FYI Profile: Frank Davies
He may have (deservedly) won the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 2014 Junos, but popular Canadian music industry veteran Frank Davies has no desire to slow down. As we learned in our recent extensive interview, he is still very busy, and enjoying life in the biz as much as he ever has.
You can hear some great stories and learn about Davies’ earlier decades in the Canadian industry in David Farrell’s earlier FYI profile, but we were keen to get the lowdown on Davies’ more recent ventures.
The year 2000 was something of a career turning point, he explains. The year before, he left his post as President/CEO of TMP (The Music Publisher), the company he founded in 1986 and sold to Alliance in 1994. His next step was to start a new music consultancy firm, the delightfully named Let Me Be Frank, one he still heads now.
“Let Me Be Frank had the aim of doing two things initially, most of which I have actually done,” says Davies. “That is what has been so enjoyable, my plans then and seeing where they’ve gone. It has fallen into two camps. One camp is providing all sorts of what I hope is expertise and experience to corporations, organizations, federal departments etc. I started to do that in the early 2000s, doing studies for people like OMDC, CIMA, CMP, Canadan Heritage and Re:sound.”
One successful early project was for Microsoft. “I knew the Microsoft people pretty well, particularly those geared to music and the gaming world that was really taking off by 2000. They asked me to executive produce the launch of music to go alongside the launch of Xbox. I did that for them, spending a good year on it. We prepared an album by all sorts of artist to represent the interest gamers had in music.”
Davies’ deep knowledge of the publishing side of the Canadian biz was well-utilized by Robert Ott when he (Ott) was starting up ole. “I was involved with Robert and his acquisition team from day one,” says Davies. “He launched in 2004 and from that day I’ve been a consultant to the company, and especially for its acquisitions, everything from the country catalogues to Rush masters and publishing and the Anthem catalogue. That’s been an important and integral part of that side of my life and business.”
The other side of the business for Davies now is talent development, something he terms “my first love. I’m no longer the hands-on record producer I was, back in the 70s and early 80s. It is now more of an executive producer role.”
One of his first such projects was a band called The Full Nine. “I’d wanted to sign them to TMP before the company was sold, but I then got them signed to Mammoth, an offshoot of Hollywood Records. They were a wonderful group, but after two albums they were out in the cold when Mammoth folded. That then led to a whole group of artists I’ve been developing and been exec producer of since.”
The biggest success story there was Serena Ryder, an artist Davies brought to new prominence in the mid 00s. “That was from 2006, and it was an incredible experience . At the time I was absolutely amazed that the record industry here hadn’t cottoned onto Serena. They weren’t beating down the doors to sign her. In hindsight I glad they weren’t, ‘cos I signed her.”
The result was Ryder’s breakthrough album, If Your Memory Serves You Well, exec produced by Davies. “That got her signed to EMI, which was then taken over by Universal, and her career has gone onto a wonderful level.”
That was followed by work with The Rankin Family, as Davies recalls. “A promoter/manager in Calgary I’d worked with, Jeff Parry, had signed The Rankin Family to management and touring. He asked me to executive produce a new album, as to put them back onstage without new material would have been probably a waste.”
The result was 2009 album These Are The Moments, plus an ongoing relationship with the youngest Rankin, Heather. “Prior to that album, I'd not realized what a a terrific songwriter Heather is too,” Davies recalls. “I told her she should do a solo album, and about three years ago she said ‘I’m ready to do it.’”
Another long development process followed, setting Rankin up with co-writers and producers. Davies landed her a deal with Maple (now Cadence), and the resulting album, A Fine Line, comes out on April 1. “Heather co-hosts the ECMAs on April 14, and she has a national radio, TV and press tour coming up. I’m very excited about that,” says Davies.
One ongoing project that hasn’t yet had the result hoping for is the band The Treasures. “They were developed by [superstar promoter] Michael Cohl and his son Eli,” says Davies. “I exec produced an album Universal put out. It was a beautiful record but it basically went nowhere, and that was rather disconcerting. They’re in the process of writing a followup album and hopefully they can justify everybody’s belief in them.”
