Francis Choinière is a passionate entrepreneur in the music industry.
“To grow and do something significant, you have to be proactive, and either look for these opportunities
or create them for yourself”
Only in his starting 20s, Francis Choinière is the President and Production Manager of GFN Productions, a Quebec entertainment company that produces film, classical, and pop concerts. His music background first started as he was studying at FACE, a fine arts school in downtown Montreal, where he went for 11 years. He then graduated from Marianopolis with a Music Performance DEC, where he co-founded a non-profit Orchestre Philharmonique et Choeur des Mélomanes (OPCM). Over the years, Francis build a reputation with the ensemble and had the opportunity to prepare his ensemble for the Game of Thrones Live Concert at the Bell Center. This successfully performance sparked a number future collaboration with artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Hans Zimmer and Sarah Brightman. In 2018, Francis prepared his choir for a presentation of Harry Potter III at Wilfrid Pelletier. The format of this project inspired him to present the Lord of the rings trilogy. Consequently, he partnered with his brother and friend to make this production possible and came in contact with Howard Shore’s team to bring this production to life. The Lord of the Rings concert requiring over 250 musicians and singers on stage was premiered with 2 sold out shows in January 2019 at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier.
What explains the success of such a young person in such a big industry? Our conversation with Francis emphasizes the importance of having a strong foundation of trust, knowing your audience and creating your own opportunities.
Did you have a specific strategy to get where you are now and why do you think that everything worked so well for you?
The success of GFN Productions stems from my background in arts management with my first organization OPCM. The experience with the non-profit allowed me to achieve good leadership strategies and skills to manage a larger organization. It also allowed me to build credibility through the various partnerships that were achieved with organization. Having been a part of the large concert tours such as Andrea Bocelli, Game of Thrones, Hans Zimmer and Sarah Brightman gave the support and trust required to produce a concert such a LOTR.
Do you think your age has been a problem at the beginning to build credibility since there is a lot of stigma around starting a business at a young age?
Yes, I do think that age creates a certain pressure when starting a business, although the important part is to look past this and do what you are best at. If you end up making mistakes and you manage situations poorly, it gives people an excuse to blame it on your age. Therefore, the main focus was to remain professional and keep things to the highest standard, even if we are very young.
What advice would you give to young artists trying to succeed in the art business?
I think that it’s essential to build connections. One of the things that made us really successful is the way we work with people. Our partners and collaborators enjoy working with us and it is what gives us an edge in the industry today. I think that you should never miss an opportunity to make connections because you never know where your next opportunity is going to come from. On the other hand, I think that one of the things that allowed me to do what I do is the fact that I also make opportunities. GFN Productions was a chance for me to make an opportunity from the skills that I built. It would be a mistake to say “just make connections and someone will help you eventually”. To grow and do something significant, you have to be proactive and either look for these opportunities or create them for yourself.
What is an important lesson you have learned through the process of starting your business
I can say that in doing all these projects, we were very lucky that our first concert Lord of the Rings sold out both nights. That success really motivated to expand our projects, which of course can with its own set of challenges in the competitive concert market. Overall we had a very successful year presenting 3 different concerts with 2 performances each. In the long term it’s important to look at what made each project successful in order to recreate it and not to jump in something new too quickly. It’s good to take risks but you have to make sure you don’t overstretch yourself.
What would you say are your best marketing tools?
We have one advantage in this business and it is the fact that we don’t have to sell you the product. We don’t have to convince you that this is a good product. People know what Lord of the Rings is. If I did any other random film content, it probably wouldn't have worked. When we do our digital marketing, we are targeting people who like Lord of the Rings so marketing investments are more efficient than if we did random ads. Traditional media also plays an important role as it helps emphasize the brand by diversifying the medium the consumers interact with. Lastly, there is product endorsement which plays a key role in helping your audience understand your product.
For marketing, you mentioned that you are relying on the idea that you don’t need to sell the product because you know the product is something people want. Now, this can be a struggle in the arts world in terms of whether you are satisfied producing something that is quite popular versus something that you necessarily want to present. How do you find balance between what audiences want and what you are really passionate about?
Actually all the major art organizations have to face this. Why would major opera companies present Traviata and La Bohème every year? They do it because it gets the audiences coming. They are interested in seeing these well-known works but then, they end up mixing it with other newer productions. When you are establishing yourself as a new organization, it is incredibly difficult to build yourself with something that people don’t know. If you start with something people do know, then you build yourself a client list, an email database that you can market to and people will be more likely to attend your concerts.
Right now, your projects are larger scale but do you see yourself going down to smaller spaces and increasing quantity? What is your vision for the future in terms of growth?
We are definitely hoping to expand. Ottawa was our first attempt at trying to do a different city and obviously, that had a whole set of challenges but we have already been looking at projects to do in and around the province and in the major Canadian cities. If we want to grow, we can’t stay in the same market. There is lots of competition in the music industry and we have to be careful not to saturate our own market. Diversification is important.
Classical music might sometimes be quite intimidating to many people. Have you noticed a specific demographic in particular attending your events, be it an older or younger age group?
I can tell that most of the audience is younger. I think that the largest group of the audience ranges between 20 and 40 years old. One of the reasons why we produced Fantasia is because it was a nice blend of previous classical music with this new age visual experience. Our concerts are about bridging the symphony with the music of our time. People really enjoy the film concert format because it brings out the richness of these powerful orchestral soundtracks!
You can find GFN Productions at https://www.gfnproductions.ca/ to check out their upcoming events and follow their socials!
Picture 1 - https://www.facebook.com/gfnproductions/photos/a.237817226898336/237817173565008