Welcome to Entrepreneurs, a new series in Words + Music. As the music industry undergoes disruptive technological shifts and constant change, the role of the entrepreneur has become one of its main driving engines. Canadian music entrepreneurs invest in and nurture the careers of our music creators – a feat that, now more than ever, requires courage, finances, and operational skill to succeed. For the first in our series, we’re looking at ole, the biggest commercial Canadian music publishing success story ever.

A decade ago, when Robert Ott first talked to Words + Music about ole, the new Toronto-based music publishing start-up he founded with entrepreneur and one-time CHUM-FM radio personality Tim Laing, he proclaimed almost offhandedly, “Yeah, we’re going to give it a shot.” 

“We’re always grateful to be in Canada because I think the talent here, pound for a pound, is the best in the world.” – Robert Ott of ole

Some shot! Ten years later, ole (pronounced “olé” an acronym for Ott-Laing Enterprises) has ballooned from two founding partners, bankrolled by a silent partner to the tune of $40 million, in a downtown Toronto office, to a staff of 60 in Toronto, Nashville, Los Angeles and New York; a publishing catalog of more than 45,000 songs, 60,000 hours of film and TV music, and 150,000 production music tracks; total acquisitions of $300 million USD; and an expansive vision that encompasses global rights management.

ole also boasts a 102-strong songwriter roster, which includes such active and legacy hit-makers as Tim “Timbaland” Mosley (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado), Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Jim Vallance (Bryan Adams, Glass Tiger), Mother Mother, Lindi Ortega, and most recently, Rush. Not to mention hits like Timberlake’s 2014 Grammy-winning R&B song “Pusher Love Girl,” Taylor Swift’s Grammy-winning “White Horse,” and Eric Church’s chart-topping “Springsteen.”

Additionally, ole owns the film and TV catalogues Sony Pictures Entertainment (1993 to 2012), Cookie Jar Music, WGBH and Cineflix Media Inc. among many others.

“I think there’s no question that we’re the biggest music publisher that’s ever been in Canada, but the story has always been a global one in our minds,” says Ott, ole’s Chairman and CEO. “We’ve never set out to be a Canadian publisher, although we’re proud to be.  We very much set out to be a global music publisher… We’re always grateful to be in Canada because I think the talent here, pound for a pound, is the best in the world.”

The ole story began when the Hamilton-born former BMG Music Publishing Canada vice-president and general manager, who had launched his career at the age of 19 with his own Lunar Music, decided it was time to form a new voice in Canadian music publishing and approached his good friend Tim Laing.

“At the time, we were both looking for a new challenge in our respective careers,” Ott recalls. “One thing led to another and it got out of control,” he laughs.

Ott says former Chairman Laing, who left day-to-day operations in 2009 and unfortunately died last year, was an ideal business partner. “Over the course of our time together, we never had a cross word,” says Ott. “It was a relationship built on respect… Tim handled a lot of the operational nuts-and-bolts while I worked on the deal-making part of the program, and building a staff… The biggest thing I appreciated about Tim was his willingness to act as a sounding board. We’d think through our ideas out loud and hone them before they saw the light of day.”

As a result of this meticulous planning, ole has grown into a global powerhouse, building an impressive portfolio of assets that include innovative co-ventures (Last Gang, Roots Three Music and ole Bluestone, its partnership with Timbaland), smart technologies, and expansion into production music, audio-visual secondary rights, and managing digital assets, all emphasized by ole’s “majorly indie” philosophy.

“‘Majorly indie’ is part of our trademark,” says Ott. “The statement was made to advise people that we had the personal touch, with the adaptability of an indie, but the reach of a major.”

On the technology front, Ott says one of ole’s most prescient inventions is “a data analytics tool that helps us really increase collection for our clients. When you’re looking at millions of bytes of data, I defy a human to figure out that Cue 100, Episode 50 of a television show in Australia went missing from the [royalty] statement, which this proprietary IT solution we built can actually do in about five minutes,” he adds.

Of course, Ott is bullish on the ole’s future.

“We started the company at the time when a lot of people said the sky was falling,” he admits. “Ten years later, the sky is still falling, and I’m happy to say that we’ve never had a year that wasn’t better than the one before. I believe that we’ve got a good vision of how the future should unfold for ole: that involves doubling the size of the company. We’ve got a substantial war chest of capital to get that agenda completed, and we’ve got a new orientation in rights management where we’re diversifying intellectual property management even further.

