Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interview With Musician/Songwriter/Producer ROB LAIDLAW

I got a lot of positive feedback from the interview I did with Liam Killeen last time so here's another great one that will leave everyone with some new perspective and valuable advice. My good buddy Rob Laidlaw won't require much of an introduction here because the first question of the interview will explain who he is and why you should seriously consider what he has to say. So without further ado (I always wanted to say that), Rob Laidlaw!

1. Tell us a little about your musical history and how you fell into the roles of producer/songwriter and studio/touring musician.

I started playing and writing at the age of 14. I started on the six string guitar and picked up the bass at 18. I was signed to my first real record deal at 19 with a band called New Regime (RCA). We toured extensively through Canada ourselves and opened for major acts (David Bowie, Platinum Blonde, Level 42, Billy Idol, Cheap Trick, etc). After three years and two CDs we were dropped and I started touring as a side man with major Canadian acts (Lee Aaron, Kim Mitchell, Alannah Myles, Honeymoon Suite, Rough Trade etc). In 1998 I had come off a world tour and was burnt and needed to recharge. I invested in some ADATS (digital multi-track recorders) with an engineer friend and we started our own production company. We worked with all kinds of indie bands and serious majors. In 2002 I wrote and produced RCA recording artist Blaise Pascal and had three top-10 singles, a JUNO Songwriter of the Year nomination and tons of film and TV placements. In 2004 I was offered an in-house residency at a major downtown Toronto club and began booking and playing there every weekend. This was a great experience as it afforded me the opportunity to hire some serious 80s and current acts, i.e. Mike Reno (Loverboy) Jimi Jamison (Survivor) Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple/Rainbow) the Trews, Steriogram, Blue Rodeo and many more. The 80s acts have lead to great corporate gigs that I still play with to this day.

2. What specific things do you look for in an artist before you’ll work with them?

I look for originality and innate talent. I, like you and your partners, often develop young up-and-coming artists who won’t have experience, but ultimately there has to be a spark, and that is something some people are born with. You can’t fake the ”it“ factor.

3. Are there any common weaknesses you’ve seen among bands you’ve worked with past and present?

Yes there are several, but the most common I have seen is live chops vs studio chops, two very different things. Live players can get away with being fairly good players provided they aren’t completely messing up. The studio on the other hand is all about precise, clean execution with a great feel!! i.e. playing ahead of the beat, playing behind or right on top of the beat. All very important skills that require years of practice and dedication.
Songwriting is a very important skill and a muscle that needs to be exercised all the time. I have seen many bands/artists who think 4-8 minute tunes are the shit, yet they listen to contemporary pop/rock radio and wonder how artists who aren’t as good as them get airplay. There is a formula that exists for songwriting and it works! It's not rocket science. Use the tools available, listen to what goes into constructing a hit or a great song and analyze it. This is the MUSIC BUSINESS! Start with the tried and true examples right in front of you. Access radio or the internet for bands that have it right. It's called pop music because the masses deemed it popular. Having said that, there are always exceptions to the rule and rules are meant to be broken, just don't kill yourself beating a dead horse. LISTEN!

4. We’ve seen bands waste months, or even years, focusing their energy on the unimportant. What kinds of things should they be focusing their attention on to maximize their time?

Bands should spend time collectively working on their songs, live presentation and surrounding themselves with a solid team i.e. producer, management, booking agent, label (indie or major) and hustle their asses off every day. You can’t expect someone to work harder for you than you will work for yourself. PERSEVERANCE AND PERSISTENCE ARE PARAMOUNT!

5. You’ve had a lot of studio experience through the years. What advice would you give to bands to best prepare them for the recording process?

The first record I got to play on was as a sideman. Live I kicked ass on this project slapping and ripping my way through songs. The producer came out and said, "Hell ya! You can play on this record." I spent three fmailto:f%23$%25$%23@!ing hours trying to lay down a basic bass pattern and the producer said, "Thanks dude, but no thanks, you're wasting time and money." I went out and bought a doctor beat drum machine and wood shedded three hours a day for two months, had another shot and nailed it. I never went to the studio again without having my shite together as a player and my gear in top shape. So, long story short, be prepared musically and arrangementally with your songs, 'cause once the light is red, if you're not ready, you're dead (not literally).

6. You’ve played bass for countless platinum-selling artists. What are some of the common characteristics that could and should be adopted by up-and-coming artists who are serious about having a career?

Killer songs, killer live show, killer attitude and don’t take no for an answer. Alanis Morissette was a 10-year overnight sensation. It takes time and the right timing for awesome careers to take off. Work harder than everyone around you and be wise. Surround yourself with people you admire and respect.

