Music publishers help nurture their songwriters’ careers in myriad ways, whether a writer has enjoyed big commercial success or they’re just finding their feet on the first few rungs of the music industry ladder.
“Every single situation is unique,” stresses peermusic Canada Inc. (Peer) Managing Director Neville Quinlan. “The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, they don’t need us in the same way a newer writer does.”
The real heavy lifting typically happens with writers who are working to get established or seeking to branch out into different genres or different areas of the business like writing for film and television.
“Nobody is going to be hot all the time,” observes Quinlan. “Careers move in cycles. We help our writers do what they need to [in order to] keep their careers going during those inevitable lulls.”
“Peer came at a dark time in my life and they’ve stood by me through thick and thin.” – Hawksley Workman
One Peer writer who has persevered through ups and downs is Hawksley Workman, who signed with Peer in 2010.
“Peer came at a dark time in my life and they’ve stood by me through thick and thin,” says Workman. “I was going through the divorce phase of the major label part of my career, and it was uncomfortable, with all the feelings of failure and inadequacy that surround that.
“But Neville and Cheryl [Link, Director, Film/TV and A&R] still saw me as somebody who could be worth a million dollars one day and that’s a really nice feeling.”
Peer has worked hard on Workman’s behalf, landing him significant TV placements, setting up and helping finance co-writing trips around the world, even assembling a makeshift studio for him at Peer’s Toronto office for the recording of 2010’s Meat and Milk albums.
“Other than my agent, who’s been with me since day one, the longest professional relationship I’ve had has been with peer,” notes Workman. “They believe in me and I believe in them.”
By the time Peer signed Workman, he had several albums under his belt and had built an international reputation. But Canada’s music publishers frequently dive in much earlier than that, to kick-start a young career.
The day we reach Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada President Gary Furniss and Vice President Creative David Quilico, they were popping champagne with Toronto’s Kiki Rowe to celebrate their freshly minted deal with her. The publishers had been watching and working with Rowe for months before the contract was drawn up. They’d paired her with more established writers to see how she performed, and they flew her to New York and Los Angeles to meet with music supervisors, and with the Sony/ATV affiliates who’ll represent her in the U.S.
“When you’re considering signing someone, obviously they’ve got to have the talent,” says Furniss. “But they have to have a great attitude and work ethic, and Kiki has both. You don’t know if they’re going to go all the way, but you know they’ve got what it takes if the right pieces fall into place. Our job is to help make that happen with the right producers and the right co-writers.”
Says Rowe, “When I played them my music I could tell how excited they were. They genuinely like my sound and they believe in me. What more could I possibly ask?”
Furniss and Quilico felt strongly enough about dance duo USS that they financed the recording of their first album in 2008, and introduced them to Coalition Music for management services. The publishers went a similar route with Elise LeGrow, footing the bill for her 2012 debut EP, which contained the Top 10 hit “No Good Woman.”
Toronto’s Red Brick Songs was similarly supportive of a recent signing, Vancouver-based Nygel Asselin. Excited about his production work on Dark Eyes by Half Moon Run, Red Brick Creative team Jana Cleland and Amy Eligh invited Asselin to a writing camp they run every two or three years, to see how he would perform. He ended up co-writing “Drifting,” a song that became a lead-off single for U.S. group On An On.
“‘Drifting’ is probably our biggest song to date,” says Cleland, noting that she and Eligh believed in the song so much, they released the demo and streamed it online to generate interest. “We sign writers we already love, then we expose them to new environments and new co-writers. We try to find the right magical connection that will make sparks fly. We want to find the right writers that are going to gel and create something spectacular.”
Says Asselin, “I don’t know how they do it, but they’re really in tune with my musical style. Sometimes they push me outside of my boundaries and get me to try something new. They set me up with the SOCAN [“on the Farm”] writing camp in BC a month ago that introduced me to people I had never written with before. The networking that comes from it is tremendous.”
Like larger music publishers with affiliate offices around the world, Red Brick taps into its network of international sub-publishers to spark support and co-writing opportunities. “We’re a community of music publishers,” explains Cleland. “We’re competitors, sure, but we’re also colleagues.”
Peer is constantly flexing its affiliate muscles in an effort to bring about co-writing opportunities. Says Quinlan, “We have offices everywhere and we’re always going to be just a couple of degrees of separation from anybody one of our writers wants to work with.”
That’s how peermusic Canada’s Royal Wood ended up writing with U.K. producer/songwriter Jamie Scott. The pair was in a London studio when we reach Wood on the phone in late November.
“I’ve never been happier in my life or felt more grateful,” says Wood, fresh off a writing trip to Los Angeles, and on his way to Nashville next. “I’m in a studio right now working on a console that the Beatles recorded Abbey Road on! Peer has put me in rooms with writers and producers who I probably wouldn’t have had access to on my own. People in the business assume you have cred just because you’re attached to a company like Peer. Doors open, that’s for sure.”