In a short time, Ottawa-born, Winnipeg-resident Leith Ross (they/them pronouns) has gone from obscurity to internet sensation, thanks to their viral TikTok singles “Orlando,” and especially, “We’ll Never Have Sex.” The latter song amassed more than 37 million Spotify streams, over a million video views, and inspired countless covers/TikTok videos from ardent fans.

In 2022 alone, Ross performed sold-out headlining shows across North America and supporting slots on tour with Lord Huron, Andy Shauf, and Helena Deland in Europe. They received the inaugural John Prine Songwriter Fellowship at the Newport Folk Festival; were dubbed Gen Z’s new favourite songwriter by NME; and signed a global deal with Interscope/Republic Records. Ross’s success has been shockingly swift – much like their songwriting process.

“I never write songs over a period of time, really,” says Ross. “I’ll have a feeling about something, and then I’ll get the feeling that I could write a song about it. Then the songwriting process will be the only thing that I can think about, or do, for, like, an hour or two. It’s very intense and overwhelming, and then it’s over.”

By contrast, the recording process for Ross’s 2023 debut album To Learn was intentionally slow, with Ross being given the space and emotional safety required to capture their sensitive, authentic music. They recorded with Joey Landreth (of Bros. Landreth), whose musicianship Ross has long admired. Their close and collaborative friendship, and the recording studio’s proximity to Ross’s home, allowed for a “chill” and  “spontaneous” process.

“It’s really nice when you’re recording very vulnerable music,” says Ross, “to have the time to sit with it, and take your time making decisions. Sometimes, if I was coming up with a pretty vulnerable song… instead of recording for half the day, we would just be crying, and talking, and working through it, for which I’m so grateful. It really changed the way I felt about recording music.”

Leith Ross, Video, We'll Never Have Sex

Click on the image to play the Leith Ross video “We’ll Never Have Sex”

That vulnerability is the hallmark of several of their songs, including “We’ll Never Have Sex” – which has struck a chord among an audience that identifies with Ross’ deeply personal, yet universal lyrics. They give voice to complex feelings about romantic relationships and sexual intimacy. For fans, the song speaks (among other interpretations) to the queer experience, asexuality, and the desire to enjoy another person’s company without the expectation of having sex.

“When I wrote it,” says Ross, “I really was feeling so isolated by the feelings that I was having. I felt like the people that I talked to didn’t really know what I meant.” To see how strongly – and differently – the song has resonated with listeners has been surprising to the artist, and “insanely therapeutic.” Ross says, “Everyone is just experiencing their own humanity, but I’m lucky enough to be able to facilitate a part of that expression.”

The official video for “We’ll Never Have Sex,” which Ross directed, produced, and starred in, features Ross and their real-life friend Fontine, playfully dancing in circles while wearing drawn-on moustaches. The splendid scene evokes images of innocence, and the slow swirl of being on a merry-go-round. Ross attributes the magic of the video to the communal efforts of their friends, who participated in the shoot. Friendship and community are vitally important to Ross, but in contrast to the speed of their success, finding safety in that kith and kin has come far more slowly.

For those of Ross’s fans whose vulnerabilities aren’t yet cushioned by an accepting community, they acknowledge that it can be a long process – one that requires “trial and error, purpose and intention.” For anyone feeling isolated, Ross offers these words of advice: “Be patient and kind. If you’re kind, and you make a real effort to support the community that you want to be a part of, then it’ll work out.” After a reflective pause, they add that it’s important to allow everybody their own humanity, while also maintaining one’s own boundaries.

Such wisdom has been hard-earned, through Ross’s lived experience. It’s as if they’re speaking softly from their soul to themself, while also facilitating the humanity and healing in others. Which is how their sad songs, to which everyone can relate, can land hope in the hearts of those willing to receive the message.

He was born, raised, and remains based in Toronto, but Sean Fischer’s multi-hyphenate career as a songwriter, musician, composer, producer, and re-mixer is flourishing because of his global approach.

Via major success in such markets as Mexico and South Korea, Fischer’s music has accumulated more than 100 million streams. He co-wrote and arranged “Black Clouds,” a song on Korean pop group NCT 127’s Billboard world music charts-topping album 2 Baddies – one that sold more than 3.5 million copies. Elsewhere, the song “Sr. Tigre,” recorded as part of Fischer’s solo project, French Braids, went viral in Mexico, notching more than 20 million streams.

