In early 2017, Gabrielle Shonk appeared on SOCAN’s list of 10 artists to watch this year.

The shock wave began in the spring of 2016, when the video for her song “Habit,” produced with video artist Dragosh, was an instant hit. Yet she was still without a record contract. “The video went viral,” says the 28-year-old musician from Québec City. “I got a ton of e-mails from labels all around the world. The impact was much bigger than if I had simply shopped around a master recording.”

Thanks to her 10-track calling card – seven songs sung in English, three in French –Shonk joined Bobby Bazini on Universal Music Canada in early 2017. At the same time, Rimouski’s Louis Bellavance, the programming director of the Festival d’été de Québec, also became her manager.

“I was a little bummed out for a while, I thought that a bilingual album would be hard to sell in this market, but that’s how I wanted it to be,” says Shonk. “In the end, it’s a nice outcome, I’m happy. In any case, my musical culture has always been more Anglophone; my dad [Peter Shonk & The Blues Avalanche is celebrated on the Québec City blues scene] is American, and my mom from Québec. I loved Céline Dion when I was younger, but in fact, I come from the punk rock / hardcore scene.”

After a SOCAN showcase during the M for Montréal conference an festival a few months earlier, she was introduced to a wider audience on Feb. 24, 2017, when she opened for Bazini at the city’s Métropolis club. It became obvious: backed by her five-piece band, she infused her soul-tinged folk with powerful energy. There are no orchestral flights of fancy here; this woman has a romantic temperament, in the best sense of the words. Her music is touching, like a caress. Of her many influences, Feist, Kurt Vile, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell are on the short list.

Simon Pednault produced this first album, while Guillaume Chartrain was in charge of recording and mixing. They collaborated with Louis-Jean Cormier and Tire le Coyote. “I write my songs with a guitar and my voice,” says Shonk. “I love intimate stuff, and I consider myself as more of a musician. I’m always looking for melodies and chord ideas. It is certainly an intimate, very personal record. And we recorded live, all playing together, so we’d get a feeling of something real.” That meant ten songs to fine-tune, for which to create arrangements, and to record all at once – even though some of them were composed six, eight or even 10 years ago.

From one song to the next, the joy of bilingualism was preserved. One listens to “Raindrops” and “Part plus sans moi,” then from “Trop tard” to the more commercial “Missing Out,” and it all flows seamlessly, naturally. It’s exhilarating, and it’s clear that Shonk is an extremely sensitive, private songwriter.

When we walked towards the stage, itself sitting next to a railroad track, on Sept. 3, 2017, at the inaugural edition of the Mile EX End Music Festival in Montréal, she was singing Al Green’s soul classic “Let’s Stay Together” under the Van Horne overpass. “I have to do covers, because I only have 10 songs and they go by fast,” says Shonk. Her distinctive, stripped-down covers tell a lot about Shonk’s idea of pure singing: “One Dance” (Drake), “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) and even U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – which she had revisited during her galvanizing tenure at TV talent contest La Voix, the Québec franchise of The Voice, in 2014 – are ideal for her. Less is more.

Louis-Jean Cormier, her mentor during the show’s second season, advised her to bet on simplicity. And that’s what we hear on her first album. Ten sparsely, yet finely arranged songs. “I went on La Voix wondering if I’d be able to deal with such a level of stress,” says Shonk. “The audience, a big televised show. In hindsight, I learned much more about myself than I did on a musical level. I gave me confidence. And it gave me a swift kick in the ass to start composing my own songs.”

Gabrielle Shonk plays
Feb. 23, 2018, at L’Astral during Montréal en Lumière

With a global footprint, a focus on the international recorded music market, and synchronizations from Korea to South Africa to Sweden to Spain, CYMBA Music Publishing is placing songs, one artist at a time.

CYMBA (a division of Chapter 2 Productions Inc.) formed originally as a production and publishing house; it’s now become a creative, collaborative, and extremely active Canadian music publishing company. CYMBA stands for Crushing Your Music Business Apathy. This philosophy is apropos, since it has long served as a guide for founder Vince Degiorgio. As President and Chair of the Board of the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA), the industry veteran has his pulse on the world of music publishing.

