“I know where I’m going, and I’m not the type who hesitates and questions themselves a thousand times once I have a plan. On the other hand, I do take time to properly analyze things; I never make a decision on a whim. I trust my abilities and my team.”
So says a very pregnant Catherine Simard, who welcomes us to her terrace on a hot July day. During our interview, she reclines lightly, hands on her belly, in what comes across as an introspective stance – the better to take stock of the last, dazzling year at her agency La Maison Fauve, her “Little Company,” as Alain Bashung sings in the film of the same name.
“I actually hope that we don’t grow,” she admits. “The game plan was to have no more than six employees, and to take on just a few projects, but to complete them from A to Z. We have two motion designers, 3D animators, and designers – who also make video content for Star Académie, that we outsource, which allows us to be even more diversified – who are part of the team, especially for the virtual reality project Astéria.”
La Maison Fauve: booking, management, and record label. Like so many small businesses in the music industry, the agency is multi-pronged. Skills are diversified by providing one or more of these components at a time. Its roster includes artists as diverse as Michel Rivard, Eli Rose, Vincent Vallières, Dominique Fils-Aimé, Philippe Brach, Patrice Michaud, and newcomer Ariane Roy, chosen as this year’s Révélation Radio-Canada and among the SOCAN members to Watch in 2021.
“Artists often question themselves, and they like knowing that we have a plan,” says Simard. “We’d only been around for 18 months when the pandemic hit. We were lucky, because many of our artists were in a songwriting phase, so we didn’t take too big a hit from shows being cancelled or postponed. And we got management fees as revenues. Streaming revenues also helped. But that said, because we’re a small company, we were able to cut our operating costs without touching the employees’ salaries; it was essential for me to keep my team. To top it all off, Patrice Michaud ended up hosting Star Académie, so diversification definitely helped us.”
Before establishing La Maison Fauve, Simard was General Manager of Spectra Musique, one of the branches of Équipe Spectra, founded by Alain Simard – the father of the Montréal International Jazz Fest and the Francofolies de Montréal, among other cultural institutions. But why in the world would Simard walk away from Spectra, her own father’s immensely successful enterprise?
“A combination of factors,” she replies. “Motherhood played a big part – I wanted less pressure, less work, not having to commute downtown to the Bell Centre, where Spectra has moved. But in the end, I work just as much here, except I dictate the pace. Our offices are 10 minutes’ walk from home, and the daycare centre is two blocks away – can’t beat that when it comes to work-life balance. I can be more involved without having to go out and see shows three nights a week. I was in charge of 20 artists at Spectra Musique, it’s very demanding,” she says laughing. “I no longer have to convince the people around the table to buy my ideas – if I have bad numbers, it’s on me. I’m totally comfortable with that.
“My father honestly believed I would thrive as the head of Spectra Musique after he sold his business to evenko. I would have had more growth potential with that company, but my goal isn’t to lead 25 employees and manage millions. With the pandemic, I clearly saw all the benefits of having my own business, and the flexibility to make my decisions.”
Several artists at the end of their contract with Spectra Musique have followed Simard on her new adventure. Brigitte Matte (Anacrouse), who headed Spectra’s live-show branch at the time, was already Michel Rivard’s agent – a task she now shares with Simard. “Managing an artist is the most time-consuming aspect of everything,” says Matte. “But Michel is served better, no doubt! My four boys (Michel, Patrice, Philippe, and Vincent) followed me to Maison Fauve, but it was crucial for me to make space for women.”
After being on the Polaris Prize short list, jazz/R&B singer Dominique Fils-Aimé has fulfilled ed all expectations of her, and her live shows sell out in no time. “We have a big tour of Europe planned for her,” says Simard, clearly proud of her overseas booking partners. “Dominique had a label and a manager, I think she’s truly an exceptional artist. Developing an artist abroad – finding agents, establishing partnerships – is quite a task when you’re not in charge of record sales and distribution.”
Eli Rose was crowned Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2020 ADISQ Gala, and in 2021, it seems Ariane Roy is on her way to a similar feat. “Developing an artist without a good manager is like working for nothing,” says Simard.
Is there something missing in Québec’s music industry? “Two things,” she says. “Improved sharing of streaming revenues through a federal bill, and better visibility for French-language new releases on these platforms. Right now, you have to be determined to find it,” says Simard. “Also, we have to make sure that music gets to the ears of the younger generations. Renewing our audience is a priority, for me.”
What’s in the plans for Simard in the coming months, aside, obviously, from giving birth? “There will necessarily be too much on offer for the level of demand,” she says. “And it’s likely to go up, because during a year without shows, many artists went into a creative phase. A lot of records are going to come out at the same time and the artists will bump into each other on tour… The year ahead ain’t gonna be easy!”