Paul Fairley appreciates the value of a sound education. As a graduate of the highly respected Harris Institute (Toronto) where the Barrie native earned a Recording Arts Management diploma in 2006, Fairley developed his skills that have stood him in good stead while creating his own Admiral Entertainment concert promotion business based out of Barrie Ontario.
“Had I not come through the experience of the Harris Institute and a further one-year scholarship at the university in Paisley Scotland, I don’t think I would have made it this far,” explained Fairley on the phone from Barrie as he plots his big two summer events; the New Music Fest in Barrie (July 17-18) and a similar New Music Fest staged in Sudbury (August 28-29), both sponsored by Budweiser. “The promotion business is super tough, but I had a lot of the know-how tools going in to this business. Had I not had these tools, I would have had to learn this stuff by trial and error, which in this business can be very expensive.”
While at The Harris Institute, Fairley had formulated plans for a Toronto entertainment based company but those plans were put on hold when he was selected by Harris to receive a scholarship to attend the University of the West of Scotland, in Paisley. “It was a great experience but it put my original plans on hold. When I returned home in 2007 I was flat broke and had to move in with my parents who lived in Alliston, ON.”
One of Fairley’s instructors at Harris was former Warner Music Canada’s A&R chief Bob Roper who fascinated Fairley with his many stories of working in the music industry during the golden years of the early Eighties and Nineties. “Yes I heard all the stories about him working with Blue Rodeo and Honeymoon Suite and him being the A&R person of record in originally signing Rush,” enthused Fairley. “Out of this, I got a thrill when booking Honeymoon Suite at one of the first venues I was booking north of Toronto.
As drummer in Toronto based band Undone, Fairley also acted as the groups co-manager and when the band dissolved, he thought about calling his evolving promotions business Undone Entertainment. After realizing this would be disrespectful to the former members, instead he compiled a list of some 500 names until his father suggested Admiral Entertainment.
Starting small in 2008, Admiral executed a number of local battle of the band events and this quickly evolved into formulating a New Music Festival. “At that time live music was very popular but dance music (which soon after became the EDM craze) young people we less and less going to live rock events,” noted Fairley. “But I believe that is on a turn now. We started the New Music concept in a bunch of rooms with a wrist-band policy but as we attracted corporate sponsors and various grants, we were able to build the concept to its present Festival status and in 2012 we were able to expand the concept to Sudbury.
Fairley admits the festival’s New Music title can be a bit of a misnomer as they also schedule established bands like this year’s lineup which includes Big Wreck (at both venues) and Scott Weiland and his new Wildabouts along with Down With Webster and USS in Barrie and Moist joining Big Wreck and a Country Music night featuring Tim Hicks and Kira Isabella in Sudbury. However, Fairley points out that even the established bands have new music released and their lineups also accommodate a number of new touring and local artists.
According to Fairley, featuring Country Music artists is a bona fide crowd puller and even thought of adding a Country Music Night to their Barrie show until Boots And Hearts announced they were moving their major festival from Bowmanville, East of Toronto to the nearby Burl’s Creek Event Ground at Oro-Medonte, located on the east side of Lake Simcoe from Barrie.
The Boots and Hearts festival (August 6-9) along with the debuting Wayhome Music Festival (July 24-26) and even the more established Kempenfest (July 31-August 3), then add Casino Rama concerts and other events scheduled by Fairley’s local rivals, suddenly makes for a congested landscape in the coming months, yet Fairley is confident that his New Music events will continue to thrive.
“At the end of the day, it’s about location, talent, ticket price and promotion,” he noted. “Our goal is to promote new music in this area and with our New Music Fest’s, I believe we achieve these goals.”
Fairley is encouraged by a `new renaissance’ of domestic talent that has developed recently and notes that the likes of Arkells, The Glorious Sons, Monster Truck, USS, Hard Luck Sons, Gloryhound and even, Kelowna B.C newcomers, Wilde!, are injecting a sort of new blood into the live music scene.
“With a lot of these bands, you see so much potential. You never know where they are going to end up,” observed Fairley. “I booked Glorious Sons as a warm-up act for like $100 a couple of years ago. What seemed like a few months later, they are bumping AC/DC’s latest single from #2 on the Canadian Rock Charts. Being able to play a small part in that growth is a really cool feeling.”
At a time when actual record sales are decreasing and there is an increased impetuous for bands to perform live for a living, Fairley, like most venue promoters, has at times struggled to maintain sustainable attendances at key local venues. He has curtailed activities at a number of regional venues to focus his attention on his Barrie-based Sound Empire Concert Hall which he, along with a group of partners are in the process of converting back to The Roxy Theatre, which was a long-time area landmark.
“Canada is so vast, the cities are so far apart. In Britain you have like 60 million people in a space that can fit into Southern Ontario, while in Canada to reach 30 million people you have to travel the entire stretch of the country,” Fairley observed. “It’s a challenge for Western bands touring East or Eastern Bands touring West, but as a promoter you do what you can to support that. We do our best to include bands from all over North America in our festivals.”
There’s no doubt that being a concert promoter is a challenging profession and Fairley is grateful to the valuable education he received at Harris and overseas in Scotland. “The biggest mistake you make as a promoter is to pay over the odds for artists that you’re personally a huge fan of,” he observed. “You can get so excited about booking a band that your offer becomes way beyond what the market will bear and I’ve done that – but have learned from these and other mistakes. Some things they just can’t teach you in school.”
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