When we think of music we often focus solely on the artists, but a significant part of sound creation involves an extensive team, most notably producers and songwriters. But unlike the pattern in many industries currently growing in diversity, equity, and inclusion, female-identifying music producers have been nearly absent in Canada. Music Publishers Canada (MPC) recognized this, and set out to help change it.

Margaret McGuffin

Margaret McGuffin

“There is such a low incidence of producers who are women, gender-fluid, non-binary, or gender non-conforming, that have an opportunity to produce,” explains Margaret McGuffin, CEO of Music Publishers Canada. “[An ongoing] USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study revealed only 2.5 percent of albums [in the U.S.] were being produced by women. And between 12 to 15 percent, depending on the year, had songwriters who were women. That number says it all. We believe that those numbers are even lower in Canada, which is quite shocking, given how women are doing in other fields.”

McGuffin believes that the absence of female-identifying producers reflects a great number of missed opportunities for talented creators, and the industry itself. “[Many] women don’t understand that there are opportunities in these fields, as they enter into their careers or their post secondary education,” she says. “And even once they’re in those careers, if they don’t see women in those roles, they don’t understand the opportunities that exist there. Or they may not feel comfortable in reaching out and trying to be part of [it].

“Songwriting, publishing, [and] composing are the best kept secrets in the industry. People know about the artist, label, even the manager, [but] they don’t understand that we have so many successful songwriters, composers, and producers worldwide. We’re trying to educate [people] about this segment of the music industry.”

Sarah MacDougall

Sarah MacDougall

Formed in 2019, the Women in the Studio National Accelerator program is a series of curated workshops that cover everything from technical training, to branding, to financial literacy, to creative and networking experiences. The program is led by leading Canadian music publishers  Vivian Barclay (Warner Chappell Music), Cheryl Link (peermusic Canada), and Mishelle Pack (Sony Music Canada).  At press time for this article, SOCAN’s A&R team was setting up a series of virtual song camps for all of the participants.

The program finds participants joining for a variety of reasons. “Some are coming with quite extensive technical training and are looking to master new skills,” says McGuffin. “A lot want to meet a community and network. While [for] others, its more about the music they’re wanting to produce – nobody in the studio understood the sound they had in their head.”

That holds true for singer-songwriter Sarah MacDougall, who’s been producing since she acquired her first four-track tape machine when she was 13 years old. While collaborating on her music has helped her grow as an artist, her passion for production also drives her.

“I studied production and composition in university, and at the Banff Centre, and also worked as an intern and assistant engineer in some commercial studios,” says MacDougall. “I produced and engineered my first record. I worked at a studio that had an SSL 4000G board and a great live room, and I recorded myself in the control room, and the band in the other room. But since then, I’ve been collaborating and co-producing. I learned so much from it over the years.

“At the same time, I always had a dream to have my own studio. In the last few years, I’ve been able to convert the first floor of my house into a studio, and I’ve really dived into production and engineering again. I really like to create a song from start to finish, and collaborate with other songwriters in that way, as well as get my ideas out quickly. I see production as another tool in my songwriting toolbox.”

Elisa Pangsaeng

Elisa Pangsaeng

Like MacDougall, fellow 2021 alumnus Elisa Pangsaeng feels producing is a passion. “When you’re producing– especially when you’re producing and engineering – not only do you get to tell a story, you get to imagine all the ways it could be told. You get to bring it to life with all the colors of all the instruments, orchestration, players, personalities, environments, microphones, processing. There’s sheer artistry in production, but it’s also math, science, technology, it’s psychology. Production is everything a creative mind could ever want.”

And she hopes that the Women in the Studio program continues to shed a bright light on neglected creators. “I’d like to see the narrative surrounding statistics in our industry change,” she says. “I’d like people to stop asking, ‘Where are all the ‘X’ producers?’ We’re right here, we’re everywhere. If you’re in the industry and you ‘don’t know any women producers,’ you’re not giving someone the credit or title they deserve. I’d love to see those in a position to do so ask themselves why they don’t work with more women, or non-binary people, or people of colour, because there’s certainly no excuse not to. I believe programs like this have the potential to highlight that fact.”

For McGuffin, the series isn’t just a program, but a community. “You can never leave,” she says. “We’re in our third year. This is about building a community. Connecting to the elders. We regularly pull in past participants to meet the new ones. We keep in touch with them. Let’s build something that lasts well beyond the program.”

