Carol Ryan, the 2016 winner of the Christopher J. Reed Award, presented by the PMPA (Professional Music Publishers’ Association), seems a little surprised by the news. “I operate in an environment that doesn’t quite resemble that of my colleagues,” she says apologetically. Yet Ryan, now in charge of managing Cirque du Soleil’s music rights, has a most impressive track record. She began her career at Polygram in the late ‘70s, and was introduced to the world of music publishing by working in the Membership Department of PROCAN, a pre-cursor organization of SOCAN. “That experience was decisive for me,” she says. “I learned a lot. That knowledge, all that theory, gave me the tools I needed to work at Cirque later on.”

Ryan arrived at Cirque du Soleil in the late ‘90s, and was met with several challenges, notably setting up Créations Méandres, a music rights management team and structure. This work, carried out in an atypical environment, highlights Carol Ryan’s singular career path. “Working with music rights within an organization is so different than what Québec’s independent publishers – who have chosen me for this award – do. It means even more to me because of that. We have very different realities. I don’t work with stars, and music is not one of Cirque’s core activities. We’re an important element of the organization, but we’re far from the centre of it all.”

“How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from?”

Ryan needs only show you the list of stakeholders she deals with on a daily basis to reveal the complexity of an organization like Cirque du Soleil, one as creative as it is sprawling. “I work with sponsors, media outlets, and bookers on projects that are presented on many continents,” she says. “So beyond maintaining a relationship with the composer of the show’s music, I must also serve the rest of the company, which is busy deploying additional content and promotional tools, whether it’s a “making-of,” a video of a show, an album or a DVD. It goes way beyond maintaining a relationship with an artist and getting acquainted with new repertoire.”

Ryan, who manages more than 2,000 active works, stresses how important it is to be in problem-solving mode, and having the capacity to adapt to change. This is especially true since several cultures are involved. Cirque du Soleil’s culture is deployed differently in Europe than it is in China, for example. And Ryan is in a constant dialogue with a corporate culture that puts creativity first.

Carol Ryan, David Murphy, Daniel Lafrance, Jehan V. Valiquet

Carol Ryan and previous winners of the Christopher-J.-Reed Award: David Murphy (left), Daniel Lafrance (to the right of Ryan) and Jehan V. Valiquet (right).

Throughout the last 20 years, she’s also had to adapt to the various shapes and sizes of the company. During Cirque du Soleil’s expansion years, Ryan handled rights licences for three simultaneous shows: Ô, La Numba and Dralion. These multi-territory projects created as much pressure as they did contentment. “At the end of the day, we’re really proud to have gone through all that,” she says. At that time, Créations Méandres doubled in size, going from three to six employees. But lately, new changes have rocked the company. In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was sold to American and Chinese interests, which cast a wave of uncertainty over the business. Ryan, however, confirmed that the heart of the company remained intact, and the show creation schedules are well under way. “The priority is always the shows, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

True to her disposition for forging ahead, Ryan sees the many challenges facing music publishing in a positive light. “The Cirque recently won a prize for a virtual reality experience,” she says. “We’re constantly becoming familiar with new realities, and the naysayers are long gone by now. I can’t wait to see how things will evolve for this generation that throws everything online for free. How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from? Publishers found a solution in music placement. But there are more solutions waiting to be found. I’m not worried. When that question is resolved, another one will show up. Movement is the very essence of life.”

Meg Warren was 21 and on the cusp of graduating with a degree in classical music in her home province of Newfoundland when she decided to try her hand at songwriting. Initially, the motivation was external: a newspaper in St. John’s was hosting an event called The RPM Challenge, the goal of which was to write and record and album’s worth of songs in a month. Undaunted, Warren signed up.

“I thought ‘this sounds cool’, so I tried it,” she recalls. Though formally trained as an opera singer, Warren, who now fronts the synth-pop rock band Repartee, had little experience composing and had never written her own lyrics, but she was hooked. “And for whatever reason, I looked at it as a possible career right off the bat.”