“It’s the most exciting business in the world,” says Degiorgio. “The reason I feel that way is because you never know who’s going to knock on your door with a great song.

As a music publisher these days, there are no easy wins. As just one example, Degiorgio cites the co-published Serena Ryder hit and 2015 Pan Am Games theme song, “Together We Are One,” which earned a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for scaling the peak of the CBC Radio 2 Top 20 on July 10, 2015. “It was almost like an industrial synch, a song with Scotiabank,” he explains. “At the end of the day, I don’t care where the opportunity comes from, I just need to make sure that we don’t miss anything.” These days, there’s little the 2017 SOCAN Publisher of the Year Award nominee misses.

“You never know who’s going to knock on your door with a great song.” – CYMBA founder Vince Degiorgio

In 2016, after more than two decades in operation, CYMBA went through a dramatic re-branding, growing the roles of its staff and opening its doors to new writers, adding to a globally established presence. “CYMBA is a celebration of not giving a shit,” Degiorgio explains. “A lot of people I thought would help me along the way, didn’t… I had to do it by myself a bit. That’s where the name comes from. We just want to be a part of the business; we are not asking for preferential treatment.”

Beyond placing songs for its artists, CYMBA has long supported its roster of songwriters with an on-site writing room, international song camps, creative development opportunities, a company conference, mentorship, and much more.

 CYMBA is also, increasingly, placing songs into films and television programs. Recent examples include landing more than 150 synch licenses for such properties as Disney’s Chimpanzee, ABC-TV’s Agent Carter, the CW’s about-to-wrap The Vampire Diaries, ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, Netflix’s Degrassi: The Next Class, and CBC’s Mr. D, Pure, and Crash Gallery. CYMBA has also landed in theatrical trailers for The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Bad Moms.

How CYMBA finds new songwriters
One wonders where these new signings are found? “Word of mouth, and sometimes it’s somebody that comes into one of the events we do,” says Degiorgio. “We’re known as a publisher that’s willing to start at the bottom, and not just go after someone that’s uber-established. It all starts with a connection we feel on the human side with the people we meet and write with; that’s been a big part of how we do things. We want to find people that are going to fit with the people culture among our other writers.”

Recent additions to CYMBA’s roster include Halifax East Coast Music Award (ECMA) nominee Reeny Smith (who Degiorgio dubs “the future”) and urban pop/TV personality Keshia Chanté. Along the way, they’ve continued to nurture and solidify the careers of producer Ari Rhodes and Davor Vulama. “We’ve signed more artists in the last three years than we did in the previous 20,” says Degiorgio. “That’s a huge shift in our game plan!”

And, while they’ve grown their placements – and their roster of writers – domestically, the global market is still the key for CYMBA.

“The domestic market is always a challenge because it’s harder to have a hit in your own backyard, so much of what we do is outside the country,” says Degiorgio. “Export is a sexy buzzword, but we started exporting songs in the late 1980s. CYMBA was invented to explore the musical universe that Canada wasn’t ready to offer yet… We’ve been ‘export-ready’ for more than 20 years.”

Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, CYMBA plans to continue its evolution. Part of that includes signing its first Francophone writer, which Degiorgio admits has been “a dream of mine for a long time.” That, and – of course – to continue reaching the top in his home and native land.

“Now that we’ve got a No. 1 hit,” he says, “we want to fill a wall with No.1s for all of our writers!”

Hedley frontman Jake Hoggard listens to music every single morning “like it’s my morning coffee,” he says, on the phone from a B.C. recording studio. “I wake up and I look for something to inspire me, and draw from everything that’s happening around me constantly.”

It’s what infuses his songwriting, and the sound of the band’s new album, Cageless – with its notable Weeknd-esque first single, “Love Again,” that’s racked up four million streams and landed in the Top 10 at four radio formats. It’s what prompts some to view the band – Hoggard, guitarist Dave Rosin, bassist Tommy MacDonald and new drummer Jay Benison (replacing Chris Crippin) –  as ever-evolving, and others to believe it’s chasing trends.