7. What projects are you currently involved in?

I am working with a new band from Ajax called 48 Calibre (great pop/rock),
Erica James (Rick James' niece), a killer soul/rock project, Platinum Blonde's new project and I'm heading down to L.A. and Nashville for writing and developing artists in the coming months.


8. Are there any new artists out there that you’re interested in working with?

Ya there are several. It's an exciting time in the industry right now. Everyone has access to more and the world is getting smaller and communications stronger. I am always looking for new and talented people, ya got any for me Sean ol buddy ol pal??? Thanks, and anyone interested in connecting can contact me at robbass2000@hotmail.com.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I recently got in touch with a friend of mine to discuss some things relating to the music business and what he does as an artist manager at Coalition Entertainment in Toronto. Liam Killeen was gracious enough to lend his time and insight and I think you'll all get a lot out of this, so I encourage you to take the time to read this interview.


Liam began as the drummer in a pop/punk band you may know called Not By Choice from 2002 to 2005 enjoying a good deal of success in the form of a major record deal, two top-ten singles, a Much Music Video Award and international tours with Sum 41, Simple Plan, Avril Lavigne and many more. He spent the next three years out on the road as the tour manager for Thornley, Metric, Faber Drive, Idle Sons, April Wine and Simple Plan in addition to playing live with Rex Goudie, Cute Is What We Aim For and Thornley. In early 2009 he joined Rob Lanni and Eric Lawrence at Coalition Entertainment and he's currently managing acts such as Hail The Villain, Faber Drive and producer Greig Nori (Sum 41, Iggy Pop, Ludacris, Hedley, Marianas Trench, The New Cities).


1. How did you make the transition from being in bands to managing bands?

When it looked like Not By Choice was coming to an end, I think everyone was pretty burnt out when it came to the industry. I was the only one that really wanted to stick with it and see what else was going on. I started to take on a few sessions for bands that needed a drummer on their records. Fortunately, Not By Choice still meant something and I was able to get some good gigs which got my name out there. At the same time, I started breaking into tour management. Making budgets, dealing with logistics, just putting it all together really interested me. Between playing and tour managing, I was starting to burn out. Developing new talent has always been something I was into, so I was able to go into Coalition with a pretty decent resume. It feels like a very natural fit.

2. What do you and your partners at Coalition look for in a band before you’ll take them on?

Songs. I know that sounds so simple, but it’s not. I get pitched on 10-15 bands a week, all of them with a gimmick, or good fashion sense, or a good work ethic etc etc. At the end of the day, if I’ve listened to your demo once or twice and can’t remember a particular song the next day, or even the next week…you’re not ready. Everyone seems to focus on the aesthetics of a band, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it plays a part…but you can teach someone how to dress, you can’t teach them to write amazing songs. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on the recording, or who you got to produce it… just make sure that at the end of the day, you’re confident about the music. Dedication is a close second. You need to realize that you’re not going to make much money, and potentially going to live in a van for a few years. If I can tell that to an artist and they don’t flinch, it’s a good start.

3. Are there any new artists you have your eye on?

I’m working pretty clocely with a band called ‘Incura’ from Vancouver http://www.incura.net/ . My partners and I saw them at the Junos in 2009, and it was mind blowing. I haven’t seen confidence in a band like that in YEARS! The band is originally from Lethbridge, Alberta and made the move to Vancouver together. It’s great to see a band that’s willing to re-locate, basically, risk it all for their music. They’ve been writing for the past year, and there should be a release in 2011.

4. Obviously the industry has changed vastly in the last 10 -15 years and the old business models are just not working anymore. Are there any words of encouragement that you can offer to those who are frustrated by the increase in piracy and reduced record sales?

It’s pretty obvious that it will never be like the ‘old days’ again. It’s a waste of time to complain about it. I’m not against people downloading music illegally, but I think there’s a responsibility that comes with it. When you buy a new car, you get a chance to test drive it. If all of the car commercials turn out to be smoke and mirrors, you’re able to figure this out on the drive, and you don’t buy the car. This is what artists and labels used to use singles for. The artist recorded 3 ‘hits’ and phoned in the other tracks. If you wanted those hits, you had to purchase the entire record. I think that downloading allows you to filter out the artists that aren’t making a truly great album. Now, that being said, I believe that if you really do like the album from front to back, you should support that artist by purchasing the record. If you’re not going to do that, go to the show and buy a shirt. Believe me, it helps. I feel that artists should take this as a challenge to just “Be Better”. You need to be as creative as possible to compete these days, and I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. If you’re passionate about your product, you’ll succeed. People are still buying music, and despite what Live Nation will tell you…they still go to shows. As long as you’re constantly working as a group to make better music, improve your live show, and connect with your fans…they’ll stick with you.