Top Ten: The 2021 Program Participants

  • Ava Kay
  • DJ Killa-Jewel (aka Julie Fainer)
  • Elisa Pangsaeng
  • Lana Winterhalt
  • Mour (aka Cassandra Zingone)
  • OBUXUM (aka Muxubo Mohamed)
  • Sadé Awele (aka Folasade Akinbami)
  • Sarah MacDougall
  • Sierra Noble
  • Steph Copeland

This year, Nicole Beausoleil was honoured with the ninth annual Christopher J. Reed Award, presented by APEM (the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale), with the support of SOCAN during the Rendez-Vous Pros des Francos. Beyond the tribute paid to her during the event, the award highlights and celebrates her involvement with artists and her outstanding contribution to the recognition of their rights, both here and abroad.

Nicole Beausoleil

Photo: Marie-Michèle Bouchard

The founder and President of Productions Nicole Beausoleil has worked in the field of copyright for more than 30 years. Through her business, she’s been working alongside screen composers since 1996.

“I grew up in a household where music was everywhere,” says Beausoleil, still marvelling at the fact. But it was while she was actually creating music herself that she was struck by the importance of the rights attached to it. “The day comes where you don’t have a choice but to look into copyright,” she says sincerely.

While she was working at SOCAN precursor organization SDE (the Francophoine counterpart to PROCAN), Beausoleil cut her teeth among a group of colleagues and mentors who “were mostly women,” she says. “I worked with Joanne Pouliot, who was a role model for me when I started. Towards the end of my time at SOCAN, I was in charge of A-V [audio-visual]. That’s when I realized I was cut out to work in screen composing.”

Although working an environment that was predominantly female didn’t stand out to her at first, she now recognizes that the people around her, when she began, played a role in shaping her career. “I was quite young when I started out, and I didn’t think along those lines, then,” she explains. “But later I realized that being encouraged to move up the ladder changed everything. The fact that I expressed a desire to move into a new role was valued. That gave me the confidence I needed to create my own job later on.”

Among the key moments that confirmed this choice, in hindsight, Beausoleil names those instances when an artist needs someone who understands their publishing rights. “When you’re working on a TV series and you know there’s a problem with the royalties, but you manage to untangle the dossier, it’s a success that feels great every time,” she says. “Making music for television is more often than not high-pressure work, so it’s that much more satisfying to know that I’m able to render my composers’ work highlighted and respected.”

Beausoleil remembers 1996 as a time when being a freelancer wasn’t in vogue. “The producers I worked with had a hard time taking me seriously, but I won them over after awhile,” she says. “I never hesitated to travel and present my reports in person, as a way to show that I was invested. Nevertheless, the first five years were hard. I had to explain a ton of stuff to everyone.”

“It never fails: I’m always impressed by the quality and beauty of the music composed for our TV series”

Pierre Flynn

Pierre Flynn performs at the ceremony awarding the Christopher-J.-Reed Prize to Nicole Beausoleil. (Photo: Marie-Michèle Bouchard)

For Luc Sicard, Éric Lemoyne, Dazmo, and other screen composers, Beausoleil is a vital bridge between music creators and the production. The repertoire she administers includes more than 600 audio-visual works distributed throughout the world. Her clients include most of Québec’s major production companies.

“The number of A-V works sold internationally that we have in Québec is quite exceptional,” she says. “That means the work I do is vital. One needs to be perceptive and meticulous. It’s a trade where you often find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You have to be there for the composer and their publisher, and do your darndest to serve everyone’s best interest.”

But despite all the hard work, Beausoleil is mainly driven by her passion. “I use the word ‘work,’ but it has a different meaning for me,” she says. “My trade is highly niche. If you tell people you manage an artist, they know what you do, but when I tell people I manage publishing for A-V works, people have no idea what I’m talking about,” she says, giggling. “Luckily, everyone around me is also driven by passion. The people I’ve worked with over the last 30 years have become my friends.”

One of her favourite times of the year is the launch of the fall TV season, which is when she can see the results of her efforts onscreen. “I’m a big consumer of TV series and films,” she admits. “It never fails: I’m always impressed by the quality and beauty of the music composed for our TV series. Music becomes a character in and of itself. It’s a very important aspect of a series’ success.”