NCT 127, Black Clouds

Click on the image to play the NCT 127 video “Black Clouds”

“I just follow where there are sparks. There have been a lot of those in the K-pop world, and I’ve been diving in there head-first,” says Fischer. “I’ve found that being there in person really helps bring success. I just got back from 10 days in the studio in Korea, being worked to the bone by SM Entertainment, the big label there. I’m always on the road.”

Aiding Fischer’s cause are his language skills (he’s fluent in English, French, and Spanish) and proficiency in a wide range of musical genres. “I may be up there as one of the most diverse producers in Canada,” he says. “I go from working on a Celine Dion ballad, to a Mexican tropical house re-mix, as French Braids. That diversity keeps me refreshed creatively.”

The Dion song referenced is the superstar’s new song “Waiting on You,“ featured in the movie (in which she also appears) Love Again, and that’s a career-boosting placement. “That song came out of a writing session with Liz Rodrigues six years ago,” he recalls. “For Celine, they took my demo and fully re-created it, with a 70-piece symphony orchestra. When I heard it, I literally dropped to the ground and started crying my eyes out. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard!”

Fischer has amassed impressive credits with other Canadian artists as well. He was a writer and producer on Jazz Cartier’s gold-selling “Tempted,” and other recent cuts include those by BANNERS, La Zarra, Banx & Ranx, Preston Pablo, and Dragonette, alongside international artists Fitz and the Tantrums, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Tim Atlas, Now United, K-pop star Taeyeon, and Inna & Farina.

 His unconventional career path included early jazz piano studies with the legendary Hilario Duran, and at Humber College; similar studies at McGill University, and in Havana, Cuba;  and, back in his late teens, a stint in a rock band in Toronto.

YoSoyMatt, French Braids, Sr. Tigre

Click on the image to play the video “Sr. Tigre” by YoSoyMatt, French Braids, and Eva De Marce

“We signed to Sony, but after about a year I decided it was too much of a hustle,” he says. “After slogging it out in clubs for $75 a night, and fighting with my bandmates, I decided there had to be something else in store. I started doing internships for film composers, including The Hive studio. I basically forced them to let me pitch on projects for free, and I landed theme songs for HGTV and CTV News, for which I still get royalties 10 years later. That was the first stepping stone to my true producer career.”

Fischer balances two parallel creative identities, one as a songwriter, producer and re-mixer for hire, and the other as French Braids. In the former role, he has a publishing deal with Honua Music, while  French Braids is signed to a joint record deal with Sadboy Records and Armada Music.

“It can be a headache with many overlapping deals,” he says. “My lawyers hate me, as I have to carve things in and out of contracts, but I do my best to keep the brands separate. French Braids is very pure electronic, dancefloor re-mix bangers. My Spotify for it has a cohesive sound of electronic, vibe-y re-mix stuff, with none of my pop cuts there.”

A collaboration with Mexican artist YoSoyMatt brought Fischer/French Braids stardom there. “During the pandemic I started reaching out to random producers on Instagram, offering to re-mix their stuff for free,” Fischer recalls. “I found YoSoyMatt, re-mixed his track ‘Sr. Tigre,’ and it went viral, with close to 15 million streams. That took me to Mexico, where we’ve played big festivals, and people recognise me on the street. Thanks to this Mexico magic, my own artist page has almost a million monthly listeners.”

Three tips for novice professional producer/songwriters

  • “Think globally. I love Canada and SOCAN and all our beautiful systems, but at the end of the day, this is a tiny market on the world stage. It is so easy to set up a Zoom session in Australia or Korea. Open yourself up to markets that are way bigger than ours.”
  • “Remember that a songwriting session is such a personal and social event. Be the kind of person a co-writer or artist would just like to have a beer with, or hang out with. Don’t make it all business, or people will be turned off so fast. I learned this from my publisher, who’s Norwegian, so every session we start off with coffee and a chat about life.”
  • “This is easier said than done, but be really familiar with the song and the songwriting, the melody, the lyrics. If a producer can’t sit by a firepit and sing through the hit songs on guitar or just singing, then you are pretty limited as a producer. To me the best producers can in theory do it all themselves.”

It’s been just over two years since music industry veterans Michael McCarty and Rodney Murphy (both formerly SOCAN executives) founded Toronto-based Kilometre Music Group (KMG), a music creation and rights management company backed by Barometer Capital Management’s Barometer Global Music Royalty Fund. Their initial idea was to “re-patriate” Canadian music copyrights, but beyond buying revenue-generating song catalogues, KMG is also signing new songwriters.

