Bernie Finkelstein has worn many hats in his music career: artist manager, label owner, music producer, music publisher, concert promoter. Whatever the hat, his passion for music has always guided his extraordinary journey. The trailblazing mogul built True North Records into one of the pre-eminent indie labels in the world at a time when “indie” was not a ubiquitous word. Not bad for a high-school dropout from suburban Downsview in Toronto.

“Bernie’s chief assets are loyalty, a passionate love of music, and a chess player’s gift for strategizing many moves ahead,” says Bruce Cockburn of his longtime manager.

It was curiosity that led a teen Finkelstein to Toronto’s hippie hangout of Yorkville circa 1967, when coffee shops abounded, drugs were in the air, and live music was everywhere. Some of Canada’s greatest acts– such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – honed their chops at long-gone venues like The Riverboat, The Penny Farthing and The Mynah Bird.

: “I was thinking of a beatnik life when I left home at 17. I was a lousy student, but I fell into music.”

“I got lucky,” says Finkelstein of his start in the music industry. “I was thinking of a beatnik life when I left home at 17. I was a lousy student, but I fell into music. It was very serendipitous because I fell into something I loved, had a big passion for, and also something that I had a really good ear for.”
Besides a little luck, zeal made this path possible. If Finkelstein believed in an act, his dogged determination made people take notice – whether it was negotiating a distribution deal south of the border or landing their singles on the Billboard charts. For that, they remain forever thankful.
“I’m not much given to ‘what ifs,’ but it’s reasonable to assume that if there hadn’t been a Bernie, someone else might have stepped into that role,” says Cockburn. “But it was Bernie. I think we’d be looking at a very different scene if we put ourselves in an alternate universe that didn’t include him.”

Besides Cockburn, over the years Finkelstein signed such acts (either to True North Records, to management deals, or both) as The Paupers, Murray McLauchlan, Rough Trade, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Stephen Fearing, among others.

These days, Finkelstein is semi-retired, having sold True North in 2007; the Canadian Music Hall of Fame member whiles away the day with his wife, either on their Prince Edward County farm or at their North Toronto home. Recently, McClelland & Stewart published his memoir True North: A Life in the Music Business.

Oddly, the book doesn’t deal much with his work as a music publisher. Back in 1970, Finkelstein and Cockburn became partners in Golden Mountain Music. Last year, the pair sold it to Rotten Kiddies, a subsidiary of U.S.-based publisher Carlin Music. As with the sale of True North in 2007, Finkelstein says the decision to divest of the publishing business was because his passion was no longer there.
“The Canadian publishing business is becoming more and more complicated,” he explains. “I came up during an era where if you had one thing and it sold a million copies, you got paid everything all at once for the million. Now it’s the inverse. There are a million things and they all collect one penny. The idea of knowing what the rates are for Yahoo in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia was not appealing.”

Finkelstein flourished as a publisher in the ’70s. “I recognized, as a young person moving his way into what we now call the music business, that the ability to earn a living and build a company was marginal, almost non-existent,” he says. “I started realizing I needed to be involved in as many things as possible. The corollary to that was, my artists would say, ‘So-and-so wants my publishing, what should I do?’ It became apparent that the odds of the artist giving away their publishing rights in those days was very high.”

So Finkelstein set up a structure where the artists were their own publishers; in return, he owned part of these rights as the administrator. “At the time I didn’t realize it, but it made my business very fluid,” he says. “When people needed to license one of our artists’ records, it would be one-stop shopping. In 2012, the big catchphrase is 360 deals… but we got there a long time ago.”

With the music industry constantly changing, Finkelstein is glad he left when he did. He doesn’t fancy the “retired” label, but he’s certainly enjoying a more leisurely pace of life.

“There are days when I miss it, particularly when I speak to old friends that are still involved, but I didn’t want to just stumble around,” he says. “I use the sports metaphor. I thought I had a fairly decent career: my numbers were pretty good, maybe Hall of Fame numbers, and I didn’t want to keep on playing and watch those numbers get worse. I’ve got too much pride for that.”

With global sales of his 2004 debut album Storyteller reaching in excess of 1.6 million copies globally, multiple Top 10 hits in the U.K., and sold-out shows that attract up to 30,000 fans in India, Africa and North America, you’d think Raghav would be a household name in Canada.

But while North America’s South Asian community has embraced his music – and flocked to venues like Toronto’s Rogers Centre, Long Island’s Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum and LA’s Shrine Auditorium to see the Calgary-based, Indo-Canadian singer-songwriter perform – “It’s just never translated in the North American mainstream,” Raghav says.

“The first language you speak will always your mother tongue”- Raghav

Since he signed a Canadian deal with Cordova Bay Records and released his Juno Award-nominated song, “So Much” (featuring Kardinal Offishall) in 2011, however, that’s begun to change. Already, “Fire,” the second single from his 2012 release The Phoenix, has become Raghav’s most successful Canadian single to date; it’s garnered him nominations at the 2012 Canadian Radio Music Awards and Canadian Indie Awards, and achieved certified gold sales status. Raghav has recently signed a U.S. deal with Ultra Records and, at press time, was preparing to release “Fire” south of the border in the summer of 2012.

