It all Started With a Song.

When last year’s major label debut album of that name soared up the charts (the title track single became the most added song in one week at Canadian country radio, ever), it kicked off a 12-month period that has loudly introduced Brett Kissel as a fast-rising young star whose time has come.

The album’s success helped the Alberta-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter take home the 2014 JUNO Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and in July he scored more nominations (eight) for the 2014 Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) than any other artist.

“This year is one I’m never going to forget. It is just incredible.”

As Kissel says, “This year is one I’m never going to forget. Any time I stop to take a few minutes to reflect, I almost go crazy. It is just incredible.” Helping keep Kissel sane is the realization that he’s earned this success through a potent combination of talent, sustained hard work, and a winning personality. The kid’s no novice, as he alludes to in noting “they say it takes ten years to be an overnight success, and I’m right about that stage now.”

Indeed. His first album, 2003’s Keepin’ It Country, was released when Kissel was just 12. In 2006, he was nominated for the CCMAs Chevy Trucks Rising Star award – the youngest nominee ever.

As his debut’s title indicates, the young Brett Kissel’s style was firmly in the traditional, stone-cold-country vein. That was also showcased on three following independent albums, the last two of which, Tried and True – A Canadian Tribute (2006) and My Roots Run Deep (2008), sold an impressive 70,000 total copies. Most of those sales came at his shows, as the teenaged Kissel gigged relentlessly. “It’s sometimes frustrating to hear people say ‘you didn’t pay your dues in the bars,’” he says. “Well, I was too young for the bars, but I played every small town in Alberta, repeatedly.”

In 2003, Kissel’s commitment to country music as a career was cemented via a remarkable interaction with Johnny Cash, one of the biggest influences on the young singer. “When I heard June Carter Cash passed in May 2003, I sent a letter of condolence to Johnny Cash,” Kissel recalls. “At that time I had recorded Keepin’ It Country, with songs on there from Johnny, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Wilf Carter.

“On Sept. 12, 2003, I was staying home from school as it was my big CD release concert that night. My mum wakes me up in the morning and says ‘I’ve got great news and sad news.’ The great news was that my concert in my community of Glendon, Alberta, had sold out, 600 tickets in a village of 300. The sad news was that Johnny Cash had died that morning. Then my dad came home with the mail, including a big double-envelope for me. Inside was an 8 x 10 [photo] autographed by Johnny Cash that said ‘To Brett. Jesus First. – Johnny Cash.’ To get that on the day he died, and the day I was releasing my first record, is something I’ll never forget. I see this as a true tale that shows everybody this is what I’m meant to be doing!”

This conviction has instantly impressed the industry types that Kissel has encountered. An early mentor, noted Canadian songwriter/producer Steve Fox, recalls their first meeting. “Brett walked up to our table at the CCMAs about ten years ago, acoustic in hand, sang us some old-time country, and proceeded to tell us who the writers were, who the artists were, who produced the albums and who shook a tambourine on the recording. That may be a tad hyperbolic but it’s not far off. Point is, he charmed us all and blew our minds. Even people unaware of his talent were struck by his moxie and salesmanship, but also his genuine respect and knowledge of those who came before him.” Fox went on to collaborate with Kissel on songwriting, as well as producing and dueting on Tried And True.

Born in November 2011 of a chance encounter between three hip girls – Vivianne Roy, 22 (guitar), Katrine Noël, 21 (ukulele) and Julie Aubé, 21 (banjo) – at New Brunswick’s Accros de la chanson competition, Les Hay Babies have taken the music scene by storm. After releasing their first EP, Folio, and opening for Lisa LeBlanc in 2012, the dynamic singer-songwriter trio garnered six Music New Brunswick awards and won top honours at the 2013 Francouvertes festival. Just like that.

“We didn’t know it was a competition,” Roy admits, referring to the Accros de la chanson (or “Song Addicts”) contest. “We thought it was a festival. Once we found out, we went ‘Wow, OK,’ but we weren’t expecting anything. We were based in New Brunswick and had to make the trip each time to play. So we didn’t have much of a chance to see other artists perform, but the whole thing was a big help, for sure. It really was a springboard for bookings in venues and festivals, as well as for the release of our album. That’s definitely what kick-started our career.”

Out of sight, but not of mind

Last April, the first Hay Babies full-length album, Mon Homesick Heart, hit the stores. Produced by François Lafontaine (Karkwa, Alexandre Désilets), it contains 11 indie-folk-country-psyche original songs written on the road, far away from family and boyfriends. “You can hear it in our songs,” Aubé points out.

While “J’ai vendu mon char” (“I Sold My Car”) explores the Hay Babies’ playful side, songs like “La toune du soundman” show a more vulnerable and moving aspect of their personalities. As Noël explains, “this is the most personal song I’ve written so far, and one of the first where I talk about myself directly. I had been away for a month and a half, and I was homesick, hence the album’s title. I don’t always draw inspiration from the same sources, though. Some of my songs refer to things I didn’t go through myself, others are pure fiction.”

As a songwriting collective, the Hay Babies are a democratic team trying new approaches as they go along. “We’ve never had a specific working method,” says Noël. “Sometimes I’ll write a song from start to finish, or just about, and I’ll bring it to the band for us to work it as a group. Sometimes we’ll work on another girl’s composition. Other times, we’ll start with a scrap of text we can’t fully develop for some reason. The three of us can also sit down start writing a new song from scratch.”  “We all get to give our two cents worth about each song,” Aubé further explains. “That may give rise to a jam, but there’s no set formula.”

