This month, we’re going to look at a man who has already achieved an unbelievable amount in the music business… and shows no signs of stopping. And to think his earliest job was detailing cars at a Calgary Chrysler dealership… Ah, where life can take you…
Randy Stark was born in Edmonton, Alberta, the youngest of 4 children, and maintains they are all “much older” than himself. His Mom was a homemaker and his dad managed a bank for the Alberta Treasury. It seems all the Stark children went in totally different directions in life… one becoming an air force pilot (and now runs the simulator in Trenton); another brother is a Baptist Minister in Vancouver; and his sister is a retired Calgary schoolteacher. Randy, himself, claims he has “No skills, so perfectly suited for the music industry“. That’s obviously not true, as Randy Stark has held a number of very prestigious positions in this industry. When asked about his start in the business, Randy responds, “I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job in a record warehouse. I wrote a very self-centered letter explaining why they could not afford… to NOT hire me.” Randy slept on it and decided to tear up the letter. When he awoke, he found it had already been mailed! “They called me in for an interview just to see- what kind of knob would write a letter like that?” Fortunately, Randy and the boss hit it off and as Randy says, “The rest is history.”
Before we get into that history, let’s get a little of Randy Stark’s personal history. He grew up in Alberta and learned to play the tuba, the piano, and some guitar. Randy says, “I still play a little guitar, but mostly I leave that to the professionals.” He recalls watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and really liking what they were doing, as did almost everyone on the planet. He still enjoys listening to his all-time favorite country artists, like Ian Tyson, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell and J.D. Souther, as well as contemporary artists like Norah Jones, John Mayer and Rob Thomas (and some classic rock), although he says he spends a LOT of time listening to demos. That’s kind of a “must” when you’re in Randy’s business. Randy is married with three grown children, all living in Toronto and pursuing various vocations. An avid golfer, Randy also happily recalls getting to play at Pebble Beach, home of the Bob Hope Classic, five U.S. opens and countless other tournaments. A thrill indeed, but not as big a thrill as, “Seeing your children grow, learn and develop into creative young talents.”
Over the years, Randy Stark has worked in the record business as a warehouse manager, sales rep, radio promotions manager and as a regional manager for companies like Acklands, TPC distributors, A & M Records, GRT Records and WEA, eventually rising to Vice President of Marketing and Promotion at Warner Music Canada. He has good ears for finding talent and was instrumental in discovering and developing Paul Brandt, Patricia Conroy and the Johner Brothers, as well as handling the development and marketing of many others on his roster, including Colin James, Loreena McKennitt, Blue Rodeo, Harem Scarem. Randy has also served as the President of the CCMA, and was a Board member at the both the CMA in Nashville and the CCMC in Australia. In 2000, Randy left the majors and struck out on his own.
Presently, Randy publishes Trax Report – Canada’s Top 100 Country Chart, and provides radio tracking services for many artists through Stark Ravings Radio. Current and past clients include Jason Blaine, Deric Ruttan, Aaron Lines, Aaron Pritchett, Jake Mathews, Michelle Wright, Gord Bamford and others. He also has a management company called Stark Ravings Management, which currently handles the careers of Jason Blaine, The Western Swing Authority and Andrea Pearson. Finally, Randy is the head of On Ramp Records, whose artists include Aaron Pritchett, Cory Marquardt, Quentin Reddy, The Western Swing Authority and Ryan Laird.
Where does he find the time?
Randy is quick to point out that no one gets anywhere by themselves. “I was lucky enough to have both personal mentors (Tom McBride Sr. – Moffatt Broadcasting), as well as mentors at each company that I worked for. Al Harrison and Paul McLure at A&M Records Calgary; Joe Summers and Jerry Lacoursiere at A&M in Toronto; Alex Petchkin at GRT Records; Garry Newman and Stan Kulin at Warner Music Canada; Tom Tompkins, Sheila Hamilton and Heather Ostertag at the CCMA. All of these people believed in me, supported me and were generous with their time and advice. Great record people; wouldn’t have made it without them.”
Speaking of great advice, here’s two pieces Randy wants to pass along. The first was the best advice he ever got, and it came from Stan Kulin at Warner: “The artist comes first and when it comes to spending money in business, spend it like it’s your own money – that way you will be sure to bring value to both your artist and your company.” And, Randy’s advice to someone trying to break into the management business: “Find an artist/s you truly believe in, treat people well, learn how to handle money and learn all aspects of the industry; because, you will need to function in all areas. Always remember that the artist is paid first.”
When asked to cite some favourite and unforgettable memories, Randy came up with several. One was a remembrance of being just 14 and living in Grande Prairie, where his friend’s father took him up in a small 4-seater aircraft for his inaugural flight. “It was a spectacular early fall day in the north; the skies were clear and we were flying above the migrating flocks of snow geese and trumpeter swans. Magical day – a great sight – one that I will never forget”. Now, flip that idyllic image to a few years later in the record business: accompanying Motley Crue on their first Canadian tour – a tour that included a bomb threat at one venue, mobs of enthusiastic Crue fans trying to punch the band every chance they got, and Canada Customs officials confiscating the band’s stage wear as being “potentially dangerous weapons.” Rockstar lifestyles of the rich and infamous!
Randy Stark has seen and done it all, and continues to approach his job(s) with enthusiasm, professionalism and good humour. We are so proud to have him on the Board of the CMAO.