After 15 years and a business that in 2012 enjoyed $20 million in revenues, multi-faceted MapleMusic has entered a new phase of evolution. At a lavish bash held at Toronto’s Velvet Underground on March 1, 2016, MapleMusic was re-christened the Cadence Music Group and a promising future was set in motion.

“It’s a re-focus,” says Iain Taylor, Cadence Music Group President and CEO, a few days later at his office, adjacent to Universal Music Canada headquarters. “We call it a re-invention of our legacy – that’s what the party was, but we’re proud of the fact that [we’ve had] 15 years of success. It’s something to be celebrated.”

Taylor also said the re-branding is a rallying cry to announce to the world “that we’re going to be doing business on a global scale, in the most effective way possible, for our artists.”

“It’s about getting with artists and helping them.” – Cadence Music President and CEO Iain Taylor

Moving forward, the new umbrella includes Cadence Music (their domestic roster includes Vancouver’s The Pack A.D. and Toronto-based Ferraro, Megan Bonnell and Royal Wood); Open Road Recordings (Dean Brody, Tim Hicks, The Road Hammers, Doc Walker, more); Pheromone Recordings (Joel Plaskett, The Dears, Steph Cameron, Alejandra Ribera, more); label distribution company Fontana North (Justin Time, Shout! Factory, Downtown, more); Cadence Management (Royal Tusk, Zaki Ibrahim, Poor Young Things, more); music publishing company Cadence Songs; and fan engagement company Fan Experience (Sarah McLachlan, Hedley, Frank Turner, Classified).

Cadence Music Group

At the Cadence launch party. Left to right: Iain Taylor, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and The Honourable Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. (Photo: Andrew Schwab)

No longer part of the Cadence fold: online ticketing agency TicketBreak, sold for an undisclosed amount in January to San Francisco-based Ticketfly. “It just became harder to compete in that space while competing in the music space,” says Taylor, who assumed his position in April of 2015. “We looked at our core competencies and what we really wanted to do both for our artists and our customers.

“To be competitive in this world, you have to look at the music from all angles. That’s not just the recorded masters and their exploitation, but also how you’re going to get involved with artists on the publishing side, the management side and in the V.I.P. engagement business: things we do really well. It became an exercise of getting back to what we were really good at.”

Taylor said the re-branding of the business – which was co-founded in 1999 by the Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and his brother Jeff, and IT entrepreneurs Mike Alkier, Evan Hu and Grant Dexter, as an e-commerce site, on an initial $60,000 investment (according to a 2012 Globe & Mail interview with Dexter) – was necessary.

“When I first got here, there were a number of suggestions internally that [a name change] might be a good idea,” Taylor said. “Talking to stakeholders of the business, it became fairly clear, fairly quickly, that the perception of MapleMusic was a name that was so Canadian. Internationally, there was a concept of, ‘if you were to present yourself a little more as an international entity, it might be advantageous.’”

Cadence Music has already bolstered its imprint label with several international signings – former Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee, Escondido and Victoria+Jean. Not to mention Alabama Shakes, who the Cadence Music label supported all the way to a Canadian gold record (their first and only one so far), for their four-time Grammy-winning album Sound & Color.

Jim Bryson, Kathleen Edwards

Jim Bryson and Kathleen Edwards perform at the Cadence launch party. (Photo: Andrew Schwab)

Taylor reveals that many more signings will be unveiled in the not-too-distant-future. “We’ve got over a dozen new ones in the last three months,” he says. “We’ve also brought on eight labels in the last little while. We’ve got a couple of bigger ones, in the sense of announcements, to come as well.”

As far as music publishing is concerned, Taylor admits that Cadence Songs is still a work in progress. “That’s the one piece of the puzzle that’s still in the formative stage,” he says. “We control a number of works and we certainly are interested. When we get into management or signing acts, we’re seeking the publishing as well. There are a number of ways we can approach it – we certainly have partners globally and domestically that work on our behalf, but we haven’t finalized how we’re proceeding. We’re definitely getting more active in that space.”

With a newly unified office and staff of 25, over 100 distributed labels, and the unwavering support of such stakeholders as Universal Music Canada and Slaight Music – as well as a distribution partner in Canada in Universal, and for both the U.S. and the rest of the world in San Francisco’s INgrooves –Taylor says his company is open for worldwide business.

“It’s about getting with artists and helping them,” he says. “Artists are much more business-minded than ever. So for us, it’s about engaging and becoming business partners, and being able to execute effectively on their behalf, and help them sustain and flourish.”

You certainly can’t accuse siblings Matthew and Jill Barber of rushing into their first album as a duo. Between them, these two acclaimed singer-songwriters have a discography of 14 albums (Matthew eight and Jill six) as solo artists.

Fans catching their solo shows over the years have often been treated to guest appearances by the other Barber, and these isolated examples have proven that the pair of brother-and-sister voices can harmonize sweetly and smoothly.