5. I think everyone who’s in the music business probably hits a particular point in their career when they start to ‘get it’ and they gain a great deal of perspective on how this complex industry works. Can you pinpoint a time period or single experience in your career when the light came on for you?

As strange as this may sound, it wasn’t until I was out of the band. It seemed with Not By Choice, we were always busy doing stuff. Whether it be touring, personal appearances, rehearsing, we didn’t really get a chance to sit down and think about it too much. Management would send out our schedules, and we’d do it. I don’t think there was too much thought, with me anyways, about what went into making all of that happen. As a tour manager, I got a chance to work a lot more closely with managers and labels. When you’re not in the band, you get a pretty good perspective on just what it takes to make all of this work, and keep working. I won’t name the band, or the label… but I was out with an artist in the Fall of 2006 on a large-scale national tour. Their album had been out for a few months, and this was a fantastic opportunity to ‘connect the dots’ (people knew the song on the radio, but couldn’t put a face to the band). To be very blunt, the record label didn’t care. There was zero help, minimal press, and not a lot of presence from the reps at the venues. Management was doing all that they could to help, but without everyone working it together…it was doomed.

It was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever witnessed in this industry, and showed me that everyone has to be firing on all cylinders all the time to make it work.

6. Where do you see things going in the next five to ten years with regard to how music makers will be paid for their craft and how music will be used and distributed?

It’s sad to say, but the CD is dead. I’m sad about it because I feel that going out and buying the CD was part of the whole ‘experience’ of getting to know the artist. I used to buy an album, read the liner notes from cover to cover, and play it from start to finish again and again. Before my generation, people did the same with cassettes, and before that it was LPs. While I love the packaging, artwork, and everything else that goes into the physical CD, I really am intrigued by Drop Cards, QR Codes, and Flash Drives.

The benefit of these new methods, is the savings to the artist on the packaging. With spending less on packaging, you can offer your product for a lower price. Let’s hope that labels figure this out.

Artists will still make their money from songwriting, but merchandise, live revenue, and song placements will help keep them afloat.

7. What advice do you have for musicians/artists who are determined to pursue a career in music?

As cliché as it sounds… you have to be prepared to lose it all to gain it all. If you put one hundred percent of your time and energy into your art, you’ll lose money, relationships, more money, sanity, and more money. You will live in a van surrounded by (hopefully) some of your best friends, for the one in a million shot that you will be able to do this as a full-time job.

If you’d like a practical example of what I’m talking about, I urge you to check out an artist named ‘Billy The Kid’. I should preface this with the fact that I don’t work with Billy, and this is a completely unbiased opinion about an artist that I have a great amount of respect for.


Billy used the internet to her advantage by seeking out producers that she wanted to work with. Her persistence paid off and she got to make a record with Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace), and even got Garth Hudson (The Band) to participate in the project. Once she was armed with her music, she hit the road and hasn’t stopped. Playing show after show to build up a fan base has paid off HUGE for her. Odds are, when you first get to a town and no one knows who you are, you have to make an impression. You’re typically playing for friends of the other band, and the bar staff. Some artists will phone in these shows as they don’t know the importance of the ‘Tell Two Friends’ system. If you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s where you put on such a good show, that one person from the show will tell two friends that weren’t there. If you were good enough, this person will try and get these two friends to your next show. You repeat this several times in the same market, and you’ll see your numbers increase.

Billy would finish her set, unplug, and head right over to her merch set up. She met every single person that would meet her, and would SELL SELL SELL!

She’s just starting her new tour this week, playing good venues for good money. She’s able to do this because she has great songs, she’s able to sell her product through her confidence, and this is what makes people become a true FAN.

She was prepared to lose it all, and her hard work is starting to help her gain it all.

If the above paragraphs didn’t scare you, call me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend, I know I did! I really love this time of year. I get that inspired feeling of a fresh start now more so than on New Year's Day. Not sure if that makes any sense to anyone else, but it seems to work for me.

You know, I really enjoy doing this blog and I hope everyone who's been reading has gotten something out of it. And if you have something to add or if you disagree with any points I've made, don't hesitate to join in and get the conversation rolling. I also want to learn from you.

