Gilles Paquin hasn't just been in the arts and entertainment business for the past four decades -- the business is in his blood.
As the veteran manager and founder/CEO of Paquin Entertainment Group -- a full-service, Winnipeg- and Toronto-based entertainment company with four divisions: Artist Management, Artists Agency, Theatre & Film and Corporate Services -- Paquin helps artists build viable careers and realize their potential. For him, management is a calling.
Paquin, 61, began his career in the mid-1970s as a television director and producer at the CBC. He went on to become a successful concert/live-event promoter and producer, working with the likes of Billy Joel, Muddy Waters, David Bowie, Neil Young, Bill Cosby, Metallica, The Police, Alabama, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno and Tina Turner.
In 1985, Paquin founded Paquin Entertainment Group. His vision: an entertainment company that respected the creative process. His business model expanded to include the Artists Agency -- which today represents over 150 artists, including Tegan and Sara, Serena Ryder, K'Naan and more -- and Koba Entertainment, Paquin's family entertainment division, which has been mounting large-scale touring shows such as The Backyardigans, Toopy and Binoo and more since 2004. Paquin personally manages Randy Bachman, Bachman & Turner, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Del Barber.
Artistic passion is a Paquin family value -- Gilles is married to Koba's artistic director, Patti Caplette. His son, Julien Paquin, is president of the artists agency, while his other son, Justin Paquin, is a project manager of business development. His daughter, Tarina Paquin, is a professional dancer.
Nearly 30 years later, Paquin Entertainment Group is now roundly regarded as one of Canada's foremost entertainment agencies. On May 8, Gilles will be fêted with a Music Managers Forum Honour Roll Award at Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Free Press music writer Jen Zoratti sat down with him for a conversation about what makes an honour-roll-worthy manager.
FP: What does this award mean to you?
GP: When I got the announcement, I was surprised, actually. I've never felt completely in the music community in Canada sometimes, and that's more my own insecurity, if you will. When I started (managing), my focus was always more the south, the U.S. I really started dealing more in Los Angeles and Nashville and New York. I always felt a slight prejudice towards Toronto -- a prejudice which was probably broken years ago, but you hold onto things for a long time. I'm the first Winnipegger to receive this award; usually, people are from Vancouver or Toronto. I was happy and surprised.
FP: Let's talk about the beginnings of Paquin. What made you want to transition out of a promoter role and into a management role?
GP: My sense of representing artists and taking care of them was a strong, strong drive. There was no mentorship, there was no Manitoba Film and Music. So in those days, I was trying to figure out the definitions of what I was even doing. What's a manager? What's a promoter? What's an agent? What's a publicist? The artists I was representing weren't being fulfilled by the agencies that were around at the time. I was learning from my relationships in L.A., where the agencies were more evolved, and I feel like that wasn't happening in Canada yet. So I started an agency to help my artists.
FP: What qualities make for a good manager?
GP: Good question. First of all, you have to be able to tell who a good artist is. It doesn't matter what level that artist is at in their career, you have to be able to go, 'That artist is an artist I can manage and take to the next level.' Artists need managers to grow. And a manager has to be able to know what artists have the potential to grow. You have to be able to listen to the artist -- and truly listen. You've got to have taste, and I'm not saying that idly. What you're doing is you're trying to get your artist to the world. And a manager needs to love artists.
FP: And your success depends on each other.
GP: Ultimately, I think that the welfare of the artist is absolutely crucial and, as a manager, I have to make it my No. 1 priority. When I see artists out there like Justin Bieber -- I wouldn't manage an artist at 15 or 16. I just wouldn't do it. That is morally reprehensible to me, to do that to a young kid. I don't care how big you become. When I'm taking to an artist, the fact that they're a great performer or a great songwriter is hugely important -- but if they don't like touring, if they don't like to be away from the family, I'm out the door. The greatest hardship in this business is travelling. Some people can do it and some people can't. You're also dealing with all these decisions that artists don't talk about -- decisions of alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, too much travelling. That is what makes or breaks careers. That becomes a crucial part of my everyday life. I need to decide, "How far do I push? And how far do I get pushed back."