After 20-plus years working for Canadian major labels in A&R (Artists and Repertoire), in early 2017 Fraser Hill formed his own independent company, frazietrain productions Inc. Conceived as a music consulting firm to serve both signed and unsigned artists, with a specialization in cross-genre A&R and artist development, the company takes its moniker from a nickname Hill was given many years ago.

“That came from the guys in [the band] Pride Tiger,” Hill says, laughing. “They were having fun with me one night and it stuck. So, when it was time to name the company, there it was.”

The transition has been on the horizon, Hill says about his decision to strike out on his own, adding that it’s not the first time he’s worked independently: “I’d been on my own for a while as a manager and producer for a number of years,” he says.

Hill started out in the mid-1970s as an engineer/producer. “I was crazy about music, but I couldn’t play and really wanted to be in it somehow,” he says. After studying at Humber College in the broadcast program, he landed a gig as an assistant at Toronto’s Eastern Sound. That changed his life, he says, recalling the first session he worked on –with Anne Murray. “It had to be around 1977 and I was just an assistant, sitting by the tape machine, getting everybody coffee. That’s how it started,” he says.

Later, Hill formed a management company, Mighty Music Entertainment, with agent Ed Smeall, and co-managed The Northern Pikes. Hill and his business partner, Rick Hutt, also co-produced and engineered a number of the records including the Pikes’ Snow in June, which garnered them a JUNO Nomination for Engineer of the Year.

“It’s the one fundamental, from being in the studio to being in A&R. It was always the common thread; learning how to listen.”

From there he moved on to EMI Music Canada, ultimately becoming Senior Director of A&R, before transitioning to Universal Music Canada after their buyout of EMI. “I had a tremendous time with Universal and EMI all those years, and learned a ton from some fantastic folks,” says Hill. Among them were Randy Lennox, Deane Cameron and Jeffrey Remedios.

“What I want to do is to be an artist’s advocate,” says Hill. “To help artists make records and advise them on the process. Having done it for so long, and for so many people, I really felt I had a service that I could offer – because there’s a lot of young people, young artists, who are doing things on their own because the digital age allows that.”

Being that kind of advocate – one with a wealth of experience in marketing, promotion, and facilitating partnerships between artist and producers, agents and others in the industry – is key to what frazietrain is all about.

There’s also a benefit to the artists he works with – particularly now, given the fact the barrier to entry, at least in terms of recording and releasing a record, is lower. Having the benefit of outside ears, someone with experience in both the studio and in A&R, is highly valuable.

Fraser Hill, Shawn HookAs for the benefits of going independent, “There’s excitement to being on your own, because you never know what twists and turns are in front of you,” says Hill. “It’s invigorating, it’s entrepreneurial, and I really like that. It captures where I was [when I was] engineering, producing and managing.”

Back in the day, prior to the digital shift, there were a certain amount of hoops you had to jump through to even have access to the kind of expertise that Hill offers. “The great thing about technology is that it levels the playing field, allowing people to get in,” he says. “Now there are some incredibly talented people embracing technology and just tearing their way through it. But it doesn’t hurt them to have experience as the second ear to adjudicate what they’re working on; someone on their team who says, you know, I think a little more effort here is going to help you get to where you want to go sooner, and be happier with the result.”

Ultimately, while an artist has to make their own decisions, they certainly won’t suffer from informed guidance. And Hill is uniquely suited to provide that guidance, having worked as a producer/engineer with the likes of Anne Murray, Red Ryder, Grapes of Wrath, The Northern Pikes and many others and in A&R with artists such as Serena Ryder (his first signing at EMI), Shawn Hook, 2015 SOCAN Songwriting prize winners Dear Rouge, The James Barker Band, Wes Mack, July Talk, These Kids Wear Crowns, and Kreesha Turner.

He continues to work with artists he encountered during his time at Universal, and is currently working with Donovan Woods on his next album.

In all of his work, the thing he carries forward is “always listening.” That’s been key to every aspect of Hill’s career. “It’s the one fundamental, from being in the studio to being in A&R. It was always the common thread; learning how to listen, and learning how to take the music in… listening critically and making the right musical choices for the song.”

