Every project that film and television composers Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner take on presents an opportunity for them to learn from each other, and face new challenges that add to the set of tools the pair bring to their work, both collectively and individually.

“I love that, even after 15 years, we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and trying to surprise each other,” says Bhatia. “It’s very healthy to have a longtime partner you trust come up with things that challenge you. In fact, the best compliment we give to the other when we hear a piece of music,” he continues, as Posner laughs in the background, clearly knowing what’s coming: “The best compliment is, ‘I hate you.’ When one of us is working on something we’ll send it to the other and say, ‘Do you hate me?’ And they’ll respond by saying, ‘Congratulations. I hate you.’”

“I love that, even after 15 years, we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and trying to surprise each other.” – Amin Bhatia

Their latest project, the CBC Television series X Company, is no exception. The series follows a fictional group of operatives trained in a true-to-life, Ontario-based facility, Camp X, who undertake missions in Europe to undermine the Nazis during World War Two. While both Posner and Bhatia are familiar with broader details of the war, neither knew much about the existence of the Canadian training camp previously. “That aspect of it was really cool,” Bhatia says, “and when [the series creators] asked us to keep our schedules clear, we were like, ‘Yes, we’ll see what we can do.’ But we were jumping up and down with joy.”

X Company was created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, the same team that produced the internationally successful TV series Flashpoint , which Bhatia and Posner also scored, and for which they’re best known and celebrated. The duo received three SOCAN Film & TV Awards during its five-year run, as well as a Canadian Screen Award for Best Music in a Series. But they started collaborating frequently long before that, since meeting in 1999, on a variety of projects – including Disney’s animated series Get Ed, for which they share an Emmy nomination.

Over time, they’ve also worked on a wide array of projects individually. Posner’s credits include films like All the Wrong Reasons and My Awkward Sexual Adventure and television series such as 24 Hour Rental. And Bhatia’s credits range from albums like his 1987 debut, The Interstellar Suite and its follow up, Virtuality (2008), to features like John Woo’s Once a Thief and Iron Eagle II, and series including Kung Fu and Queer as Folk, among many others.

While the pair have no formal business arrangement, Bhatia says, “Now and then something comes along we both feel would be great to team up on, and we’re always thrilled to have an opportunity to work together.”

Given their existing relationship with Ellis and Morgenstern, X Company was a perfect opportunity to do so. “Mark and Stephanie said, ‘We couldn’t imagine doing this without you guys,” Posner says, but adds that it was essential to prove to everyone involved that X Company’s score would differ substantially from their work on Flashpoint. There’s always a possibility of being associated with your previous work so closely that potential clients can’t see past it. “But we have to be chameleons as composers, and it was great to have Mark and Stephanie rooting for us.”

Filmed in Hungary and produced by Temple Street Productions for CBC-TV, X Company debuted in February 2015 and will begin filming its second season in July 2015. But even before the series began shooting, Posner and Bhatia started creating music for the project. “That’s a new trend,” Bhatia explains. “It’s a way of helping a show find its signature sound. That’s generally more common in feature films than television.”

Ultimately, the result was a library of ideas and melodies that helped nail down a musical approach and overall sound for the show. “Stephanie and Mark were very articulate in helping us find a direction that worked for everybody,” Bhatia continues. “And with the help of our editors Lisa Grootenboer and Teresa Deluca, and the entire sound edit and mix team at Technicolor Toronto, we came up with musical and sonic ideas that changed how the show was edited and put together.”

Although X Company is a period piece, the score is quite modern, and intentionally so, Posner says. “Right from the get-go, they said, ‘It’s set in World War Two, but it has to feel like now’ – in order to make younger viewers see themselves in the characters. There are times when the score needs to be a bit more traditional to put you in that era, and sometimes we erred on going a little too modern, but that’s really how it found its legs.”

“And, in the end, we created a sound everybody’s happy with,” Bhatia adds.

This is the first in a series of stories about the creative meeting of a writer and a composer. This month’s “Better Together” features Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële.

Name any of them, whether it’s the heady “Pourquoi,” which launched Marie-Pierre Arthur on the radio in 2010, or “Droit devant,” also taken from her first eponymous album; “Fil de soie,” the Beatlesque “All Right” and the ecstatic “Emmène-moi,” from her album Aux Alentours (2012); all the way to more recent radio singles such as “Rien à faire” and “Papillons de nuit” from her latest Si l”aurore; all these songs were co-written by Marie-Pierre Arthur and Gaële – along with collaboration from other musicians such as keyboardist François Lafontaine, because credit needs to be given where credit is due…

“I was at the end of my rope. I had music, melodies, but nothing was working, it made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…” – Marie-Pierre Arthur

It’s undeniable that Gaële and Marie-Pierre Arthur are one of the most fruitful songwriting duos of recent years. Nothing, however, foreshadowed this professional relationship, one that began with what can only be described as friendship at first sight.

Gaële and Arthur met on a bus taking them from Montréal to Gaspésie. They’d met before, but they didn’t “click.” “I saw her sitting in the bus and in my mind, I was like ‘Oh! I know her, now I’ll have to talk to her,’” remembers Arthur.

Right from the get-go, she said: “‘I’m not going to talk to you for the whole trip.’ I was quite rude,” says Arthur, while looking at Gaële, who jumps in, smiling: “That’s one way of putting it!” And yet, that’s what they did: They talked non-stop for the whole 14 hours of their trip. And during the whole week after that, at the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée, where Arthur is from.

“We laughed a lot,” recalls Gaële. Born in the French Alps, Gaële had just completed her studies in jazz and pop singing at UQAM and hadn’t visited Québec much during her school years, which she deeply regretted just as she was about to go back to France. That little trip to Gaspésie completely changed her plans. “It was a fateful meeting,” she says.

