Staying Creative to Cope with COVID-19 Shutdowns, Featuring Paul Biro – Booking Agent & Promoter

July 19, 2020

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is huge – and among those feeling it are Canadian musicians who rely on playing live to earn a living.

This #SelfcareSunday, we sat down with Paul Biro, the Operating Partner and VP at Sakamoto Agency, for resources, advice, and encouragement on how artists can be using their unexpected downtime in productive and helpful ways, and where he thinks the industry might be headed next.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Canadian music industry?

This is an incredibly difficult question at this time. I am involved in the live music side as an agent, entertainment programer, and promoter….. so on our side we are at a full stop for 2020. There are a few creative opportunities that range from paid online performances to drive-in shows, and small audience physically-distanced appearances, but none of it will sustain the industry moving forward. We presently have rescheduled hundreds of shows into 2021.  When we look at sales, fan engagement, and publicity coverage, it increases directly following live appearances by the artists, so on many levels these are very challenging times. That being said we all have had to up our online game and social media engagement which may help in the future. Kind of like having to use your weaker hand when you have an injury, after the healing you are stronger than ever. 

This all being said, if you take the present pandemic out of the equation, and I know that is so difficult, in my 30 years I have never seen more highly skilled talent than right now. Creatively and technically, the music and the artists are better than ever. This is so very encouraging.

What is your advice to artists on how to best navigate these times?

Have patience….. this won’t last for ever. While you can’t be out playing live, work on your craft, play, sing, write, create. Engulf yourself in the art form and express yourself online. Take time to define your music and image with your team, or find a team to build and get your brand to the public. Be ready, be better, so that when the live industry comes back you have not just wasted the blessing of time to create. 

How do you foresee the next 6 months to a year to rolling out?

I am asked this a lot by artists and the locations we program or work with. Publicly it is hard to say, I am not a scientist or a medical professional. I will say I am a moderate who has opportunity to chat with some people in the medical field and occasionally some health officials. My expectation is no shows of any real capacity will occur in 2020, other than maybe a few of the more creative shows. If I take a guess and mix it up with a bit of my natural optimism, I think at the end of Q1 or Q2 2021 things will look a lot better with a return to more regular style shows. Keep in mind there is a study coming out shortly that presently estimates the live music industry contributes 3.5 billion to Canada’s GDP and 72,000 jobs, this does not include similar industries in sports or conferences business, this is just music. So sooner or later we have to find away to get back up and running for the good of our whole country. Not to mention our cultural fabric and identity is wrapped up and expressed in all forms of art; in song, music, dance, drama, physical art… we celebrate collectively the best of humanity as we gather together.  I am hopeful will be back rolling in 2021…. It may have some capacity limitations on the largest shows but I think a lot will be playing.

What should musicians be doing in the meantime?

I think this question builds on the previous question so refer to question two, but also we all have to do what we have to do, in order to get through this. It may not be easy, and it may mean doing other things to earn money in the meantime, but still take time to be creative. Stay positive, don’t be blind, but protect your mind, heart and soul from what you consume intellectually and resist the temptation to give into the negativity or despair that can happen in such tremulous times. Find a way to be productive, help a neighbour, write a song, do a project you never had time for… the old saying “idle hands” applies in this time, but also take time to breathe, and enjoy space and time. I know many of us will regret not having taken time to live in the less busy moment during this global crisis. Have empathy, even for people who appear to not really be affected by this, as it is touching and impacting all of us in different ways, so be thoughtful. Be grateful for small blessings, and know this will end and we’ll all gather together and share a hug and a cool beverage again.  

How do you suggest an artist develop and maintain intellectual property in the Canadian marketplace?

I think you create, and present art through radio releases, social media, play list etc, etc. , do all the things we normally do and once it opens up, I suspect there will be a greater demand for live shows and gatherings where people can connect. Maybe that is a silver lining in this, we all may appreciate being together a bit more and pick up the phone or meet in person more. I have a lot of people who want to chat rather than text these days, or meet up in person in a socially responsible way. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

These are very difficult times for our industry, so band together as you can. Support each other and if you are totally overwhelmed reach out to Unison, to your support group in the  industry, and in your life.

You can even text me if you want a dose of almost “unrealistic optimism,” just remember if you reach out to me, I am a guy who died twice and have seen the hard side of our industry many times. I am still smiling and doing what I love, albeit a little less in 2020. Love to all, stay well and create something amazing!!

Paul Biro

An industry veteran of over 25 years, Paul Biro heads up the team at Sakamoto Agency as Operating Partner and Vice President, responsible for day to day management and operation of the company, as well as artist touring and development as Senior Agent. He’s been nominated no less than 19 times by various music industry organizations including the Canadian Country Music Awards, and has played a major role in developing breakout groups like The Washboard Union, booking the band’s touring dates from France to PEI to BC over the last few years. Paul has also helped break new artists like Platinum Artist Aaron Goodvin, and continues to book a well rounded roster of both established and up and coming artists, as well as multimedia tribute-style shows and comedic sensations like singing impressionist Andre-Philippé Gagnon.

As well as representing the artists on the roster, Paul programs several major events across Canada as a senior entertainment buyer, and promotes his own shows and tours regionally. Acting as entertainment programmer and buyer, Paul has delivered artists from Willie Nelson to KISS to Tom Cochrane, and he continues to invest in relationships with artists, managers and agencies from around the world. His focus on nurturing relationships has allowed him to build a solid foundation in the global music industry working with both domestic and international artists in the form of booking, promoting and management. Over the years Paul has worked as a agent with Patricia Conroy, Rick Tippe, Gord Bamford, Aaron Pritchett, Johnny Reid and countless others, he is passionate about art and believes strongly in the amazing talent of Canadian artists.

Paul Biro is also an active volunteer in his community, having participated as Vice Chair for a local arts festival, as Arts director at a large church overseeing 100 volunteers and staff, and works diligently to support his community and local church whenever called upon. He has articulated the values and vision of Sakamoto Agency that both he and his business partner Ron Sakamoto, who Paul holds in the highest regard, live out daily. Though his passion and dedication towards music is undeniable, Paul’s foremost commitment and greatest joy comes from his relationship with his wife Sonia and his sons William and Kingston.

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