Music

10 Canadian songwriters who are penning the biggest hit songs right now

While Canadian artists like Drake and Shawn Mendes have been topping the charts lately, these homegrown songwriters have been dominating behind the scenes.

While Canadian artists have been topping the charts, these homegrown songwriters dominate behind the scenes

(Logan White/Facebook)

Artists receive the bulk of the glitz and glory of achieving a hit song, but in reality it requires a lot of work. There are producers, recording engineers, mixing engineers, mastering engineers and, of course, songwriters.

It's no secret that songs often include multiple songwriters. Sometimes the artist is included in the process; other times, they are offered fully formed demos by hired songwriters. In the pre-digital era of music, songwriters were relegated to the small print on the backs of — or accompanying booklets for — albums. But with the ease of streaming services and sites like Genius that make track information more easily accessible, those working behind the scenes are becoming increasingly more visible.

In recent years, Canada has claimed a fair share of real estate on the Billboard charts. Artists like Drake, the Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara have dominated, but a number of homegrown songwriters have also influenced those charts. Canadian songwriters have had their hands on more singles than you'd expect, including hits by international artists like Camila Cabello, Calvin Harris, Migos and many more.

Below, we've broken down 10 Canadian songwriters — some of them artists themselves — who have penned some of the most successful songs in the past few years.


Songwriter: Allie X

From: Toronto (now in Los Angeles).

Biggest hits: Troye Sivan's "Youth," "Talk Me Down," "The Good Side," "Seventeen."

More about her: After being a fixture in the Toronto indie music scene for years as Allie Hughes, the artist and songwriter relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. Since then, she has rebranded herself as Allie X and has established a second life as an avant-garde pop star who has not only found success as a solo artist but also a writer, most prominently for Australian singer Troye Sivan.

Together, Hughes and Sivan have worked on 12 songs together, including tracks for Sivan's 2015 debut album, Blue Neighbourhood, and his critically acclaimed 2018 release, Bloom. Outside of that, Hughes has also written songs for Lea Michele and Jaira Burns. She's even stepped into the popular world of K-pop, penning tracks for Seohyun and B.A.P.


Songwriter: PartyNextDoor

From: Mississauga, Ont.

Biggest hits: Rihanna's "Work;" DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller's "Wild Thoughts."

More about him: Best known as one of Drake's associates and an OVO Sound signee, Mississauga's PartyNextDoor is probably recognized as a musician first, like some other writers on this list. But outside of his solo work, the R&B artist, whose real name is Jahron Brathwaite, has also been a secret weapon for some of pop's biggest stars.

His most notable writing credit is for Rihanna and Drake's 2016 summer anthem "Work" (he also penned the lesser known but equally amazing Anti cut "Sex With Me"). But his name can also be found in the credits of two big DJ Khaled songs: the Beyoncé and Jay Z-featured "Shining," as well as the smash hit with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, "Wild Thoughts."


Songwriter: Lowell

From: Calgary (now in Toronto)

Biggest hits: Bülow's "Now a Love Song;" Backstreet Boys' "Take Care."

More about her: Lowell first appeared on the Canadian indie-pop scene in 2014 with her debut album, We Loved Her Dearly, but by that point she had already earned an important co-writing credit that put her on the songwriting map: she had penned a bonus track on the Backstreet Boys' 2013 album, In a World Like This

Lowell has always balanced both being an artist and a writer. At times, that led to a perfect amalgamation of her skills, as evidenced on the 2017 Icona Pop collaboration, "Ride." This year, she snagged another big songwriting credit on Juno Award winner Bülow's new EP, Crystalline, on the tracks "Get Stüpid" and "Euphoria." Whether she's performing her own songs or helping others create hits, Lowell is bound to rack up more successful records in the years to come.


Songwriter: Tobias Jesso Jr.

From: Vancouver

Biggest hits: Adele's "When We Were Young;" Niall Horan's "Slow Hands;" Florence and the Machine's "Hunger."

More about him: 2015 was a big year for Tobias Jesso Jr.: the Vancouver singer-songwriter released his debut solo album, Goon, which was praised by critics, shortlisted for a Polaris Music Prize and garnered him a Juno Award nomination. But all the attention made Jesso Jr. uncomfortable. As someone who always wanted to work behind the scenes as opposed to being in the spotlight, Jesso Jr. soon cancelled a tour and quit being an artist. "It was a heavy, heavy suit I wanted to take off," he told Billboard last year.

In the ensuing years, Jesso Jr. refocused his energy on writing songs for other stars. First, there was Adele's smash hit album, 25, which included two Jesso Jr. co-writes: "When We Were Young" and "Lay Me Down." Then came hits for Niall Horan ("Slow Hands"), Shawn Mendes ("Roses") and Florence and the Machine ("Hunger"). Jesso Jr. has also launched his own music publishing company, Orange Publishing.