Having said all that, I want to take things a step further and invite all bands/artists to come by my studio for a chat if you're feeling a little overwhelmed or stuck in a particular area. I'd like to offer up whatever advice I can to help you get unstuck and stay on track toward your goals. I don't claim to have all the answers -- and I don't believe anyone does as much as we'd like to think sometimes -- but I do have a lot of experience in many areas of the music business and if I can help you make some hard decisions or clear the fog from your view of certain issues with which you are currently dealing, then it's all good. I never really had any kind of mentor throughout my journey and consequently I've made tons of mistakes, but I've learned a lot from the mistakes I've made and if I can pass that on to someone else to save them years of wheel spinning, then it's worth it.

So please contact me any time to set something up and we'll go from there. You can contact me through facebook, MySapce, Twitter, email or phone, it doesn't matter. You can find my email address and phone number in the 'About Me' section of this blog page and there are links to all of the social networking sites I mentioned above. I'm looking forward to hearing from those who are interested and if any of you know someone who'd benefit from such a thing, please tell them about it and have them contact me.

Monday, October 4, 2010


If someone walked up to you today and asked you, "so how's the music thing going?" How would you answer? Your answer to this question will have a huge impact on the impression of your band this person walks away with. I think most people would probably just respond with something like, "pretty good," or "okay I guess." Or even worse, they may start rhyming off all the things that have been going wrong lately and how it's so hard to get ahead in the music industry.

If you want to attract opportunities for success then you've got to readjust your attitude and your own personal perception of what you're doing. Always keep things positive and always speak about your band and your music with complete confidence and passion. People will respond to this in a much more positive way and if you and everyone on your team is exuding this kind of enthusiasm, it will be contagious and others will react accordingly. It always starts with you. You decide how the rest of the world is going to perceive your band and your music.


Waaaaayyyyy back in 1993 (if you can remember that far back) my original band PAIN experienced some ups and downs and when we would be in a bit of a slump, the negativity would creep in and we would start complaining about the industry, the people in it, other bands and so on. This wasn't doing anything for us in terms of getting out of our rut and moving forward, but I guess in some perverse way it made us feel better to bitch and moan about it.

After dealing with the hard times in this manner for about a year or so, we came to the realization that it was rather counter productive and decided to adopt a different attitude. We looked around at bands that were successful and noticed how they conducted themselves differently from ourselves. One huge thing we noticed was the positivity that would come across when they did interiews. You won't find too many interviews where the artist(s) says something like, "yeah, we're not really happy with our album because we were butting heads with our producer in the studio and this tour that we're currently on is just one headache after another. We keep getting the short end of the stick from the headliner and we're pissed at our label because they didn't give us enough in the budget for a bigger van."

Usually bands are very positive and upbeat about the opportunites they've been given. They express gratitude to the team of people at their record company and to the producers and engineers who helped record their album and so on. This is the attitude that will attract more of the good stuff. Like the law of attraction states: like attracts like.


Once we fully adopted this attitude, within a year we attracted a manager who helped us secure our first record deal in Japan. Our drummer left shortly after this and the three of us who remained started and new band called EMERALD RAIN and within two years we had record/licensing deals in Japan, U.K., Italy and Canada. We also started our own publishing company and signed two sub-publishing deals, one in Japan and one in Italy.


I did an album for a band called FARENHEIT (who you now know as HAIL THE VILLAIN) a few years back. I had been working with the singer, Bryan, prior to that on his solo album and I noticed something very different about him compared to most other artists. He was a big thinker, he believed in himself and his abilities and he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do and the ambition to do it. His enthusiasm and passion for the project got me right on the same page with him and I was just as excited as he was about the music we were working on. His clarity and determination attracted three other like-minded individuals and this was the beginning of FARENHEIT.

It was a pleasure to work with them because everyone was very clear about what we were trying to accomplish and everyone had a positive attitude throughout the process. Whenever they talked about what was going on to anyone on the outside, they gave off an aura of success. They were working on something that was great. Something that mattered.

It was this attitude and positive energy that got them involved with producer Darryl Romphf to begin working on the debut HAIL THE VILLAIN album entitled POPULATION: DECLINING which is now available through Warner Canada and Roadrunner in the U.S.



People are attracted to success and everyone wants to be a part of something great whether they're your manager or a die-hard fan who comes to all of your shows. Make sure when you're out networking that you're doing all you can to create a successful and professional image. Remember though that this has to start with the band first. If you can infuse your band to the core with the idea that everything you do is important and that there's always great opportunities surrounding you, you'll have a much greater shot at turning that into your reality.