The business of music: Learning to survive the industry with Coalition Music

A skip past Lawrence Avenue and Victoria Park in Toronto’s east end, sits a neatly renovated chapel that’s been infused with the spirit of music. Not of the Holy Roller variety, but the sounds of celebrated Canadian musicians that include the likes of Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan, Finger Eleven, and Justin Nozuka.

Welcome to the headquarters of Coalition Music, a comprehensive music company co-founded by audio enthusiasts Rob Lanni and Eric Lawrence in 1990. With extensive experience managing some of Canada’s most successful artists and tours, Coalition has established programs that provide instrumental support for musicians navigating the befuddling music industry.

Seated in their film noir detective-style meeting room that’s highlighted by a wall of floor-to-ceiling concert passes, it’s clear that Coalition has stamped a size 14 footprint on Canadian music. Beyond the building’s impressive management office and studios, students continually fill its teaching spaces to learn from those thriving in music.

“The students that are taking our programs, we show them how difficult it really is and that they’re competing against every song ever written that’s available digitally. Why should someone listen to your record when they can pick up a Rolling Stones album? Sometimes we’re like an old friend saying ‘Calm down, this is what’s important: The songs, communicating with people, and collaborating’ ” explains Lanni. In a world saturated by the ease of technological recording/sharing and “instant reality stars”, it’s easy to understand why aspiring musicians are arriving with quite different expectations than those who did it 30 years ago.

“The young, independent artists that we’re meeting, they’re lost,” says Vel Omazic, Director of Coalition’s Music Education. “We used to take those young bands and invest in them and develop them, and now nobody’s looking after these guys, it’s all kind of D.I.Y. and the reality is that you can go online, you got all kinds of resources, but still people don’t understand the basics of the business and how it works.”

Currently, Coalition offers three individual programs tailored for high school students, artist entrepreneurs, and tour managers and technicians. The high school program is free, taught by TDSB certified teachers, and counts as a credit. “We feel that we’re filling the gap that high schools don’t [offer]. How do you actually make a living [as a musician]?” says Omazic, this issue extends into the Artist Entrepreneurship program (AEs) as well. “With the AEs we’re trying to make sure they understand how to run a business as well as help them with their song writing and performing. It’s very hands on because it’s actually working on their businesses.”

“When new artists come in here, the biggest surprise to them is ‘Oh, I need to take care of my band’s business, I need to have insurance on my gear, I need to figure out funding’ ” says Lawrence. Many of these loopholes often hinder or even stop artists who are unaware of the available assistance, especially on the financial front.

The angled-ceiling teaching space fits at least twenty-five students comfortably and conjures a warm glow through stained glass panels. As one passes from the classroom to studios and rehearsal spaces occupied by musicians and producers, a united hum takes form that speaks to Coalition’s well-oiled machine environment. The education program is supported by the people who are in the music business working within an arms reach:  “If in one of our classes we’re talking about touring, we can grab someone who does that every day for a living, go upstairs, and tell them this is what’s happening right now” says Lanni.

That being said, there are a lot of careers in the music industry for those who aren’t musicians, and the AE program offers tools and exposure to the many different areas of the business.
“Some people just aren’t suited to being musicians, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t get into the business of music like we did. We do what we do because we weren’t good musicians,” Lawrence notes, adding, “You can come out of this program and go, huh, there’s a whole industry around me.”

Beyond successfully creating a welcoming but tough-loving approach to music management, Coalition understands and appreciates the important roles of both the Internet and Social Media. Students who pass through their workshops are never left hanging with limited connections and a wishful pat on the back. “If it’s a good song, it’ll find its course,” Lanni remarks, emphasizing access to the ex-chapel and hi-tech rooms that make up Coalition.  Lawrence chimes in: “We want artists out there to feel like they really got a crack at it.” Pretty promising for hopeful artists trying to find their way in a world that can lead to a labyrinth of dead ends.

For more information on the programs offered through Coalition Music please visit or contact Coalition directly at 416-755-0025.

All photos courtesy of Coalition Music