As Warren, now 28, recounts the story she laughs, mostly at her own naïveté. “Honest to God, if someone said you have to start a band [now], I don’t know if I would,” she confesses. “Because I know how much work it’s taken to get us where we are. It takes forever!”

But it’s clear she doesn’t really mean it. After all, Repartee have come a long way since releasing their first EP in 2010 to a sold-out crowd at The Ship Pub in St. John’s, the city they still call home. The band has shared stages with the likes of Tegan and Sara, LIGHTS, The Arkells and Dragonette. They’ve won five MusicNL (Newfoundland) Awards, and they’ve been nominated for, and performed at, the East Coast Music Awards.  CBC Music has already named their new album, All Lit Up, one of the best of 2016 so far.

“I like creating music for sure, and I adore music and the creative process, but I get a lot of joy out of performing.” – Meg Warren of Repartee

While they’re still proud Newfoundlanders (“100 percent,” says Warren, “We wear that as an absolute badge of honour”), she and drummer Nick Coultas-Clarke recently made the move to Toronto. Guitarist Robbie Brett and keyboardist John Banfield plan to follow in the near future.

Toronto is also home to their label, Sleepless Records, with whom the band signed last year after Warren cold e-mailed them three recent tracks. “It was a shot in the dark,” she says. A couple of months later, however, she was at a show in Toronto and crossed paths with a manager from the label who offered to set up a meeting. “The rest,” she laughs, “is history!”

But it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. At the time, the band had just recorded a second album’s worth of songs they were feeling excited about finishing when they learned that their work would be scrapped. “That was hard at first,” Warren admits. “They said ‘the songs are strong, but it’s not what we’re looking for, production-wise.’”

Trusting their manager, Alex Bonenfant, the foursome returned to the studio and cut a new album. “I think they wanted to rein in our ‘pop-iness’ a little,” Warren says, admitting that she has appreciated having people with industry experience weighing in on the creative process, after years of figuring it out along the way. “It doesn’t feel like we’re all alone in the world now!”

While Warren and Brett, who first met in music school, have always handled the bulk of the songwriting, the last year has also seen them spending more time writing with other people in a studio setting. “That’s not really how we wrote before,” Warren says. “We would get a jam space the old fashioned way, with a guitar and some chords, and write from there.”

Warren, who jots down song ideas into an app on her phone when they come to her, says she’s particularly drawn to making music that conveys dark themes with a light, danceable sound, referencing Lily Allen as an influence. “She writes about dark, heavy shit over beautiful, bouncy pop music,” she says happily. “I want to do that.”

A natural live performer, Warren confesses that while she’s coming around to working in the studio (“there was awhile when it was just a means to an end”), she still feels most at home onstage. “What I love about performing is connecting with an audience and having that communal experience with a bunch of people,” she says with palpable enthusiasm. “I like creating music for sure, and I adore music and the creative process, but I get a lot of joy out of performing.”

That joy extends to choosing what to wear when she’s onstage: Warren is known for her elaborate costumes, all of which are still sewn by her mother. She describes finding a dress at a vintage clothing store, which her mother then whisked home to Newfoundland, transforming it in time for Repartee’s album release in St. John’s. By the time Warren saw it, she says it had “morphed into a stunning mesh sparkly thing”, then describing her mother as a “sewing ninja.” “I’m so lucky,” she sighs.

Warren is just as grateful for the families of her bandmates, who she describes as “the coolest band parents in the world,” and for Repartee’s fans, particularly those in Newfoundland who make it consistently welcoming to go back.

Even with the ups and downs of being a touring musician in Canada, Warren is clearly thrilled with the path she’s chosen. “It’s a dream,” she says warmly. “My life is a dream.”

