Saskatoon has always been a vibrant city for music, from well-known artists like One Bad Son and the Sheepdogs to the lesser known — but just as passionate — bands like Dirty & The Perks and W3APONS, who are just getting their feet off the ground.
When local artists need help getting exposure or advice, many turn to Kaelen Klypak, SaskMusic’s project manager for Saskatoon, who has become a jack-of-all-trades in the local music industry, helping artists with all aspects of professional development so they can expand their reach into larger markets.
“Essentially I am pretty much utilized just as a resource,” he says. “So anything an artist wants to chat about, or if they are looking at how to release a record, tour in Europe, if they want to figure out how to get a visa in the U.S., how to do sync publishing — I’m your guy.”
It’s a difficult task to neatly sum up all of Klypak’s responsibilities in a concise package.
Because Saskatoon doesn’t have the same resources for musicians as a city like Los Angeles or Toronto, local artists have always taken a more do-it-yourself approach to getting things done — which means Klypak is used to navigating new challenges on a daily basis.
The Saskatoon native has been musically minded since his days as a kid hanging out at HMV for hours at a time, discovering new music — and likely annoying the employees with his constant request to test drive new CD after new CD at their listening stations.
“I knew they were always upset with me,” he laughs. “They would always have to unwrap the CD and then rewrap it to put it back on the shelf — but that was my only way of artist discovery before there was Napster or MySpace.”
His passion was evident from a young age. Klypak says he knew from Grade 7 that he would spend his life working in the music industry. Though he now does that work behind the scenes, during his years at Marion Graham Collegiate — when he spent much of his free time jamming with his friends on his parents’ acreage — it seemed like those dreams would land him on a stage, chasing rock ‘n’ roll stardom.
Kaelen Klypak, program manager with SaskMusic, near his office in Saskatoon on June 26, 2019.
Matt Smith /
He was still playing in bands when he moved to Vancouver after high school to attend Capilano University and earn a diploma in arts and entertainment management.
Upon his graduation, Klypak had the option to move to Toronto or Los Angeles, or to head back home to Saskatoon. He took the riskier move for someone who wanted to work in the music industry, but after seeing the quality of the artists coming out of Saskatchewan at that time and the lack of infrastructure to help them, he decided to head home, he says.
“I would always just be comparing what’s coming out of (Saskatchewan) to what’s coming out in B.C.,” Klypak said.
“B.C. has phenomenal, incredible bands, but they also have the infrastructure like record labels … but for Saskatchewan there really isn’t much of that. You just see the type of calibre of artists that are starting to do things — and what spearheaded that was when the Sheepdogs graced the cover of Rolling Stone. And then I had all these people that I had met through my school program asking me, ‘Who should I be looking out for? Who is the next Sheepdogs?’ ”
He took that excitement as a sign that it was the perfect time to move back and help local bands with his seemingly unending skill set, which includes everything from music publishing to tour managing, in any way possible.
“The way the music industry is shifting so quickly, I think, especially to be from Saskatchewan, I truly feel like you need to have your hands in everything for people to see value in what you do,” he says.
Because of this DIY approach to music in Saskatchewan, his guidance has become a popular option for people trying to pivot their passion for music from a part-time hobby to something that can actually pay the bills.
Gan, the artist behind respectfulchild, a solo instrumental project based in the city, said they would never have made it to the point of playing international shows and making music a main pursuit had it not been for Klypak’s guidance.
Gan, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ and does not use a first name, first met Klypak at Band Swap Saskatoon and remembers he immediately offered his help through SaskMusic should they ever want to take respectfulchild to the next step.
It took Gan about a year to take him up on the offer, but since then he’s helped with grant applications, building and booking a tour, connect with other industry professionals, and helping Gan find and apply to music festivals and showcases in Canada and abroad.
“He is so genuinely excited about everyone’s music and he just is always trying to find opportunities in the most appropriate manner for everyone the best that he can,” Gan says. “He’s not just cheerleading for people because it’s his job, but because he’s actually so genuinely excited about everyone’s music.”
Klypak doesn’t exclusively work with musicians. Marvin Chan has worked with him in both his position as an artist with the band Samurai Champs, where he goes by the stage name Merv xx Gotti, and through his position as the creative director of the Regina-based Trifecta Music Festival and its collective of musicians known as Trifecta Sound Co.
Chan says Trifecta benefited from Klypak’s know-how, especially since he was working in more of a managerial role and was expected to regularly give talks on Trifecta’s goal as a collective.
“It’s really different than just getting up on stage … I’m not just thinking about my needs as an artist,” Chan says.
“So I usually ask Kaelen, ‘How do you present this stuff, how do you talk on a panel well, how do you get to know the delegates before the event happens?’ And he’s always there to answer questions and has been there every step of the way … we always had the experience from the DIY side, but without acknowledging the formal industry side from Kaelen and Mike (Dawson, SaskMusic’s executive director), we definitely wouldn’t be as far as we are now.”
Both Gan and Chan agree that a lot of what makes Klypak special within the industry goes beyond his expertise on both the artistic and business end — they see him as a friend, making it easy to turn to him whenever they might need a push in the right direction.
Kaelen Klypak, the program manager for SaskMusic, grabs a cup of tea near his office in Saskatoon on June 26, 2019.
Matt Smith /
Chasing those personal connections drives how Klypak’s success in his position at SaskMusic. In an industry saturated by connections made through social media and streaming platforms, he still prefers to sit and talk with people face-to-face whenever possible. Having said that, he notes that being able to adapt to new products and platforms is also an essential part of his job in order to pick up new and emerging trends in music — especially the trends that can help Saskatchewan artists.
“I think we are in the golden period of being able to access music and to discover new bands,” he says. “And that’s just for the love of it; it has nothing to do with work, but I can use that knowledge towards any sort of advising through the SaskMusic side. For example, ambient (music) is really starting to pick up in Germany, so I’d be chatting with respectfulchild about how maybe that would be a market to start looking at.”
Now is one of the most exciting times to be an artist in Saskatchewan, Klypak says. As local bands explode into new markets, like The Dead South has done across Europe, they help shine a spotlight on other provincial exports. Musicians vouch for one another to help secure spots at different venues and festivals around the world.
It’s a huge change to when Klypak was playing shows, telling audiences his band was from California so they weren’t dismissed by the crowd or other fellow musicians. Now, bands are embracing their prairie heritage and continuing to build what he describes as “a cool, sexy brand” around Saskatchewan artists, he says.
He’s happy to keep promoting that brand, and with the Juno Awards heading back to Saskatoon in 2020, the spotlight on local music is bound to continue.
Not only will he help local artists network with other industry professionals next year to get them noticed on a national level — including helping them apply to the Juno Master Class — he’s excited to see people who may not be familiar with the local music scene getting in on the fun, he says.
“I’m pretty amazed at the type of support Saskatchewan will give to artists from here, and I just think that’s just going to grow some more … It makes me wish I was in a band,” he laughs, reminiscing about how much he enjoyed playing at JUNOfest in Regina in 2013.
As the Junos open doors to local artists, Klypak hopes to get a taste of his favourite part of the job: watching the career of someone he’s known from the beginning blow up.
“My heart is just so invested into the local musicians here. I just want to see people do well and succeed in any way possible,” he says.
“So when I see those types of wins … I’m just like, ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’ That’s my favourite part of the job, is that I get to see an artist from when they are booking their very first tour to playing James Corden — it’s just such a huge win for our province.”