Brian & Kate’s Excellent AdventureMonday, May 20th, 2013
I didn’t recognize the title I was typing into the YouTube search bar, nor did I recognize the pretty young face that popped up in several thumbnails when the page finally loaded (the Delta’s “high-speed” internet is a bit of a misnomer). When I clicked the first thumbnail in the results for what I’d been asked to search, “Boys With Girlfriends Official Lyric Video,” however, I knew the tune. Right away. I couldn’t (still can’t) tell you how. I’m not big on commercial radio, nor do I watch a lot of television, but I knew that song. In fact, I quite liked it. Frankly, it’s a hit.
Why was I searching the tune? Well, leading up to the 2013 edition of the Vancouver Island Music Business Conference (VIMBC), happening May 15-20 in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, organizer Susie McGregor (she’s rad) called me and told me the story of how a young artist, all of 14 at the time, met with Midas-touched songwriter/producer Brian Howes at the first-ever VIMBC a few years prior and, thanks to a professional relationship that’s spanned years and probably seen dozens of songs written, re-written, and re-written again, the two had recently hit metaphorical (and probably soon-to-be-literal) gold with the single “Boys With Girlfriends.” It was a bona fide tangible success story that’s solely the result of a driven young artist doing what it takes to make a career in music.
We at Canadian Musician are always trying to inform artists of the benefits of attending – and working – an event like VIMBC or its bigger brothers in CMW, NXNE, SXSW, BreakOut West, and so on. Having the opportunity to speak with two talented people who could offer up the story of EXACTLY how this can pay off would be some kind of vindication – a sort of proof to the theory.
Howes, who actually grew up in the Comox Valley, has had fingerprints on hit records by acts like Nickelback, Hedley, Simple Plan, and, most recently, Airbourne. Despite his L.A.-based success, Howes still makes it a regular practice to attend Canadian industry events because, as he explains, “You never know what you’re going to learn or who you’re going to find.”
Howes puts a lot of weight in artist development, partnering with promising songwriters and performers to help them hone their crafts and bolster their businesses. “I’ve stepped in every pothole you possibly can during my career, so I can at least tell artists what not to do,” Howes laughs, describing what he brings to the table in this kind of partnership. “I just love working with talent and helping people avoid the common pitfalls.
Howes would’ve been one of the key figures at such a humbly-sized event like VIMBC, much like he’ll be at this upcoming edition. That’s saying a lot; VIMBC brings out more industry talent and knowledge than many other industry events in the country. Everyone probably wanted his attention. Or at least they should’ve. Kate definitely did.
“I was really just looking for an introduction to the industry – to get more of a handle on the business and meet the people in it,” Morgan explains of what first led her to VIMBC. “I was very green at the time, having just been writing songs for maybe a year, so it was about learning what I was getting myself into.”
She travelled the nearly 600 km from Kamloops to Courtenay, BC for the conference and, en-route, was devising her agenda. She’d done some research on the panelists who’d be attending and had her sights set on Howes. “I was a big fan of Hedley and some of the other bands he worked with. I knew he was an important person,” she says, going on to list the achievements of her collaborator as though she’d been studying to write a school paper about him.
With a confidence belying her years, Morgan stood in front of Howes after a session and told him (there was no asking) that she was going to play for him, and he was going to listen
She did. He did. And he saw “it.”
“It’s got to be something that’s fresh; just a little left of centre but still undeniably good,” Howes shares about the type of artist he looks to work with. “I’m looking for people who can’t breathe outside of the music business, and that do something that comes from the heart. I can spot that from a mile away.” With Morgan, he spotted it with her just a few feet from his face.
“I wasn’t going to run into the studio with her the next day, but we worked together over the next few years. I gave her free studio time, got her some live dates, and helped her develop. She just took it all and ran with it,” Howes explains. “She’s just so good and so smart. She’s a hustler.” And he’s not the only Canadian industry luminary who’s been on the receiving end of her hustle. Morgan also landed a coveted slot on the 2010 Lilith Fair after proving herself to Nettwerk Music Founder Terry McBride.
All the while, she worked on her songwriting with Howes guiding her along. In the first half of 2012, Morgan started strumming a song she’d been working on and, with little ado, Howes told her it was time. Morgan moved into Howes’ home in SoCal, recorded several songs with him, and together, they strove to find the musical direction that would bring out her confident-but-quirky personality in a true and transparent light.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun – and it still is,” Morgan muses about her (excellent) adventure thus far. “There’s always plenty to learn and people to meet, but I’m ready for it. I love it.”
What Howes first saw in 2008 has now been seen (and heard) by hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions. I mean, I was one and didn’t even know it. She’s caught the attention of Darren Gilmore with Watchdog Management, was named BellMedia’s emerging artist for April, has been climbing the pop radio charts, and now has an offer from Universal Music Canada on the table. “She’s the real deal – willing to bleed for it,” Howes says succinctly, “and I wouldn’t have found that out if it wasn’t for VIMBC.”
So Kate’s well on her way. She’s been making a hell of an impression at VIMBC 2013, this time being approached by other young artists after for her attention and advice. The Universal deal is done and there’s an official video coming up for “Boys With Girlfriends.” In the meantime, have a listen. The song is still pretty damn sticky…