Everyone has a story about a song that reflects the healing and transformative power of music. The Awesome Music Project Canada: Songs of Hope and Happiness, contains 111 of them, told by a wide cross-section of Canadians; musicians, artists, authors, and other people from all walks of life.

Rob Carli

Rob Carli

“It could easily have had many more, but we had to cut it off somewhere,” says award-winning TV and film composer Rob Carli, who compiled the book with his neighbour, Terry Stuart, Chief Innovation Officer at Deloitte Canada.

“It started with an over-the-fence kind of conversation,” says Carli, explaining that Stuart asked him if there was some kind playlist that might be universally beneficial for people’s happiness and mental health. “I said, ‘Terry, that’s not the way music works. It’s subjective. Your happy song and mine, they’re going to be completely different. In fact, yours may be a complete turn-off to me,’ But after he showed me a couple of stories, I realized it’s really about the narrative – why music does what it does to people – and I became fascinated with that question.”

The Awesome Music Project is more than a book; it’s an ongoing campaign to accelerate the discovery of solutions to mental health issues using music, with all proceeds going to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s CAMH/MaHRC Joint Music Therapy Research Project Team; a project studying how music impacts brain chemistry, in the hope of finding data to help treat patients in a non-pharmaceutical way.

“I realized it’s really about the narrative – why music does what it does to people.” – Co-Author Rob Carli

Just as everyone has a story about how a song impacted their lives, many have stories about how mental health challenges have affected them, or someone they know. “One in two Canadians, by the time they’re 40, will have been impacted somehow by those challenges, through someone in their life,” says Carli.

Settling on World Mental Health Day – October 10th 2019 – as their release date for their book, Carli and Stuart set about collecting stories, with the help of Vancouver-based publisher Page Two. “They’re a unique force in Canadian publishing,” says Carli, describing them as “a big publisher with the compassion and personalization of an indie record label. They guided us but always solicited our input.

The Power of Music: Excerpts from the Book

  • “Singing and playing music made me feel free, unburdened, and joyful. Music released me from my loneliness by connecting me to something bigger.” – Sarah McLachlan
  • “Music gave me a way to deal with the most harrowing thing I had yet faced in my life, a way to say the kind of things I would have said if I’d known how.” – Col. Chris Hadfield
  • “I had a dark side, a sadness, but I kept it hidden, except when I made music.” – Elisapie Isaac
  • “I never fit in and was always the outsider… until I discovered music. At age 12 I received a 29-dollar guitar that changed my life forever.” – Bob Egan

“We used a lot of Terry’s contacts, and my contacts in the music business, but Page Two helped track down contributors,” Carli says, adding that there were three chapters to the project: the creation of the book, promoting it, and fundraising. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so it was really gratifying learning – not only about charities, fundraising, and mental health and music – but about working with different teams than I’m used to. It’s a different world from sitting in my studio writing music,” he says, laughing.

Carli also singles out editor, writer, and publishing consultant Scott Steedman as integral to the process, in collecting, editing and compiling stories – by contributors ranging from the likes of Sarah McLachlan and astronaut Chris Hadfield, to Steedman’s eight-year-old daughter, Rose.

The 111 stories speak volumes about the healing power of music, and are backed up with entries detailing how music affects the brain, resources and advice concerning music therapy, and articles covering neurological research initiatives that confirm music’s role in improving physical and mental health overall.

And more stories will be told. Since the conception of The Awesome Music Project in early 2019, it’s evolved into far broader campaign, with plans in the works for online companion initiatives, and fundraising events – similar to those held recently in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, which bring together contributors to the book and musicians performing the songs that inspired their stories.

“This is how we’re relevant across the country,” Carli says, “as we go into communities and partner with whoever is working in the mental health space and help them raise money. So it’s not a journey that really ever ends.”

Tally’s and Mandee’s lives have changed radically in recent months. Signed by U.S. publisher Sony/ATV Music, these two Montréal songwriters, also known as Heartbeat, now have their eyes firmly set on worldwide pop success.

It all started in 2010 when the two women – who’d been invited to attend a writing session by Montréal producer The OC, now known under the banner of Retro Future – quickly discovered that they had uncanny chemistry. “We hit it off so suddenl,y that I invited her to my place immediately after to try and create something together. We did three songs the first night,” says Tally. “But we were really just looking at this as a hobby.”

