In the 10 years since Belly and Tony Sal, co-founders of CP Music Group, started the company in Ottawa – at a time when they admittedly knew very little about the record industry and music publishing – the duo have turned a shared fervor for Canadian urban music into a thriving business.

That success is a testament to the passion and teamwork of the four founding members: CEO Sal, Grammy-nominated rapper/songwriter Belly, President Manny Dion and Artist Manager Cash. “The ideology we had coming into this was not treating it like nine-to-five job,” says Belly. “This is our family. It’s our everything, so when other people slept, we were working. When their day ended, ours didn’t, and I think it gave us a real advantage.”

“This is our family. It’s our everything.” – Belly

Over time they’ve built an impressive roster of talent, including Massari, Mia Martina, Belly, and producers DaHeala (The Weeknd, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg/Lion) and DannyBoyStyles (Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Wiz Khalifa). CP Music Group has made an impressive mark on Canadian radio (it’s the No. 1 Canadian indie label at Top 40 radio), and garnered multiple SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards and multiple MuchMusic Awards. Belly’s songwriting is a huge part of that success, Sal says, because of his work writing with CP’s roster, as well as with a wide range of international artists such as The Weeknd, Snoop Dogg/Lion, Wiz Khalifa and more.

Given Belly’s inroads into the international market, he and Sal are focusing on expanding that reach, recently inking a deal with Warner Chappell Music Publishing in America. “That’s our main focus, working with Jon Platt, President of Creative at Warner Chappell, focusing on the key ways to take what we’ve created to the next level,” Sal says.

As the industry has evolved over the past decade, there have been challenges, Sal admits. “The business is shrinking,” he says. “Everything is different, but when the industry changes, we evolve and we still stick with our passions – that’s what we depend on every day. As a publishing company we focus mostly on making the music and take it from there.”

“The changes taking place in the industry make it difficult to even understand what’s going to happen the next day, but we’re still here doing what we do,” Belly says, adding that their greatest strength is their friendship. “Success never kept nobody together. It’s friendship that’s kept us together, and if we have a problem we strap the gloves on, but then we shake hands afterwards and everybody’s good,” he adds, laughing.

When it comes down to it, having a shared a vision is the key. “Every decision Sal and I make, we make together,” Belly says. “The marriage between the creative and business world that we’ve built, that’s the best thing we have. Every day we know what the task at hand is and we complete it: mission accomplished, that’s what we go for every day.”

Kandle first appeared on the Montreal music scene a few years ago with an EP that made her one of the revelations of 2011. It was like a blond angel had descended from the sky to enchant humans with original compositions built on folk and blues, giving rise to rocking guitar riffs. This tantalizing musical appetizer was followed in March 2014 with In Flames, Kandle’s first full-length album.

Reminiscent of Marissa Nadler, Lykke Li or Nick Cave’s dark romanticism, the solid voice, direct style and musical sensibility displaced on that album are a far cry from the admittedly limited performing gifts Kandle possessed in earlier days:

“When I started out,” the 23-year-old musician recalls, “I couldn’t sing a single note! I was able to create a song, complete with words and music, in 10 minutes flat, but performing it was another matter. I was singing out of tune, and that made me so miserable! And I come from a musical family… My sister, my cousin, my dad, everybody sings! 

“When I started out, I couldn’t sing a single note!.. I was singing out of tune, and that made me so miserable!”

“So I started recording myself. I would play a song back, identify what was wrong, and record it again. My goal was at least to stop singing out of tune, and that finally happened. Then I started developing my technical skills – broadening my voice range, controlling my vibrato, hitting more notes. And also defining my own personal style. I had no musical training, so it was trial and error, a self-teaching thing.”

Montreal is what Kandle calls her lucky town. She settled there three years ago after completing her début EP. Her musical partner Sam Goldberg, who produced her new album and is a member of Broken Social Scene, believed in her. “He told me if I came to Montreal, he could help me get a band together, and we could start performing live,” says Kandle. “Back in Victoria, I was still ‘Neil Osborne’s daughter’ [her father being a member of 54.40], so I wasn’t taken really seriously as a musician… But I’m hungry for that kind of life, I’m looking forward to touring and playing live shows. I’m raring to go! Montreal was my ticket for a new beginning. I dove into the void hoping for the best.” And, as it happened, she hit the ground running.

One thing that certainly helped is that Montrealers are musically curious and great emerging music fans. “It’s such an inspiring and exciting city! Here, people support local artists, they give us a chance,” says Kandle. “People come to hear what we have to offer, our songs are being played on radio. This is so important when you’re just starting out. I found the same openness in France when I was there a few months ago. There too, people go out to discover new music, whether they know the artists or not, and if they like your band, they’ll buy the album. Playing for this type of audience is a blessing.”

