If you’re a budding songwriter in Canada, Jana Cleland is someone you want in your court. Equal parts driven and passionate about songwriting, she lives and breathes music, even in her downtime.
“I don’t sleep very much,” she laughs. “If I’m not listening to music non-stop, I am watching different films and television shows trying to find opportunities where a song might work.”
What many people don’t know is that Cleland has penned songs herself and shares a special affinity with the talented creators she works with as Vice President of Red Brick Songs/Casablanca Media Publishing.
“It’s a dream of mine to help songwriters further their careers,” she said. “Finding a way to help has been a lifetime goal for me.”
A Saskatchewan native, Cleland landed her first job when just 16 years old at an A&A Records music store.
“I loved it so much,” she recalls. “It was actually the reason I decided to move from Saskatchewan to Ontario because I knew the industry was here and I wanted to find something more challenging.”
Following her instinct, she moved to Toronto in 1991 to work at HMV’s former flagship store on Yonge Street.
“I got to know a lot of people at different record labels and met a great group of people at HMV who all went on into different aspects of the music industry from A&R to managers,” she said.
Through HMV, she met Canadian music industry veteran, Terry O’Brien, then president and general manager of BMG Music Publishing Canada. He gave Cleland her start in publishing in 1992.
“I was the publishing coordinator for the office and worked my way up learning copyright and royalties first and assisting all departments,” she said. “It was a great introduction to how everything worked, from registering songs to tracking income to processing royalties.”
When BMG expanded, Cleland took on the creative manager role pitching songs for film and television.
“It was right when the whole scene exploded in the early 90s,” she revealed. “We were super lucky to work with everyone from Beck to Coldplay – in fact, I got Coldplay their first North American sync placement.”
After more than a decade at BMG, Cleland left in 2004 to try her hand at an independent publisher.
“At the time, Jennifer Mitchell from Casablanca Media Publishing and her business partner, Ed Glinert, had a great vision for publishing and were looking to do more creative things,” she said.
Cleland came on board as the Director of Casablanca’s publishing division. She also helped grow the company’s roster and sync division.
When Jennifer Mitchell launched Red Brick Songs in 2012 to focus exclusively on songwriter signings and new business development, Cleland’s role broadened.
“My focus is now on A&R, so I’m looking for new signings and I’m also the point person for our signings,” she explained. “Our writers contact me when they are going on songwriting trips, looking for feedback on new material or new co-writers to work with.”
Her team of eight work tirelessly to land national and international placements and source opportunities for collaboration with other creators, like biennial songwriter retreats.
“We love to do writing retreats where we bring in 15 songwriters from across North America and put them into groups of three to write for three days,” she said. “Our last one was extremely successful and we ended up with more than an album’s worth of music.”
Red Brick Songs signs around four new co-publishing deals a year. Talent is discovered by word of mouth or diving deep into the internet.
“I follow a lot of music sites, playlists, and industry tastemakers and find writers through different music that comes across our path,” she said. “Sometimes, I think fate kind of brings them to us.”
Casablanca/Red Brick Songs represent close to 40 songwriters worldwide including The Rural Alberta Advantage, swim good now, Jeremy Fisher, Said The Whale, Aidan Knight, Field Mouse, Psychic Twin, Young Rival, You Say Party, Sleep Millennium, and Teen Daze.
Recently signed Zanski, Thunder Bay electronic artist/producer, has released several songs this year, with exciting new work on the way. A new album by indie rock band Fast Romantics is seeing unprecedented success.
When asked about progress she’d like to see, Cleland notes the inclusion of liner credits on songs is one way the industry can move forward to recognize the work of those behind the scenes.
“I think it would be great for digital providers to have that information so the public is aware of who their favourite songwriters are,” she said.
It’s one of many topics discussed around the table by Cleland and her industry peers who sit on the Canadian Publishers Committee (CPC), established to oversee and advance the interests of CMRRA’s publisher clients in Canada.
“I love being part of the CPC and trying to make a difference for songwriters to ensure their rights are protected,” she said. “It’s important the industry is on the right track because it’s in flux and changing, especially as we embrace streaming.”
Cleland feels the future for songwriters in Canada is positive as publishers collectively rally for change.
“The publishing industry overall is close-knit, and our interests are aligned in that we all want the same things,” she said. “It’s a great group of people protecting songwriters with their best interests in mind.”
In the early days of her career, Cleland often wondered how songwriters who are not artists succeeded.
“It’s hard to just be a songwriter who is not the artist,” she said. “Artists rights have always been well represented by labels and sometimes an artist is also a songwriter and sometimes they are not.”
“If your rights are not protected there’s no way to have a career, so it’s important songwriters are compensated fairly,” she said. “Having a music publisher who’s always looking out for your best interests is a great tool to have. “