m going to do a gospel song, um, its from the movie ‘Shrek’ and its called ‘Hallelujah’!”

[laughs] A gospel song from Shrek! Wow. Its amazing how some classics can be lost I translation!

Jake: And J-Lo just went [pulls baffled face]

*Here is the link to the mentioned audition:

I suppose in some ways, we’re at that point now where there are these amazing classic songs that people are covering; and the younger section of society are not old enough to know the original songs so they think these covers are ‘originals’! “If Tomorrow Never Comes” being sung by Ronan Keating; Avril Lavigne singing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and a stack of Beatles and Cat Stevens tunes being covered by every boyband and their dog! I guess regardless of how people discover these songs, its good that the music is still being appreciated… albeit in young peoples ignorance of the songs original situation and composer…

Jake: No, no – I’m not saying it’s good or bad! I am just saying it’s interesting that if you choose to do a song for your Idol audition that you wouldn’t look into it and at least make out that you know what you’re talking about – it’s so easy to find out who wrote it just by Googling it!

Adam Cohen at Union Chapel, London - photo by Rob Hargreaves, Music Vice
Adam Cohen

I suppose especially if you’re going for that one shot audition scenario.

Jake: Yeah, you want people to think you know what you’re talking about!

I wanted to just touch on your managerial role with Adam Cohen. With Adam, how did you come to manage him?

Jake: Michael who plays in Adam’s band introduced us. We have a mutual friend in LA, and Michael was talking to me about Adam..

How long ago was that?

Jake: Let’s see.. a year ago, Late September?

You said the other night, that a lot of the music that is on this new record, a lot of the songs – they were written twenty odd years ago. How is that, when we as an audience listen to the collection of songs, they come across so ‘now’, so relevant to his current act?

Jake: Well, it was recorded recently.

NSo the recording is what brings the collection together?

Jake: It was recorded all at the same time, so yeah.

But it still feels like the subject matter of it, really suits the way he comes across now…

Jake: Well, yeah, its still all about him. I think that his story is pretty much out there. But for those who don’t know… Adam basically avoided ‘recording’ songs that were anything like his fathers. He had written tonnes of songs that sounded like his father – but he hadn’t recorded any of them. His friends would hear all these great songs of his and ask him why he wouldn’t record them; and he would always say “Well its kinda too much like my dad..”. Then finally Pat Leonard said to him, “Well you have to record these songs! You have these amazing songs. It doesn’t make sense not to record them! So I’m going to record them with you. We’ll go into my studio. Ill produce them, we’re going to make this record..” and that’s what happened. So I think – and it’s like you said earlier, “a good song is a good song” – how you record it, the approach, etc; these things can be changed to present the song as current, commercially, regardless of when the song was actually written.

I suppose the thing with songs is that we’re talking about a relationship between an artist and a tune. It’s possible to grow with a song and have it almost evolve with you. Adam has found a way for his songs to move with him and remain as relevant to him, and the audience, as the day they were penned.

Jake: Perhaps any difference [between the original songs and the recent recordings of the collection] is more of a change in the instrumentation. I’ve never heard the original versions, just the recent ones. So I wouldn’t know. But when he played me this record I knew straight away, “there’s something special here”.

© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice

Internet link: The Management Trust
Related link: Adam Cohen at Union Chapel, London – Music Vice review and photos

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