Music publisher Jennifer Mitchell has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a gift that has guided her journey to the helm of two incredibly successful Canadian independent music publishing companies.
Whether she’s white water rafting on the Zambesi River, swimming in the Amazon, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, or fighting for the rights of Canadian songwriters, Mitchell is not one to back down.
“I love a challenge,” she reveals. “Each one is different in its own way, sometimes it’s physical, sometimes professional, and sometimes it’s more of a life challenge.”
Originally from South Porcupine in Northern Ontario, Mitchell chose to study law after high school, first attending Queens University and then the University of Windsor.
An aspiring tax lawyer, she began her career in the late nineties at Farano Green, a boutique Toronto law firm specialising in tax, entertainment, media, and communications law.
While articling, Mitchell worked closely with well-known entertainment lawyer and 25-year music industry veteran, Edmund Glinert, whose clients included Ray Charles, David Letterman, and Jim Carey.
As time passed, she found herself increasingly at the intersection of taxation and entertainment law.
“One of the lawyers working for Ed left and he needed someone full-time, so I decided you know what, I’m really enjoying entertainment law, so I ended up doing that,” she said.
Mitchell continued working with Glinert privately for many years. In 2001, the duo branched out as music publishers and created Casablanca Media Publishing.
“We had been talking for a while about working for ourselves as music publishers, not lawyers, and having a media company,” she said. “I was always a little more entrepreneurial so it was a natural step for me.”
Together, they built Canada’s largest independent music publishing company, managing an enviable catalogue of over 400,000 domestic and international copyrights.
When Glinert passed away unexpectedly from a stroke in 2011, Mitchell was left to steer the ship.
“Ed was my first and only real mentor so when he passed away it was difficult,” she revealed. “It’s tough to lose a mentor, it’s much more difficult to lose a business partner and friend.”
“All of a sudden, decisions are your decisions, and your decisions alone,” she said. “You’re no longer having debates and discussions and you have to learn to trust your own judgement and instincts.”
After Glinert’s passing, Mitchell created Red Brick Music Publishing in 2012 to focus almost exclusively on songwriter signings and new business development.
“Casablanca still exists as an entity but I needed an entity that was my own, for things that I was doing, that was 100 per cent me,” she explained.
Both companies are headquartered in Toronto, and supported by a team of eight administrative and A&R staff, some of whom have been with Mitchell for over eleven years.
Together, they have successfully represented Carlin America, 20th Century Fox, Imagem, ABKCO, Concord, Roundhill, Pulse, Music Asset Management, Bug/Windswept, AC/DC, Steve Miller, the estate of Roy Orbison, the estate of John Lennon, Barton Music, Native Tongue, Cooking Vinyl, Budde Music, Words and Music, Bucks Music, Bill Withers, the estate of David Rose, and Disney.
They also represent (via co-publishing and/or administration) the following songwriters worldwide: The Rural Alberta Advantage, You Say Party, Swim Good, Field Mouse, Young Rival, Folly and the Hunter, Teen Daze, ON AN ON, Said the Whale, KASHKA, Cuff the Duke, JEEN, AlphaCub, Gloryhound, Dan Davidson, Nygel Asselin, Aidan Knight, Jeremy Fisher, PS I Love You, The Luyas, The Kings, and Milos Angelov.
On average, Mitchell and her team sign four new co-publishing deals a year. SOCAN’s 2016 Songwriting Prize winner Matthew McLeod from the Fast Romantics, along with Thunder Bay electronic artist/producer, Zanski, are the most recent signings.
“We sign songwriters based on a combination of talent and attitude,” explains Mitchell. “First and foremost they need to be talented, but they also need to be motivated to continue to grow as a songwriter and push their creative boundaries.”
Her team works with songwriters to land national and international placements and facilitate opportunities for collaboration with other creators, like co-writes and songwriter showcases.
“We also offer mentorship, networking opportunities, promotional support, and can help songwriters find the right manager, publicist, or label, if they need one,” she adds.
In addition to her role as a CMRRA board director, Mitchell is a member of the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers (IAEL), Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), Independent Music Publishers Forum (IMPF), and the Ontario Law Society, and from time to time sits on the advisory committee for the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC). She is also a board director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA) and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN).
“Right now, there’s a lot of change,” she said, “Copyright reform is happening all over the world and just look at what’s happening with the Department of Justice in the United States.”
Like many of her peers, Mitchell feels it’s important now more than ever for music publishers and songwriters to step out of the shadows and shine a brighter light on what they do.
“They say it all starts with a song,” she said. “But creating a song is very long process, and a lot of people don’t know how much time and money has gone into its creation before anyone invests in owning it.”
“They don’t understand the number of jobs created, how the business is run, and how it contributes to the overall music industry and economy in general.”
While music publishing is always evolving, some things remain true.
“At the end of the day you’re still dealing with songs and songwriters so you have to have a long-term view and, ultimately, you have to really respect the songwriting process,” she concludes.
“Learning how to get the best out of your songwriters, learning how to try and help songwriters get the best out of themselves, that’s what a great publisher does.”