“As a foundation to all of that, we’re going to stick to our fundamental goals –to acquire profitability, add value, build our brand, and continue to provide good personal service to our clients and partners.”


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On a hill or in a valley, on a Greyhound bus, in a 2004 Chevrolet Optra or hitching rides, Rouyn-Noranda born singer-songwriter Louis-Philippe Gingras reckons he must have rode the 226-kilometer Route 117 highway running from Montreal to the Ontario border through the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve as least 300 times by now.

“Once, around Christmas time, I was heading for Rouyn from Montreal in my car to take part in family reunions,” he recalls. “I hadn’t been able to find my driver’s licence, and I didn’t even know whether it was still valid or not. When I got to Tremblant, I got stopped by a cop. He must have thought I looked suspicious. That’s when I found out my licence had expired. My car was impounded, and I had to hitchhike with my guitar. Boy, was it ever cold!”

“It’s a fact that I’m disorganized, not very rich and unattached.”

Traverser l’parc (Riding through the Reserve), Gingras’ Dany Placard-produced current album, contains much evidence justifying that dutiful traffic officer’s intervention. The stories of drunken episodes, complex romantic arrangements and pennilessness it tells definitely don’t portray the songwriter as someone a parent would like their daughter to marry. With his heavy “joual” accent and crude approach to everyday life, Gingras belongs in the Plume Latraverse songwriting school, with its endearing mixture of nonchalance and poetry.

“It’s a fact that I’m disorganized, not very rich and unattached,” Gingras admits. “What I’m talking about on the album fits my own life, but poetic licence allows me to create interesting contrasts between what I went through and how I tell the story. I was able to see the difference after taking part in music competitions.”

As the winner of the second prize of the 2010 Festival de la relève indépendante musicale d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FRIMAT) and of the top honours of the 2012 Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, Gingras speaks from experience. “When you take part in a competition, you end up cruising the jury the way you’d be cruising a girl,” says Gingras. “First impressions are always crucial. It’s too bad, but that’s how it goes. People size you up before you have a chance to play your first note. As an artist, I believe you have to be aware of who you are, and how you’re being perceived by others. What image are you projecting? What are your strengths? Now that I realize that, I always dress up for the stage. I even shave before the show to create a more striking contrast between my clean-cut appearance and my trashy roadside folk/blues music style.”

Once again, the former jazz student of Cégep de Saint-Laurent brings back Route 117, the long snake-like highway on which he wrote many of the songs of Traverser l’parc during the eight-hour trip, including “Andromède,” which was a finalist in the 2014 Francophone edition of the SOCAN Songwriting Prize competition. “Like many of my pieces, ‘Andromède’ grew out of a line I liked for its visual and sonic content,” Gingras explains. “That’s often the case with me. I don’t write on a theme, I just like to elaborate on a line or on words that spark my imagination. I let myself loose without worrying where this might take me. In this particular case, I was on a Greek mythology trip, and I the sentence ‘M’as gazer pégase (‘I’ll be gassing Pegasus’) got me going. And, since I was on my way to meet a girl in Abitibi, the two stories merged into one. By the time I got there, the song was almost finished. ‘Roulé dans l’noir’ [‘Driving in the Dark’] was also written as I was crossing the Reserve. We’d gotten caught in a huge thunderstorm. I was chasing my own tail at the time. Never pleased with myself, always moving from town to town.”

Following appearances at a series of festivals to promote his album this past summer, Gingras is spent part of the fall of 2014 writing songs for his next album. Recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he’s slightly concerned that the medication he’s on might hamper his creative process by levelling his emotional hills and valleys – mostly his highs.

“My moods are pretty stable now, so I’m not going to complain,’ says Gingras. “What I find, so far, is that my new state of mind takes me away from concentrating my writing on myself. Traverser l’parc is a reflection of the way I felt at the time I wrote it. My next album is going to deal with the ways people interact. I’m focussing on a cast of characters. My most recent song is about a woman cashier in an Ontario Giant Tiger store. I want to take myself out of the picture for a change.”


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Raquel Cole is a young singer-songwriter from Vernon, B.C. She first started playing music as a child and never looked back. “I have my parents to thank for noticing my love for music at such an early age,” says Cole. “They bought me my first guitar when I turned nine, and I literally started writing songs as soon as I could play four chords.” At 12 she took home Best New Artist of the Year honours at the B.C. Interior Music Awards, and was soon shuttling between Los Angeles and Nashville, recording and writing music. This fall she opened shows for Grammy Award-winning band Diamond Rio on a U.S. tour.


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