Their first meetings provided the two artists with opportunities to get to know one another’s strong suits, and it turned out Tally was mostly interested in working on lyrics, while Mandee worked primarily on music. Mandee also acts as a singer on the demos that the duo sends to new artists, or to A&R reps hoping to discover new talents. “Our game is placing songs, not releasing projects. We’re what you might call ‘artists in hiding,’” Mandee explains.

“What we’re interested in is the root of things, the raw material of songwrting.” – Mandee, of Heartbeat

Over the next 10 years, the two experimented with a variety of styles, ranging from hip-hop to dance, through R&B, and more recently, reggaeton. They wrote songs for budding Canadian artists such as Benita, Keshia Chanté, Adam D, and Divine Lightbody, and joined forces with such renowned Montreal rappers as Rymz, Zach Zoya, and Nate Husser. The extent of their contributions varied from one artist to the next, ranging from a full song to a chorus or verse.

“Sometimes we were only there to stimulate an artist’s inspiration,” says Tally. “My good friend Nate, for instance, came to see me because he needed a new perspective on his creative process. He told me he wasn’t at all happy with the way his brain was working. So we sat down to talk, and we ended up writing ‘Tunnel Vision.’ That allowed me to talk about rougher stuff than I normally do. It was a fascinating exercise.”

This sort of behind-the-scenes exercise isn’t necessarily a cover for any shyness, or fear of the limelight. It’s simply a matter of taste and personal interest, as the musicians themselves insist. “Being an artist means that you have to do shows, look after promotion,” says Mandee. “All this cuts into your studio time. As for us, what we’re interested in is the root of things, the raw material of songwriting. We want people in the industry to recognize our strengths and call on us for that.”

That’s what happened in August of 2019 when Heartbeat was signed by Sony/ATV and Stellar Songs, a publishing company co-founded by Tor-Erik Hermansen (half of the Norwegian pop producer duo Stargate), and managed by British producer Tim Blacksmith and businessman Danny D.

It’s actually through the Danny D’s wife, originally from Québec, that their partnership took shape in the spring of 2018. At the time, Mandee was working in a tanning salon. “One day, an older gentleman came in with his wife, and sat down with me to talk as his wife was tanning,” she says. “He asked me what I was doing for a living, and I told him I made music. He said, ‘This is quite something, because my daughter is married to a big shot guy, someone really important in the music industry.’ He ended up giving me his e-mail address. I was a bit skeptical, but I shared this with Tally anyway, and we ended up sending him songs. Two days later, she answered us asking for more material. Then, after exchanging a few e-mails back and forth, we ended up meeting her, and her husband Danny D invited us to come down and see him in Los Angeles.”

So, in May of 2018, Tally and Mandee went down to L.A. at their own expense, and wrote 19 songs over two weeks. While they were there, they activated their contacts and met with Keshia Chanté, and ex-N’SYNC member JC Chasez. More than pleased with their work, Danny D promised them a contract… which failed to materialize. “That’s when we understood how the industry works,” says Mandee. “You can’t believe anything they say to you until something’s been signed.”

In October of 2018, their friend Barnev (a Céline Dion backup singer) invited them to return to L.A. to meet other important people. While they were there, their lawyer, Bob Celestin, one of the world’s top music lawyers, met with Danny D, and the subject of the promised contract came up again. “But we waited and waited, and got nothing. We felt pretty depressed up until the last day,” says Tally.

On that day, Rodney Jerkins, a.k.a. Darkchild (known for his work with Destiny’s Child, Lady Gaga, and many other pop heavyweights), invited them to his “huge mansion” and made a counter-offer to them right away. In the following months, two publishing companies, APG and Kobalt, followed suit, which put pressure on Stellar Songs and Sony/ATV officially to go ahead with an offer. Negotiations started in November of 2018 and finally succeeded in August of that year.

The name Heartbeat has resonated in the American music industry ever since. This summer, the two songwriters took part in a song camp in Miami for the Mexican singer Thalia, the wife of former Sony president Tommy Mottola. This was when they first flirted with reggaeton. “We were completely outside our comfort zone,” says Mandee, “but it was a fabulous, very enriching experience.”

“We’re keener than ever to touch on everything, and to experiment. We absolutely want to avoid finding ourselves in a box,” says Tally. “The minute one of our songs starts sounding too much like something else, we know we’re lagging behind. You always have to chase the next vibe.”

He’s officially Vice-President of Publishing for Anthem Entertainment, “but people call me The Ambassador,” says Gilles Godard. This Franco-Ontarian, who began his career as a country singer-songwriter, is now one of Canada’s most influential publishers worldwide, and his position allows him to introduce local writers and composers to the American music industry.