His records, however, are just one of the creative outlets that Raghav is exploring. Currently, he’s working on a Bollywood film with composer A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) and a Hollywood film with both Rahman and Grammy/Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked). “A.R’s known about me for some time,” says Raghav. “I happened to be in India when he was there and he called me. We started cutting songs for the Bollywood project and ever since, it seems like I’ve been following and working with him all around the world.”

Raghav’s goal has always been to become a more sophisticated songwriter and to expand his musical vocabulary with each successive record. While the Indian music he grew up with still informs his distinctive brand of energetic R&B/pop, The Phoenix finds him drawing inspiration from blues, R&B and the musical traditions he’s encountered while travelling to countries like Kenya, Pakistan and Nepal.

“The first language you speak will always your mother tongue,” he says. “It’s helped me break down the barrier of scale, so when I’m writing a song and I want to take somewhere else, I can, but you can’t keep doing the same thing. The fusion always has to take a different form.”

Track Record
• At age 16, Raghav won the National Songwriters Association of America Award
• As a teenager, Raghav trained with vocal coach Seth Riggs, who’s worked with international stars including Madonna, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
• His music has been described as “South Asian-flavoured U.S. R&B with hip-hop flourishes.”

Don’t let their name fool you. Halifax-based modern rockers Wintersleep have certainly not taken any time out for creative hibernation during the past five years. They’ve been decidedly prolific, releasing three acclaimed albums during that period, all supported with extensive touring through North America, the U.K., and Europe. They’re now back on the road in all three regions for the rest of the year, showcasing their new (and fifth) record, Hello Hum.

“We haven’t really stopped to think about taking a break,” says Wintersleep singer, co-songwriter and guitarist Paul Murphy. “It just seems the songs are there. If they weren’t, I don’t think we’d be afraid to chill and wait, but it always seems like the time is right. It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?’ Then when you make a record, I feel you have to give it its due in terms of presenting it to audiences and making sure it is out there.”

“It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?”

Quality has paralleled quantity in their output, with the sonically adventurous Hello Hum arguably being Wintersleep’s best reviewed album yet. It has come out a full decade after the band’s self-titled debut, but it was only with 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky that the band made a real impact. The album produced a rock radio smash hit in the form of “Weighty Ghost,” and earned Wintersleep a New Group of the Year Juno Award. Murphy notes that “we were playing so long before radio or the industry in Canada really knew who we were. That was the first record where people in the industry started taking notice.”

“Weighty Ghost” still scores airplay, and Murphy concedes “there may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though. To me, it was a very strange thing that song caught on the way it did. We’ve never been about pushing singles, we get excited about making whole albums.”

He views the track as “a gateway into our band. Lots of people may only be interested in hearing that song but then there’ll be a few people who’ll want to hear the rest of that record. That’s why we played it again on David Letterman [years after it was released].”

Murphy shares songwriting duties with Wintersleep’s two other original members, drummer Loel Campbell and guitarist Tim D’Eon, though newer members Michael Bigelow (bass) and Jon Samuel (keyboards) also get credited on, respectively, one and two of the songs on Hello Hum. Murphy says the songwriting dynamic within the band has changed since their formation.

“There may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though.”

“The first recording was more me having a bunch of songs, and Loel, Tim, and [then-bassist] Jud Haynes worked on those in the studio,” says Murphy. “Now everybody writes songs and parts. We’ll usually have a few different parts, then we all work together to flesh out the musical idea. I usually come up with the lyrics and melody, but it has definitely grown into everyone putting a lot of effort into every song. They’d sound very different with anyone removed from the picture.”

Internationally, Wintersleep have gained real credibility and attention by recruiting two of the world’s premier rock producers to work on their recent records. Scottish producer Tony Doogan’s resumé includes influential groups Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian, and he’s manned the console for Winterleep’s previous two albums. For Hello Hum, he partnered with famed production maverick Dave Fridmann, best known for working with the likes of Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and MGMT. Doogan handled the recording, Fridmann mixed, and the sessions took place at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in rural upstate New York.

To Murphy, these two heads proved better than one. “Initially, it almost felt ridiculous we were working with Dave in his studio, as he’s so high-profile,” he recalls. “He brought more of an intensity to it. I thought he might be a little more eccentric, but he is just a real hard worker who knows how to use his gear. He’s not afraid to bring something to its sonic limit, as an engineer. It was nice to see he and Tony interact. They are really good friends and good at working together. I think there’s a bit of wanting to impress each other as well, when you’re working with someone you respect.
“They’re our songs, but getting to sit back and watch them work in helping to create the songs was a real treat.”