On August 10, 2017, Jehan V. Valiquet’s publishing company Groupe Éditorial Musinfo will turn 35. “I still remember that day,” he says. “I was at my lawyer’s, signing the papers that marked the creation of my company. I had already gotten in touch with a few artists. I was elated and excited…”

Jehan Valiquet with Charles Aznavour

Jehan Valiquet with Charles Aznavour

You have to see Valiquet’s eyes, as he discusses the start of his business like someone talks about their wedding day. And it truly was like a wedding, since music is nothing short of his passion. His home, which also houses his office, is filled to the brim with it. There are records everywhere: box sets from artists as varied as Véronique Samson, The Velvet Underground or The Rolling Stones; vinyl galore, proudly on display, including some by Harmonium and M; and of course, a turntable. All of which testifies to the fact that, in this place, music is cherished and vibrantly alive.

Right from the start, Jehan V. Valiquet considered the Francophone world, and especially France and Belgium, as his playground. He specialized in French and Belgian sub-publishing, and catalogue representation, for the Canadian territory. Throughout his journey as a publisher, bonds were established on both sides of the Atlantic. Of all his landmark meetings, the one that stands out, was the first and founding meeting with Nicolas Peyrac’s publisher – which launched him in the business.

But there were others, too. Over a period of ten years, Valiquet often ran into Gérard Davoust, Charles Aznavour’s publisher, and he expressed his interest in representing him in Canada, but was repeatedly turned down. “We’d gotten into the habit of meeting regularly, despite ten years of being told ‘no.’ Davoust was a mentor to me,” says Valiqut. “We were quite formal with each other, even though we’d go out for a meal once or twice a year. Then, one day, he begged me to stop being so formal. I couldn’t. Then, as we were walking out of the restaurant, he said, very matter-of-factly: ‘Oh, by the way.. I’m giving you Aznavour.’ I screamed, ‘YES!’ right there in the middle of the street. I was so elated!”

Word spread fast that Valiquet was good, and the fortuitous meetings would multiply as the years went on. In the 2000s, he obtained several other European catalogues for sub-publishing, including those of Carla Bruni, Mathieu Chedid and Vanessa Paradis.

“You can’t improvise being a publisher. It requires time, negotiation, management, and knowledge.”

Valiquet cherishes and nurtures those meetings as the DNA of Musinfo, and he still travels to Europe several times a year for them. ‘These publishers are now friends,” he says. “We keep each other up to speed on our accounts, but above all, we appreciate spending time together.” The same holds true in Québec, where Valiquet signed deals with bands such as Mountain Daisies, and manages several valuable catalogues, such as those of Michel Rivard and Beau Dommage, both of whom have owned their own rights since 1974.

With record sales dwindling, more and more artists are willing to embark on the self-publishing route, as is the case for M, Grand Corps Malade, Robert Charlebois and Claude Dubois. ‘There always were artists who retained the rights to their songs,” says Valiquet. “But there are way more nowadays. Yann Perreau, who was with me for 10 years, decided to start his own company when our deal ended. It’s possible. There are training classes offered by the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM) and the Festival de la chanson de Granby. It’s a good thing. Artists have to wear many hats. But one needs to be careful. You can’t improvise being a publisher. It requires time, negotiation, management, and knowledge. It really is a trade. Hiring an administrator for your repertoire often is a good solution, because publishing adequately can quickly steal time away from creating music.”

Valiquet also really likes to set up meetings between music creators, especially between a composer and a lyricist. He truly believes in the power of such creative duos as Michel Bergé and Luc Plamondon. To Valiquet, initiating such meetings, sometimes even between one songwriter in France and one in Québec, allows a publisher to stay actively involved with the music creators they represent. Thus, via Musinfo, he connected French-from-France lyricist Sandrine Roy with Québec composer Sylvain Michel. “That duo now has more than 30 songs that charted on radio,” says Valiquet. “For them, it all began with Garou’s Que le temps. Now, Sandrine Roy, who still lives in France, is a member of SOCAN.”

On top of his solid experience and his love of music, with a capital L, what characterizes this top-tier publisher V. Valiquet’s honesty in his relationships. Typically, Valiquet is frank when it comes to the future of Groupe Éditorial Musinfo. He’s still quite active and intends to remain so as long as possible.

