Laurence Lebel is blooming in the musical spring with the speed of a cherry tree. “I was given the keys to a label and to the management aspect of things, and I now oversee both departments,” she says.

Laurence Lebel, ArtificeArtifice, the Québec City-based company specializing in radio promotion (notably for Louis-Jean Cormier, Les Louanges, and all the artists signed to Bravo Musique) has, for the time being, only a postal address in Montréal, and no offices. It also manages 13 artists, handles media relations for 16 more, nine directly under the Disques Artifice banner. It’s also active as a publisher and digital distributor. Lebel’s enthusiasm is obvious. “I couldn’t have asked for a better work environment,” she says.

Although she’s new to the field of artist management, the contracts she takes on are based on the human touch, above all. “There’s a whole personal side to manage beyond digital strategies,” she says. “About 95 percent of my personal and professional decisions are based on instinct, on the little voice inside me.”

Those who know her have all been struck more than once by her radiant smile, her communicative laughter, her proverbial good humour. Arriving from Sherbrooke in 2010, Lebel has been active in many aspects of the Québec music industry.

“Finding work in the music biz isn’t easy; everyone wants to work in that industry,” she says. “It can be upsetting when you struggle to find your place; I was anxious, and I even thought of leaving everything and getting a degree in human resources. My greatest quality? I’m very resilient. Biggest flaw? Letting go.”

At 33 years old, in a Montréal-based music ecosystem comprised of journalist friends, podcasters, behind-the-scenes employees, broadcasters, press agents – her “gang,” as she calls it – Lebel is one of the faces of a generation for whom the promotion of emerging Francophone music is a passion.

“I’m always at record launches, like everyone else, trying to see what partnerships are possible with my projects,” explains the music lover. And how are prospects recruited? A question of flair, of course, but there must be something more to it…

“With [the band] Super Plage, who we signed last summer, we met during three months to get to know each other, hanging out in parks drinking bee,r and following the evolution of their musical project,” says Lebel. “For the marketing strategy of the album Super Plage 2, we absolutely wanted to opt for YouTube in the 10 days preceding the release of the album, a new song being unveiled each day – which increases the traffic on the platform. It’s always a question of tone, and not losing the true nature of the project. There are artists who experience a lot of difficulties with social platforms, and others who embrace them. I always tell musicians, ‘Don’t force it if it doesn’t come naturally.’’

Lebel got her first job in music in the punk section at HMV. Her mother, the illustrious country singer Renée Martel, daughter of the legendary Marcel Martel, had this philosophy for her own daughter: “She didn’t want to introduce us to her world (showbiz) unless my brother and I asked,” says Lebel.

In Montréal, she landed a position at the student radio station CISM, managing volunteers and programs. A year later, she signed a four-year contract with SOPROQ, the collective management society for the rights of producers of sound recordings and music videos. “That’s where I learned about metadata. and the whole background of a song,” says Lebel.

She then moved to Believe Digital and Dep, where she was in charge of distribution, an adventure that lasted four years – until the latter declared bankruptcy. Three weeks later, she started a new job at Audiogram in digital marketing. “It was my first experience at a record label,” says Lebel. “At first I didn’t want to work for a single brand and only identify myself with its artists, except Audiogram. My father and I listened a lot to the music by Lhasa, Pierre Lapointe or Daniel Bélanger – they rocked my childhood – so it was like going back to my roots.”

She stayed there just short of two years. “I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, or web training, I learn as I go,” says Lebel. “I was going from job to job because I’m easily bored, if I’m not stimulated by new things, and I can’t take on new projects. The more time went by, the more I became interested in artist management. By that time, I knew I’d learned everything there is to know about managing socials.”

Catherine Simard, who’d just founded La Maison Fauve, took Lebel under her wing to help with the marketing and management coordination of Eli Rose. Eight months later, filled with certainty about her future in management, Lebel left with the firm intention of starting her own company to work on her own projects.

Finally, at the end of March 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Laurence was officially hired by the President of Artifice, Alex Pouliot.

What does her mother think of Lebel’s career path? “When I started working in the industry, I often heard, ‘Oh, you’re Marcel’s daughter!’ Today, it’s, ‘Oh, You’re Laurence’s mother!’” she says, laughing.

“It makes her laugh because when she does TV appearances, she meets musicians, journalists, or researchers who know me,” says Lebel. “She’s very proud of my background, and of the fact that I didn’t play the ‘daughter of’ card.”

Kevin Anthony Fowler could make history at the JUNOs.

This year marks the first time he’s received a JUNO nomination, in the Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year category. It’s also the first time that a Jamaican native has been nominated in that category, and that two Black JUNO nominees hail from Saskatchewan. Dione Taylor, who’s up for Blues Album of the Year, is the other artist.

Taylor says she hopes the nominations challenges the “thinking that Black people and Black musicians coming from Saskatchewan is such a strange idea.” Fowler, whose stage name is K-Anthony, grew up in Falmouth, Jamaica, now calls Regina home, and agrees with Taylor.

“Although there are a lot of Black people and Black musicians in Saskatchewan, we are still a minority,” he says. “I hope these nominations give other Black musicians hope, and puts Saskatchewan in the spotlight.”