Acadian talent

While artists like Lisa LeBlanc and Radio Radio have loomed large on the Quebec music scene for a few years now, Acadian musicians have tended to shy away from the limelight. “I think we all suffer from some sort of an inferiority complex,” Aubé explains, “because we have  no structures back home to help us to succeed, and you can’t make a living just playing gigs around New Brunswick. You have to go to France or Quebec. You’ve got to export yourself. And not everyone is ready to do that. It means getting out of your comfort zone, and it isn’t easy.”

“The fact that many young Acadian artists are beginning to make a living with music is encouraging others to try their luck,” Noël adds. “There’s always been talented musicians here, and lots more are waiting to be discovered.”

Overnight sensations

Have the Hay Babies found it hard to adapt to their instant fame after two critically and publicly acclaimed albums and many sold-out shows? “No,” Aubé replies. “You know, as we live outside Quebec, there’s lots of things we aren’t aware of. There are tons of articles written about us that we never get a chance to read. Each time we get there, we’re shocked to realize how well-known we’ve become. We played for 700 people as part of the last FrancoFolies Festival in Montreal, and we were expecting nothing!”

“Initially,” Roy recalls, “I had planned to work in music, but I had no idea you could make a living with it. I was going to be a journalist or an album cover designer, but not up front. This whole thing pretty much caught me unawares.”

“From the word go,” adds Noël, “we forged ahead without taking the time to look back and take it all in. We’re spoiled, and happy that our work is being appreciated, but I don’t think we’re able to appreciate how huge what’s happening to us is. We’re just grateful to be able to make a living in music and have a good time.”

On the road (again)

After spending a “laid-back” summer, the Hay Babies are gearing up for a tour of France, and  appearing in the ROSEQ Fall showcase program, the Coup de cœur francophone festival and various other events. “Each of us also has small individual projects on the side,” Roy points out. “Then, next year, it’s back to songwriting for a new album of English-language songs. We’re also planning to spend more time on the production side of the next album than we did on the last one.”

Aubé sums up: “For us, performing in English is a creative choice. We’re all bilingual. We’ve played lots of English songs that have not yet made their way to an album. I think it’s a sad thing when you create something you’re proud of, and you can’t release it. Besides, performing in English could bring us closer to our American country roots and, who knows, maybe help us tour south of the border or in other more Anglophone places. It would be a bit crazy not to try to get people to hear our songs. In music, you can’t set limits for yourselves. You’ve got to keep exploring and looking around.”

The popular summer festival season for electronic dance music, better known as EDM, has just wrapped up. During this time each year, fans can choose from a rich selection of EDM music festivals held throughout Canada. Over the course of an evening, day, or sometimes a weekend, fans can let loose and dance while creating memories for a lifetime with friends.

Behind the scenes, many concert promoters who host these EDM concerts and festivals are Licensed to Play by SOCAN. Obtaining a SOCAN licence demonstrates their commitment to running concerts ethically and legally, and ensures that music creators are properly compensated, which in turn, allows them to continue creating their music. A SOCAN licence fosters a mutually beneficial partnership between concertpromoters and their featured music creators.

“We want to ensure that all of the contributors to the music receive their fair compensation.” – Harvey Cohen, of Union Events

As another benefit to SOCAN-licensed promoters, SOCAN has recently worked alongside Re:Sound to simplify the licensing process for those who promote events in nightclubs. While SOCAN collects performance royalties for songwriters and music publishers, Re:Sound collects royalties for artists and record companies. There was an opportunity to create a distinct licensing process between the two societies, to avoid delays and duplication, and enhance reporting for both licences, making it easier for nightclub promoters to do their business.

SOCAN licensee Electronic Nation Canada, the electronic music brand of Live Nation, is one of Canada’s premier electronic music promoters, hosting prominent summer concerts. Most recently, Electronic Nation hosted the third annual Digital Dream Music Festival in Toronto, boasting a crowd of nearly 75,000 attendees and more than 100 artists. The promoter also partnered to host ÎlesSoniq, one of the biggest electronic festivals in Montreal.

“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds as the scene in general has grown,” says Ryan Kruger, Managing Director, Electronic Nation Canada, adding that being a SOCAN licensee is a necessary pre-requisite to “creating events that make people happy.” He also makes mention of his efforts to showcase local EDM talent during his company’s concerts. “If we are in this business,” says Kruger, “it’s only to our benefit to see a vibrant music scene throughout the market, and throughout the country. We want to support local and Canadian talent.”

Union Events/Union Electronic is also a SOCAN licensee. Recognized as one of the largest independent promoters in Canada, the company recently expanded to devote its Union Electronic division solely to EDM.  The new division has had a busy summer, with concerts across the country, including the third annual Riot Fest in Toronto and the Chasing Summer Music Festival. SOCAN members, including the likes of City and Colour and Tegan and Sara, are routinely featured at their concerts.

Union Events’ “fan first” approach has led to its ongoing success and growth over the years. Managing Partner Harvey Cohen stresses that promoters should be licensed to play, “to ensure that not only the performers are compensated for the time, but that all of the contributors to the music receive their fair compensation.”

And having a SOCAN license does just that. Electronic Nation and Union Events are only two of the more than 125,000 licensees across Canada that recognize the value that music brings to their business. As the EDM scene continues to expand throughout Canada, now is the time for concert promoters to obtain a SOCAN licence. We look forward to continuously developing a network of promoters who’ll enhance their business by being Licensed to Play.

To learn further about SOCAN’s licensing process, or to get Licensed to Play, click here.