As Senior Account Executive for Music Publishing, you might say that Huguette Langlois is SOCAN’s memory, and that, in a sense, her office was a second home for SOCAN’s Montréal branch employees for many years. As she was poised to take her well-deserved retirement, after 40 years of faithful service, she reviewed the far-reaching changes that have affected music publishing during her time in the field.

Huguette Langlois, SOCAN Since every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes, the current health situation might actually make it easier for Huguette to transition to retirement – because, like her SOCAN colleagues, she’s been working from home since the first wave of the pandemic.

“We’re all experiencing some grief during this pandemic,” she says. “Working from home and being cut off from your colleagues are part of this, and that might actually make the ‘break’ less painful for me. The members that used to drop by the office, and whom I used to bump into all the time, my contact with our team, those were things I no longer had during the pandemic. But frankly, it’s making it easier for me to move on,” says the music publishing specialist, who considers having been an ally of, and sometimes an accomplice to, the publishers – with whom she considers herself fortunate to have been working: “I felt I was part of their teams, and that I working right in their own offices, so to speak.

“Of course, the physical contact is no longer there, but we’ve managed to stay in touch with members, which is even more important in a situation that creates such challenges for the entire creative community. We’re happy to have been able to bring a level of support to our members. It’s tough on everyone, but at the creative level, they’ve been the first ones to get the brunt of it, and they’re going to be the last ones to get to recover,” says Huguette regretfully.

She recalls that her entry into the world of music publishing was purely accidental. As a young bank employee, she says, she’d heard about a music publishing job opportunity, “but I was totally clueless – I didn’t even know copyright existed! I was in tears for three months, wondering, ‘What have I done? I don’t understand anything!’” And then, gradually, she fell under the charm of that industry that came to fascinate her.

In 1981, Huguette took a position with CAPAC (Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada), an organization that had been established in 1925 as the Canadian Performing Rights Society by the British Performing Rights Society , and that had positioned itself over time as one of Canada’s music publishing leaders. Huguette had already been with the organization for some time in 1990 when CAPAC merged with one of its competitors, PROCAN (the Performing Rights Organization of Canada), and became SOCAN. “A merger that was not easy,” she recalls, “but one that was good not just for music creators, but for music users too.”

One of the most significant changes to have occurred in the industry over Huguette’s four-decade tenure was, she says, how music publishers were perceived by music creators. During her first years with CAPAC, she “realized that having a publisher was not always viewed as being a good thing… [Songwriters] sometimes signed their agreements because they had to, without having actually read them – some were signing for life, sometimes without any obligation [on the part of the publisher].”

Huguette Langlois, SOCANFrom Huguette’s Account Executive point of view, the creation of the Professional Music Publishers’ Association (Association professionnelle de l’édition musicale-APEM) in 2002 greatly contributed to a more positive perception of the music publishing profession. Moreover, “APEM set up training programs that helped the profession evolve.” Huguette herself had many opportunities to share her expertise as part of music publishing workshops, where she always insisted on continued training “because this is a constantly evolving profession. The industry is changing all the time, and the music publishing profession must keep pace.”

The reason being, in her view, that if the music publishing profession is a specialization within the music industry, “music publishers have to be dealing with more than just copyright. They must be aware of everything that goes on in this industry if they want to be able to answer all of the questions” that are being raised by creators. “Songwriters need to create: they need to surround themselves with a team. Creators can find publishers they can trust, and in turn, that trust can help publishers promote music creators” by exploiting their works smartly.

Huguette Langlois is leaving SOCAN with a sense of accomplishment, and with the pride of having built a trusting relationship with music publishers, while still feeling “a bit sad to be leaving at this particular moment. Of course, the music publishing business has changed a great deal over the past 40 years, but change will occur so much faster [in the coming years], and the battles [that music publishers face] will be even greater” due to the re-alignment of the music industry along the digital axis.

“Our publishers are now facing the future with confidence, they’re fighting, they are joining coalitions involving all of the stakeholders of the Quebec music ecosystem, whereas, in the past, it was more like every man for himself,” she says. “Today, everybody understands that we have to unite if we want to push for legal changes, and help creators enjoy fairer tariffs.”

Happy retirement, Huguette!

