In a new series of articles, SOCAN will look at the ways that songs written or co-written by our members have been licensed (or “synchronized,” or a “synch,” in the parlance of publishing) to movies, television, streaming platforms, videogames, online, and other screen media. First up is Ndidi O, whose “Call Me Queen” was licensed to the Netflix series Self Made.

JUNO-nominated, WCMA Blues Award-winning singer-songwriter Ndidi O is recognized for wide-spanning work, from blues to jazz, and now trip-hop with her band BOGA (who recently released “Trigger Happy”). Her music has also expanded into the world of synchronizations, boasting song placements In True Blood’s final season (“May Be the Last Time”), where the episode was later named after her song; GAP’s denim campaign (“Move Together”); and Mary Kills People (“What Do You Say” by BOGA).

As her work is recognized for its signature mix of empowerment and vulnerability, it’s no surprise that her righteous, raucous track “Call Me Queen“ landed on the soundtrack the 2020’s Netflix series Self Made, a biopic inspired by historic African-American entrepreneur and activist Madame C.J. Walker, starring Octavia Spencer, and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

What inspired “Call Me Queen”?
“Call Me Queen” was written about female empowerment. There’s a constant patriarchal struggle – patriarchy is exploding.  Women have been minimized. We’ve been taught weird forms of competition [and] to overtly sexualize ourselves to get power. But none of that is necessary. All we need to do is to be in our strengths and form communities — that’s what women naturally do; we form communities to get shit done. So, the intention [was], let’s celebrate what it means to be a woman and get shit done.

I work with agent Mike Jansen [The Greater Goods Co.] and I have an excellent co-writer, composer, producer, and bandmate [Mischa Chillak]. He’s quite prolific. He’ll be like, “Let’s do a song. How are you feeling? Are you feeling empowered? Let’s do a song about empowerment.” Writing about deep emotions is what I do.

How did “Call Me Queen” land in the series?
This song was written and finished the year before. I had just released an album. I have a bunch of songs that are done, but I don’t want to release until I have a new album coming out. Mike has a lot of unreleased material from me, so when this show came up, he pitched this song and the music supervisor really liked it. It fit. [Self Made] was the perfect place for that song to come out, and it gave me a good reason to release it because I wanted to anyway – I tend to release music when it’s had a synch.

How did it feel to be picked for the series and then hear your music in the episode A Credit to Race?
The episode was so succinctly written. It moved at a good clip and there was a lot of development and growth. That scene was powerful. I was like, “Oh wow! This is a perfect usage for that song,” and I feel really honoured to be part of it. The music supervisor for that show is a woman of colour [Mikaila Simmons], and she was very specific in the music she picked. Almost all the songs are by women of colour. To be included in that roster of artists – for this Canadian Black woman – I’m proud and excited.

It hasn’t been easy.

Recording artists, musicians, entertainers, and songwriters alike have been blindsided by the sudden halt to live performances. And truth be told, it’s messing with our heads.

Despite future uncertainty, some have been trying to make the best of the time everyone unexpectedly has on their hands – and staying creative in less than ideal circumstances.


As for multiple Latin Grammy and JUNO Award winner Alex Cuba, he’s trying to remain buoyant

“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” he admits from his Smithers, B.C. digs. “Some days are more positive than others. When I’m feeling positive, that’s when I go to my craft, write songs, and record myself. My music is positive and uplifting, and we need  that now more than ever.”

However, Cuba, who releases his latest single “Concéntrica Canción” on June 12, admits that the pandemic has unearthed some surprising sentiments.

“This time is making me want to be the most upfront and vulnerable I’ve ever been with my music,” he says. “I never like leaving my audiences with a sad vibe: I always find a way to throw an optimistic spin into everything I do.  Now with the quarantine, I feel that creativity is more present, maybe because of this luxurious extended vacation,” he laughs.


East Coaster Rose Cousins had only completed two shows of her Bravado tour when governments shut down venues. “I spent the first couple months just trying to switch gears,” she says. Cousins’ adjustment from performer to writer hasn’t been as difficult, due to an annual June tradition.

“This is usually the time of year where I’ve gone on an island writing retreat in New Hampshire with friends from Boston,” Cousins explains. “This is the first time in 10 years we haven’t. I’ve also done six co-writes through Zoom, exercising those creative muscles. For me, June is very blossoming.”

Like Cuba, Cousins is continually acclimatizing to the current reality.

“It’s a constant adjustment,” Cousins admits.  “I wish I had clear answers on how I’m dealing with things and what it means. This isn’t like we’ve experienced the pandemic and now I can write about it. I’m connecting with myself in a different way. I spend a lot of time by myself – from where a lot of this last record was written – and as someone who proclaims to be well-adjusted on their own, it’s a different layer, because it’s not chosen isolation.”


Reached in Los Angeles, TR/ST’s Robert Alfons is embracing his isolation, in lieu of touring behind his band’s latest album Destroyer Part II. “I have much more time to be working on ideas, and find myself being more focused with less to do outside of my yard,” confesses Alfons.

