Canada’s Music Ambassador
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by David Leyes
Creating music has always been the lifelong passion of Chris Taylor, the President of Music Global at Entertainment One.
“I was always playing in bands in Windsor, growing up,” Chris explains. “Even when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Political Science and Communications at the University of Windsor, we were always still playing in bands.”
After completing his double major at the University of Windsor, Chris moved to Toronto to attend law school at York University’s Osgoode Hall.
“In Toronto, I was playing with a couple other Windsorites, Rob DeMarco and Tim Lane,” Chris recalls. “We were part of a band called One. Through law school, we managed to build a following while playing shows across Southwestern Ontario. By the time I finished law school, we’d created some momentum.”
After graduating in the spring of 1990, Chris and his bandmates were faced with a difficult choice: continue pursuing their careers or continue chasing their passion.
“I made the decision after law school to—rather than practice law right away—to jump full-time into the band,” Chris admits. “We started touring and playing outside of Ontario, almost immediately. We went to Saskatoon and back. We toured back and forth across all of North America. We travelled throughout all of Canada 15 times, and the United States 7 or 8 times.”
One turned out to be a phenomenal success. The band opened for the Tragically Hip and Van Halen at Molson Park during a Canada Day celebration, signed a contract with Virgin Records and released four albums and a series of music videos. However, after five years on the road, the band’s momentum began to stall.
“When we began, I decided that if we weren’t making a serious go of things by the time I turned 30, then I would go back and start practicing law,” Chris states. “Our album with Virgin was our big swing, but things didn’t go through the roof. And life on the road isn’t easy. For 5 years we were travelling 8 to 10 months out of the year.”
Not able to abandon his passion, but wanting to start his career, Chris arrived at a novel solution. He fused the two together.
“And through the course of the band’s history, we were always making contacts and building relationships throughout the industry. Meeting other managers. Meeting agents. Meeting record labels. Meeting lawyers. So, by the time we did finish with the band, I was really well-connected in the business.”
In 1997, Chris returned to Toronto and began practicing as an entertainment lawyer specializing in music law. (In effect, his musical career turned into a five-year-long networking event!)
“I started representing recording artists,” Chris states. “I started going fairly aggressively to New York on a monthly basis with a bag of CDs. I used to play these demo tapes for record label people to try and score bands deals. I tried to find artists before they had an attorney. And this was before the internet, where you could go on Spotify or SoundCloud and see who’s streaming. You had to sit in the office on a Saturday afternoon with a 100 CDs and figure out which made the most sense to bring with you across the border.”
Being a musician himself greatly helped Chris’s selection process.
“It all starts with songs, melodies and lyrics,” Chris states. “All the artists I worked with had that. Afterwards, it’s about work ethic, the team they have around them, their ability to perform live. But those things are all secondary. First and foremost, it was about great songs.”
Chris was as talented a lawyer as he was a musician. He ended up scoring record deals for high profile Canadian artists such as Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Tom Cochrane, Three Days Grace, Billy Talent, Sam Roberts and more!
“I really established a reputation for myself in the U.S. market as an attorney who had his finger on the pulse of what was going on in Canada,” Chris explains.
And Canada’s musical ambassador did not stop there. Around 2004, Chris formed his own record label, Last Gang Records.
“At the time, one of the bands I was shopping around was a group called Metric,” Chris recalls. “It was a Canadian alternative rock group based in New York. I couldn’t find them any record deals. So, we started a record label for them, Last Gang Records. Together, we put out an album for them in May 2004.”
Metric’s first album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, ended up selling 250,000 copies. The success encouraged Chris to sign two other groups, Death From Above 1979 and Crystal Castles. Both of the band’s albums ended up selling a quarter million copies.
“This record label hobby started out as a platform for clients people weren’t interested in,” Chris admits. “But then this art project meant to show my clients how cool I was ended up turning into it’s own business, with 12 staff, a management roster and distribution around the world.”
And as it turned out, Chris had still not reached his proudest achievement. However, that all changed in 2007 when a young artist named Drake walked into his office.
“I started working with him, and that almost became a full-time job unto itself,” Chris laughs. “The label just kept trucking along. If I’m honest, around that time I became more and more fully invested in Drake. I did all his legal work and became a part of his team. I’m really proud to have been part of his foundation. He’s one of the biggest acts of all time.”
Chris’s work with Drake and Last Gang Records has some consequences. In 2012, the Head and Founder of eOne, Darren Throop, approached Chris with an offer.
“He wanted me to sell Last Gang to eOne and leave my law practice,” Chris recalls. “He wanted me to come over to eOne to run their music division.”
After three-and-a-half years of negotiations, Chris accepted the offer.
Now, Chris resides in Los Angeles, where he is recognized as one of the most influential power players in the industry.
“I oversee about 310 staff in about 15 offices around the world,” Chris states. “We have a music publishing company, a record company, an artist management roster and a live division. We work with bands like the Lumineers. We just released the new Brandy album. We work with heavy metal Grammy-winners like High on Fire. I definitely keep busy.”
And Canada’s musical ambassador credits growing up in a border town with some of his incredible successes.
“Windsor is full of opportunity,” Chris explains. “Its proximity to Detroit provides access to incredible nightlife, all four major sports and restaurants. You can’t find that in any city in Canada. I don’t think most Canadians understand how cool it is to get the best of both worlds: Canada and the U.S. As Detroit continues to blossom it is going to have a spillover effect on Windsor that will make it the envy of every other Canadian city.”