Appearances can be deceiving. From the outside, a white-painted building which occupies 1731 Lawrence Avenue East in mid-town Toronto looks like a redesigned school house. Yet step inside the complex and you are confronted with what one music industry type described as “a Disney world for musicians”.
Central to this three-storey operation is Coalition Music, a leading music industry management company which has been operated for the past 30 years by co-partners Robert Lanni and Eric Lawrence. The company’s client roster is anchored by top-selling recording artists such as Simple Plan, Our Lady Peace, Justin Nozuka, and Finger Eleven, and boasts emerging acts like USS, The Balconies, , These Kids Wear Crowns, Halifax native Ben Caplan and Quebec City’s Andee.
Yet allow Coalition Music’s Jesse Mitchell (son of recording artist Kim Mitchell) to take you on an escorted tour of the complex and suddenly you are looking at a catacomb of songwriting and production rooms (containing the latest in Pro Tools and other recording software), rehearsal rooms, a state-of-the- art recording studio (featuring a vintage Neve console) and The Chapel, a performance venue complete with back line, sound and lights and a capacity of up to 50 people.
Aside from the day-to-day activities of operating a highly-successful talent management operation, Lanni and Lawrence have launched two professional development programs; an Artist Entrepreneur Program for emerging artists and a Tour & Tech Program for tour managers, and stage technical personnel. “It’s a case of Eric (Lawrence) and I storing knowledge in our heads that we’ve picked up in over 30 years of being in this business and passing it down to future generations,” noted Coalition Music co-founder Robert Lanni. “Both Eric and I got into this business by accident. My brother Arnold Lanni had just left the group Sheriff, had started his own band, Frozen Ghost (with bassist Wolf Hassel) and needed a manager, so I decided to help out and I brought my best friend Eric (Lawrence) in as a tour manager. Then Arnold decided he would rather be a producer and songwriter than perform on stage so he started working with Our Lady Peace and the management operation took off from there.”
Four years ago, Coalition Music took over their current address which had served as a convent since 1954 and was formerly an schoolhouse, built in the 1920’s by Senator Frank O’Connor, the founder of the Laura Secord confectionery company.
“We have been incubating new talent since moving to this location in 2010,” noted Lanni. “What we offer are 10-week workshops to working artists. We provide hands-on guidance and direction to help potential musicians and people interested in enhancing their skills as artist or tour managers, promoters or stage management personnel. Our emphasis is on business, creative and personal development. There are no diplomas, tests or exams, but rather opportunities for people to pick up hands-on experience from active industry people, producers and songwriters who are in a position to pass along their expertise.”
“The idea of the programs is not only to invest in the creative development of the artists,” added Lawrence, “but also their personal, business and entrepreneurial growth. We are looking for people who are serious about the business.”
Which means that not all candidates are invited into the programs. “There is a screening process,” explained Mitchell. “Some people might not be ready to benefit from a workshop experience. We have to tell them to go away and work on their craft or business and come back when they’re ready, it’s kind of like trying out for a sports team.”
What Coalition Music’s Incubator process does deliver is an intense workshop experience that in the case of the Artist Entrepreneur Program deals in all aspects of the songwriting, performing and recording process, but also focuses on the business aspects of the industry, music publishing, performing rights and other revenue streams, negotiating contracts, touring, and of course social media and how to market your product.
“These days there are only three major record labels and a bunch of independent labels so artists have to make themselves attractive, they have to be fully prepared,” noted Lanni. “It’s like a horse race, why should they bet on you? Our programs will give them these other skills that will make them viable.”
“Each artist is also mentored by a top producer, they work on various aspects of their craft, songwriting, performing and recording,” Lanni explained. “We show them how to be prepared for recording sessions, to have their instruments ready so they’re not wasting valuable studio time. In The Chapel, we hone in on their performance, how to execute a sound check, how to put together a live show and we let them perform in front of a live audience.”
Of course not everyone is cut out to be a performer but Coalition’s Tour & Tech Program also allows budding entrepreneurs to learn the art of artist management or stage management skills. What is needed to be a proficient artist manager, concert promoter or sound engineer. “Neither Eric, Jesse or myself are musicians,” admitted Lanni but we all love music and love being around the industry and we have learned to be proficient in this business.”
Each program costs $7500 for the 10-week, four-days-a-week ( 10 a.m. To 4 p.m.) sessions yet financial awards of up to $5,000 are available for successful applicants. The next Tour and Tech program is set to commence on November 4th and the next Artist Entrepreneur session starts on February 3rd 2015. Those interested should contact Jesse Mitchell at jesse.mitchell@coalitionmusic .com.
Artists signing up for the programs will be interested to know that their participation doesn’t necessarily end after 10 weeks. “Coalition is kind of like Road Side Assistance,” jokes Lanni. “Our goal is to encourage the growth and development of these artists long after they complete the program.”
Everyone who attends the programs are free agents and there are no strings attached to Coalition Music’s management arm although at least two artists from the program, Quebec City’s Andee and Halifax’s Ben Caplan have both been added to the company’s management roster. “In both cases, Andee and Ben were successful within the program and there was a good chemistry between us, but it was their choice not ours for them to be managed by Coalition Music. The onus has to be with the artist.”