JUSTIN AND SHAWN HANG OUT
Barrhaven native went from putting up venue posters to joining Mendes’s team
Is Barrhaven barbecue in the cards?
Don’t be surprised if you spot a tour bus rolling through residential Barrhaven this weekend. It might be ferrying one of the world’s biggest pop stars to a preshow barbecue in a friend’s parents’ backyard.
The huge star, of course, is Shawn Mendes, who’s in town to play Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday.
Not quite so well known is the Ottawa-born pal.
That’s Justin Stirling, who grew up in Barrhaven but is now based in Los Angeles and is the newest member of Mendes’s management team. Last year Stirling was named head of marketing for AG Artists, a small-but-mighty artist-management company founded by Andrew Gertler. Mendes is their star client.
It’s a dream job for Stirling, a graduate of St. Joseph High School in Barrhaven who dropped out of university to go on tour with another young pop star, Cody Simpson. He started by selling Simpson’s merchandise and worked his way up to tour manager.
Along the way, Stirling befriended everyone who crossed his path, including stars like One Direction’s Niall Horan, singer-songwriter-actor Selena Gomez, model Hailey Baldwin (aka Mrs. Justin Bieber) and more. Many of them pop up regularly on Stirling’s Instagram feed, to the delight of his 129,000 followers.
In fact, some of his high-profile friends have already visited Barrhaven, including Gomez, who was invited to the Stirling home for a barbecue the last time she was in town, and Simpson, who stopped by the house when he was in the area, arriving on his tour bus.
So how does a kid from suburban Ottawa break through to the upper echelons of the music industry? According to Stirling, it helps to start early, work hard and be creative in your approach.
He was 14 when he started plotting his career, beginning with Canada’s annual Take Your Kid To Work Day. Uninterested in the work of either his father, a realtor, or mother, who works for an architecture firm, he contacted Josie Fenech, then the co-host of the morning radio program on Hot 89.9, and asked to be her kid for the day. She agreed.
The job-shadowing led to a parttime job at the station, which he juggled with his other part-time job at a Barrhaven grocery store. He also did a stint on the Ottawa street team for major label Universal Music Canada. Putting up posters at venues was one of his duties.
“I would poster the venue before the shows, and there was always this hope in the back of my mind that if I postered well enough, they would take me in to meet the artist,” he recalls. “Which happened a few times.”
In those early days, Stirling would also sit on the ledge behind Canadian Tire Centre to watch the trucks unload before a concert. It wasn’t the artist he was trying to see, though; he was more interested in the tour manager.
“I was very intrigued by what was going on behind the scenes because I don’t have any musical ability myself,” Stirling said, pointing to Justin Bieber for sparking that interest.
“He was the first artist to put his team on a public level. His manager was famous, his road manager was famous, his bodyguard was famous. For people who were interested in the music business, you could follow the careers of all these people, not just the artist,” he said. “It gave a whole added dimension to the thing that was so interesting to me, so I focused a lot of my time on studying anyone behind the scenes.”
Stirling soon realized he needed to be in a bigger city. After graduation, he moved to Toronto to study communications at York University, and stepped up his campaign to meet important music-industry figures. When spamming them with emails and messages didn’t work, he came up with a different approach, pretending to be a writer looking for a feature interview with Simpson’s manager, Matt Graham.
The ploy worked and Stirling got his interview with Graham, coming clean at the end of it. Impressed at the hustle, Graham offered the then-19-year-old the merch job on Simpson’s North American tour. To his parents’ dismay, Stirling dropped out of university and instead spent the next four years with Simpson learning the business.
He also worked for Geffen Records and the artist-management group at Electric Feel, developing a reputation as a well-connected problem-solver who could arrange almost anything, from L.A. restaurant reservations to brand-building deals. Thanks to his Ottawa roots, he remained a down-toearth individual who’s aware of how far he’s come, and still likes to hang out with his high school friends when he’s in town.
Stirling was invited to join Gertler’s company in the lead-up to last year’s release of Mendes’s third album. As head of marketing, Stirling oversees the marketing and promotion of Mendes’s music, videos, tours and more.
Without a doubt, it’s been a landmark year for the 21-year-old hitmaker, a native of Pickering, Ont. He swept this year’s Juno Awards, was nominated for two Grammys and is headlining the biggest tour of his career, including his first stadium show in Toronto on Sept. 6.
For Stirling, though, the Ottawa show will be special.
“It’s kind of a full-circle moment,” Stirling says, recalling the hours he spent postering and staking out the loading dock. “We’ve been to so many shows, so many games there, but when you’re an actual part of the production, part of the artist’s team, it’s a different feeling. It’s really special to share it with my parents.
“There was some doubt when I first left university, but these are the moments that make them go, ‘Wow, this really worked out for you.’ I want all my friends and family to enjoy the show so much.”