ON THE MOVE: An interview with Canadian Idol Judge, Farley Flex

26 Nov 2005

Farley Flex is known to many as the “kinder, gentler, judge” on the hit show Canadian Idol. His keen eye for talent launched the career of Canada’s most successful solo rap artist, Maestro Fresh Wes, with the hit single “Let your Backbone Slide”. Dedicated to promoting urban music, Flex was instrumental in obtaining an urban license for FLOW 93.5. A 2005 recipient of the Special Achievement award from UMAC, Flex was acknowledged for his impact on the urban music community.

I recently caught up with Flex at a local coffee shop, to talk about FLOW, the urban music scene, Canadian Idol and the community.

Plasma Corporation is the label where you manage Toya Alexis and Gary Beals. Being a judge with Canadian idol I guess you would have access to the crème of the crop. Would you look elsewhere for talent?

Of course. Plasma Corporation is the record label and Plasma Management and Productions is the management division of the parent company. In terms of the artist roster, I have Toya and Gary who are the only ones from idol out of the artists that we work with. It’s largely an urban centric label with Belinda Brady being the exception who is a folk adult contemporary artist. We also have Ammoye who is a contemporary reggae artist (and In Essence). Those are the three on the label along with Toya and Gary.

How would you describe your management style with your artists?

That’s a good question. I’ve sort of revised it; I was working with a scenario where I took artists from point A to Z. But as my interests broadened into now producing film and television, as a one-person entity on that side of the playing field it’s a little more difficult to do the day-to-day elements. I’m actively trying to bring on younger people to give them an opportunity to get involved on those levels that I started out so they can hone their skills in those areas.

Do your artists write their own songs?

I only work with artists who write their own material, in terms of singers and hip hop artists as well. It makes for a better development process career wise.

How did you get involved with Canadian idol?

The production company is called Insight Productions who partnered with CTV to put on the show. They looked for roughly 200 people in the music industry at the time, and then narrowed it down to about 27 people who had the credentials and qualifications. Then they had us audition…where we were critiquing hired singers who sang intentionally well, not so well and poorly, and we critiqued them on camera. Based on I guess, delivery, speech look and knowledge and all those things combined it narrowed down to four of us ultimately.

What has that done for you career wise?

It’s been a major sacrifice of my time but like everything in life you do a cost benefit analysis and I found that some of the opportunities, certainly the ones that have catapulted me into getting involved in the early stages of film and television development, were spurred on by my exposure to that environment somewhat. That’s probably secondary to the business partner that I now have Sudhir Morar, who comes from that world. Those were the two critical things.

Do you think there will be a black Canadian idol?

Yeah but to be quite frank, I run into people all the time who say I’m not trying out because they don’t want this or they don’t want that. That’s the age-old attitude we’ve had about so many things, so I don’t really entertain it. To me if you give up a fight that’s how you lose. I don’t like when people say Canada won’t vote for this or Canada won’t vote for that. Gary came second in year one and that should’ve been enough of a motivating factor for people to get out and increase the odds by increasing the numbers. Fear is a big limiter for a lot of people. I think that’s a fearful approach to life when you say they won’t pick me anyway. It’s nonsense to be quite frank.

You were very influential in getting Flow 93.5 licensed as an urban music station. What prompted your involvement in that?

It came out of a personal need and I’m a very community based individual. I do a lot for my community and always will do a lot for and with my community. One of the things that happened in kind of a serendipitous kind of way is that I was managing Maestro at the time. We’d enjoyed tremendous radio success in his career at the time. By the time we introduced the second record the available radio stations were about five across the country to play his music, whereas on the first record we were top10, top 5 and number one on at least 30 stations in the country, mainstream stations. So the landscape changed which changed my business plan. At that time I had several acts I was working with who would have needed radio. So when the landscape element changed I said to myself and to Wes, I’m going to go and support this effort, which was the second of the three ultimate efforts. When we were unsuccessful I stayed on for the third attempt and that’s the one we were successful with.

Do you think FLOW has lived up to expectations?

I think it lived up to the expectations of us who gave birth to it so to speak. I think the community had more of a community perspective than really is viable in a commercial market. You know if we were in a smaller market where we could entertain it (the community element) from a fiduciary standpoint that would have been great. But from a fiduciary standpoint…we have a social and economic imperative. And the economic one has to be maintained in order for the social one to even be considered. The other way around doesn’t work in commercial radio, especially in the fifth largest market in North America.

That kind of limits the types of things you can play and the airtime you can give it?

Yes but having said that, FLOW has a tremendous off radio presence in the community and no one can deny that. I think we do things, I still say we because my heart is still there, we do things that are exemplary in terms of radio community activity and being a corporate citizen.

Do you think Canadian urban artists now have the support they need to be as successful as their U.S. counterparts, without moving to the U.S.?

