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!”

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.”

There’s been a sudden, widespread proliferation of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the music industry in February and March of 2021, so here’s a short guide to explain how they work.

NFTs are a way to sell a unique piece of music (or a painting, photo, graphic, collage, video, piece of writing, or anything else, it seems), exclusively to one person, or one small set of people, via a non-fungible token –  which is intrinsically linked to the original work. In essence, the buyer is purchases ownership of a data file that contains the music (or other work of art) in a unique transaction. The back end is controlled by blockchain technology – a kind of digital ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently, verifiably, and permanently.

The only way to buy NFTs now is with a cryptocurrency called Ethereum. Once the artist approves the sale, the Ethereum token is deposited in their digital “wallet,” and can then be transferred into their bank account, and withdrawn as actual money. The combination of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency makes buying an NFT very secure. Once the buyer, or small group of buyers (usually fans of the artist), has purchased the item, the only way for anybody else to obtain it is if a buyer re-sells.

There’s usually still a “middleperson” with NFTs, as the artist sells to the fan through a company, which usually takes a percentage for facilitating the transaction, and a fee for the energy required to create the token. But there can also be less need in the transaction for other typical music industry professionals; record companies, streaming services, digital service providers, agents, managers, publicists, promoters, venues, and so on, might all be left out.

There’s a lot of money to be made with NFTs. Often, the sale is done by auction, which drives up the price for in-demand recording artists. One globally popular Canadian musician auctioned off a video-art piece with a song demo for about $490,000 CAD. Kings of Leon made more than $2.5 million CAD in NFT sales of various exclusive versions of, spin-offs from, and merch for, their current album When You See Yourself. It’s not unlike crowd-funding or Patreon perks, with different products offered by artists to their fans at different prices, or levels of funding; but with NFTs, the sale is only to one fan, or very small, exclusive groups of fans, either once, or in very limited-edition numbers.

And the money can be made multiple times. Because the artists set the terms of the sale, they can dictate the percentage they receive of all future sales of the product, no matter how many times it’s re-sold. So, for example. If whoever bought that Canadian musician’s video-art piece for $490,000 CAD re-sells it for, say, $800,000 CAD, and the musician has established, say, a 20 percent share of future sales, they’ll receive another $160,000 CAD when it’s re-sold. And it might be re-sold many times.

But, according to the eternal laws of supply and demand, in order to drive up the price of the NFTs via auction, or set a high initial price for them, the demand already has to be there. So if a musician draws hundreds of fans rather than hundreds of thousands, or casual listeners rather than hardcore fanatics, they might not make more money from NFTs than from crowd-funding or Patreon offers.

The major, current  drawback to NFTs is that the energy used – referred to as “mining” – for Ethereum is bad for the climate. From Time magazine, March 18, 2021: “Critics say the mining that makes NFTs possible is perhaps humanity’s most direct way of making money by polluting the planet – Ethereum mining consumes about 26.5 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, nearly as much as the entire country of Ireland and its almost five million residents.” But that may improve over time with new advances in technology, so the problem might eventually be solved.

Currently, the buzz around NFTs seems driven more by their money-making potential than their intrinsic musical value. Some say they’re the future of the music industry, some say they’re a fad. Only time will tell for sure.