During the summer Karl Wolf is often on the road. And 2016 is no different, says the Toronto-based singer-songwriter/producer/recording artist, admitting he’s had very little sleep. Not surprisingly, he’s keeping very busy, which seems a perpetual and normal state for Wolf.

Always prolific and driven, Wolf began his career as a songwriter and producer before stepping into the limelight in the early 2000s as lead singer for the pop band Sky. With Sky’s Antoine Sicotte, he collaborated on Quebec’s hugely successful Star Acade?mie reality TV show and two subsequent albums, Star Acade?mie I and II, the first of which went five-times-platinum in Canada. Since then, he’s won multiple SOCAN Awards, including two for his international hit version of Toto’s “Africa,” from his 2008 album, Bite the Bullet.

The success of “Africa” propelled his career to new heights. In all he’s released six solo albums prior to his latest EP, The Export Vol. 1 – the first of three EPs scheduled for release on B.C.-based indie label Cordova Bay Records. And among the markets that have embraced him are all of those he’s called home; Canada, obviously, but also his birthplace of Lebanon, and Dubai in the UAE, to which his family fled in the 1980s to escape Lebanon’s brutal civil war, and where he lived until emigrating to Montreal in 1995.

Currently Wolf is riding high on the success of his co-write (with Jenson Vaughan), of OMI’s international hit, “Hula Hoop,” but that’s no reason to take a break. Instead Wolf has thrown himself into the creation of The Export, writing roughly 40 songs over the course of late 2015 and 2016 to draw from for the EP.

“I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music.”

The result is a record that, while focused on Wolf’s desire to express a positive worldview, also reveals much about him as an artist and individual. “I wanted a little bit of a journey, a story, for the EP, and really these six songs are an expression of my story,” Wolf says.

The songs that make up The Export Vol. 1 tread the line between emotional tracks that offer candid glimpses into Wolf’s life and history, and all-out party tracks; songs he collaborated on with his producer, Mastertrak, as well as others, including Brandon Unis, Kardinal Offishall and Jenson Vaughan.

The blend of tracks, Wolf says, is a testament to what he believes people need to hear; a mix of tunes intended to lift listeners’ spirits, while providing fans with insights into his own life.

Nowhere is that clearer than on the album’s title track, “The Export,” a tune Wolf says reflects his life’s journey from Lebanon, to Dubai, to Montreal and, ultimately, to Toronto. It underlines the fact that he feels he doesn’t necessarily belong in one place, but in many.

On The Export Vol. 1, Wolf blends Middle Eastern and Western musical influences in a way that’s calculated, but subtle. “That’s crucial for me,” he says. “I feel it’s important to show my cultural heritage in my music. It grounds me, but there’s definitely a balance; it’s really East meets West… It has its own sound.”

Beyond that, the recording displays Wolf’s desire to move forward, both professionally and personally. The first single, “Amateur at Love,” being a case in point, a tune he considers one of the most genuine he’s ever written, and in which he admits he may have a bit of an issue committing to one person.

He’s included two versions of the song on the record, both the original single and a re-mix featuring Kardinal Offishall. “The re-mix I did at the same time and I put both out there because my gut feeling was we need to have something a little lighter,” he says.  Both tracks speak to listeners, but in different ways, something Wolf values. He realizes that by altering a song, it can provide similar emotional weight while offering a different kind of vibe for listeners to identify with. As for the re-mix, Wolf says, “It’s catching fire in Canada and on Spotify… We’ve got over 11,000 plays a day.”

Again, it being summer and Wolf being on tour, he’s letting loose, having fun with friends, and so the greater questions seem less important, for the moment. “Now it’s time to just be happy and push some good vibes out there,” Wolf says.

But, that said, his personal experiences have always informed his songwriting. Given his early life was characterized by war and displacement, and the fact that with so much darkness in the world, people now seem to need a lift, he’s currently aiming at putting songs out that will make people happy, make them move and hopefully help them to forget their problems for a time. “I want to be one of those artists that spreads the light,” he says.