James Bryan has a preferred method in his collaborations. “Most of my success and excitement comes from working directly with a singer-songwriter with their own vision and something to say,” he explains. “It feels more authentic when you have personal conversations with the artist about what they want to express. That gets me motivated.”

Both Bryan and Jon Levine have had major success with female artists. Bryan co-wrote and co-produced songs on Nelly Furtado’s 2009 Grammy-winning album Mi Plan. He’s also co-written songs for Divine Brown (he wrote, played on and produced her hit “Old Skool Love”), Lisa-Marie Presley, Malaysian star Yuna, and many others. Levine has similarly co-written songs for Furtado, Fefe Dobson, Kreesha Turner, Anjulie and Serena Ryder (including her breakthrough album Harmony).

So are these guys in touch with their feminine sides? “I do practise yoga regularly,” laughs Bryan. “Eighty per cent of the music I’ve always loved listening to is female singers. Also, once you have success in one particular area, people see that as your calling card.”

Both Bryan and Levine signed publishing deals with Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Canada from the early days of Philosopher Kings, an ongoing relationship. Both are now based outside Canada (Bryan in London, Levine in L.A.), so many of the work leads they get come from other connections.

“My L.A. manager goes out and gets drunk with the industry here regularly,” jokes Levine. “It’s an incestuous scene, and stuff comes from him forcing me into situations I’d normally be a little reluctant about.”

Bryan doesn’t have to leave his London building for work to find him. Since 2010, he’s operated out of Kensaltown Studios, a bustling creative hub founded by songwriter/producer Martin Terefe. Recent credits include co-writing songs for Lisa Marie Presley, Backstreet Boys, Yuna, Jessie J, Jason Mraz and Olly Murs. He’s been working with Canadian artists too, including Lesley Pike, Nikki Yanofsky, Divine Brown, and Lowell.

In L.A., Levine has been working with such international artists as Leona Lewis and Hudson Taylor, and was recently a music producer on X-Factor. He sees songwriting and producing as interwoven.

“It’s almost 100 per cent now that everything I’ve written, I’ve produced too,” he says. “In my mind, writing for someone else is similar to production anyway. You’re trying to realize someone’s vision. You always need that hat on.”

Other songwriting hit-makers
Behind the scenes only:

  • Boi 1-Da (Drake, Jay-Z)
  •  Simon Wilcox (Three Days Grace, The Trews),
  • Tebey Ottoh (Big & Rich, Pixie Lott)
  • Thomas “Tawgs” Salter (Josh Groban, Lights)
  • Chin Injeti (Dr. Dre, 50 Cent)
  • Brian West (Maroon 5, AWOLNation)
  • Gerald Eaton (K’NAAN, Furtado)
  • Gordie Sampson (Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban)
  • Nasri Atweh (Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber)
  • Adam Messinger (Bieber, Chris Brown)

Maintaining solo careers as well:

  • Chantal Kreviazuk (Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Groban)
  • Raine Maida (Clarkson, Underwood)
  • Stephan Moccio (Céline Dion, Yanofsky)

Given space constraints, it was not possible to mention all of the SOCAN members who have written “behind the scenes” for hit songs by high-profile artists.

This past spring, Xavier Caféïne released New Love, a scorching hot collection of 12 solid rock songs. At 37, this Ottawa-based artist is a veteran of the punk rock scene in which he’s been active for the past two decades, yet he’s lost none of his original fire and sincerity, and he’s acquired new creative partners along the way. His is very much a rock journey in progress.

Watching an artist release an album of stirring songs after suffering a heartbreak is nothing new, but seeing a love-affair-gone-wrong produce such raw and contagious energy is a rare thing indeed. Far from being heavy, the new Caféïne opus is a balanced rock album with exhilarating keyboards reminiscent of The Cure, Joy Division or PiL.

“What I look for above all else in art,” Xavier says, “is sincerity. So I decided to go all the way and create small tableaux of the emotions one feels after a breakup. No moral grandstanding there, though. I stay away from these things. Of course, the creative process provided me with a kind of exorcism, and this recent episode brought me to revise my ideas about love and to realize that it can be a much greater thing than I used to believe.”

Recorded in Montreal and mixed in New York City with the Gus Van Go/Werner F tandem (Les Trois Accords, Vulgaires Machins, Chinatown), New Love is Caféïne’s sixth album. “Gus too is in love with the new wave,” he says, “so we hit it off right away, as we realized that we were speaking the same language and sharing the same music references. It’s easy to move forward when everyone is adding their own strength towards a shared vision.”

Although album selections like “Electric” or “Love Disease” are not revolutionizing the artist’s style – there’s a feeling that we’ve heard that sound before – there’s no denying that Caféïne has remained true to himself, that he has produced precisely the album he had in mind, and that he truly knows how to package a catchy tune. He’s a pro. So what does he think of all the changes the music industry has had to make in recent years?

