Some families line up for the shower; the Dodsons – Rich, Mary-Lynn, Holly and Nick – queue up for access to the state-of-the-art recording studio, which dominates the basement of their home in Toronto.

It’s a veritable musicworks, including a wide array of guitars, keyboards and other instruments, and an adjoining marketing “war room” with multiple computers wired to the now-essential social media sites and internet music services connecting artists to fans. The wall of gold records belongs to patriarch Rich Dodson – guitarist and co-founder of Canadian rock trio The Stampeders – who was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 as co-writer of the group’s biggest hit, “Sweet City Woman.” The Stampeders also won a SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and two SOCAN Classic Song Awards in 1993.

“I built a 24-track studio [Marigold Studios] so that I was self-contained and independent.” – Rich Dodson

Rich amicably split from the group in 1978, after 13 years of living with a rigidly structured timetable for touring and recording. “I wanted the freedom, so when we bought the house, I built a 24-track studio [Marigold Studios] so that I was self-contained and independent,” explains Rich. He subsequently set up his own nationally-distributed indie label, Marigold Productions, and became an early adopter of the latest digital recording tools, and online tools for marketing and promotion. His wife Mary-Lynn became an important part of the operation, leveraging the experience she’d gained at Quality Records as one of the first radio airplay trackers in Canada.

In the ‘80s, the studio began to create a buzz, drawing artists as varied as Buffy Sainte-Marie, the late Handsome Ned, and Alanis Morissette, among others. Daughter Holly and son Nick were exposed to this indie, do-it-yourself mindset as they both began to take a greater interest in music. Today, Holly is a singer, musician, songwriter, producer, and co-founding member and frontperson for electronic pop trio Parallels, which features Nick on drums. Nick is a multi-instrumentalist, producer and a member of his own group, Eyes of Giants. Parallels has received much critical acclaim, and its song “Dry Blood” was used on the soundtrack of the Academy Award-winning film Curfew.

“For the band’s sophomore album, XII, Holly sang, played all the instruments and mixed it,” Rich says proudly. “I came in and tweaked a few things, but she did the whole album herself, and I was just blown away. Nick plays great piano and drums, and he produces projects as well.”

Rich is enthusiastic about creating and marketing music in a digital world. For example, The Stampeders re-formed in 1992, and would later have to create a website.

“On the other hand, I’ve had to arm-twist Nick and Holly to start thinking about traditional radio,” says Rich. “They don’t listen to radio, but it’s still a place where people discover music.”


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A father’s advice and a passion to help Western Canadian songwriters get their music to a wider audience. These were the keys to Edmonton-based, indie, country label Royalty Records’ success. Don’t forget to add a wee bit of “Scottish stubbornness,” says 75-year-old founder R. Harlan Smith.

Royalty not only celebrated 40 years in the business in 2014, but signed a new distribution deal with Sony Music Canada. They’ve been the longtime home to high-profile country star Gord Bamford, as well as Hey Romeo, Tenille and Jay Sparrow. In 40 years at Royalty, Smith claims to have written more than 200 songs, and produced more than 40 albums and 200-plus singles.

“I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day.” – R. Harlan Smith of Royalty Records

Flash back to 1974, when the humble entrepreneur had a vision. Smith wanted to give country musicians and songwriters from West of Manitoba a home. “There was a tremendous amount of talent not getting recognized,” he says.

When Smith founded the label, designing Royalty Records’ first logo on a beer napkin, the multinationals said he wouldn’t last two years. Forty years on, Smith is proud he proved them wrong.

As he grew up in rural Saskatchewan, Smith’s mom – a piano teacher – fostered his love of music. As a 1950s Prairie boy, there were two musts on Saturday night: listening to the Country Hit Parade on local radio and listening to the hockey game. “If you didn’t do either of these, you just weren’t living!” he laughs.

Smith’s father was also an early influence. “When I was a young teen, preparing to leave the nest, he had some words for me I’ve never forgotten,” says Smith. “He said, ‘No matter what people tell you, do what your soul tells you. If you have a passion for something, just do it.’ He also said, ‘Always do something to better the community where you live.’”

Once he left home, Smith took this fatherly advice to heart. He moved to Edmonton, which he calls “one of best music scenes I had ever encountered,” and began a career as a musician and songwriter.

But despite some early success, Smith decided to heed his dad’s other advice to give back, by starting his label. Gary Fjellgaard was one of Royalty Records’ first signings. Smith heard the B.C. songwriter – now inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame – while eating in a small-town diner.  “I heard this record in the jukebox and my jaw dropped,” Smith recalls. “First, at the song; second, at the voice.”

For Smith, his life in music has been a labour of love. For the past decade, son Rob has taken up this passion. He runs the entire Royalty Music Group of companies, which includes publishing house Helping Hand Music Ltd.

“When I was in the music business, I don’t think I worked a day in my life,” Smith concludes. “I got up every morning wanting to do something. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do that day. What a wonderful way to spend your life.”


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James O’Callaghan came to music rather late in life, especially for someone who has already, at age 26, achieved some major milestones. Those include sharing the John Weinzweig Grand Prize in the 2014 edition of the SOCAN Foundation Awards for Young Composers and a nomination, also last year, for a JUNO Award in the Best Classical Composition category. Both were for his orchestral work Isomorphia.

“I have no family background in music and I never studied an instrument as a kid,” he reveals, looking back on his childhood in Currie, BC. “I started making electronica in my basement just before university, and the inter-disciplinary degree I got from Simon Fraser University was my ‘in’ to music. I was beginning to experiment with manipulating sounds, really working with the timbres of sound, and thought at first that I should go into production. But I then learned there is actually a type of music that was about that!”

“I have no family background in music and I never studied an instrument as a kid.”

At Simon Fraser, O’Callaghan studied electroacoustic music with Barry Truax and took classes in instrumental composition with David MacIntyre and Rodney Sharman. “I might not have found an entry-point into composition without such a unique and open-minded program,” he notes. “Studying afterward at McGill was certainly a change of pace, but one that offered many opportunities while working with Philippe Leroux.”

Isomorphia, his first orchestral commission, evolved from his 2013 stint as composer-in-residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and the JUNO-nominated recording features that orchestra under conductor Alain Trudel. “The NYOC players are exceptional musicians,” says O’Callaghan. “It was a fantastic experience and I was really pleased with the performances they gave during their national tour.”

O’Callaghan completed his Master of Music degree from McGill just last year (Isomorphia served as his thesis) and plans to enter a PhD program at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, he’s pleased that “a large influx of opportunities have come along. I’m now having to say ‘No,’ or postpone some requests for new works.”

First up is his completion of a commission from the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA-GRM), in a co-production with Montreal’s Le Vivier. This work will be completed as part of a residency at the GRM studios in Paris, where it will have had its world premiere on Jan. 24, 2015. A second performance, coordinated by Le Vivier, is scheduled for June 11 back in Montreal, where O’Callaghan continues to live.

Also on the horizon is a new commission from Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo, set for a premiere on June 4. And in a different vein, O’Callaghan is one of 12 composers working jointly on an opera based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a production of Montreal’s Bradyworks, which hosts the premiere on May 6.

“Each composer is contributing a scene to the opera,” says O’Callaghan, “akin to the way the various body parts of the monster were assembled. The composers are all, more or less, working independently, so it will be interesting to see how these different styles come together.”


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