Hoggard has an honest – and passionate – explanation. “I’m the one in the band coming into practice going, ‘Yo, you guys gotta hear this! Have you ever heard a snare drum sound like that?’ Little details, little nuances, trends. Also, the way pop music’s evolving is very much a derivative of urban music. I’m sensitive, too. My ears are trained to be observant. I’m not just listening; I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.”

“I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.” – Jacob Hoggard of Hedley

The Hedley of today doesn’t sound like the Hedley that debuted nationwide with 2005’s self-titled album, which went double-platinum. With all six albums that followed on Universal Music Canada, Hedley has evolved from a pop-punk band, to EDM-infused pop/rock, to essentially an urban-dance-pop band (always sure to include big ballads); unlike, say, The Tragically Hip, Nickelback, Rush, or Blue Rodeo, all of whom have long maintained a strongly identifiable sound.  Hoggard co-produced the latest album with long-time co-writers and collaborators Brian Howes and Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen.

Hedley co-writer Brian Howes

Brian Howes was brought in as a Hedley songwriter and producer for the debut album in 2005, and remains Hoggard’s main collaborator.

“We were both rookies, to be honest,” says Howes. “I lived in a small, dumpy apartment and he came over and grabbed my acoustic and sang ‘On My Own.’ We had such a blast working together, and then we just kept it going. You just have certain chemistry with some people. I’ll get in the room with really great writers and we cancel each other out; there’s no vibe. But him and I, because we’re both kind of hosers, we had a lot of chemistry. We work hard, but it’s fun, and a lot of the stuff comes really quickly. We had some big blow-up fights too, over songs which went on to be big hits. We’re like brothers.

“He’s a killer songwriter, and he’s become better and better and better. Both of us love the craft of songwriting so much that we just dive into it. Every record gets better and better. We made a conscious decision to transition the band from more of a rock edge to more of a pop edge, and he could go there because he’s so into different kinds of music. I think that’s what created the longevity for the band; we’re always evolving.”

“Because we’re so prolific — we write so much and so constantly — we’re almost constantly mirroring where we’re at in life,” says Hoggard. “I’m so thankful to be able to say that it’s constantly evolved, that we’ve constantly pushed ourselves to not be the same. That’s why our music really represents not just that, but times and places throughout our history. I think that’s really cool. It’s a time-stamp.

“I can look back at [2007’s] Famous Last Words, I was like, ‘Fuckin’ yeah, like angry rawr,’ and it’s so funny. I love joking about it now. I still say we’re a pop-punk band, just because it’s funny.”

When Hoggard says “we,” and “our,” he has to clarify. He does not write with his bandmates anymore, like he did on the first three albums, including Famous Last Words and 2009’s The Show Must Go.  The shift began with 2011’s Storms, and continued through 2013’s Wild Life, 2015’s Hello and the new Cageless with Howes and JVP as the main co-writers, but also a handful of others.

“We do it once in a while,” Hoggard says of writing with MacDonald and Rosin. “The ‘we,’ I’m almost always referring to the band, like a mechanism, but the reality is, I’m the writer.”

“We magically just shifted it into a place where I took more the lead, as opposed to being more of a democratic process. I spearheaded it because my vision seemed the most in line with where to go, but also because of the trust of the guys. As I started to take more of a leadership role creatively, they also started to see the success of the band still grow, and the music that I was writing on my own [have] impact and [make the audience] react well. It wasn’t like they were, ‘Oh God, we’re fucked,’” he laughs.

Among the band’s accomplishments the past 12 years:  headlining arena tours, sales of more than a million albums and four million singles, two JUNO Awards, 11 MMVAs, 17 No. 1 music videos, 16 Top 10 radio singles, 83 million Vevo views,

Hedley co-writer Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen

Jason Van Poederooyen came in as an engineer on the first album, and started writing with Hoggard on the fourth album, 2011’s Storms.

