If Harmonium fans are able to enjoy a new Serge Fiori album these days, a lot of the credit must go to Pierre Lachance, a music producer and artist manager (Luc De Larochellière, Marie Denise Pelletier) who morphed into a music publisher accidentally when he became co-owner of the GSI record company. Many gold records later, Lachance was the inspiration behind the unprecedented series of tribute albums featuring multiple artists that have hit Quebec record stores over the past decade. “Our 2004 release of a tribute album to Jean-Pierre Ferland was so successful that others soon followed suit,” Lachance says with a wry smile, as he tries to explain how the trend got started.
By the time Lachance joined the record industry in spite of himself, in 1988, he was working as an entertainment lawyer specializing in film. “I completed a B.A. in Communication at Concordia with a specialization in film studies,” he explains. “Then I went to law school to become an executive producer – eventually working, among others, on the Cruising Bar film – but I have always been a great music lover deep down. I worked in student radio while attending the Bois-de-Boulogne College, and I can still see myself carting huge cases of vinyl records in the hallways of that institution in 1973, a year after Serge Fiori had studied there.”
“I wasn’t too sure of the project’s chances for success, but we ended up selling 95,000 copies!”
The reason Lachance mentions Fiori again is that the former Harmonium leader played a key role in his career in the late 1980s. “As I was a lawyer, a friend called me one day saying that Nanette Workman and Serge Fiori were working together on an album, but that they were having problems with their producer,” he says. “They needed someone to help them out.”
Once that contract ended, Lachance’s hidden business talent came to the fore. “I offered Nanette and Serge [the idea] to create a small company, Inner Sound Production, to finalize the recording,” he says. “The result was Changement d’adresse, a Sony-licensed Nanette Workman album composed and produced by Serge Fiori, who soon became a friend.”
Lachance and Fiori went on to start Les Disques Gipsy, a label on which Fiori released two mantra CDs and two recordings with his father Georges Fiori’s orchestra in the 1990s. This comeback experience gave Serge Fiori the confidence he needed to release the new album Le Monde est virtuel.
But the big break came in the early 2000s following a call from the then GSI artistic director Patrice Duchesne, who wanted Lachance to “help him produce a tribute album to Jean-Pierre Ferland, recorded by a dozen top artists including Kevin Parent, Éric Lapointe, Isabelle Boulay, Gilles Vigneault and Daniel Lavoie, to name only those few. At the time, such albums were practically non-existent in Quebec. I wasn’t too sure of the project’s chances for success, but we ended up selling 95,000 copies!”
Then came the album of covers put together in aid of singer-songwriter Claude Léveillée, who was incapacitated after suffering a second stroke. And there was another such project on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Félix Leclerc’s death, plus two Mario Pelchat-instigated country music tribute albums.
From a music publishing point of view, these revivals of great Quebec songs were a successful business strategy, although Lachance does not consider himself to be a publisher first and foremost: “In fact,” he explains, “I had to learn the ropes of the music publishing trade when I purchased GSI from Robert Vinet in 2010 with Disques Sphère’s Nicolas Lemieux, since our new company came with an extensive catalogue [Yvon Deschamps’ complete works, Gilles Vigneault’s 1X5 and J’ai vu le loup, le renard, le lion albums, and part of Claude Gauthier’s catalogue].”
New album titles will be added to the list as GSI signs up new artists since, nowadays, singer-songwriters generally assign part of their publishing rights to their producer, admittedly a delicate issue that is the result of music industry circumstances.
“When Robert Vinet started GSI in the early 1980s,” Lachance remembers, “he could afford to allow his artists to keep their publishing as a pension fund. Producers knew then that they could get their money back quickly through album sales. But things have changed, and today there is always an awkward moment between a creator and record producer when the time comes to negotiate royalty shares. Things can get tricky when a producer assesses his financial risks with an artist without being able to diversify his income by working as a booker and agent as well. It can get quite complicated! Basically, what you have to do is share your revenues in such a way that the artist can find satisfaction and the company can stay in business. It’s got to be in the best interests of all concerned.”