JACELYN almost became a country music star. A few years ago, she was in Nashville recording her debut country album, and playing on the same bills as Keith Urban and fellow Canadian Johnny Reid. But something felt “off.” “I knew deep down it didn’t feel authentic,” she says. “I realized I didn’t actually know who I was as an artist.”

To find out, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter enrolled in the professional development and mentorship program, Canada’s Music Incubator. It was in working with the incubator’s musicians and songwriters that she discovered her true voice as jazz/soul singer. “I was a bit surprised, because I had this idea that jazz was for old people,” she laughs. “But then I thought, wait a second, some of my favourite singers are jazz, like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Frank Sinatra, and Norah Jones.”

With renewed vigor, JACELYN scrapped the country album and began work on her new project, writing fresh songs while travelling through North America and Europe. Eventually, she landed in New York City, where she enlisted composer and pianist Amina Figarova to co-produce, and Grammy-winning audio engineer Max Ross to record. To fund the album, she launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $60,000.

This fall JACELYN released her debut full-length, Dovetailing, a blend of jazz and soul with surprising hints of hip-hop and bossa nova. Four of the songs were written at Canada’s Music Incubator, including “Fool”, an emotional, acoustic guitar-driven torch song.

Although the pandemic cancelled planned tour dates, JACELYN’s making the most of her time these days. At press time, she was in Costa Rica writing and recording new music, including a holiday album planned for 2021. “I get a lot of inspiration when I’m out here,” says JACELYN. “I feel more free and creative.”

It’s hard to compete with the Christmas classics – “Jingle Bells,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Let It Snow,” “Santa Baby,” “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” “Deck The Halls,” “Frosty The Snowman” – the list is endless. (Some are copyright-protected, some are in the public domain.) But every year, songwriters give the holiday song format a go: snow, check; fireplace, check; chimney, check; mistletoe, check; maybe a Santa here, a ho-ho-ho there.

For a songwriter, the thing about a Christmas song is its shelf life. It can be broadcast on radio, TV, online, played in retail stores, dentists’ offices, and so on, year after year, in perpetuity, meaning a steady seasonal stream of performance royalties for the songwriter(s), throughout their lifetime(s). It can even be re-released every year (hello Mariah Carey).

Former Bee Gee Barry Gibb – one of the world’s greatest songwriters – recently caused a stir by expressing to the BBC his view on modern Christmas songs: “A bit too much of a marketing trick,” he said. Of the 1,000-odd songs the group wrote, not one celebrated the festive holiday. Bah! Humbug!

Sometimes, just like any other song, at any other time of year, writing a Christmas lyric can be cathartic. In 2018, pop-rock singer Corey Hart penned “Another December,” a touching and unique personal tribute to his late mother, but universal enough for anyone who’s lost someone and must get through the holidays without them.

“We were super-close, and the holiday seasons were particularly poignant and melancholic after her sudden passing in 2014,” Hart says. “The songwriting process helped me traverse through some of those emotional minefields to a more peaceful space of reconciliation.”

“It’s so quiet / But I hear you every time the choir sings,” he croons, and later, “All that you taught me since I were a child / All of your light still shining through me, ever so bright on this Christmas / Bright on this Christmas night… Oh, Mama, how I miss you most on every Christmas Eve.”

“‘Another December’ may well be one of the few Christmas-inspired songs not included on a traditional Christmas offering, but rather on a standard album,” Hart believes of the piece, that was added to his Bob Ezrin-produced EP, Dreaming Time Again, in 2019.

If you’re lucky enough to get through 2020 without experiencing a loss, there’s also the isolation felt from the strict recommendations not to celebrate the holidays with people outside your household, in order to curb the rampant spread of COVID-19, as cases rise exponentially. For many, this Christmas will be sad, lonely, or just plain weird.

To capture that feeling, and in keeping with her noir-pop sound, Vancouver artist Kandle co-wrote the appropriately titled “Christmas Mourn” on Zoom with Debra-Jean Creelman, formerly of Mother Mother, about longing for a significant other who lives far away.  “The first line I came up with was, ‘I wasn’t warned of the many ways the holidays can make a girl mourn,’” she laughs, adding that the lyric, “Underneath the mistletoe, I long for you and kiss my phone,” is “very real for me.”