No not yet, there are a lot of other stations that have jumped on the urban band wagon to get licensed, that have changed their coats of late. That impacts the potential of each artist who needs national exposure. Even if we had sporadic dedicated urban stations across the country then you would have a marketplace that you can tour throughout. But when your music is not getting played in every market then it’s difficult. The biggest deficiency in urban music is the ability to tour. An artist like Divine (Brown) who is well over gold in sales doing eight cities on her national tour is a travesty. So a lot of the efforts I’m involved with now are in that direction.

Are there current Canadian artists that you think have a great sound?

Yeah, talent has no borders or boundaries, so the K-OS’s, the Kardi’s, the Saukrates’, Jully, Divine, Toya, Gary, In Essence, Ray Robinson. I mean the list goes on and on of people who have world class potential but don’t get a world-class opportunity.

How did you get into this business, developing an eye for talent?

I read an article the other day that spoke about the measures under which a child can be successful in life, not financially, but successful in their strive for happiness. And one of the things they talked about was routine and putting them in circumstances where they learned to work with people. And credit to my mom and family in general who fostered that type of nurturing where I was involved in sports as a child and community initiatives. Those things coupled with my passions are what lead me in everything I do. That’s why I think I’ve been able to move through the entertainment foray as opposed to just being a manager. To go from management to record label to radio to producing film and television. Those are extensions of my personality. I only do what I enjoy. I have the great fortune to be able to do that. And I am blessed to be able to do it. I appreciate and am grateful for every opportunity that comes my way.

Initially you managed Maestro Fresh Wes?

Yes, that’s my beginnings. I started off as an event promoter at 15 or 16 years old. I did that for several years, then went away to university on a soccer scholarship and got my finance degree. I met Wes in my spring break, on returns home that sort of thing. When I graduated he approached me about helping as a friend to get involved in seeking out a recording contract for the first time. We got into an artist management relationship and the rest is history.

How is your relationship now?

We are still very close. We don’t get to spend a lot of friend time. But we know where each other’s heart is. We understand how we benefit each other. The important thing too, is that Wes benefited me as much as I benefited him, even more. I’ll never lose sight of that.

Tell me about your community involvement. I understand you’re involved with the Mayor’s Safety Panel?

Yes I’m on the Mayor’s task force on Community Safety. I’m part of the Peace Initiative that Chief Bill Blair launched. I’m on the board of an organization called Merry Go Round (Children’s Foundation). I do work with an organization called Youth in Motion which has an initiative called the Top Twenty under Twenty. I’m spokesperson and motivational speaker for them. And I do motivational speaking under the Lavin Agency as well.

What do you think of the recent violence happening in the east end?

I don’t think it’s particular areas as it’s propagated to be. I think it’s an issue of parenting. An issue of parenting being diverted from parenting due to economics and by social status. Both on the lower socioeconomic level as well as the upper. Crimes are different I guess. The lower socioeconomic criminal activity is more economically based and extends to violence but the same sort of disconnect between parents and youth are happening at other echelons of the socioeconomic ladder. And I think we need to get back to our sense of community and remember that the word unity is within that word. When you walk into a convenience store and there are teenagers hanging about outside, say hello. As opposed to walking around them clutching your wallet or your purse assuming they are negative. I think young people are much more sensitive and intuitive than we give them credit for. And they understand what the expectations or lack of them are, and they tend to live up to or down to those standards.

What advice do you have for those who would like to get into the entertainment industry?

They need to find their passion. And finding your passion is an extension of understanding yourself. Nobody can understand you better than you. The less you understand yourself the more other people around you good or bad will make decisions for you and that minimizes your potential for happiness at the end of the day. My mother raised me as an individual to know my internal self the making of myself and know what my weaknesses are and my strengths are. The more I know myself the more quicker and accurate my decisions are. I don’t ponder over things very long. It’s personal business acumen in a way. It allows me to be fearless. It’s important to raise children with that sense of personal fortitude and confidence in who they are and what they represent. I do believe the world is spherical for a reason. We all have opportunities on a continuous basis but how prepared you are for those opportunities are what’s critical. You can’t be prepared if you don’t know yourself and others are making decisions for you.

Have their been mentors in your life? Do you think it plays a role in being successful?

It’s important. The more you are in touch with who you are, the more you recognize that elements of mentorship can be a person on TV. It doesn’t have to be your uncle or your dad’s colleague. Those things would be great if they were there, but for a lot of young people they are not that tangible. I was motivated the day I saw Ed Bradley on 60 minutes. I was motivated that my turn would come, but I’d have to be ready.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited about producing film and television. I have a couple of projects that are about to cross the line in terms of deals. They’ll be extensions of who I am, what I care about and what I want to share with people. It’s a great medium for satisfaction for someone like me who has a community foundation and an entertainment foundation. I don’t want to edutain but “communitytain”.

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