“There is a good side and a bad side to everything new,” he says, “and one’s ability to adapt is a sign of intelligence. Granted, music has become more democratic now, but selling albums is not as easy as it once was, that’s for sure. So if people download my album for free and enjoy listening to it, I can’t get miserable over this, particularly when they come to see me perform onstage, buy a T-shirt and so on. The people who miss ‘the good old days’ often are those who will tell you, ‘I lost track, I no longer listen to new music, I don’t have time.’ I say, ‘If you no longer take the time to enjoy music, you’ve really become an old man, my friend.’”

In terms of years, 37 is a ripe old age on the punk scene. Can we talk about maturity here, or is this anathema to the rock mindset? “All my role models were people who never really grew up,” says Caféïne. “I’m thinking of Plume, Iggy Pop, David Bowie or Joe Strummer of The Clash, who died a 50-year-old teenager. Of course, I hope I’m not going to die that young, but I still try to live life as fully as I can so that if I were to depart from it prematurely, at least I would be able to say to myself that I did my very best.

“Life to me is one long journey with lots and lots of side trips. You have to get out of your original environment, out of your comfort zone. You will never convince me that the purpose of life is to listen to Warriors when you get home at 5:00 p.m. because there is nothing else to do. To me, this is like being dead already, and when I go there myself, I try to shake it away as soon as possible.

“When I do get there for real, however, I want to be able to say to myself “Wow, I almost went all the way around the world, I came up with my albums, I loved with all my heart, I was blessed with great parents…” I want the balance sheet of my life to be positive.”

Speaking of going places, Xavier Caféïne makes no bones about the fact that he viewed the release of a second English album since his 2004 Poxy release as a means of making his music (and himself) travel further along.

“Being from Ottawa, I already speak English, so for me doing an English album is a walk in the park,” he says. “There are two French tracks on New Love – I insisted on it. If I may say so myself, I believe that I have the ability to make French rock lyrics sound natural instead of forced, and I certainly wouldn’t want to lose my spot in the Quebec music landscape.”

With his myriad appearances on the Quebec scene over the summer months and his list of upcoming fall concerts, the artist who gave us Gisèle, one of the most solid Francophone albums of the mid-2000s, is showing no sign of slowing down. Au contraire!

The story begins with a dusty demo disc lying on a retired music executive’s kitchen counter. The climax occurs when Vito Luprano listens to this neglected disc, comes out of retirement, and starts a third career as a music publisher.

Flash back to 2008. Luprano, the Montrealer who signed and produced Céline Dion in the 1980s – contributing to her vast fame and fortune – was happily retired. But for his family, this retreat to a life of domesticity wasn’t so enjoyable.

“I started treating my children and my home life like a business,” he laughs. “That was the wrong thing to do.”

Luprano’s wife took action. She grabbed the dusty demo and instructed her husband to go for a drive. Wisely, Luprano listened. Cruising alone, he popped the CD into his car stereo. The arresting voice of Kristina Maria – a young Lebanese-Canadian pop singer from Ottawa – enthralled him. He heard the artist’s potential and the music industry beckoned him back.

“Once you’re in this business there’s always something in the core of your soul that won’t let go.”

“I felt my life was satisfied, but once you’re in this business there’s always something in the core of your soul that won’t let go,” he says. Luprano consulted his family about ending his retirement. The decision was unanimous. Shortly thereafter, he invited Maria to his home. “She walked in and started singing a capella,” Luprano recalls. “It was magical.”

With a handshake the deal was sealed. Luprano would manage Maria, and with the creation of Lupo One Publishing, he would also become her publisher. Two weeks later Maria was in Sweden co-writing songs with industry veterans Luprano knew from his Dion days.

While publisher was a new title for Luprano, throughout his hugely successful 20-year run with Dion, he was steadily acquiring knowledge about the field. “I quickly realized that a writer who placed even one song on a Céline record could become a millionaire,” he explains.

“I quickly realized that a writer who placed even one song on a Céline Dion record could become a millionaire.”

Luprano’s instincts to spot the next star-in-the-making are still strong. In 2012, Maria’s song “Let’s Play” peaked at No. 19 on the Canadian Hot 100; it also won a SOCAN Award.

While he’s having fun building Maria’s career, Luprano admits it’s a challenge, especially since he’s footing the bill. “It takes a lot of finances to go all the way to the top,” he explains. “My job is to put Kristina where we can get a major record company to talk to us, and then to see what the future holds.”

As a publisher, Luprano favors a model where he doesn’t just sit idly by and wait for the royalties to come in. He prefers to invest money into promoting and marketing his artists’ songs. “I think that should be the publisher’s responsibility as much as the record label.”

Looking ahead, will Lupo One Publishing expand beyond Kristina Maria? “I’m looking into it,” Luprano concludes. “I figure I should be involved in every aspect of the writing and putting together the right team.”