Gilles Godard, Raymond Fabi, SOCAN Awards, 2019, Montreal, Gala

Gilles Godard and Raymond Fabi, composer of the music for the youth TV series Arthur after winning the Music for Television (National) Award – Youth Award at the 2019 Montréal SOCAN Awards Gala. (Photo: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin)

Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, was a good day for Godard and Anthem. That morning, the American Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences announced the nominees for the 62nd edition of the Grammy Awards that will take place on Jan. 26, 2020, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The rap-pop sensation of the moment, rapper and singer Lizzo, is at the head of the pack with eight nominations – thanks to the immense success of her song “Truth Hurts,” from her third album, Cuz I Love You.

“Recently, we bought two catalogues, one with several Lizzo hits, and the other composed of hits by The Weeknd,” says Godard. These are catalogues that belong to the Boardwalk Music Group, which represents the American composer and producer Ricky Reed, who co-wrote “Truth Hurts.” Bingo! Godard and his team are nominated for four Grammys: Recording, Albumr, Solo Pop Performance, and Song of the Year. Not to mention the possibility that country star Reba McEntire wins the Country Album of the Year trophy. “I think it’ll be a good year for us at the Grammys,” say the publisher, whose company (formely ole Media Management) has won several trophies over the last few years thanks to hits by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, among others.

Godard is even prouder because he considers his company’s structure as “independent” compared to the other big players of the publishing world. “We’re smaller and more agile, but well financed, in the end,” he says. “I believe we still have an independent mind-set, which gives us an edge,” says the Anthem VP, who moved to Nashville in the late ’80s.

Before becoming a music publisher, the Cornwall, Ontario-born ambassador was a successful country singer-songwriter, who launched his eponymous debut album on his own label, Book Shop. He started as an Anglophone artist, but he released a Francophone album, En amour, which won the ADISQ Country Album of the Year Félix award in 1987, before moving to Nashville to write songs for several American country artists.

“I’ve always loved music, but winning that Félix – as a producer and an artist – gave me the opportunity to work with many artists,” he says, and from that point on, he learned the ropes of the music business. “I’m lucky to have had the chance to transition from songwriter to publisher and producer, and I’m still active as a songwriter, even though I’m more often than not a publisher,” says Godard. “It helps me understand the reality of artists—I’m not just a producer; I listen to what songwriters have to say.”

“Television and the movies are the new radio. The field of synchronization is exceptional right now.”

By that he means songwriters from Québec, and the rest of Canada, among others. That’s why he is nicknamed The Ambassador. Godard offers them priceless contact with the American industry, and he doesn’t hesitate to introduce local producers and artists to his vast network. “Do you know Tebey?” he asks. “He recorded a duet with Marie-Mai, ‘The Good Ones.’ It’s through him that I met her team, and right now, we’re connecting Marie-Mai with our team of songwriters in the pop-urban-hip-hop division in Los Angeles.”

After more than 25 years in the publishing world, Godard has a very clear perspective on the evolution of the industry, especially the critical role of publishers. “Publishers have evolved to become somewhat A&R types,” he says, referencing talent scouts for record labels. “We’re on the lookout for, and sign, young songwriters we believe in, and introduce them to talented musicians and artists. And we work really hard to propel their careers.”

The other agent of change, obviously, is the digital revolution – for better or worse – as it affects royalties paid to songwriters. “We often say that television and the movies are the new radio,” says Godard. “The field of synchronization is exceptional right now.” That’s thanks to the new opportunities songwriters have to see their songs used in screen productions. For Godard, that’s the only “fair trade” in the music industry. “The songwriter who owns the copyright receives half of the royalties, and the owner of the masters receives the other half,” he says. “For the past five years, those royalties have experienced strong growth thanks to the video streaming platforms.”

But the low amount of royalties earned by songs played online remains, as Pierre Lapointe pointed out during the recent ADISQ gala. On this issue, the publisher is on the side of songwriters. “These companies couldn’t exist if their platforms didn’t have access to all those songs, so it’s unfair [that the royalties are so meager],” he says. “Those rates will need to be adjusted, and I think a change is coming, because things can’t remain as they are now.”

Do publishers have any clout in this debate? Could a collaboration between the major publishers to put pressure on the music streaming sites of the world become a reality? “Yes,” Godard says, “and I think it’ll happen one day. Our lawyers are very active, and discuss this question with lawmakers to make them understand that if things don’t change, there’ll be no money left to make [in songwriting]. Things need to change, because some players make money and don’t fairly compensate the creators.”

To be continued…