The two Barbers finally decided to forge ahead on a full duo album last year. The result is The Family Album, released April 1, 2016. “We didn’t feel in any hurry to make an album together,” says Matthew. “We knew it would happen and that we had our whole lives to do it. The timing was right last year, in terms of our album cycles. Jill had just had her first child, her son Josh. She suggested the time was right, and my theory is that maybe having a baby was putting her even more in a family state of mind, perhaps wanting more family around.”

“It’s good for your creativity to write with something different in mind.” – Jill Barber

The pair decided a joint (and jointly-produced) album should be a combination of cover versions of songs that they both loved, plus new original compositions that they’d write specifically for the project. With Matthew based in Toronto and Jill in Vancouver, they grabbed chunks of time together in each city to sort out possible cover choices and share their new tunes. Three new Jill Barber tunes (“One True Love,” “Big Picture Window,” and “Today”) and two new Matthew Barber songs (“Grandpa Joe,” “Sweeter The Dawn”) made the final cut.

Jill found the challenge of writing for The Family Album creatively inspiring. “It felt a little different than writing for my own albums,” she says. “It’s good for your creativity to write with something different in mind. It puts a few interesting parameters in there. I know Matt felt the pressure to not just write another love song, as you’re going to be singing it with your sister. You can’t get too sexy with the lyrics!”

The choice of album title has a resonance beyond the simple sibling connection. “We wanted it to be like a family photo album,” says Jill, “full of nostalgia and stories, with a warm and comfortable feeling. I think we succeeded at that.” Themes of family dominate their original tunes, with “Grandpa Joe” being a tribute to the grandfather the siblings never met.

Whittling down the outside material to cover was a tricky process. “When you can choose any song in the world, it’s hard to figure out which kinds of sounds you want to focus on,” says Matthew. “It also meant that if either of us had any reservations about a song, we just moved on.”

The six cover songs comprise three written by Canadian songwriting greats (Neil Young, Gene MacLellan, and Ian Tyson), one tune popularized by Leonard Cohen (“The Partisan”), plus songs by ace Americana singer-songwriters Bobby Charles and Townes Van Zandt.

Jill Barber, Matthew Barber“We’re proud Canadians, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to making a Canadian covers album,” says Matthew. “With the songs still on our short list, we realized that the sound that was emerging for the album was, broadly speaking, a Canadian take on Americana.”

In searching for material, Matthew fortuitously came across “Song to a Young Seagull,” a hidden gem in the catalogue of the late, great Canadian singer-songwriter Gene MacLellan. “Through the process of brainstorming songs, I spent time on YouTube scurrying down some rabbit holes and listening to things I’d never heard before,” says Matthew. “That song was on there in the form of a demo sung by Gene.” The Barbers ran the song choice by Gene’s daughter and fellow songsmith Catherine MacLellan, a friend of the pair.

Interestingly enough, the Barbers have never tried songwriting together. “I haven’t done a lot of collaborating in my songwriting at all,” says Matthew. “The closest I’ve come was in 2014, working with Justin Rutledge on songs for a theatrical adaptation of The Graduate. On this album, it worked out the way we did it, writing on our own and then polishing the songs together.”

“For some reason I’m not sure we’d be the best co-writers,” says Jill. “Sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit of distance in life from a co-writer.” Singing together is a different matter. “That does seem to come naturally to us,” says Matthew. “We’ve never really had to work hard to find a good blend together.”

The South by Southwest music festival and conference is a whirlwind of hundreds of live concerts throughout the city of Austin, TX. As such, it’s a place where everything’s possible for musicians wishing to export their music. So, once again, to help its members maximize their impact in this chaotic environment, SOCAN participated in this year’s edition.

This music component lasted from March 15-20, 2016, and more than 100 SOCAN members were invited to perform, making the organization’s presence all the more crucial.

As an A&R Executive at SOCAN, Guillaume Moffet’s role is to make the most of the performing rights organization’s contacts to benefit its members – which is why he lined up meeting after meeting during the event. “It’s become obvious, in 2016, that the music business is all about contacts and relationships,” he says. “Especially with the quantity of music on offer from everywhere around the world. There’s a lot of business being done, and impromptu meetings over a cold beer going on, at SXSW. That all contributes to making things happen – maybe not next month, but six, or twelve months down the road.”

Basia Bulat“You never know how things are going to go at SXSW,” says singer-songwriter Basia Bulat, who was back at the festival this year. “We all have expectations, but there is rarely any kind of immediate impact. But then, when you least expect it, you get a call to play in some other festival.”

SXSW is a particularly interesting showcase of Canadian artists, according to Rodney Murphy, manager of A&R for SOCAN. He reminds us that “it is the international festival with the most Canadian presence. Obviously, it ends up feeling like an immense competition. Our role is to present our members to the right people at the right time.”

That’s why, for an eleventh consecutive year, the traditional Canadian Blast BBQ attracted bookers, producers and music lovers from around the world – thanks to its high-flying and varied programming, assembled by the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and sponsored by SOCAN. Among the artists who performed on that occasion were Montréal electro-pop duo Milk & Bone, Ontario rockers Arkells, Manitoba hip-hop group The Lytics and folk-rocker Terra Lightfoot, also from Ontario.

