Heidi Fleming is a manager and founder of Famgroup, an artist management agency based in Montréal, Canada. The daughter of celebrated jazz accordionist Gordie Fleming and singer Joanne Lalonde, Heidi founded Fleming Artist Management (Famgroup) in 1986. Over the years, she has represented artists including Sheila Jordan, Karen Young, Christine Jensen and Myra Melford. The agency’s continued growth is a testament to Fleming’s commitment to the long-term development of each name on her multicultural and bilingual roster.
In this interview for International Women’s Day 2023, she talks about the misconceptions surrounding artist management, at what stage a musician actually needs a manager, and the vibrancy of the Canadian jazz scene. Interview by Nicky Schrire:
LondonJazz News: How did you become an artist manager and what led you to open your own agency?
Heidi Fleming: I was doing this already from my teens – helping to type my dad’s contracts and booking my brother’s band. I went on to work as Business and Tour Manager for a professional choir, and then as a management assistant for a post-modern dance company. When I was approached by Karen Young and Michel Donato to book their duo, I immediately said yes. I had already been following Karen Young, seeing her play in clubs, and Michel and my dad had worked together. So, it’s been 37 years now.
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LJN: What are some of the common misconceptions about artist management that you feel need clarifying?
HF: We don’t do anything on our own – it is a concerted strategic effort by the artist, the manager or agent, and if there is one, the label, publisher, publicist; all are carrying out the artists’ vision. I try to adapt my work to the artists’ wishes and what they need. For some it is websites or social media; for many it is grant applications; and for most it is booking, if we don’t have an agency on board yet, or overseeing the various agents and coordinating tour periods and so forth.
We also create bios and marketing materials, assist with research and funding for videos etc. We’ve done all these things. Finding money for artists to create or to tour is a key element. Fortunately, Canada and Québec do support artists; and prior to grants being available I would approach corporations and foundations…in those days – the airlines used to help. What we don’t do is tell artists what to perform, how to dress or any of that, but we do help with creating an artistic image.
LJN: You started your agency, Famgroup, in 1986. Can you talk about some of the changes since then, whether technological, logistical, or how the role itself has changed within the jazz industry?
HF: Dial phones, no mobiles, no internet, no Google, Rolodexes, typed and mailed letters, boxing up LPs to send! Answering machines with cassette messages. An IBM computer with DOS, and an IBM Selectric typewriter. Then CDs (also creating promo copies in the office). Driving with maps, and quarters in your pocket for the pay phones! Telexes and faxes for international communications, and eventually email… (1995).
Now we wonder how we ever did anything without iPhones. But I was in the forefront with the work from home thing from Day 1. The job has become more and more technology-focussed, there is increasingly more for a manager to do, and ‘round the clock’, especially when you tour artists in multiple time zones. Therefore, working from home is a must.
LJN: At what point in a musician’s career do you think they need a manager?
HF: Often the agency part might come first, helping an artist get gigs. Or they need assistance with a grant application. There could be a trial project to see how things go.
It’s different with every artist; if there is something we can offer that will make a difference, that’s a good point to jump in. Often my own artists bring me new projects or speak to me about new artists. I hear things through the grapevine.
LJN: You have worked with musicians in Canada and beyond, but your roster has always included top-tier Canadian jazz talent. What is your outlook on the Canadian jazz community?
HF: Canada has always had excellent jazz artists, and Montréal had a thriving nightclub scene back in the day. It was also a crossroads of sorts, where artists from the States and from Europe could come and play. We have taken inspiration from Oscar Peterson and Kenny Wheeler, Phil Nimmons or the recently departed Guido Basso of the Boss Brass. Paul Bley, Oliver Jones, Lorraine Desmarais, UZEB, Sonny Greenwich and many more.
Montréal has Justin Time Records, an enormous help. I worked as management for Susie Arioli Swing band on that label – and they helped us land a UK agent. Effendi Records is another invaluable partner here. Having a world-class jazz festival literally in our backyard, now THAT is a tremendous advantage. Canada, Québec, and Montréal continue to change; new influences colour the music and it expands – it is very inclusive. The university music programmes here all help to make for a vibrant music scene.
LJN: What are your thoughts on gender equity in jazz and is this something that affects how you work and decisions you make?
HF: It is a long road, and we are getting there slowly. Young musicians are very open to all sorts of diversity which is as it should be. This is obviously a much bigger question than what goes on in music – it is an issue at society’s highest levels. I have always had strong women on my roster and encouraged strong women in the office.
LJN: In the spirit of celebrating International Women’s Day, I want to ask you about your role as a mother and your ability to juggle career and parenthood. You worked throughout your pregnancy and had very little to no maternity leave. What advice would you give to other women who want to pursue a career in arts management while having a family?
HF: Do it! I had a great deal of support from my husband, a visual artist who could work at home for the most part, and who was also very knowledgeable about music. We are a team. Of course, there are sacrifices to be made, but today my two sons are involved in the arts which I am very happy about. My older son works with me as a new agent and my younger son works in film and is a visual artist.
LJN: You’ve worked with leading musicians in Canada (Christine Jensen, Marianne Trudel, Malika Tirolien) and beyond (Sheila Jordan, Myra Melford). What is it that you value most in the artists with whom you work?What is it that you value most in the artists with whom you work?
HF: Talent! Authenticity and inspiration. Life is too short for anything else.
LINK: Famgroup website