In the wake of profound changes in the music world over the last few years, there are a few Cassandras heralding the impending death of the music industry. But on the frontline are visionaries who know how to re-invent themselves to adapt to the new reality. “The problem doesn’t come from lack of demand; the variety of available supports nowadays means demand for music has never been greater,” says Denis Wolff, co-founder and artistic director of Harris & Wolff. “The problem is the value of music: micro-payments generated by streaming aren’t sufficient to help artists stay afloat. Even though the new rules are known, there’s still a lot that remains unclear. We’re navigating in fog, among icebergs, but at least we know how to navigate.”

In this analogy, Denis Wolff is a Master mariner. Whether through his Maisonnette agency or his MasterKut studio, he’s been a key player on the Québec music scene for many, many years. Three years ago, he founded Harris & Wolff alongside Mary Catherine Harris, his partner, who’s in charge of marketing and business development, and also has tremendous experience in publishing (Plateau Music, Third Side Music, Genison). Behind such an understated brand name, more akin to a law firm than a cultural organization – an impression that highly pleases the two partners – lurks a small but very ambitious publishing outfit.

We met with the pair in the basement office of a Saint-Joseph boulevard building in Montréal that’s also home to L-A be, Louis Armand Bombardier’s record label. The two principals of Harris & Wolff are poised to conquer the world, one song at a time. The collapse in record sales doesn’t diminish the need for music. Ads, TV series, movies, websites, apps… visual content creators are constantly on the lookout for new sounds to augment their productions. And when these content creators are looking for a specific sound or atmosphere, they ask specialists like Harris & Wolff.

All told, Harris & Wolff represents about 50 artists, of which about 30 exclusively create audio-visual music. And their catalogue grows and diversifies on a daily basis. “What we offer is curated content,” says Harris. “A lot of companies go into licensing and simply sign as many artists as they can, who are totally interchangeable to them. We choose them carefully, and we create playlists for different atmospheres, which is very helpful for our clients.”

“We work with real artists that have actual personalities, not anonymous composers whose work is the musical equivalent of stock photography.” — Denis Wolff of Harris & Wolff

These playlists are just one facet of the company’s very accessible website, described by its owners as a one-stop shop. “It’s the heart of our business, we worked on building the user interface for two years,” says Harris. That proprietary interface is the brainchild of Wolff, and is so user-friendly that people have asked to license it.

So how does it work? Say you’re a movie producer looking for music for your next film. Do you need music in a minor or major mode? Need something lively and upbeat? Maybe German reggae? The search filters allow you to be extremely precise. Then you’re taken to a request form: what’s the desired usage? Ad, film, TV? How many seconds? Background or feature? With just a few clicks, the customer gets a quote, and a ready-to-use audio file. Harris & Wolff owns the masters, which avoids the music users having to seek the rights holders, and translates into savings in time and money.

“By combining that interface and our local and international network, we’re really looking to serve a global market,” says Harris. “What sets us apart is that we’re close to the artists in our roster,” adds Wolff. “We don’t offer generic, prefab, soulless music. We work with real artists that have actual personalities, not anonymous composers whose work is the musical equivalent of stock photography.”

Denis Wolff

Photo: Frédérique Ménard Aubin

The pair weren’t born yesterday, and they know the business inside and out, so they’re greatly appreciated. As a matter of fact, Wolff and his Ho-Tune Musique publishing company received the very first Publisher of the Year Award at Montréal’s SOCAN Awards gala on Sept. 12, 2016, an honour that truly touched the man who’s always been a champion of the Québec music scene. “It’s obviously an immense honour!” he says. “The general public doesn’t really understand what we do, or the effort required to do it, but the SOCAN people do. We’re partners.”

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The release of Oobopopop, their bubbly but unpronounceably-titled album, is an opportunity to discover the leaner, meaner version of the formidable groove machine formerly known as Misteur Valaire. But fear not, the five-headed beast hasn’t lost any members, it merely simplified its name, reducing it to a simple surname. Enter Valaire, the latest incarnation of a constantly evolving band.