He’s been busy collaborating, and is contemplating the release of several projects during this enforced hiatus. “I love albums, but I do feel there’s power in presenting an extended piece or a collab,” he says. “I have all sorts of things I want to release. An album is just an option.”

He’s coping by keeping life simple. “When I’m being told to stay at home and make stuff because you can’t tour, there’s a positivity and productivity that’s the upside for me.”



Nate Hilts of the Dead South said he took a wait-and-see attitude when the pandemic hit. “At the beginning, it was a big shock to the system,” says Hilts. “To be honest, I didn’t pick up the guitar, because I didn’t know what was happening. But the band and management talked on what we could do, and we filmed some isolation videos.“

At the moment, Hilts says creativity is far from his mindset. “We were geared to have a 2020 of touring, and then take winter off to start preparing a new album.”

Instead, he’s been catching his breath. “I’m not going to lie: it’s been years since I’ve been able to sit at home for a little bit,” says Hilts. “The schedule has been a couple months on, a few days off, for years. Eventually, that starts wearing on a guy. You don’t even realize how tired you are. I started implementing positive routines in my life and re-connected with family and friends, and now I’m just taking time to better myself.

“I know a lot of people who are doing that right now.”

Madeline Merlo has been a country music star in Canada for several years, with a well-received album, hit singles, a CCMA Rising Star Award, and tours with Willie Nelson and Keith Urban under her belt. Earlier this spring, Merlo, now living in Nashville, seemed set for major U.S. stardom as well. In April, her winning appearance on the reality-TV contest show Songland — where emerging songwriters pitch tracks to big-time artists and producers – led to country stars Lady Antebellum having a hit with Merlo’s song “Champagne Night.” But then COVID-19 shut down any chance of touring.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Merlo, but she remains sanguine. “The things I love about performing – connecting with audiences, hanging out with my band, meeting people — aren’t there. But I feel blessed that I can still write songs and do co-writes through Zoom,” she says. “And there’s been a lot of attention on me since Songland, which has allowed me to get in the room with people I’ve wanted to write with for a long time.”

Merlo grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C., in a music-loving family—her dad was a funk musician, her mom liked country, her older sister listened to pop. She loved to sing and knew she wanted to write songs, but decided to focus on country music for two reasons. The first was when her mom took her to see Shania Twain, and she realized that a female artist could be powerful and in charge. And the second was because of the lyrics.

“I loved words, I loved poetry, and I really loved that the lyrics and storytelling are so important in country,” says Merlo. “In pop it’s all about the beat, the production, whereas in country it’s about the story you’re trying to tell. A common move in pop is to sing the first verse again in the second verse, and people don’t even notice. You’d never get away with that in a country song. The publisher would say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to write a second verse.’”

“It’s allowed me to get in the room with people I’ve wanted to write with for a long time”

Watching the Songland episode, it’s fascinating to see Merlo’s song, originally called “I’ll Drink to That,” take on, then lose, a reggae rhythm, and go through multiple changes as it morphs into “Champagne Night.” “It’s very Lady A,” she says. “They really crushed the production, and it feels like it was tailor-made for them – which it kinda was.”

Even though Merlo raves about the Songland experience, it must have been difficult to hand her song over to the band and producer Shane McAnally, and let it happen.

Songland: A different kind of TV music competition
Merlo thinks Songland is a valuable way to bring the craft of songwriting into the spotlight. “Songwriters work behind the scenes,” she says. “People talk about their favourite song in the world, but they have no idea who wrote it, they don’t think about that. This show can do great things for songwriters. There would be no music and no radio without writers helping artists tell their stories, and it was cool to be a part of it.”

“Yeah, it was nerve-wracking,” she admits with a laugh. “They called me one night and said, ‘Congratulations, your flight is tomorrow at 6:00 a.m.’ And I was suddenly there in front of all these people. But I was aware that when I pitched it to Lady Antebellum it was no longer my song, it was theirs, and they would do whatever they could to make it a Lady Antebellum song. I knew a lot of changes would be made – but what you don’t see in the episode is that we sat in the studio for eight hours and re-wrote that song together. And Shane was incredible. So I feel very connected to the new song as well.

“Also, I don’t think I would have pitched a song that was really personal to me, like ‘War Paint’ [which references a friend’s mental illness]. That’s one piece of advice I’d give to someone going on the show.”

It’s disappointing that Merlo can’t get her band together and go on the road right now, but she’ll keep writing and recording – in April she released three new songs, “If You Never Broke My Heart,” “It Didn’t” and “Kiss Kiss” – and she may drop an album next Spring.

“I feel like I’m going into writing sessions better prepared, because I’ve had more time to work on ideas,” she says. “Also, the internet is a beautiful thing, and I’ll promote my songs as much as I can from my living room. And I’m just writing every day, because that’s what I can do right now.”