“My skill set is all over the map,” says JVP. “I’ll build the track and get the music going while they get the lyrics and melody going, but I pitch in on melody as well. We all do a lot of everything. Primarily I work on Pro Tools.

“Sometimes, I’ll have a track pre-made as a start and they’ll be inspired, or Brian will bring in a chord progression and I’ll build the track over that, but in those cases [‘Love Again’ and ‘Obsession’] we were just in the room noodling around, and I would throw a beat up, or some keys, and it just evolved. Sometimes when the melodies come in, the chords will change. Both those songs were born in the room, from scratch.

“[Jake’s] always wanting to do something new. That’s who he is as a songwriter. When we were building the track, he was really into it. Even after ‘Love Again’ was finished, he was texting me, ‘Dude I can’t get that song out of my head.’ Super-excited. Just pure creative energy. Ideas, ideas, ideas, and you just try and sort them out, and take his ideas and mix them with your own. We have a chemistry between us.”

1 billion radio audience impressions, and 65 million streams, and counting.

Hedley – a band Hoggard formed in his teens with an entirely different lineup — had success right out of the gate with its first major label album. Hoggard had the benefit of an awaiting nationwide fanbase, who had watched his campy, charismatic performances on the second season of TV talent search Canadian Idol in 2004, which took him to the Top Three. He was also a natural star, funny and talented, great with his fans. He was perceived as a goofball, but he was one who worked his ass off behind the scenes, wanting desperately to learn and become a better songwriter.

“I think early, in what’s now a career, I was always equipped with that appetite and that hunger to improve, to be better, to realize that you had peers, to realize that you had to apply yourself to a craft,” says Hoggard, who started playing piano at age four and guitar at 12. “Early on, I realized it’s not like accounting, but it’s like an exercise. It’s something you have to show up to every single day, and just put in the time. I think from that early point, I was developing an ethic.”

Subject-wise, even though Hedley has travelled with We Charity (formerly Free the Children) to Kenya and India, and frequently performs at We Day, and there’s been births, deaths and illnesses in the Hedley family, Hoggard sticks with love as the general theme, as well as some fun, party material. Droughts and cancer are not in his lyrical wheelhouse.

“A lot of my life’s work has been centered around falling in love, breaking all your bones on the way down. I’m also very much that type of person,” he explains.  “There’s something about developing a sensitivity to all of those experiences, not even just yours, but developing a sensitivity in that search for inspiration.”

For Cageless, he wrote 30 to 35 songs, he says, the chosen 10 with various co-writers: Howes and JVP, of course, plus Dan Book, Andrew Goldstein, Ryan Stewart, Jarett Holmes, Nolan Sipe, Kyle Moorman, Paro Westerlund and Susie Yankou.

Howe, an award-winning producer, has been Hoggard’s main songwriting collaborator since 2005 and is credited on every Hedley album since, some more than others. And JVP, who’s been on board as engineer since the debut album starting getting publishing on songs for Storms, when the band began exploring electronic sounds.  The three co-wrote “Love Again.”

“’Love Again’ we wrote at the beginning, before we had an album title,” says Hoggard. “It was a very early idea and it just was killer. It’s so funny when you’re making an album, you don’t know what it’s going be. It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s go on a road trip. Where you wanna go?’ ‘I don’t know.’ And then you just get in the car and it takes shape.’”

Hoggard fully admits that the final destination sometimes surprises his bandmates, who aren’t in that car with him. “There’s always a bit of a disconnect because I’m always pushing us. So I think out of the gate, they’re not too sure how to react sometimes, but I keep them so close to the process.”

And Hedley’s fans are there at the end, too.

“We’ve grown up together with our fans now,” Hoggard says. “It’s always been something I’ve factored into the songwriting process because I’ve never wanted to alienate them. I’ve never wanted to take a huge left-turn and completely shock everyone to the point of a disconnect. I think that’s why it wasn’t like it happened overnight; I think that’s also been a huge contributing factor to our ability to stay relevant.”