by Jon Dekel
A few years ago, Daniel Lafrance was tuning into La Voix when he heard something that got his blood flowing. His interest piqued, he called a friend who was a producer on the popular TV show and, the following Sunday, he was on set, courting and eventually signing three of the show’s contestants: Soran, Matt Holubowski and Sam Tucker. Today, Lafrance’s on-air bets are paying off, with each artist finding success both as songwriters and performers in their own right in Canada and in Europe.
Such a story is representative of why, after nearly five decades in the music business, the managing director of francophone publishing powerhouse Éditorial Avenue is still able to stay ahead of the curve. “These days you have to be fast on the gun,” he says, speaking over the phone from his home in Ste. Julie on Montreal’s south shore. “Of course, recognizing talent comes with experience. But when everyone wants to self-publish, it’s also about investing in artists early and creating a human connection with them; showing what you can do for them, but also that you understand what they need [to be successful].”
Since the 1970s, Lafrance has been sagely working that balance. Now a nine-time Felix Award winner for the best publisher of the year, he also boasts two Socan publisher of the year honours and the Christopher J. Reed award for career achievement. But for all his hardware, Lafrance began his career lacking any knowledge of the publishing world. Recalling his early foray into the business with the jazz combo Solstice, he explains, “I was a composer, guitar player and producer. I was also booking the shows, doing promo, and I started a label and began producing other bands.”
Throughout the 1980’s, Lafrance whittled down his packed resume, eventually focusing on management alongside his evolving production duties. It was during this time he says he discovered the world of publishing and felt an instant draw. At the time, Lafrance was managing the folk singer Francine Raymond. When Pour l’amour qu’il nous reste became a success, I knew it was time to make my move,” he explains. “I realized I had much more fun doing publishing.” Not that it was necessarily the easiest transition. “I had to start from the beginning: I had to convince everyone I was the best publisher. That was my goal,” he reveals. When an early signing, Julie Masse, hit paydirt with, Les Idées Noires. Lafrance “learned for the first time I could make money from the job.”
“I wasn’t rich,” he laughs, “but I was really proud that I had the talent to do that!”
Bolstered by Noires’ success, Lafrance began working his address book. “I was known as a successful manager, so I went one-by-one to all my contacts and asked if I could administer their catalogue,” he recalls. “Eventually, I became much more successful as a manager of catalogues than as a publisher.”
Not long after, Lafrance began spending more and more time in Paris, where he began executing a series of shrewd business moves, including co-developing and selling a rights management software called Ze Publisher to Walt Disney France and becoming a sub-publisher for some of the biggest companies in France: “peermusic France, Canal Plus, for example,” he recalls. “And I was also bringing my [French-Canadian] repertoire to France.”
At the turn of the Millennium, Audiogram’s Rosaire Archambault and Michel Bélanger reached out to Lafrance to see if he’d be interested in returning to Quebec to head a new publishing company. In returning home, Lafrance saw an opportunity to import his learning abroad to revolutionize the Quebecois publishing market. With Éditorial Avenue, he would quickly and effectively import the publishing model he discovered in France, setting up preference pacts, exclusive long-term rights agreements set up in exchange not only for advances, but also for musical instruments and other necessary tools. “Nobody was doing that on a regular basis and at such level in the French market” he explains with pride. Lafrance continued the trend four years later. “We started to buy catalogues. And again, in Quebec, not many were doing that because you need a lot of money.”
Over the next 20 years, Lafrance’s strategy paid off handsomely. To name but a few of its success stories, Éditorial Avenue now represents the likes of Daniel Bélanger, Ariane Moffatt, Pierre Lapointe, Loco Locass, Lhasa de Sela, Jean Leloup, Alex Nevsky, Damien Robitaille, Luis Clavis, Catherine Major, and Bran Van 3000, whose hit Drinking in L.A. still brings in the most annual revenue of any song in the publisher’s repertoire. Likewise, important catalogues acquired by Éditorial include Jean-Pierre Ferland, Claude Léveillée, Roger Tabra, Francine Raymond, Jacques Michel, Laurence Jalbert, Les Respectables, Éric Lapointe, and Catherine Major.
When asked what the future holds for Éditorial Avenue, Lafrance isn’t shy in his decree: “To sign as many people as we can,” he says. “Not everybody, only good writers, of course. But every kind of deal, because we know some of them will be the stars of tomorrow.” It’s this mentality, to see long-term potential before anyone else, that keeps Lafrance hungry. And it’s also what led the former CMRRA board member to recently return to the agency after a short foray with Socan’s reproduction rights collective.
Coming back to CMRRA is a good feeling,” he says. “It is like coming back home to rejoin the family. It feels like being part of a team who could really make a difference in the Canadian publishing business.
#withIMPACT Music Publishers are the heart of our industry. In 2021, we’re highlighting eleven Music Publishers with impact. We’re also discussing songs. We acknowledge that there is not one measure that quantifies a song’s success, so, we’re discussing all the ways we can think of qualifies as impact – songs that started revolutions, launched movements, were the catalyst for change, started love stories or just plain inspired.
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