It was Lightfoot’s first-ever trip to SXSW and she also took part in three other showcases, chief among which was a memorable one at the must-attend Canada House, held at the popular haunt Friend’s, on the even more popular 6th Street. “We came down here hoping to find an agent for an eventual U.S. tour,” says the Hamilton-born singer. “SXSW is a must for any Canadian artist hoping to make it in the U.S.”

As for Milk & Bone, it was their second year in a row at the festival, and they, too, are motivated by making it south of the border. In a sure sign that things are looking up, they noticed a lot more enthusiasm for their sounds during the Canadian Blast BBQ and their other showcases, especially the infamous Poutine Party presented by M for Montréal.

Says Camille Poliquin of Milk & Bone, “We got a much warmer welcome compared to last year. We met a ton of people to try and sell our show internationally. The promoter of a festival we hope to play seems to have really liked us. We spoke with him and we just clicked. That’s the type of meeting you need to create and tighten bonds.”

In Milk & Bone’s case, being at SXSW allowed them, among other things, to put a face to the other parties in relationships that they’d been nurturing online for months. This opportunity is great for the duo’s support team, if only because it allows them to line up meetings with producers and bookers. “Being at SXSW allows you to make things happen because it is, above all, a rallying point,” says Guillaume Moffet.

Creating a Buzz

As it turns out, the festival can benefit all artists, not just emerging ones. “Artists generally come to SXSW to be discovered. Otherwise, they come to get exposure and create a buzz that will get their careers going,” says SOCAN Chief Membership & Business Development Officer, Michael McCarty. “It’s always a good idea to come and meet the industry’s movers and shakers.”

The Strumbellas

That’s exactly what Ontario roots-pop band The Strumbellas did while they were at SXSW — where they were presented with a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for their song “Spirits.” Already well supported by their Canadian label Six Shooter and the prestigious Glassnote Records in the U.S. (the label behind Mumford & Sons and Phoenix, among others), it was the sextet’s first time at the festival.

“It was a fabulous experience. We played to completely crazy crowds,” says the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Simon Ward, clearly exhausted after performing 12 times in 4 days. “We didn’t set specific goals in coming here. We just wanted to play here for its own sake. It is one of the biggest festivals in the world, so yeah, obviously, we made new fans and met important people.”

It’s with the same attitude that Arkells returned to Austin this year. Already well established in Canada – the three JUNO Awards they received in 2015 is proof of that – the band decided to extend their U.S. tour with a few shows in Austin, even though they aren’t looking to achieve anything specific. “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to play in front of people from all around the world,” says lead singer and songwriter Max Kerman. “At SXSW, you never know what might one day change the course of your career. It might be a showcase in front of only 10 people!”

And in all cases, SOCAN plays a crucial role in helping its members make it internationally. Milk & Bone has been supported by the organization since day one. “They were the first to believe in our project,” says the duo’s Camille Poliquin, reminiscing on their stay at L.A.’s SOCAN House last year. “They’re people we can count on, who watch over our rights and who introduce us to the right people.”

The Unavoidable Decline of the Francophone Offer

Helping a band like Milk & Bone export itself is an obvious choice for Guillaume Moffet, because their potential to make it internationally is obvious. As a matter of fact, bookers attending SXSW are mostly looking for “export ready” acts. “Artists that stand out often have a team behind them,” says Moffet. “A team that can secure an American booker and PR person who, in turn, will do anything to get them out there. But if your music’s good and your team is incompetent, you will get nowhere.”

The language issue is also an unavoidable factor. Franco-Canadian bands didn’t get much exposure this year, contrary to the past, because of the void left by the defunct Planète Québec initiative. “It’s harder to get a return on investment with those artists,” says Moffet. “It makes more sense to concentrate our efforts on European music conventions, since the most important breakthroughs of Francophone artists are mainly in France.”

ChocolatHaving made quite an impression during the last CMJ Music Marathon, Chocolat was one of only two Francophone bands programmed at SXSW 2016. The Montréal-based band played several shows, and made quite an impression, thanks to their high-energy, American-influenced rock sound.

“It went really well,” says guitarist Emmanuel Éthier. “It even reconciled me with the idea of a showcase. I came here with other bands before, but it was all for naught.”

But above all else, all the musicians we talked to say they loved the experience because it allowed them to meet other high-calibre musicians. “It’s not just about business. It’s also about discovering a scene and feeling like you are part of it, if only for the duration of a festival,” says Chocolat keyboardist Christophe Lamarche.

In other words, there are as many reasons to come to SXSW as there are Canadian artists attending the festival year after year.

Still, 2016 was quite a memorable one for the Canadian delegation. “It’s a lot more interesting for Canadian artists here than it was five years ago,” says Moffet. “Right now, Canadian music has a good buzz going for it, especially because of the massive success of The Weeknd, Drake, Alessia Cara and Justin Bieber. For many people, it’s become cool to be Canadian. We need to take advantage of that while it lasts.”