How can such a luminous and sparkling artist with a smiling voice create songs that – without being the least bit musically heavy  – connote such darkness? “For me, this is part of a therapeutic process,” says Kandle. “Since I don’t like harbouring dark thoughts and sadness, I let them out into my songs… I get inspired by the people around me. And not just boys and love stories either! I sing about the way things affect me. I revisit these feelings onstage.”

Could there ever be too many female role models in the music industry? “There are so few women anyway! In this business, being a woman is both an advantage and a disadvantage,” says Kandle. “One the one hand, it’s harder for us to be taken seriously as musicians, but, on the other hand, when the time comes to publicize my music, I’m being offered full spreads in fashion magazines, and this is where some readers first hear about me… So there is eventually a kind of balance, I guess.”

For Kandle Osborne, finding her own voice was a priority, but she also needed to be able to have her say on the creative side of her recording, something that her father, as co-producer, helped her with immeasurably. “This industry is dominated by men, and they don’t mind telling you exactly what you need to do,” she says. “My father was with me in the studio during the recording sessions, and he kept telling them, ‘Look here, this is Kandle’s album. Let her make her own choices!’ Whenever I ask him what he thinks about something, he turns the table and asks me, ‘What do you think about this and that?’ He’s proud of his daughter, he enjoys watching me grow… although he’ll be the first one to tell you that I certainly did not choose the easiest path.”

A flexible band whose name has changed as often as its lineup, the Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra got started in 1999. This year, the unpredictable clan released their seventh full-length album, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, a dense, urgent and furiously dishevelled opus (just listen to “Austerity Blues”) partly dedicated to the City of Montreal and containing some serious sonic assaults: listener discretion is advised.

As creator of the (sometimes highly politicized) lyrics of the Mt. Zion squad, Efrim Menuck (on guitar, piano and vocals) believes he knows why this is. “We’ve been a quintet for the past six years now,” he explains. “This was the first time we were writing an album in this format. It was different for the other albums. I believe that the fact that we were writing songs for a restricted number of people made for a more concentrated, more vital energy on this album. Also, we performed a lot of live concerts in the last few years, and the fact that we were constantly on the road had an effect on the final result.”

“In 2014, the barriers between compositional styles have been broken. Now, every musician on the planet has access to an amazing palette. You can make music freely.”

With blues, metal and garage music influences, the new album is a calculated departure from the band’s post-rock (a term Menuck hates) early influences. “In actual fact, our roots are in punk rock! We cultivate a healthy distrust of everything that isn’t local. The moment there’s doubt in our minds, we say no. It’s that simple. If we can seem rude to some people, it’s just that we’re shy and suspicious,” Menuck explains wryly.

Completed by Thierry Amar (bass, vocals), Sophie Trudeau (violin, vocals), Jessica Moss (violin, vocals) and David Payant (drums, vocals), the quintet goes about developing its repertoire in a strictly democratic manner. “That’s the main thing,” Menuck explains. “We begin with a riff, a melodic line or just a handful of chords from a jam session, and we take it from there. These can be contributed by anyone in the band. Then we spend a considerable amount of time finding a simple music segment and building as many variations as we can around that initial core until we reach the point where we have a song that can be as long as forty minutes or so. We then shorten this to a more reasonable duration.

“We discuss all arrangements together. Sometimes one of us will have a stronger opinion and try to impose that vision. Then the three string players [Amar, Trudeau and Moss] sometimes bring a more ‘chamber music’ feel to the end product. The music always comes first. That’s not negotiable. When we reach the point where the instrumental piece is roadworthy, I can sit down and try to come up with lyrics that bring all this together.”

With three musicians (Menuck, Amar and Trudeau) also performing on a regular basis as part of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all five Mt. Zion members are full-time musicians. Are they living depraved rock-star lives? Well, not exactly.

“We’ve been very lucky in the fact that we’ve been working with people who believed in us from the very start, and have remained our friends to this day,” says Menuck. “Essentially, we make our living on the road, but everyone’s on the road these days, and the competition is fierce. We love what we do, and I believe it’s important to think small. We don’t have a manager. We don’t undertake excessive tours. We do everything ourselves. We take a homespun approach, keep expenses low and split our small pie in a reasonable number of pieces. All we’re trying to do is make an honest living. And it’s not easy. It’s becoming harder all the time. Sometimes I think I should get out of the music business and do something else, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. At this stage of my life, I don’t know what else I could do. My C.V. says ‘Musician,’ period.”

Mt. Zion is planning to keep busy until the fall. Incisive guitar and booming violin aficionados were pleased to hear the news of the release of a Mt. Zion EP in May, and of another one later in the year, always without compromises, no matter what. “In 2014,” Efrim Menuck says, “the barriers between compositional styles have been taken down. Now, every musician on the planet has access to an amazing palette. You can make music freely without feeling you’re making a deep or formal statement. This is one of the great things about making music today. You can do whatever you like. After being around for a number of years in this business, you kind of need to find a track that can motivate you to keep going.”