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RAINMAKERS: MICHAEL RAPINO, NATION BUILDER

How on earth did a soft-spoken music geek from Canada become the dominant power player in the live-music sector? A keen intelligence combined with a killer instinct certainly aided Michael Rapino in a journey that began in remote Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has taken him to the top post at Live Nation Entertainment, which he’s built into a global colossus encompassing the concert and ticketing businesses, where it rules the roost, and artist management, where it has few peers.

Since he was a 20-year-old college student who had just booked his first client, blind Canadian guitar virtuoso Jeff Healey, Rapino has had his sights on a singular goal.

“I wanted to be the guy that was involved in this thing called touring,” he said in his keynote at Canadian Music Week 2017 in Toronto. “I had a passion for the live business, and then my discipline kicked in after that to say, ‘How am I going to end up running this?’”

20 years after writing on a napkin that he wanted to head up a concert company, his dream was realized in 2005, when he was named President and CEO of the Clear Channel spinoff Live Nation.

“I got lucky,” he said after receiving an honorary degree from his alma mater Lakehead University in his hometown. “I found my passion early. That was kind of my north star. I didn’t stop pursuing my dream of doing it bigger and on a grander scale and it took me from Thunder Bay to Toronto to New York to Los Angeles.”

Thunder Bay, located on the banks of Lake Superior near the Minnesota/Canada border, is a 14-hour drive from Toronto, where he got his start booking bands professionally. He got his first corporate job at Labatt’s Breweries, working his way up to senior marketing director over the course of a decade and managing the brewery’s entertainment and sports properties until they were sold.

He left the company in 1998 to become partner and SVP of Core Audience, a six-month-old concert company that was going up against the more established MCA Concerts Canada. Its earliest shows were with Our Lady Peace, Lilith Fair, Janet Jackson’s Toronto stop and the national production of Lord of the Dance.

In 2000, Clear Channel acquired Core, renaming it Clear Channel Entertainment Canada, and naming founder Steve Herman as president. Within a year, Rapino was overseeing Clear Channel Entertainment International’s music strategy, expanding the company’s presence into 16 countries from six over a three-year period. In handing him the new job, CCE’s then-CFO, Randall Mays, praised Rapino, saying, “His bold moves to increase event profitability have been matched by a strong fan-centric approach aimed at sparking market growth.”

“I was a big believer that you had to kick doors open: new experiences, lateral moves, backward moves, don’t worry about money, just keep getting better experiences,” Rapino said during the Canadian Music Week address. “I was fairly determined.”

That’s a quintessentially Canadian understatement, proving you can take the man out of Canada, but…


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