While Mark Jowett doesn’t downplay Nettwerk One Music’s longevity or the significance of its 25th anniversary in 2009, he doesn’t play it up either. Instead, he prefers to focus on the underlying reasons for the company’s continued success, noting that every and every partnership it’s entered into represents a fresh opportunity to grow its writers’ long-term careers.

For Jowett, a co-founder of Nettwerk Music Group and now Vice-President of International A&R/Publishing for Nettwerk One Music, that mandate was of particular importance at the time of the company’s inception in 1984. “I was the guitar player for Moev, and Terry McBride was our manager,” he says. “We were signed to a San Francisco label, Go Records, that went bankrupt, and we had to figure out a different way of putting out the Moev record. Within months, we discovered Skinny Puppy and Grapes of Wrath. They didn’t have a record label, so we took out a small bank loan and formed Nettwerk to release their records as well.” Although Nettwerk’s publishing arm came into existence around the same time, the current name, Nettwerk One, wasn’t formalized until the early 2000s.

          From the beginning, the company’s roster was eclectic, a comfortable home for artists writing in dramatically different styles, ranging from Skinny Puppy to Sarah McLachlan. While Nettwerk One has grown substantially over time, it’s done so with an eye towards maintaining that diversity, signing such stylistically varied writers as Greig Nori, Great Lake Swimmers, Matt and Kim, Sinead O’Connor, Natalie Merchant and Chromeo.

Diversity is integral to the approach Nettwerk One  takes to expanding the reach of those artists and their songs  –  prompting the creation of a dedicated film and TV licensing team and joint ventures signed with partners as disparate as video game publisher/developer Electronic Arts, in 2007, and Nashville’s Revelry Music Group, in March 2011. “Nashville is extremely important in publishing, but, honestly, I don’t have a Nashville background,” says Jowett, “and neither does Blair McDonald [Co-Managing Director of Nettwerk One], so we’ve reached out and formed alliances with people who are deeply respected there and know that world very well.”

Twenty-seven years on, Nettwerk One remains true to its roots. “Whenever we signed acts we’d try to sign them simultaneously to publishing and the label. Ironically, it’s a bit like the 360 model, so I guess we’re two or three decades ahead of our time,” Jowett says, laughing. “But having the publishing rights allowed us to work with sub-publishers who could help find agents, give us advice about what labels to work with, and even help promote acts in other territories. That was a tremendous asset to us and our acts.

“Very importantly, we also try not to sign too much. Volume is important in growing your catalogue, but if you don’t have the infrastructure to support it, things get lost. So while we’re growing, we’re trying to ensure that growth is moderate, so we can maximize every opportunity for our writers.”

Shawn Marino is new to music publishing but he’s no stranger to the Canadian music scene. The new Vice-President of Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) Canada, Marino has spent his career on the label side of the business: he started as an intern with Polygram Records, then secured an entry-level gig as a publicity assistant upon graduation from York University in 1994. He worked his way into A&R (Artists & Repertoire, the department which signs and develops artists) following the merger of Polygram Records with Universal Music in ’99.

It should come as no surprise then that A&R  is a cornerstone of Marino’s strategy as he takes the reins of UMPG Canada. “I’ve been working on a way to creatively integrate the two departments (A&R and publishing),” he says.

“There’s a lot of commonality in the two rosters and we want to make sure that both sides are nurtured. I took over officially in January 2011 and since then we’ve restructured the A&R department on the record side, with a goal to being more of a full-service company for our artists and writers. A&R and publishing are now in the same physical area, so when artists and writers come in everybody gets to know each other. If an A&R guy is working on a record and needs a song, he needs to know who our writers are.”

The integration theme continues on the synchronization (“synch”) licensing side for film and television, with a merging of master licensing (of the recording,  handled by Catherine Jones) and copyright licensing (of the song, handled by Diane Lametti). “We’re much more of a one-stop-shop now,” says Marino, “at least in instances where we control both the master and the publishing.

“We also want to be able to show potential signings that the Toronto office of UMPG is an integrated company with UMPG worldwide, and if they sign with us they have the full benefit of the entire group. We want to show them the advantages of our merged synch department and our tightness with the A&R side.”

Marino admits there’s been a slight learning curve when it comes to the nuances of music publishing, but he arrived better versed in copyright than many of his label cohorts. “I have the luxury of having been here for a long time and having known and worked with all the great people who have come and gone,” he says, citing John Redmond, Allan Reid, Linda Bush, J.P. Pineiro, Jodie Ferneyhough and Chris Corless as valuable resources from whom he learned.

Since assuming his new role, Marino has joined the boards of the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA) and the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA). Not that he has any empty hours to fill  –  the current year includes new releases from UMPG Canada writer/artists Hedley, Stephan Moccio, Jann Arden and Sam Roberts, among others. “It’s going to be a busy one,” he predicts.

In the ‘80s, Toronto’s Platinum Blonde was known for big hair — and even bigger hits. The group’s second album, Alien Shores, was produced by Brit Eddy Offord (Yes, ELP) and launched their biggest radio single, “Crying Over You,” featuring a cameo guitar solo from Rush’s Alex Lifeson. (The album also introduced new bandmember Kenny MacLean, who died suddenly in 2008.) The Blondes have been enjoying renewed attention of late: an induction into the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame in 2010, some selected reunion shows, and cover of their track “Not in Love” by Crystal Castles. Founder/vocalist Mark Holmes reflects on what it meant to score a hit in the era of mega-hits.

Alien Shores is a bit of a concept album. Was “Crying Over You” written to be part of a narrative?

No. It was on Side A, which was all radio-friendly tracks. Side B was the concept side. It wasn’t even supposed to be for my band. I loved Madonna at the time and I wanted to send her a song that she could use. … I played it to the guys at Sony and told them I was sending it off to Madonna. And one guy said, “That’s got a hook you can hang a winter coat on.” The next day, the label and management came in and said, “That song can’t go anywhere. You have to do it.”

What was the seed of the song?
I was dicking around at home with a guitar riff, then I came up with a sort of vocal line. I went into a studio owned by Bill Petrie, where I programmed the drums, put down the bass and guitar lead and sang it. Then Kenny [MacLean] came by and he started doing backing vocals. He would always come up with funny stuff at first, then the solid stuff.

How did Kenny joining the band change your songwriting?
Kenny was in a band called The Deserters. And I listened to both of their records every day. I loved them so much. They had a really cool reggae feel. I think I based part of the sound of Platinum Blonde on them. And then Kenny became available. He loved music, he didn’t care if he was playing bass, guitar, whatever. So at first I had him playing keyboards and backing vocals. One thing led to another and he started playing bass in the band, and it was great. In “Crying Over You,” the verse guitar bits, Kenny came up with that.

In what ways did the success of this song impact you?
When you come up with a big smash like that, it cuts two ways. It’s a lot of pressure to come up with something like it again. All of a sudden all these business people come in, and all your songs have to be like that. And you’re trying to write these massive hits, which is not the way to write an album. But in the 1980s everything had to be a massive smash. Rather than having four members of the band there were 60 members of the band. … I would have done anything to get away from that. And I did. I went back to England for a while, I couldn’t stand it.

Looking back, what do you think the song says about who you were at the time?
Fearless. We’d done our first record, I knew the second record was going to be better, the technology and the studio vibe was very exciting. So Mark Holmes at that time was full of optimism. I just believed. I never had doubt that the songs I was writing would not be massive. It’s easy to write a song when you don’t have doubt. If you’re writing a song that you really believe, that’s when it will mean something to someone else.