“The investors are very happy,” says Kilometre Music Group CEO McCarty. “Some of them told us that we were their best investment in 2022, because of what happened in the marketplace and the economy. Music royalties are one of the most stable investments in turbulent economic times.”

Murphy serves as KMG’s President of A&R Acquisitions, and Melissa Cameron-Passley (also formerly of  SOCAN), Director of Creative Operations, and both of them handle the day-to-day sourcing and relationships with writers. The company now has 10 catalogues, which is “about halfway to two-thirds of the way to our full portfolio,” says McCarty. And just under a year ago, KMG launched the new signing phase of the plan.

“The overriding message we want to send to the world is, we’re a real music publisher,” says McCarty. “We’re not just a catalogue acquisition company. We’re now building our roster. We always planned to have a combination of iconic catalogues, and what we call ‘future’ catalogues – which is writers making [those] of the future – and that’s been going great. We’ve got seven writers signed now, and we’ll have a couple more fairly soon, so we’re where we wanted to be.”

In September of 2022, they fortuitously found their dream office: a three-story Victorian house, opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario in downtown Toronto, already equipped with five state-of-the-art recording studios, each with its own control room and vocal booth. (They added two makeshift studios in the basement, for a total of seven.) The 8,500-square foot space also has a small kitchen, four bathrooms, a shower, three lounges, and private parking for 10 cars. That’s quite a score for downtown Toronto. They call it Kilometre House.

“It doesn’t ramp up till middle of the day, because it tends to be on artist hours, as opposed to banker’s hours,” says McCarty. “But once it gets humming, it’s usually going full-tilt, all seven rooms.

“The vision was that we wanted to have a place, almost like a creative collision center, where there would be people meeting and bumping into each other, and ending up collaborating, that probably never would’ve otherwise” he continues. “And so far, that’s working out really well. We’ve literally had an artist who’s making a record in the studio hear something coming out of the control room that they love; they go talk to the writer; next thing you know, they’re working together. Next thing, our writers are on that person’s record.”

KMG’s seven signings are

  • Aaron Paris (whose credits include work with Kanye West, Drake, and DJ Khalid);
  • Chris LaRocca (Bryson Tiller, Stray Kids, and LU KALA);
  • Eli Brown (Drake, Chris Brown, and Jaden Smith);
  • harper (Vince Spales, Sevyn Streeter, and TOBi);
  • Mido (Don Tolliver and Skaiwater);
  • Prince85 (The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, and 21 Savage); and
  • Runway (DZL, Charmaine, Sylo).

Kilometre Killas
The four biggest current stories associated with Kilometre’s roster, they say, are harper’s Waiting Room EP, which came out in late March of 2023 on Cult Nation; Chris LaRocca’s Perhaps EP, just out on Red Bull/Wonderchild; Aaron Paris, executive producer and co-writer for Atlanta-based rapper Russ’s upcoming project; and Prince85’s “Die For You,” which went to No 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the first quarter of 2023, making it “probably the number one resurgence story of a song in many, many years,” says McCarty. “It’s a six-year-old song and went viral on TikTok, which pushed it back into the Hot 100. The Weeknd released a new remix with Ariana Grande, which pushed it to No. 1. It was No. 1 at radio, No. 2 in the world for awhile, and it also dragged the album back into the charts, too. And we have, like, 12 cuts on that album.”

But in keeping with their mindset of fostering talent, the majority of the people working out of Kilometre House aren’t signed to KMG.

“It’s intended to be like a Times Square or Dundas Square of music creators, and we’re creating the culture here,” says McCarty. “Our goal is that this will become the epicenter of music creation in Canada that reaches the world market. And so, the next wave of globally successful music that comes out of Canada, we want to come through Kilometre House. And we’re convinced it will, and we’re convinced our writers will be a big part of it.”

Six of the seven signings are Canadian. But curiously, for a company which originally set out to “re-patriate, reclaim, re-assemble the rights of the great Canadian songs,” one of the signings is from Paris, France: Prince85, a writer on The Weeknd’s chart-recurring smash, “Die For You.”

“Our mission is to create a music publishing super-cluster in our area that harnesses the past and current creative power of Canadian artists, which helps take it to the world market and brings the revenue back into Canada, which creates a virtuous circle,” McCarty explains. “So the Canadian component is central to what we do, but we’re not stupid: we want to be the world center of catalogues and current music talent.  We’ve got several catalogues that aren’t Canadian, and now we’ve got one writer who’s not Canadian. It helps build the entire company.”