The part-guilt-trip, part-lovesick ballad was inspired by old classics like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and “all the Bing Crosby stuff,” says Kandle. “The goal was how to make it sound classic and timeless, and add strings and sleighbells, and the kind of melodies that are new, yet predictable and catchy. And I wanted to put a twist on it and make it sound very vintage, but have completely modern, COVID-related lyrics.

“That was the fun of it,” she explains. “Making something that sounds uplifting and beautiful, but lyrically is quite sad. We can’t be with our loved ones this year. I think it has to be a really depressing year to get me to write a Christmas song [laughs]. I don’t think I know how to write really happy songs.”

Johnny Reid decided to turn that COVID frown upside down. The country singer has released a handful of original Christmas songs, dating back to 2009 with “Waiting for Christmas to Come,” and just released a deluxe version of the My Kind of Christmas EP from last year. He’s covered a range of topics from sadness to anticipation.

“The goal was how to make it sound classic and timeless” – Kandle

“Before I even started writing for these Christmas albums, I thought, ‘What’s Christmas to me?’ Christmas is home. Home, good one. Family. Friendship. Innocence. Magic. Anticipation. I’m trying to capture the emotion of what Christmas is, and it’s very subjective because Christmas is a lot of [different] things to different people,” says Reid.

“Then, there are certain colours that you need to use: snow and angels and bells and church and choirs. All these images and words that are undoubtedly connected to Christmas. But the real approach for me is to try and capture the spirit of Christmas, usually lyrics, melodic, and music, and try and tie that together to take people to Christmas time.”

For this historic year, Reid – who moved to Canada from Scotland with his parents when he was 13, and now lives in Nashville – set out to write a song called “Christmas 2020,” with his frequent co-writer Jodi Marr.

“I was going to write what everybody’s feeling,” says Reid, “and then I thought, ‘What we should do is just accept the situation for what it is, and get on with Christmas and have some fun.’ That was the idea. The opening, ‘What a year this has been / I won’t be sad to see it end,’ I think a lot of people feel like that.”

In the rollicking pop song “A Time For Having Fun,” instead of lamenting that we can’t all get together as usual this Christmas, he sings, “If hindsight is 2020 / Let’s sing and all be merry / Let the sleigh bells ring again, my friends.” Then he throws in some pandemic life references: “Hang virtual mistletoe – it’s free” and “Zoom call a Christmas party.”

With lyrics so tied to this year, will this be the only Christmas song in history with an expiration date? Reid doesn’t think so.

“It will be a long time, I believe, before people forget 2020,” he says. “There’s going to be grandparents, people my age in their 40s, teenagers, and even kids. I believe the shelf life, to me, is going to be consistent with the amount of people that remember this crazy time.”

A Partial List of 2020 Christmas Songs
Arkells – “Pub Crawl”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries”
Charles Spearin – “The Christmas Box”
Chilly Gonzales – “The Banister Bough”
Command Sisters – “Steal Your Heart”
Colleen Brown –  “What Do You Want for Christmas”
Ellevator – “Urge for Going”
Fortunate Ones – “Hold On To Christmas Day”
Friggin’ Arab Orchestra Company (FOAC) – “Arab Ladies Sing Christmas Carols Written By Jews”
Gowan (with Stuck On Planet Earth) – “Can You Make It Feel Like Christmas”
Jeffery Straker – “Come Walking in the Snow with Me” and “I’ll Be Missing You This Christmas”
Jenn Grant – “Downtown Christmas Eve”
Jordan Klassen – “Came Back on Christmas Day”
JP Saxe (with Julia Michaels) – “Kissin’ In The Cold”
Lowell – “To Mary”
Mark Malibu & The Wasagas – “Christmas Twist”
Michele Mele – “Christmastime in Canada”
Nova Carver-Cook – “A Different Christmas”
PoLe – “Chestnuts Roasting On A Dumpster Fire”
Reuben and the Dark – “Xmas in California”
Said the Whale – “Wanting Like Veruca”
Sarah MacDougall – “Out Of This Blue”
Sloan – “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas”
Stephan Moccio (with Gary Levox of Rascal Flatts) – “Christmas Will Be Different This Year”
Steven Hardy – “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas”
Tegan and Sara – “Make You Mine This Season”
Zeus – “Marching Through Your Head (Christmas Edition)”