A close group of Canadian industry veterans gathered on Tuesday night at Toronto’s high-end Bymark restaurant for Music Managers Forum (MMF) Canada’s 13th annual Honour Roll. The event awarded Sandy Pandya, Ron Sakamoto, Chris Taylor, Ashley Poitevin and Sarah Osgoode “for their outstanding achievements and contributions to Canada’s music management industry.”
There was no roasting. Instead, the tributes were heartfelt, outlining hard work, teamwork, integrity, accomplishments and mentorship. Some were injected with personal stories, some with humor, and others with praise for the recipients' against-all-odds tenacity. Pandya received accolades for not taking no for an answer, Sakamoto for a little upstart trickery, and team Taylor, Poitevin and Osgoode for always pushing a bigger idea.
As the sold-out sit-down dinner for 144 people began in the intimate downstairs room, MMF Canada president Meg Symsyk -- who is also eOne vice-president and artist manager who cut her teeth for years at SRO Management and Universal Music Canada -- began by acknowledging the MMF board.
“This year we took a pause as the organization re-planned and re-strategized on how to move into the new world as managers, and what we can do from an organization to serve and educate,” she said, introducing Amie Therrien, MMF Canada’s new operations director. She also mentioned the forthcoming launch of a new members-only website where managers can access courses, webinars, and topics “that everyone wants to talk about but maybe not publicly admit that they don’t know.”
Created to recognize the success of an artist and their manager(s) for an exceptional year, the Banner Year Award was given to eOne Management's Taylor, Poitevin and Osgoode. APA Agency’s Jack Ross did the honors, revealing that Arkells frontman Max Kerman was his intern for two summers in his teens. When he returned the second year, the aspiring singer gave him a tape of his new band. Ross tried to dissuade him from pursuing the “brutally hard” life of a professional musician -- even suggesting he could become Prime Minister -- but Kerman would have none of it. Ross has now been working with the band for a decade.
Arkells have had three different managers, but “the seeds of this banner year were planted when Chris Taylor [then the group’s lawyer] became their manager in 2015,” Ross said, calling the one-time frontman and current global president of music for eOne a "mogul." Taylor “saw their potential for greatness,” Ross recalled, whil Poitevin brought a “secret weapon into his team” and Osgoode lent “experienced hard work and steady hands."
Ross added that the Arkells’ lead single, “People’s Champ,” from their fifth and most recent album, Rally Cry, “set the tone for the year.”
Of his management, Kerman said, “It’s so cool that we get to work alongside people that really have an understanding about who we are and what we’re about and what we really care about. We really feel so lucky.” He added, “They seem to care about the band more than we even care about the band -- which is incredible because that’s all we care about.”
Poitevin, surrounded by her coworkers, said every day it’s about “approaching everything with the glass half-full, try to dream up something bigger, and go for it.” She said it’s “so great that no one really hesitates when we come to the table with something fun. They know that we’re always trying to push it a little bit further and we’ll figure it out along the way, and everybody has just been so enthusiastic and helpful and sweet and kind.”
The Brian Chater Pioneer Award, which is bestowed upon individuals who have been instrumental in creating the framework for music management in the Canadian entertainment industry, went to Sakamoto of Gold & Gold Productions and Sakamoto Agency.
Presented by the Feldman Agency's Vinny Cinquemani, who has known Sakamoto for 40 years, the long-time agent called him “the legendary greatest promoter in country music in Canada.” According to Cinquemani, Sakamoto “single-handedly elevated country music in Canada to a genre that is really respected and doing box office business,” reminding people he won Promoter of the Year 17 times in a row at the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Awards. “He's worked very, very hard. He is a man of integrity. He's a man of honesty. When he shakes your hand, it's better than a contract,” Cinquemani added.
Sakamoto also manages Washboard Union -- the first country band to win breakthrough group of the year at the Juno Awards -- but has managed other acts throughout his career.
When he got up in front of the room to accept the award, Sakamoto told the audience he had been in the business for 63 years (he’s 76) and grew up on a farm in a small town in Alberta. He then recounted an amusing story about the formation of his company Gold & Gold, admitting he selected the name in his early 20s because it sounded Jewish.
“I got away with it, saying ‘I'm Ron Sakamoto from Gold & Gold. Could I get the Beach Boys or could I get whoever?’ and they thought I was a big Jewish company in Canada. That’s how I got them.” He capped the anecdote by recounting how three years later he got a call from someone asking, “Is JJ there?” The JJ stood for Japanese Jew. “So I had a nickname now.”
“Anyway, it's really been a ride for me,” he added. “I used to manage a lot of local bands. And then one day I got a call -- I can hardly understand what he’s saying -- and it was [top-selling indie artist] Johnny Reid, about 15 or 16 years ago. He was looking for a manager, promoter, and: ‘I need some help.’” Sakamoto called Randy Lennox, then president of Universal Music Canada, to see what he thought.
“Well, let me see: A Scotsman comes to Canada, went to university in Quebec, got married, moved to Nashville, singing country music, managed and promoted by a Japanese guy from Lethbridge,” Sakamoto chuckles. “Sounds so goofy it might work.”
Recognizing outstanding achievements and excellence in Canadian and international artist management, the Honour Roll Award was bestowed upon Pandya of Pandyamonium Management.
There’s something to be said for a person whose ex-spouse gives a lengthy speech praising them for their accomplishments, and Andrew Cash did just that for Pandya. The musician, politician and father of Pandya's son Sam Cash called his former wife “someone who is a little different, someone who is unique, and in her own category.”
Before Cash hit the stage, Pandya’s client of 18 years, artist Serena Ryder, gave an “appetizer speech." During her appreciation, Ryder called Pandya, whom she met in her late teens, a “superhero." “She shook my hand and, literally, this a super power No. 1: She beams out of love and light," said Ryder. Her second superhero power: “Basically she looks through people and sees all of the possibilities. I had no idea that I'd be able to play more than a bar for like 50 bucks when I was 18 years old… And she saw the future.”
After naming a few more superhero traits, Ryder performed a song for Pandya before giving the mic over to Cash, who told a long story involving Mordecai Richler, the satiric novelist Solomon Gursky, a record deal negotiation, Edgar Bronfman Jr. and a [successful] request for equity shares in Warner. “Sandy refused to say ‘No’ and, as part of the deal, for the first time ever, Warner gave equity shares to an artist [Serena Ryder].”
He added, “Sandy has always lived and worked somehow beyond normal conventions and she's done this with a disarmingly endearing and unpretentious style.”
Cash continued with other stories before Pandya herself graced the stage for 15 minutes, touching on many elements of her life, from her grandmother and parents to her management partners, past and present, William “Skinny” Tenn and Michael Gorman.
But it’s how she began her speech that really registered. “Last summer I received an email from a young man who shared that he was on the verge of suicide,” she began. “He was on a bridge about to jump when a car drove by playing, out of the window, Serena Ryder’s ‘What I Wouldn’t Do.’
"In those few seconds of hearing that song, his life changed forever. Something about that song inspired him to stay with us. As a manager, like many of you here tonight, I receive a lot of emails like this every year. For me, our job as managers is to be a curator of art that is transforming lives. Regardless of how famous the artist is, they're creating something that has the power to heal and/or bring joy into another life. I've been so honored to work with remarkable artists that have contributed to this beautiful and magical world that I'm so lucky to live and work in.”