And perhaps they’ll bring attention to the challenges that Black artists in smaller Canadian cities face making music and getting heard.

The singer previously lived in Yorkton, Saskatchewan (population 19,643, as of 2017), where he says country and rock reigned, and finding a producer who understood Gospel and other Black music styles was hard. “I had to expand my search to Regina and Saskatoon which are more culturally diverse,” he says. “This meant driving between three to five hours, sometimes in harsh winter weather, to record at a studio.”

Fowler says his music slowly began “getting support in Yorkton and the surrounding communities because it was different, and I guess people found it to be intriguing. My songs began getting airplay, which lead to several TV interviews.”

“The words paint a picture, and bring your listeners on a journey with you”

Interestingly, Fowler had a hard time getting love in his native Jamaica, too. His biggest challenge, he says, was not getting airplay. “Reggae and dancehall are the two most popular genres there, and even our Christian and Gospel music is influenced by those sounds,” he says. “My style of music had a more Christian contemporary and R&B vibe, so maybe [the tastemakers felt] it wasn’t ‘Jamaican sounding enough.’” Fowler says a producer once suggested that he leave the country to find success because there wasn’t an audience for his sound in Jamaica.

His sound began to take shape while he attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Falmouth. He was a member of the youth choir and would often re-arrange old hymns that were sung in church. “The younger people wanted something they could identify with,” says Fowler, so he gave the hymns an R&B twist.

He says his songs are inspired by personal experiences, the Bible, and current events, and that the best songs come out of being “honest with yourself and trying to frame your pain and experiences into words. Sometimes the words are hard to find, but when you do find them, it captures what you want to say, paints a picture, and brings your listeners on a journey with you.”

We ask Fowler if the pandemic has strengthened his faith. “I see how God has been faithful to me and my family,” he says. “All of our needs are provided. It reminds me of an old hymn that says, ‘Now every morning is Thy Love.’

“I know these are sad times for everyone, and even more so for people who have lost loved ones,” Fowler adds. “I truly want to provide some hope through my music.”

Just recently turned 18, and in his final year of high school in Mississauga, Ontario, Johnny Orlando is being tipped by many industry observers as the next Canadian pop singer-songwriter to break big internationally – following in the footsteps of his early hero, Justin Bieber, and Shawn Mendes.

He’s already well on the way, given major social media popularity that includes more than 500,000 Spotify and 9 million TikTok followers, and streams of his tracks numbering above 880 million. In both 2019 and 2020, Orlando took home an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Canadian Act, though he modestly tells us that “it’s a fan-voted award, with no academy involved. I’ve never really been one for awards, but the EMA meant so much, as it was the accomplishment of the fans, not me.”

Following a 2019 JUNO Award nomination for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Orlando is in the JUNO running again this year, in the Pop Album of the Year category, for last year’s hit release, It’s Never Really Over.

His breakout smash, 2020’s “Everybody Wants You,” notched North of five million global streams, and Orlando is currently back in the charts with the single “I Don’t” – a collaboration with noted Toronto EDM producers DVBBS.

“We had the one demo of that track from a couple of years ago, and the only vocal I ever recorded for the song was back then,” says Orlando. “The idea of getting DVBBS on the track only happened late last year. There were concerns that it may be too different for me, but ultimately I think it’s good to show variety in the material you put out. I’m so in love with the track.”

“The more songs you write, the closer you get to the one you absolutely love”

“I Don’t” was primarily written by L.A.-based Australian songwriter Louis Schoorl, but the confessional lyrics resonated with Orlando. “I need to fully believe in a song and that one is all about being apprehensive about telling the truth,” he says. “It’s hard to have those kinds of conversations, especially with someone you’ve been involved with for awhile. That was happening at the time I recorded ‘I Don’t,’ and still is, to be honest.”

Orlando has become increasingly involved in co-writing his material, and he’s embracing that evolution. “I’m really not a purist in terms of song selection,” he says. “If I really love a song and I believe in what it says, then I don’t care who wrote it. However, I do see songwriting as the best kind of challenge, and I can’t really get enough of it. The more songs you write, the closer you get to the one you absolutely love.”

He’s been co-writing with a large number of songwriters from both Toronto and Los Angeles, and candidly admits it can be a trial-and-error process. “At the beginning of an album cycle there are always a couple of sessions that are just write-offs! Nothing good happens, you just can’t find a groove, but you learn something every session. That’s one of the reasons I love doing it.”

Orlando’s compositional collaborators have included Canadians Geoff Warburton (who frequently co-writes with Shawn Mendes), Jeff Hazin, Nathan Ferraro, Matthew Burnett (who’s a constant co-writer and co-producer of Daniel Caesar), Liz Rodrigues (who co-writes songs for Celine Dion), and Mike Wise, while his most frequent co-writer remains his older sister, Darian Orlando. “Ninety percent of the sessions, it will be me, Darian, and one other writer,” he explains.

He’s now diligently writing and recording new material for a full-length album, anticipated for release by the end of 2021, but Orlando admits to desperately missing playing shows. “It’s very hard to describe, but the feeling playing concerts is unlike anything else I’ve ever felt,” he says. “You’re so proud and happy, just riding a wave of happiness for the whole show. I want to tour for the rest of my life!”