MariePierreArthur_Gaele_ByLePigeon_InBody_1So a great friendship bloomed over many years before the professional relationship developed. Gaële went back to Petite-Vallée to defend her own songs as a singer-songwriter, while Arthur was not at all attracted to the trade. “Not at all,” she says. “In my mind, I was a bass player. I sometimes sang, I loved it, but I didn’t have any kind of solo project in mind.”

But that didn’t prevent her from collecting rough drafts of songs that she couldn’t seem to bring to completion. “I was at the end of my rope,” she admits. “I had music, melodies, but nothing was working. It made me cry, I just couldn’t do it. I told my friend about it…”

Adds Gaële. “I could tell that there was something going on, artistically. I thought something could be done with that voice. She ‘spoke’ Gaspésien, and her music – the rhythms and phrasings – was more Anglophone, if there is such a thing. She wanted to sing in a more ‘international’ French. She needed to find the appropriate language.”

“And anecdotal lyrics were out of the question!” chimes in Arthur. And on those grounds, their collaboration was built. Marie-Pierre’s music and Gaële’s words – “not too many words,” says Gaële, “not too many consonants, so it flows naturally, like her voice.

With album sales in freefall, the music industry has had to adapt and diversify its revenue streams. Over the last few years, one of those streams has grown incredibly quickly: synchronization licensing. These are licences granted for the use of a work in a TV series, movie or advertising, an economic activity that directly involves songwriters and their natural allies, music editors. It also indirectly involves fans, who sometimes become hostile to musicians who “sell out” by letting their work be used to promote a product in advertisements.

“It’s a well-known fact in the industry: there’s a lot of money to be made with synchronization” of recorded music, says Patrick Curley, President and General Counsel at Third Side Music, a music publishing company founded in 2005 that manages a catalog of more than 40 000 works, many of them by Québec artists such as Malajube, Radio Radio, Lisa Leblanc, Champion and Groenland, to name but a few. (Curley is also a member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors.)


Nowadays, business is booming for this music publisher. With 15 employees, as well as an office in Los Angeles, Third Side Music is on the short list of go-to publishers who American audio-visual (advertising, TV, movie) producers ask for the perfect song. And thanks to its Californian eyes and ears, the company is always on top of new and upcoming productions and their music needs. From that point on, Third Side Music prepares lists for the music supervisors working on each of those productions.

And it works: Third Side Music “places” between 50 and 100 songs each month in all kinds of productions, mainly in the U.S., a market that makes up to 70% of its revenue. “Our profits are growing year after year,” as do the royalties paid to the artists, according to Curley, whose company has been surfing on a huge wave that’s carrying the whole industry.

In 2014, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reported that, worldwide, the revenues derived from synchronization licences had increased by 8.4 percent, with certain markets benefitting even more than others. France, for example, saw an increase of 46.4 percent! Globally, revenues from synchronization licences represent 2 percent of music industry revenues.

“I really had to think it through before agreeing to one of my songs being used in an ad” – Patrice Michaud

Canada is not left behind in this growth trend. The most recent data published by SODRAC reveal that the royalties collected in 2013 for the synchronization of works in TV productions and video clips rose to $701,852, up from $579,856 in 2012.

One need only turn on the TV to find a plethora of examples of Québec artists who’ve benefitted from the audio-visual revenue stream. Lately, Radio Radio and Misteur Valaire have both seen their work heard in advertisements, the former for Telus and the latter, Vidéotron.

One of Patrick Watson’s songs – “The Great Escape” – was included in an episode of the popular TV series Grey’s Anatomy, as well as in an ad campaign for Tropicana juice.

As for singer-songwriter Patrice Michaud, he accomplished quite a feat: his song “Mécaniques générales” was used both by PatriceMichaud_CSPepsi and Honda in ad campaigns.

“The song was quite popular on the radio about a year ago, and that was important to me,” says the artist. “It was near the end of its life cycle when we got a request for use in an ad campaign.” Which, nowadays, has become an alternative to radio play, giving an incredible amount of exposure to a few lucky songs.

In the case of Patrice Michaud – who is his own publisher, but leaves the management of his catalogue to professionals – he got even luckier, since he never had to pitch his songs to ad producers. They came to him with the specific request to licence “Mécaniques générales.”

This is “quite rare” according to Patrick Curley. “Generally, it’s a publisher’s job to suggest works for specific audio-visual productions.” For example, it’s Third Side Music that “placed” Groenland’s song “Our Hearts Like Gold” in an ad for Apple’s latest iPad. The ad – directed by Martin Scorsese – ran during the 2015 Oscars ceremony in February, and focused on the video production and editing capacities of the device.

“We make sure we maintain a good relationship with the production agency that handles all of Apple’s advertising,” explains the publisher. “We had prepared a list of about 10 songs that could work with their concept, and they made the final choice. We’re definitely very proud of that one!”

“Placing” a song in an ad can be tricky, however. In 2006, Malajube granted a licence for their song “Ton plat favori” to the ad agency handling a campaign for defunct retail giant Zellers, and the musicians had to stave off a pretty intense backlash from their fans. In 2011, Karkwa had to deal with the same type of backlash when their song “Pyromanes” was used in an ad campaign by Coca-Cola.

“I really had to think it through before agreeing to one of my songs being used in an ad,” admits Michaud. “To me, that song is a pop love song, an earworm, therefore I see no contradiction in the fact that it is used in an ad. Ultimately, it had a definite impact on album and concert ticket sales. A lot of people became aware of that song because of those ads. The next question for me is ‘What will happen to that song now? Will people be tired of hearing it?’ In any case, one thing is sure: it can’t be used in another ad.”