Friday, June 8, 2012

Bernie Finkelstein – True North: A Life in the Music Business

True North: A Life in the Music Business
By Bernie Finkelstein
McClelland & Stewart
294 pages
“This is not a history of the Canadian music business,” notes Bernie Finkelstein right at the beginning of True North: A Life in the Music Business. However, both casual readers and those intimately familiar with it will learn much about the history of the Canadian music business and how it developed into an industry by reading this entertaining, anecdotal autobiography by an artists’ manager and independent record company proprietor who has been one of Canada’s most significant music business movers and shakers since starting out as a Toronto rock band manager in the 1960s.

Finkelstein was born in Toronto in 1944. His father was in the RCAF and stayed in the air force after the war, so Finkelstein grew up as an air force brat moving from base to base, in Canada and overseas. Usually, the Finkelsteins were the only Jewish family on any particular base. It was such an unusual event for the son of a Canadian serviceman to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the synagogue in Nottingham, England, the event made the front page of the local newspaper.

Back in Toronto by high school time, Finkelstein dropped out just as the music scene in the downtown Yorkville Village began to explode. Hanging out in Yorkville clubs, the young entrepreneur was soon managing Kensington Market and the Paupers, two of Toronto’s most significant rock bands of the era. By the end of the ‘60s, he had shifted his focus to managing such singer-songwriters as Murray McLauchlan and Bruce Cockburn – whom he still manages more than 40 years later, one of the longest-lasting artist-manager relationships in pop music history – and to establishing True North Records, which quickly grew to be one of Canada’s most significant independent record labels. (Finkelstein sold the record company in 2007. Among the buyers was Ottawa music business veteran Harvey Glatt.)

I should note that I’ve known Finkelstein for the better part of four decades. Working as a Montreal concert producer, and as an artists’ agent, in the 1970s and early-‘80s, I occasionally had business dealings with his company. As a journalist and broadcaster, I’ve interviewed and written about many of his artists, and Finkelstein and I once served together on a Juno Awards advisory committee. Reading the book, I smiled at many “oh, yeah” episodes I knew about, and learned about a lot of things I didn’t.

As he details in the book, Finkelstein was very much at the centre of the action in establishing a viable music business in Canada. He was among the industry figures who fought for, and achieved, the Canadian content regulations, which were essential for opening up the country’s airwaves to homegrown musicians. Later, when music videos became an important tool in music marketing, he was instrumental in setting up and chairing VideoFACT – now Much-FACT – which provides funding for Canadian music videos and websites.

Much of the book is devoted to anecdotes about Finkelstein’s many business dealings on behalf of his clients and about many of the records he released on True North over the years. Among the funniest stories – although it may not have seemed so at the time – is one about his having to fight back after client Murray McLauchlan was banned from performing at the CNE because the talent booker confused him with McLean and McLean, a brother duo known for their raunchy material.

Although he has wound down much of his day-to-day involvement in the music business, Finkelstein still keeps his hand in as Bruce Cockburn’s manager. But, whether it’s fulfilling that role or acting as a record company chief, what comes through loud and clear in the memoir is that, throughout his long career, Finkelstein has always been motivated, first and foremost, by his passion for the music and for the artists who make it.

More than almost anyone I’ve ever known in the music business, Bernie Finkelstein has always been a mensch.

I'm now on Twitter.

I'm also on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif

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