By Kerry Doole Fri, 09/02/2016 - 07:59
With Canadian country music types now polishing up their cowboy boots for the imminent CCMA (Canadian Country Music Association Awards) in London, ON, on Sept. 11th - check, we thought it opportune to check in on one of the industry’s key players, Jim Cressman,
He’s head of Invictus Entertainment Group, a multi-faceted company involved in a record label (Big Star Recordings) as well as artist management and concert promotion. On a flight back from Alaska (where he was checking out a Carrie Underwood date he booked), Cressman responded to our queries via e-mail.
He expressed optimism that some of his clients are in for a good night in London. “Brett Kissel has the 'heat factor' on his side right now, plus legitimate success with a #1 single ("Airwaves"), a sold-out cross Canada tour under his belt and other attributes,” he says. “It's also nice to see (George) Canyon back in the fray. I think he's got a puncher's chance at album of the Year. “
Reflecting on the year to date on the concert promotion side, Cressman describes it as “incredible. Our business is up over 300 percent in this component of our company. We've broken into new territories and we just finished promoting Carrie Underwood for a sold out show in Alaska, plus we have Ringo Starr and his All-Starr band slated to play Invictus' first ever promoted show in Hawaii in November.”
“I grew up on a cattle ranch near a small town where not much ever happened in the concert scene. I loved live music, but it just wasn't available locally. Our mandate is to drive arts, culture and economic impact into small cities and towns that need it. The affect of our efforts has been transformative to these communities, and that's what resonates with me.”
To Cressman, the hotly competitive summer concert/festival scene in Canada now does not present any extra challenge. “The festivals buyers know what they want. It is our job at the agency to educate them on the merits of having our clients on their bill,” he explains.
On the concert promotion side, he is eagerly anticipating other successful tours coming up. “I'm personally very excited for the upcoming Dolly Parton tour this fall, that we're promoting, and on the domestic side, Brett Kissel is about to make an impactful announcement to his fans.
“We also have Kip Moore and Jon Pardi out this fall in London, Oshawa and Kingston. I'm pretty excited for those. I've been lucky enough to be Kip's promoter since the beginning and I am a huge fan of Jon Pardi.”
In terms of the record label component of Invictus, Cressman is enthusiastic about a new signing to Big Star Recordings, 13-year-old country singer/songwriter Beamer Wigley, also signed to Invictus for management. His debut EP Meteorite comes out next Friday. Cressman calls Wigley "a tremendous talent. I remember the time he walked into my office at the ripe old age of 11,” he recalls.
“I was admittedly skeptical, but he flipped that state in me the moment he started singing his own music, which he'd been writing since the age of 7. His voice is getting richer, and stronger and his artistic prowess is growing geometrically. He's going to break through, it's just a matter of hitting that critical mass of fan demand, sales, and radio success that instigates a tipping point. “
Cressman adds that “we've had some great resurgences this year on the label side. Aaron Pritchett scored his first top 10 hit in 7 years with "Dirt Road In 'Em," and I think he's poised for a historically landmark career renaissance - and he deserves it.
“Jordan McIntosh has aligned with his sound and has come together in a masterful creative sense. In fact, he'll be in LA writing songs for his next record during the CCMA's. Cory Marquardt is a beast - both onstage and in the studio. He's been working on a country record with famed rock producer Kevin Churko, and is about to release some of the most unique and exciting music to impact the genre in a long time.
Then, there's Emerson Drive. They set the record as the first Canadian country band to score 20 top 10 singles with their last hit 'Who We Are," and I can't wait to hear what they'll conceive next. “
And, of course, there’s the supernova-hot Brett Kissel. “That also reiterates the truth that every overnight success story is typically a decade in the making,” Cressman observes.
“ Brett's a natural showman and had built up a great base by touring in Alberta on his own from the time he was 12. By the time he had a Canadian hit, "Started With A Song," the consumers and fans who had invested in him were able to feel that they came through the journey with Brett, and Brett was able to activate an entirely new fanbase on top of what he's already built and grow it from there.
“People think Brett punches above his weight because of some mystery formula. The reality is he worked his ass off and applied perserverance, acumen and patience to his career and now it's growing rapidly. “
Cressman has some strong opinions on the current state of the Canadian country music industry, noting “I'm a realist, but an optimist. In life, and business, you get what you tolerate. I won't tolerate the inability to make a lucrative living in a business I love. So many people bitch and whine about the status quo of the music industry, but they begrudgingly accept it.
"Talking to them is like watching that Bill Murray film - Groundhog Day. They're perpetually frustrated about the same challenges they have been complaining about the last 6 times you talked to them.
"By the way, I'm not knocking the validity of negative energy. It can be very productive, if you use it to spark change. We all know that we force ourselves into the most transformative growth patterns in our lives when we say 'fuck this, I am not putting up with this anymore" and adapt our strategy to grow from there. You have to get so sick of the status quo that you find your way over the barrier.
“ I'm grateful that I have learned some hard lessons. I have used that energy to build out targeted growth strategies to diversify - with focus - over the next decade. The key is, to find businesses that complement what you're currently doing and grow them to a point where they're not only self sustainable, but they also positively affect your existing business.
“Our promoting division is an example of this. When we buy a Brantley Gilbert Tour and add Cory Marquardt to the support slot, our label, management company and booking agency all benefit. It all sounds easy, but you need the right mindset and the temerity to get back up, after being knocked on your ass time and time again. Fortunately, my team and I do.“