Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor

Advocate, lawyer, musical crusader, and all around good guy Chris Taylor began his career in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, performing and touring with his Juno-nominated band. After a successful run, Chris returned to practice law, representing countless Canadian artists including Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, and Drake. With too many achievements to mention, founder of Last Gang Entertainment and now Global President of Entertainment One, Chris Taylor takes some time with Justin Gray to share his journey and insights.

J: Explain what shopping an artist or shopping a song is.

C: That’s almost a dying art form. You know, there was a period where that was almost all I was doing. When I started practicing in ’97 right up until about 2004,  I was going to New York and LA on a regular basis and meeting with A&R people, the people that sign bands at labels, and playing them recordings from CDs. I actually had a CD wallet I would walk around Manhattan with and pull out the CD and play them a song from Nelly Furtado, play them a song from SUM 41 and try to get them to sign the band. You know, show them a photo, tell them a little about the artist. Lawyers really played an integral role in that regard. There is probably a group of about 20 of us that were doing that actively during that period of time.

Sometime around 2004, I noticed it started to tighten up a bit with the internet because A&R people and research departments could go and find out what was going on all over the world. Tracking what was going on, on YouTube, or Soundcloud. So, I would start showing up at record offices like: “Hey, I got this band from Edmonton, Alberta.”

“Yeah we already know about that.”

“Um okay… I’ve got this band from Quebec City/”

“Yeah we know about that one too.”

And then start asking questions like how many followers on Myspace, and about statistics and data. The whole process really became data driven.

J: This is interesting because I think some people would look at you and look at the success you’ve had, and even me to a degree and the success I’ve had as a songwriter, and I’m not sure they’d understand the level of no’s vs the few yes’s. And understanding the yes’s are what push your career forward. Understanding there is a higher ratio of no’s to yes’s. How do you deal with the no’s? How do your clients deal with the no’s?

C: In our business, just like any business, you talk about the yes’s and the highs. Nobody brags about how much they fail at things. You talk about a Nelly Furtado, you talk about a 3 Days Grace, you talk about a Drake but there are plenty of other artists that didn’t make it. Didn’t get signed. Will never have a shot no matter how much I believed in them.

J: Well Drake is a very interesting example. We all know Drake now but not a lot of people know where Drake came from. He came from a cult-ish Canadian TV program. He was basically kind of a TV celebrity in Canada that became one of the most important rappers in modern music. You were there basically throughout that whole transition. Were there any challenges there?

C: I remember, I first heard about Drake on Myspace. Speaking of Myspace, remember they used to do the top list. Like there would be the top independent or the top unsigned list. I’d be like who the f* is this Drake kid from Canada. He’s Number 1 like every week. He’s the top unsigned Myspace artist and I didn’t really know who he was. People were like “Oh he’s on a TV show and he’s sort of working with 40 and that camp and they are working on some songs and stuff.” I think people kind of wanted to put him into a box a little bit. Like “Well he’s not a real rapper then. He’s an actor that has a bunch of fans who like him from that.”

J: But you know he’s so credible.

C: Yeah he’s the most credible. He’s on his way to being maybe the greatest of all time. Depending on how you –

J: They call it the goat. By the way, the kids call it the goat.

C: Yeah my 18 year old son reminds me of that. But really, he staggered a little bit. He had told me he’d been to New York a couple times for label meetings. Canada for label meetings. Couldn’t get a deal. And what really sort of pushed it over the edge was that there was a friend of Lil Wayne’s that gave him the CD. Told him about it. Wayne took and interest and they flew Drake down to hop on the tour bus with Wayne. Out of the blue, I think, Drake got a phone call or something from that camp. The rest is history. That’s when they called me. When they really started getting industry interest. That’s when he came into my office. That was probably mid-2008. Just before “So Far Gone.”

J: And had he come into to your office maybe a year before, you probably would have… maybe… Well, actually I wouldn’t say you wouldn’t have paid attention. That’s probably not a fair thing to say because probably more than any other music attorney I know, you always lead with the music. The music was always your passion. It wasn’t the business. The business came later. Wouldn’t you agree?

C: I would agree. It had to be there. I always had an open door on the hip-hop side. Up until that time, I represented almost every single hip-hop artist in Canada.

J: Toronto has a strong…. Well Canada, but Toronto especially had a very strong hip-hop industry.

C: We did but we just never got the co-sign and the co-sign was so important in that day. Especially if you are Canadian. You know, people want to put you in the Canada box. Like Choclair, Saukrates or even Kardinal. There’s a huge list, Rascals, K-OS. I tried to get record deals for all of them and the door didn’t really open up until what happened with Drake.

J: So I want to fast forwards a little bit. Two quick last questions. The first question is, so now you have managed to navigate throughout your career. You started, first of all, not a lot of people realize this… and we are not going to mention the name of the band because we don’t want your YouTube numbers to jump but Chris was the lead singer and had a hit song in Canada with a reggae/rock band signed to Virgin. And then transitioned into being a lawyer. And now is the global president of eOne music. So not really practicing law but you’ve sort of elevated into a different phase of your career. To keep it brief now explain what it looks like from the other side, now that the lawyers are coming to you with the deals. Explain what your day-to-day looks like.

C: Just over two years ago I sold my practice. I had an independent record company and management company that I sold to eOne and moved in to be the global president. So they were a music division in a larger studio media company over $1B market cap. We are listed on the London stock exchange. We make movies, television, kids entertainment. And the music division, there are three or four parts to that. We do recordings, almost every genre from heavy metal to gospel. I say “from heaven to hell.” And then on the management side we have an artist management roster of about 45-50 acts. And then we have a music publishing division out of New York. And recently we just brought in a live division so promoting, producing, live events, exhibits, things like that…

J: Well and I think you are undervaluing because that didn’t exist before you came here. As far as I understand right?

C: The management part for sure, eOne was not in the management business before. Music publishing was an ignored part of the business and the live one was not there. So you are correct, three of those legs were not here really before I got here.

J: One more question. Do you ever foresee a band reunion? Would you like to tell them the name of your band?

C: I was in a band called One and I don’t think I could do a full set. I’m too much of a perfectionist – but if I was asked to do a song I’d be up for that. And I suspect we’d do that again at some point, somewhere, for fun. We did a little mini reunion probably about seven or eight years ago and that was just two songs and that was pretty easy. No one got hurt.