The most recent addition to the Let Me Be Frank artist roster is East Coast singer/songwriter/guitarist Ian Janes. “He sounds like a combination of a young Van Morrison and John Mayer,” enthuses Davies. “I’ve hooked him up with writers in LA, Nashville and Toronto. We aim to make his record this year, then look for a label deal.”
Davies has very sage advice for young artists and bands, and he follows it for his own clients. “I’m encouraging most artists these days to do it yourself if you can. Through the funding available and/or their own funds, they can make the record first. The business upside is that the artists can own and control their music. They make the records they want to make and they own it. They can license or sell it and be the royalty earning artist.
“This approach puts them in the driver’s seat-from day one. It allows them to make the record they want to make. Record labels are less focused on artist development these days, so they have it done for them.”
To Davies, this industry shift is actually positive. “The majors play an important role still, but I think it is probably the role they should have played all along, which is being conduits for the sales, distribution, marketing and promotion of records.”
The artist development side of what he does is especially appealing to Frank Davies, though he acknowledges it can be a lengthy process. “Every time I get involved with a new artist I say to my wife ‘we’ll have it done in six months,’ but it’s often at least three years."
In the case of Nashville-based, Canadian country singer/songwriter, Danielle Bourjeaurd, it’s closing in on four years. Davies is especially excited about her though, terming her “a very edgy country singer with a great voice. She’s already a good writer with the potential to be great.”
“Danielle put out her first single in the US last year and I’m currently in negotiations with labels in Canada. She has written with great writers in Nashville and up here, and an album is nearly complete.” "Sunday Afternoon Hang," a song Bourjeaurd co-wrote with Tom Cochrane (an artist with whom Davies has worked extensively since the beginning), made it onto his last album, Take It Home.
Another singer/songwriter Davies has high hopes for is Nathan Ferraro, previously the main writer and singer in Midway State, a band who put out two gold albums in Canada. “Deane Cameron introduced me to him around two years ago,” says Davies. “I’ve been helping him develop his own sound. He has been co-writing with other artists, and he’s had 25 different cuts on other artist records, people like Shawn Hook and Virginia To Vegas, for whom he co-wrote ‘We Are The Stars.’ He’s a fascinating talent and I’m hoping we’ll secure a record deal this year, for a possible 2017 release.”
In recent years, Davies has also returned to publishing, a field he terms “an integral part of my background. After the sale of my company in 99, I was basically out of publishing until five or six years ago. A longtime songwriter/producer of mine, David Tyson, came to me and said his deal with the publisher I’d signed him to 25 years before ended., and he wanted me to be his co-publisher again.”
That got me back into it, and I’ve become involved with several of these artists in their publishing as well. I can play a double role there, or as in the case of Nathan Ferraro, I can look for the right publisher for him.”
Davies now sounds like a man very comfortable in his current work roles. “This is exactly what I want to do. The combination of the artist development side and the publishing involvement rather encapsulates everything I love in that side of my life. On the other side, there’s working with Robert [Ott] and his terrific acquisitions team. I’ve really enjoyed that. Ole have also become the administrators of David Tyson’s and Danielle’s catalogues.
I don’t want to be what I was as a publisher before, which was a full-line operation. 11 employees you are responsible for, along with all your artists and writers. Now for me it is much more selective, and it is just me. It is a combination of everything I love and why I got into the business.”
One enduring legacy of Frank Davies’ illustrious career will be establishing the Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame. He is now pleased the CSHF will soon get a permanent physical home in Calgary’s National Music Centre. “When I first created it back in '98 I thought ‘well one day we’ll have a Hall of Fame where we can exhibit all these materials we were involved in as songwriters and publishers.’ That is great. I’m still part of their induction committee, even though I retired years ago as chairman of the organization. It is so important, and such a big part of what the Canadian music industry is about.”