Krista Simoneau’s agency has been playing a key role in the industry for a decade now. We met with an influential woman who’s learned how to say “no.”

Les Yeux Boussoles is the name this Laval-based decision-maker picked for the management and production company she founded in 2012. Krista Simoneau didn’t just pop up in the industry as a novice: she studied bass guitar at Cégep Saint-Laurent – which is where she met Louis-Jean Cormier, François Lafontaine, etc. –  “but I don’t play anymore,” she says.

Krista Simoneau

Left to right: Louis-Jean Cormier, François Lafontaine, Krista Simoneau. Photo: Le Caron

She then went on to specialize in sound engineering at Cégep de Drummondville before working extensively as a stage tech – “patching stages” as she puts it – most notably for the Montréal International Jazz Festival, as well as the Francofolies. She also worked as an electrical and lighting technician at Salle Pauline-Julien, a venue in Sainte-Geneviève, a suburb in the West end of the island of Montréal.

“That’s the universe I’m from,” she says. “I worked at Spectra, producing shows from 2005 to 2011. Booking agent is not a trade you learn in school.” She actually uses the word “salesperson” to describe her work. “The phone was ringing off the hook at Spectra, all the bookers were on the line and that’s the perfect opportunity to push your emerging artist’s projects. It’s easier that way,” says.

“When I came back from my maternity leave [she’s the mother of an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old, whose father is Louis-Jean Cormier] Catherine Simard was taking the helm of the agency,” says Simoneau. They spent a year working together before she decided to create her own agency. “I needed new challenges, and to define who I am as a human being,” she says.

Now 43, Simoneau has become – thanks to her discretion, rigour, and humility – a player to be reckoned with. She’s honing her skills, while still managing and advising Louis-Jean Cormier, whose career continues to soar to great heights with his incandescent solo albums, his life with Karkwa, his TV appearances as a coach on La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice], and as a creative teacher on Star Académie.

“One of the achievements I’m the proudest of is the digital platform Louis-Jean and I have developed: Le 360,”: she says. “It has exclusive content, interviews, guitar lessons, videos with new artists and collaborators, etc. It’s a big project because doing digital and video is expensive, and takes a lot of time in the schedule. We actually film all the capsules in his studio [Dandurand]. We want to showcase his many talents.”

The couple split six years ago. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, considering their business ties. It turned out to be the ultimate test of their resilience. The breakup started getting public attention, and, invoking personal reasons, the musician paused his career. “But I would’ve kept on doing what I do no matter what, because I also manage other artists,” says the woman who skis and jogs in her spare time.

Krista Simoneau

Left to right: Krista Simoneau, Brigitte Poupart (with her back turned), Martin Léon, Louis-Jean Cormier. Photo: Joséphine Trottier-Rivard

Salomé Leclerc, Lou-Adriane Cassidy, country singer Cindy Bédard, Ariane Moffat, Galaxie, Martin Léon, and a new band whose identity she cannot divulge yet, are among the artists that Simoneau and her two valiant employees manage.

“You can’t represent just one artist, because you never know when they’ll leave you, or conflicts will arise,” says Simoneau. “Working with someone with whom you’re romantically involved is also very difficult. We’ve been through it together, because we’re able to talk to each other and untie the knots, even though it’s sometimes really hard. Our communication was a tad more abrasive during the first two years,” she laughs, “but we’ve been separated for six years now, and things couldn’t be better. The crisis is behind us. We’re focused on our future professional projects, not on our quarrels. We appreciate each other deeply. He’s really easy to work with, he’s not a complicated person.”

What does she enjoy the most? “Representing artists I work with, whom I adore, but without acting like a groupie,” says Simoneau. “I like selling their shows to bookers and helping them get discovered, and I think I’m good at it, at placing my pieces. I like long-term strategizing, too: where do we see ourselves a year or two from now?”

Projecting herself into the future, she says, “The promotional and release operation starts a year before the album is slated to come out, and it culminates with the tour, so it’s a three-year commitment.” Where, for example, does she see 24-year-old Lou-Adriane Cassidy – one of Ariane Roy’s dear friends – in the near future?

“I believe she’ll mark her generation just as Louis-Jean did his,” she says. “That woman has what it takes to reach the same level of exposure. She knows exactly where she’s going, she’s got a strong, sensual rock vibe that she totally owns – like Salomé. I think she’ll be a role model for my daughter’s generation, and I totally see her selling-out MTelus no more than three years from now.