Yet, it’s only at the very end of our conversation that we touch on the name change, which turned out to be the least traumatic decision in the group’s history. When asked about it, KiloJules, Luis, Tô, France and DRouin can barely remember when it happened. No endless debates, just a desire to take things to the next level and subtly mark the passage. Change in continuity.

And there’s a lot of change on this very funky album, starting with the presence of a singer who could almost be considered a new, full-fledged Valaire member. Alan Prater is a living legend who once shared the stage with Michael Jackson. The Florida-born singer and musician is a familiar face to patrons of Montréal’s Dièze Onze bar, where he has a weekly gig with The Brooks. “The album’s underlying intention is quite simple: do some good to the people who hear it,” says Luis. “The lyrics are lighthearted and straight to the point, and they fit perfectly for Alan’s personality, because he’s a real party machine!”

There are other voices on the album, most notably Luis’, as well as those of their BFFs Fanny Bloom and Camille Poliquin (Milk & Bone). New York-based rapper Kahli Abdu and Pierre Kwenders are featured on the excellent “Apata Palace,” an explosive afro-funk,/hip-hop/soca number. Still, Prater’s voice stands out. “We used to pick our guests according to each song; if it had a rock or hip-hop vibe, we’d pick a singer that would be a good fit, without trying to establish continuity,” Luis explains. “It’s a fact that up to now, we’d never tried to define where vocals fit in Valaire,” admits Tô. “Enter Alan, and we immediately clicked. The first time he came in the studio to record his vocal track, he didn’t hesitate for a second and sang ‘I do the Oobopopop,’” remembers Jules. “It came out so naturally that we were all floored.”

“Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song.” – France, of Valaire

When asked to describe the overall sound of their new offering, the band members turn to this journalist – “You’re the specialist, aren’t you?” says France with a wicked grin – but ultimately agree and settle on “funky.” The inspirations for the album were a trip to Louisiana (“We were just looking for somewhere warm in February”, offers DRouin), piles of 70s vinyl, and endless vintage hip-hop listening sessions. From that, the band members simply let the groove build organically. “Of all our albums so far, I think this is the one that will age the best, because it’s our most coherent yet,” says France.

That begs the question of how the songs – and cohesion – are born in this leaderless group. Who sets the tone? Everyone and no one, apparently. “Everybody contributes their ideas and the ones that stick are the ones that best serve the song. In the end, no one really knows who did what,” says France. “Certain members of the band have known each other for 25 years, so let’s just say our ego problems have long been resolved!” quips DRouin. “Strangely, though, we still haven’t found the Valaire recipe, but we’re still looking,” admits Luis. That’s not to say Valaire is devoid of a modus operandi: “The one thing that’s changed the most in the way we create over the years is technology. We use Dropbox a lot,” says Tô. “Even if we’re all in the same room, as soon as one of us comes up with a nice riff or a good sample, we drop it in the box,” Jules explains. “Once it’s there, everyone is welcome to use it, revisit it, transform it.”

Thus, by pilfering their sonic treasure trove, the Valaire boys came up with their most organic album yet. “We’re like an old couple; there’s a ton of stuff that happens naturally, without the need for words,” says Luis. They may be an old couple, but thankfully for us, their passion hasn’t dwindled.

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If you watched any of CBC’s Summer Olympics coverage this year from Rio, you may have encountered a special opening montage set to The Strumbellas’ song “We Don’t Know.”

While the high-profile song placement was undoubtedly a welcome reward for The Strumbellas, they weren’t the only ones celebrating their golden musical moment. Much like the crack coaching staff that shapes elite athletes, the JUNO Award-winning six-piece band have the team at Six Shooter Records – including Kim Temple, its new head of licensing and publishing – helping the band reach that musical podium.