Songwriter: Jessie Reyez

From: Toronto

Biggest hits: Calvin Harris feat. Dua Lipa, "One Kiss;" Calvin Harris and Sam Smith's "Promises."

More about her: Toronto's Jessie Reyez is in high demand lately, from her solo output to features on other artists' tracks and even co-writing some big international hits. As an artist, Reyez has quickly climbed up the ranks in just three years with successful singles like "Figures" and "Gatekeeper." But she has also written a string of uptempo dance numbers for Scottish DJ/producer Calvin Harris. Reyez first appeared on "Hard to Love," the closing number on Harris' 2017 album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. But since then, she's co-written three more Harris songs: "Faking It" featuring Kehlani and Lil Yachty, "Promises" featuring Sam Smith and Harris and Reyez's biggest hit to date, "One Kiss" featuring Dua Lipa.


Songwriter: Frank Dukes

From: Toronto (now in Los Angeles)

Biggest hits: Camila Cabello's "Havana;" Cardi B's "Be Careful;" Drake's "0 to 100/The Catch Up."

More about him: Frank Dukes is one of the busiest songwriters and producers in the business right now. The Toronto-born Grammy winner started off making beats for rappers, including early placements on songs by Lloyd Banks and Eminem. In the past 12 years, he's amassed a lengthy portfolio that includes songwriting for Wu-Tang Clan, Drake, Travis Scott, Rihanna, Usher, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. In 2018, he not only co-wrote songs, but produced and is credited as an executive producer on pop star Camila Cabello's debut album, Camila, as well as the Weeknd's latest EP, My Dear Melancholy.


Songwriter: Simon Wilcox

From: Ottawa

Biggest hits: Carly Rae Jepsen's "Cut to the Feeling;" Nick Jonas' "Jealous."

More about her: Simon Wilcox got her start writing songs with Canadian artists like Jorane, Projet Orange and Three Days Grace. Around that time, she was also actively releasing music of her own, most notably her 2007 album, The Charm and the Strange. But in more recent years, Wilcox has added some big names to her discography of hits, including Demi Lovato ("Ready for Ya"), Carly Rae Jepsen ("Cut to the Feeling") and Wilcox's first breakout chart-topper, Nick Jonas' "Jealous." While her biggest successes are with pop songs, Wilcox's collaborations cover a range of genres, including rock (Blink-182), country (Lindi Ortega), dance (Steve Aoki) and adult contemporary (Josh Groban). Wilcox also runs her own music publishing company, Dames, Booze and Chains Inc.


Songwriter: Murda Beatz

From: Fort Erie, Ont.

Biggest hits: Drake's "Nice for What;" Migos feat. Nicki Minaj & Cardi B's "MotorSport."

More about him: Shane Lee Lindstrom, better known as Murda Beatz, is one of music's most in-demand producers right now but he's also an established songwriter. Often, Lindstrom lends a songwriting hand on tracks that he's also produced, including Drake's 2018 hit "Nice For What," Travis Scott's "Butterfly Effect" and Cardi B's "I Do." When he's not busy in the studio with some of rap and hip-hop's biggest names, Lindstrom's also putting out his own mixtapes, such as last year's Smokepurpp collaborative release, Bless Yo Trap.


Songwriter: Tebey

From: Peterborough, Ont. (now in Nashville)

Biggest hits: One Direction's "They Don't Know About Us," "Loved You First;" Justin Moore's "Somebody Else Will."

More about him: Tebey Ottoh has found a balance over the years between country and pop music. In his work as a solo artist, the Peterborough, Ont., native has released two full-length albums and just last year, he released a new EP called Love a Girl. On the songwriting side of his career, though, Ottoh has written for country and pop artists, from Justin Moore's Billboard country No. 1 song "Somebody Else Will" to One Direction's "They Don't Know About Us" and "Loved You First" from the band's 2012 sophomore album, Take Me Home.


Songwriter: Mustafa the Poet

From: Toronto  

Biggest hits: Camila Cabello's "All These Years," "She Loves Control," "Real Friends."

More about him: Mustafa Ahmed, a.k.a. Mustafa the Poet, does it all: he's a spoken-word artist, actor, MC and songwriter. He has opened for artists like Jhene Aiko, performed alongside Margaret Atwood and Nelly Furtado, and worked with Drake and the Weeknd. While he doesn't sport the longest list of songwriting credits, he did work on Camila Cabello's breakout debut album, Camila, co-writing the tracks "All These Years," "She Loves Control" and "Real Friends."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.