“My strategy? The right artist in the right place at the right time. It’s OK sometimes to decide to play more fringe festivals rather than the Francos de Montréal. Waiting for the right moment is sometimes very hard for artists. And then, when things are on a roll, the hardest thing is saying no to certain projects. It’s a common mistake when you start out to say yes to everything. But sometimes, the wise thing to say is ‘We’ll pass on this for now, this opportunity will come around again.’”

 



For 45 years, The Music Gallery has played an influential part in Canada’s evolving experimental music scene, including the creation of its own label, Music Gallery Editions (1977-1981); launching MusicWorks magazine, now separately run; programming a series of “guerilla location” events around Toronto; and eventually, settling into its current home at 918 Bathurst St., a few blocks North of Bloor St. Today, the independent venue can add “programming through a pandemic” to that list.

For its new Artistic Director, Sanjeet Takhar, programming in the COVID era meant accepting its unpredictable nature from day one. “In the first year, I don’t think I was surviving!” says Takhar. “We basically had three plans for each event that we mapped out with each artist: a 50-percent-capacity performance, a livestream at the venue, or a pre-recorded performance. It was exhausting, and required navigating an ever-shifting calendar.”

David Dacks, Music Gallery

David Dacks

David Dacks, the Music Gallery’s former decade-long Artistic Director, now Executive Director, commiserates, adding that watching the music community try to endure has been challenging. “A lot of artists have been taking stock of their lives, their practices, and other big questions,” says Dacks. “Some have left town; some haven’t felt motivated to make art, and struggle with mental health; others, especially now, have gotten sick. So plans have changed constantly.

“We’ve been fortunate to access COVID relief [including SOCAN Foundation support] and keep up a pretty good pace of programming in order to keep paying artists and arts workers, but the fact is that a pandemic is disruptive. We need to listen to our artists and audiences about what they need, now more than ever.”

One way that The Music Gallery gives artists what they need is by being Licensed to Play with SOCAN. “For songwriters or composers whose work we’re presenting, we make sure they’re credited and/or compensated with the help of SOCAN,” says Takhar. “To music creators that aren’t SOCAN members, and/or come from outside Canada, or are no longer alive, we look into clearing all rights, paying attention to use, and compensating their estate if relevant.”

Another way is by being open to change. “Probably the biggest change was when we stopped programming in musical genre-based streams,” says Dacks. “It was too problematic to divide complex artistic ideas into jazz, classical, pop or world music – ugh – streams. In doing so, we were able to take on and help foster unique projects such as David Virelles’ Afro-Cuban chamber jazz project Gnosis, which was later recorded and released on ECM Records, to worldwide acclaim…

“Another was including artists as curators of other events, which is something that’s been increasingly a part of our programming in recent years. The most prominent example was Bear Witness of the Halluci Nation [formerly A Tribe Called Red]  programming our flagship X Avant Festival in 2018. He was able to try out programming ideas, and work on the ‘Halluci Nation’ concept further, including in a live-band format, which subsequently ended up touring and recording.”

Sanjeet Takhar, Music Gallery

Sanjeet Takhar

In spite of their new roles and unprecedented hurdles, Dacks and Takhar found working as a team a natural fit. “It was clear that Sanjeet was the best choice for Artistic Director,” says  Dacks, recalling what made them stand out. “We chose them for their worldview, their empathy, their work ethic, their perspective on what experimentation in music could and does look like, and their attitude towards plugging into the Music Gallery’s history and community, while guiding it forward. Like me, they didn’t have an academic background in music to relate to that aspect of our history, but as a DJ, they have wide-ranging tastes and an innate disposition for programming.”

For Takhar, transitioning from independent artist to Artistic Director required much thought. “Moving from DIY to an arts institution made me really nervous,” they say. “With a massive political shift due to the murder of George Floyd, for months I witnessed IBPOC community members being consumed by institutions that weren’t ready for change. It led to harm, it led to them having to leave. Before accepting my role, I spent about two weeks consulting people with close relationships to the Music Gallery… While I expected the ‘same old story,’ it actually was a huge source of comfort. People praised the space, praised David Dacks, and told me of formative experiences they had participating in events there… It has such a strong foundation for social change, they’ve been working on inclusive policies and practices for years, not weeks.”