She also hopes to see an increasing number of women composing for local series and films. “We always refer to the same examples when we talk about the place of women,” she says. “I think the door will open a little wider when a movie that was produced here [in Québec], and whose score was written by a woman, gets worldwide distribution.

“Screen composing is something that’s often a side gig to a career as a musician, but we’re lucky enough to live in an era where one doesn’t necessarily have to choose one over the other. That’s why I believe the possibilities are there, and the revolution in our trade is near.”


On her third album, Poupée russe (Russian Martryosha dolls), Sarahmée follows through on her ideas with lyrics that carry a “more lucid” message.

Over the course of 13 songs, the Québec-based rapper draws a very rich picture of what makes her heart, but also her mind and her gut, tick. Her writing is straightforward and direct, and she bites into her words with just the right amount of aggression, sensitivity, and arrogance commanded by each song.

Her lively, heartfelt delivery is a reflection of the singer-songwriter’s highly organic creative process. “I let go of my phone and went back to the good old pen and paper,” she says proudly. “It’d been a while since I last went back to my good ol’ habits. Writing, I mean actually writing and crossing stuff out, allowed me to take a step back from my lyrics. It allowed me to visualize the music, to be more structured and to express my ideas more clearly. I’m so ADD when I’m on my phone, but when I’m sitting down with a piece of paper, my ideas germinate longer.”

Active of Québec’s rap scene for over a decade now, Sarahmée slams her fist on the table with her third offering. “I’ve had to grow a little harder over time,” she raps on “Quand la route est longue,” clearly signalling that she no longer has any time to waste, career-wise as well as life-wise. “I figured if I don’t take the place I deserve with this album, no one else is going to give it to me. I’m the conductor of my own train,” she says.

And that “place” designates the status she rightly deserves on Québec’s male-dominated rap scene. On “Elle est partie,” a song denouncing the many layers of sexism that surround us, she throws a few punches at local rap figures who have “too much ego to say that a woman is their colleague.”

That type of line is a perfect reflection of the aplomb that permeates Poupée russe. “It’s time to shoot what I have to say now that I have people’s attention,” Sarahmée says adamantly. “No one was expecting Irréversible [her second album released in 2019], whereas now, I could tell there was an audience ready to listen.”

Using her microphone as a megaphone, the rapper dives into hot topics such as systemic racism and police brutality. “As a young woman who’s also black, I’m afraid of the police,”, she raps on the title song before defiantly adding “you’re either an ally or you’re their accomplice,”, a clear call to join the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m aware that not everyone is comfortable taking a stance,” she nuances. “I’m not afraid of speaking out, and I’m constantly thinking about all that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not careful about what I do say. I don’t want to be a spokesperson for all social groups. I’m only Sarahmée, and no one elected me to speak on their behalf. In other words, time has also taught me to shut up.”

Hence her decision to express her political views in her music rather than the media, as she did last year. “At some point, I said to myself, ‘I’m not a commentator [who is only invited to comment] on racism!’ I was starting to feel like I didn’t really have any business there.” So, instead of accepting all the invitations that were extended to her, Sarahmée decided to take time for herself. That perspective allowed her to write such brilliant songs, some of which are particularly intimate.

One such example is “Partir plus tôt,” a song that tackles her addiction problem head-on. “It’s an autobiographical song about what happened to me after Irréversible. It was a beautiful year, but also an incredibly difficult year. It was pretty bad towards the end,” she confides. “I had to make a decision: regaining control over my own life. I went into rehab and put in the work that saved me. And that taught me a lot of things. Simple things, such as the fact that you don’t absolutely have to get completely wasted when you go to a party. I’m thankful I made that decision, because my addiction was starting to impact a lot of other stuff, especially my music, my work ethic, my team… It had to stop.”

With its vibrant and dramatic strings, “Partir plus tôt” is in stark contrast with the rest of the album’s musical direction. Alongside her loyal allies Tom Lapointe and Diego Montenero, the two producers at the core of her team, Sarahmée put together an album with a fiery trap and Afropop vibe, while in a creative retreat in a cabin in November of  2020.

“This time around, I didn’t feel like writing 50,000 songs to select just a dozen. I hate that!” she says, referring to the heavier process that drove Irréversible. “The guys put a ton of energy in the productions, so I had a big challenge in front of me. My lyrics had to live up to that!”

She clearly nailed that mission thanks, to clearer-than-ever ideas, and a freer-than-ever mind.