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Transcript: Managing superstars at the Montreal Jazz Fest

KARL MOORE - This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for the Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to be in Montreal with Alain Simard, who is the founder and CEO of the Montreal Jazz Festival, one of the highlights of the year here in Montreal.

Bonjour, Alain!


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KM - So Alain, when we look at it, you have one of the greatest Jazz festivals in the world. One of the challenges we have in business is we have superstars, but you deal with real superstars. What are some of the things you have learned about managing superstars?

AS - Well they are just like politicians, royalty, or movie stars. They have to work with the whole entourage that will prepare for all their placements, public appearances, and their image and there are all kinds of little regulations. Like in Prince's contract, backstage, no one has the right to make eye-contact with him.

KM - Oh really?

AS - You see that with many movie stars because they don't want everybody to be staring at them all the time.

KM - Well, that's fair enough.

AS - But it's very professional; in the backstage nobody is there that is not working there and they are used to working with stars and they are just like everyone else. So most of the stars don't act like they are God, they are professionals. Usually people who get to that status, with some exceptions, have worked hard and they have really huge professional skills that they have to develop - they are professionals! People imagine that they have big lifestyles but, especially musicians, they practice hours per day.

KM - So you have to respect them for their professionalism and they treat other people fairly well then?

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AS - Oh yes! They are very nice people, most of them. Like when I gave the Festivals Spirit Award to Robert Plant, the guy that used to be the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, he is a huge world star but he was so nice when talking about his musical search with tribes in the Maghreb or even in the North American grassroots music, he's just a musician…

KM - …who has been very successful!

AS - They try to hide their personal lives and not to be on the front of magazines. Most rising musicians want to be on the front of magazines, but when you get there…(laughs).

KM - For years now you have had big stars and new comers, how do you spot a new comer that you think is going to be a star? What is it that they have that makes them that?

AS - Well it's obvious!

KM - Oh yeah?

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AS - Yeah! The first time we saw Diana Krall she was playing in a little club and we knew she would become a superstar. No, it's easy! When you see somebody has really got it they have got talent and charisma. It takes a lot of things to be a star! In public relations, sometimes, you have to be very wise but somebody like Diana Krall she was just shy but she became a star with good management. She had the talent but so many musicians have the talent - you need to have something more. She has that little thing in the voice that made her voice unique. She developed a style of phrasing, the way she delivered her songs, which was unique to her. So you have to stand out, you have to bring something new, something that will knock down people. A lot of people are trying; they want to succeed because they really are exceptional. It's like in sports; you can spot who are going to be the champions.

KM - This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for the Globe & Mail.

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