Another firm believer in Kissel’s potential is Steve Kane, President of Warner Music Canada. The label signed Kissel in May 2013 after, in Kane’s words, “a good old-fashioned office visit. A couple hours later, as I left the boardroom with our V.P. of A&R, Ron Lopata, and our V.P. of Radio Promotion, Steve Coady, I turned to them and said ‘we need to sign this kid.’ When you hear this sort of talent combined with a solid business sense and entrepreneurial spirit, you make the investment. Brett’s the real deal as both a performer and a writer. He has all the potential and drive to break internationally.”

Kissel’s winning personality also helped land him a deal with his Canadian manager, Louis O’Reilly, of the publisher O’Reilly International Inc., and an American publishing and co-management deal with Nashville legend Bob Doyle, the man behind Garth Brooks’ early success, and now head of Major Bob Music (whose SOCAN affiliate is Bouncy Bear Music). After approaching Doyle at the 2011 CCMA Awards in Hamilton, and informing him he was about to visit Nashville, Kissel was offered a meeting. “A few songs on my guitar at noon turned into drinks and supper and a management and publishing deal the next morning!,” he recalls.

“At 6:45 a.m., my grandfather knocks on my bedroom door, saying ‘Wake up. You’re no country star on the farm!’”

Doyle’s clout has helped Kissel pair up with some of Music City’s best country songwriters. Those co-writing with him on Started With a Song include Craig Wiseman (Kenny Chesney, Three Days Grace), Ted Hewitt (Kenny Rogers), Tim Nichols (Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw), Wade Kirby (George Strait) and Jason Matthews (Luke Bryan), as well as top Canadian songwriters Duane Steele and Tim Taylor.

Kissel is relishing songwriting in Nashville. “I’ve never walked out of a songwriting appointment and felt it was a waste of time,” he says. “With Nashville’s elite, they’re always incredible experiences. I’m just lucky at getting to rub shoulders with and pick the brains of some of the best writers in town.”

On Started With a Song, Kissel’s sound has moved in a more contemporary country direction. “In the five years between my last two albums, I decided I wanted to write and record songs that could get played on the radio, not just hurtin’ songs or country yodels,” he explains.

Whether the sound is classic or modern, the best country music continues to tell stories deeply rooted in real life, and Kissel has stuck to that mandate. Such tunes on Started With a Song as “Country In My Blood” and “Canadian Kid” clearly have a direct resonance, and Kissel singles out the closing track “Together (Grandma & Grandpa’s Song),” a solo composition, as “the most personal song on there.” He writes on the album liner notes that “It came straight from the heart… I wrote this song the very next morning after my Grandma Betty passed away.”

Already looking ahead to his next record, Kissel stresses that “the aim is to have a great mix of songs that’ll sound good on the radio, but to never forget who I am and where I came from, and to share some of those personal stories.”

Another key component of the Kissel success story is his rigorous work ethic. That can be attributed to growing up in a prominent cattle ranching family in the Flat Lake region of Alberta. And that family still won’t cut him any slack. One summer, he headlined Canada’s biggest country festival, Big Valley Jamboree, nearby, returning to the ranch at 3 a.m.. “I thought I’d be given a break, but at 6:45 a.m., my grandfather knocks on my bedroom door, saying ‘Wake up. You’re no country star on the farm!’ Whenever I head out there now, I still have to put on my boots and dirty jeans and start chasing cows!”

Major Bob Music/Bouncy Bear Music, O’Reilly International Inc.
Keepin’ It Country (2003), By Request (2004), Tried and True – A Canadian Tribute (2006), My Roots Run Deep (2008), Started With A Song (2013)
SOCAN member since 2006

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.