Takhar says that as The Music Gallery envisions its future, it’s keeping artists at the forefront: “We’re currently planning our 2022-23 programming year to adjust to these changing times. Programming into the future the same way we did in the past is like putting a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t make sense. We’re currently having in-depth conversations with our Board [of Directors], artists, advisory councils, and internally with staff, about new initiatives that will shift our perspective from a concert hall that is limited to livestreams, to a hub for experimentation, where artists can grow.”

Music for All:  Sanjeet Takhar on making the Gallery more inclusive

  • Money matters: “For development and for requested performances at the Music Gallery, review CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens) and musicians’ union rates to match or exceed them. If we’ve worked with artists before, we consider prior rates with inflation. Most importantly, we talk to artists. Money is a sticky subject in the arts, there is so much taboo around it. We try really hard to have candid conversations of what’s in our budget and how we can make something work. We ask artists what would make them feel comfortable and what would be representative of the work they put in.”
  • Open calls for submissions: “To create equity for emerging artists and those who receive less government funding, we run open calls for submissions to present their work in our concert halls. We cover all fees, knowing the barrier to entry isn’t the same for all performers.”
  • Invest in artists: “We invest in all of our artists. There’s always high-end photography, and in recent years, high end video footage to add to their portfolio.”


When Laura Roy played her first small show in London, England, in March 2017, she had a hunch it was where she needed to be. Returning to Toronto, where she was based at the time, Roy packed up her car and drove home to her native Nova Scotia. Landing a bartending job, the singer-songwriter saved every penny she could, focused on her goal of getting back to the U.K.

“London gave me a feeling that I hadn’t felt yet,” says Roy. “The excitement I felt there and the music I wanted to create… It’s just such an incredible music scene.” Six months later, led by a gut feeling, she bought a one-way ticket to London and didn’t look back.

In the five years since, Roy, now 30, has established herself as an up-and-coming voice in the alternative R&B space. She has two EPs under her belt, along with an East Coast Music Award (her 2018 EP Forte was named best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year in 2020) and has performed as a backing vocalist with pop superstars Anne-Marie and Camila Cabello. Then last year, the American rapper and songwriter Doja Cat used one of Roy’s co-writes (with her partner, producer Geo Jordan, and friend, Linden Jay) on her 2021 album, Planet Her, which has since earned two Grammy nominations.

“It’s been a bit surreal,” says Roy, who’s been invited to attend the awards ceremony in April of 2022, in Las Vegas. “Not only are our names on the credits, but they kept my vocals on the track.”

But as much as she’s thriving in London, Roy’s latest EP, Tides, produced with Jordan and Grammy-nominated artist Lianne La Havas, is an homage to the place where she grew up. Born and raised in the village of Canning, N.S., Roy spent her early years singing along to artists like Carole King and James Taylor. “I was a little diva performer from the age of four,” she laughs.

When she started studying guitar at 13, however, things fell into place. When her teacher encouraged her to write her first song, Roy says she found her spark. “My whole world opened up to the idea of actually learning how to play and accompany myself,” she says. Roy began performing at coffee shops and in talent shows, eventually studying music at college in Dartmouth, N.S.

“It’s been a bit surreal”

Then at 19, Roy was invited to attend the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, where she learned to write with other people. “That was really eye-opening for me,” she recalls. But after participating for four years straight, Roy admits that her home province was “starting to feel a little small.” After decamping to Toronto, she began participating in songwriting camps in other parts of the country, through the Songwriters Association of Canada, as well as in New York and Nashville.

Though she tends to let melodies move her when she’s writing her own music, freestyling until she finds a nugget she can shape into a song, Roy also loves the challenge of co-writing.

“I think so much is about connecting with the other person, and just seeing what kind of space they’re in, and what they’ve been shaped by, and what they want to create,” she says. “When you get a good session with someone and you’re connecting, it’s like you’re looking in their soul. It’s really exciting.”

Roy, who’s self-managed, continues to push herself to try new things. Most recently, she’s been doing more producing, and is also directing her own music videos. She says she’s proud of what she’s been able to achieve on her own.

Though she doesn’t see herself staying in London forever, Roy is continuing to enjoy her time in the city, with plans to re-evaluate in a few years. She’s even open to the idea of one day returning to Nova Scotia, and the ocean where she spent her youth.

“I think the dream for me would be to buy a beautiful beach house and have my own studio,” she laughs. “I’d like to be producing and writing for other people.”

For now, Roy says she’ll keep listening to her gut as she charts a course forward. “I just want to tour the world,” she says happily. “I want to travel and perform, and to continue creating music that excites me.”