Temple, who’s the first person to hold the title of “head of licensing and publishing” at the Six Shooter empire, ranges far and wide to find opportunities for the acts she represents.

“I’ve written songs, received royalty cheques, and asked questions about publishing as an artist. I know how important it is to get paid for the work you do.”

“I’m very film and TV-centric, because I used to work with composers and I hear music in a cinematic way. I think a lot of our artists do as well,” says Temple, explaining how she finds publishing placements for Six Shooter acts. “So I’m always looking for those types of opportunities, as well as commercials, but only if it’s a good fit for the band. Special events, live broadcasts, and internet uses are also areas that I deal with.”

Other recent Six Shooter wins include getting The Strumbellas international hit “Spirits” into the season finale of Saving Hope, Sam Outlaw into an episode of Nashville, Amelia Curran into CBC’s Hello Goodbye and Tanya Tagaq to compose the original soundtrack for The Searchers, the new movie by Zacharias Kunuk. With a roster that also includes Whitehorse, The Rheostatics, Hawksley Workman, Jenn Grant, Danny Michel and more, there are undoubtedly other opportunities on the way.

Temple is particularly well suited to managing the catalogue of songs Six Shooter’s founder Shauna de Cartier and president Helen Britton have amassed over the last 16 years. A professional drummer who was on the ground floor during the great Canadian indie-rock breakout of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Temple performed with the likes of Bodega, Nerdy Girl and on her own as Temple Threat. Her day job at the time was working for composer Marty Simon (the owner/operator of Music Revenue Data) on the sci-fi television series Lexx (“I learned everything I know about publishing and royalty collection from Marty”). That eventually led to a run at Insight Productions to work on Canadian Idol (“A lot of my indie-rock friends scoffed at this show, but it taught me that a good song is timeless”). Temple has even been on the other side of the camera, blowing the minds of some suburban garage-band kids with her drum skills in a recent Toyota Camry ad (“When I dropped my kids off at school their friends thought I was a movie star, so I got my 15 minutes of fame”).

A typical day for Temple includes receiving queries from people who want to use Six Shooter music, putting together pitches for music supervisors, producers, directors, editors, special events promoters, gaming and ad agencies, listening to new music from acts she reps, doing all the related administrative paperwork around these tasks. It means a busy daily to-do list for Temple, but the artists’ rewards can sometimes be substantial.

“The money varies, depending on the budget of the project,” says Temple. “The commercial industry has the most money in their budget to find the perfect song. Documentaries tend to have the least, but I’m a fan of that medium. In my experience working with artists and film composers, I’ve seen songs placed in TV shows, movies, trailers, internet and radio commercials, for anywhere between $2,000 to $100,000. My dream is to place a Tanya Tagaq song in Game of Thrones.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but Temple says one of the reasons why Six Shooter acts are successful is because they aren’t trying to write songs for a specific show, but are instead encouraged to simply write good songs. Those songs give her something worth pitching.

“There are shows out there that revolve around specific genres or themes — tear-jerkers and break-up songs,” says Temple. “One way to build a catalogue would be to stock up on sad songs and songs about farewells, pick-me-up feel-good songs, and Christmas songs. But Six Shooter’s catalogue has been created so organically, with no genre requirements. Our approach has always been focused on authenticity and craft.

“We’ll never be a jingle shop and hit-making has never been our measuring stick. Hopefully, that’s what makes Six Shooter stand apart and that’s why music supervisors and producers are starting to come to us more frequently – because they like what we stand for and who we choose to represent.”

When it comes down to it, Temple’s been there, too. So she understands how important it is – especially in a world of diminishing album sales and modest streaming revenues – for artists to earn much-needed money from song placements.

“I’ve written songs, received royalty cheques, and asked questions about publishing as an artist,” says Temple. “I know how important it is to get paid for the work you do. I know what [our artists] are sacrificing to live on the road and keep creating. It makes me want to fight for them. And I’m passionate about getting their music out there.”

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