“I never think about retiring,” he says. “Maybe I should, but I just don’t feel like it.” Regardless, the man isn’t unaware that time goes by, and long-term engagements are increasingly uncertain. “Musinfo is built on my own personal relationships with publishers and artists who trust me,” he says. “And I know I’m not eternal. I don’t sign contracts that last as long as the copyright, 50 years. I don’t do that anymore. It brings no value to the company, and I don’t intend to sell it. It’s all about being honest with the people I work with. Artists also appreciate those limited terms. They know they’re not imprisoned in a deal.”

Sophie PelletierStanding out in such a talent-rich musical landscape as that of Québec isn’t an easy task, but it’s always easier when one has a clear vision of where one wants to go, and what one wants to accomplish. Singer-songwriter Sophie Pelletier is from that breed of artists whose path in music has been traced since her childhood.

The whole province got acquainted with her in 2012 when she was a finalist on the popular talent show Star Académie, which afforded her the opportunity to sing with Lionel Richie, Johnny Hallyday and Mika. But her art was really informed by years and years of watching her family onstage, and exploring her big brother’s album collection. The young Rivière-Ouelle native had already accumulated two decades of experience since she first attempted writing lyrics and playing on her dad’s guitar.

Pelletier knows what she wants, how she wants to hear it, and how it’s supposed to sound. In her mind, everything is crystal-clear. Following the head rush of Star Académie, which left her confident and strong, she took her time to cherry-pick the collaborators who would understand her. She found just the right ear in André Papanicolaou, Vincent Vallières’ guitar player. She appreciates the praise of the man she chose to produce her first album. “He’s the one that made me believe that my songs are good, and that I should keep going in that direction,” says Pelletier. “He was the catalyst of my creative process.” Le désert, la tempête was launched in 2015, and spawned two pristine folk-pop radio hit singles, “Sans remords” and “Accroche-toi.”

Two years later, Pelletier tapped Gaële to help fine-tune the lyrics of her second offering, Les météores, released on April 24, 2017. “She was amazing!” says Pelletier. “She taught me two essential things: how to have fun writing and how to structure my creative process.” As the organized woman that she is, Pelletier adopted a work ethic that helps her drive a song idea to completion. Lines that come to her during the day are further explored during the evening (“with a couple of glasses of wine,” she admits, laughing). The next day, she’ll re-visit the structure, fine-tune the rhymes, and dig through her lexicon to take the song to its logical conclusion.

Yet one needs to have their mind on writing in order to create new songs. The self-described “intermittent creator” needs a calm environment. She can only get into the right frame of mind for writing when the hubbub of touring and promotion slows down.

For her second album, she surrounded herself with an all-star cast of collaborators: Dumas (who wrote a song for her), Fred St-Gelais, Marc Dupré and Samuel Joly, as well as Gautier Marinof on production duties. The latter has recently worked with Jérôme Couture, Renée Wilkin, and Étienne Drapeau, as well as co-producing one of Dupré’s albums.

But Pelletier is the one firmly holding the reins of her destiny. “People have encouraged me to keep control of my career, to manage my copyrights, keep ownership of my masters and self-publish my songs,” she says. “That’s why I created my own company, Uniforce Production, alongside Geneviève Morin, my manager and my associate, to whom I delegate the administrative and marketing aspects of my career.”

A long time ago, she realized her songs are good. Not good as in “a good song,” but good as in “they do good for people,” including herself. Music can heal. Music is precisely what allowed her to see clearly during less rosy periods in her life. Now, she imparts her know-how through Projet Victoire Musique. “I created workshops where everyone is welcome, where people learn how to use music as a moral support, for the good it does them,” says Pelletier. “Children are especially fond of this approach.” Her experience and studies in specialized education are still useful in this regard.

Helping others is a recurring theme among her mid- and long-term goals: “I’d love to write and compose for other artists, becoming a mentor for younger artists, while carrying one with my own evolving career,” she says. This curious and ambitious artist would love to explore Europe, and France in particular, but also wishes to explore writing in English so she can play with her voice, her music and dig deeper in that direction.

She certainly has everything it takes to succeed.