To mark 20 years in print, our colleagues at Paroles & Musique sat down with three songwriters — Daniel Boucher, Stefie Shock and Dumas, each of whom released a new album last fall — ­to chew the fat on two decades of songwriting and profound changes. They talked about their trade and how they picture themselves in an all-digital future.

Daniel, you recently launched Toutte est temporaire, Stefie, yours is titled Avant l’aube, while Dumas’ latest is an eponymous release. What does releasing an album mean to you in 2014?

Stefie Shock: Releasing a record, I mean the actual physical object, nowadays, doesn’t mean much anymore, but the interest is not lost with regards to the actual work, just for the object. I don’t even buy records anymore…

Daniel Boucher: To tell the truth, I still release physical formats because my distributor told me that in Québec, CD sales still make up half of total sales. Initially, the project for Toutte est temporaire was to lock myself up in the studio and release a song a month.

“If you make good music, people will be interested in it; we need to stop saying it’s the fault of consumers who no longer buy CDs” – Dumas

Dumas, you anticipated this transformation of the market in 2009, when you released four EPs in rapid succession…

Dumas: There was indeed a certain desire to shake things up a little, especially when it came to financing; each EP paid for the next. I’m glad I tried it, but I was very surprised because despite the fact that the market was changing rapidly, it was still very hard to break the mold. I wanted to release EPs – which, by definition only have five or six songs on them rather than 10 – except the actual CD costs the same to produce and therefore to sell, which was disadvantageous for the fans. At least now, with digital, that’s no longer an issue.

Daniel: As artists, we sometimes like for things to go faster, to be more adventurous, but part of our job is to understand that it’s not always possible…

Dumas: As we all know, the web has changed everything over the last 15 years. I remember when I started and we’d ask the record label for some help in building a website. No one had a clue what we were talking about and what purpose it would serve! On the other hand, the cost of production for an album hasn’t really gone down. Of course, technology has made a lot of things much simpler, but I can’t pay my collaborators less than I did fifteen years ago. In the meantime, we keep arguing about the value of music and the revenues have all but disappeared…

Daniel: Personally, I can’t resolve myself to give my album away. Why should I? To let people try it out? So, in that case, I’ll have something to eat from the restaurant we’re sitting in, but I won’t pay. If I like it, I’ll come back. The only difference here is that you can’t e-mail a meal. That has a big impact on songwriters and musicians. I get the impression making music is no longer considered a real job. I’m glad for the artists who give away their music and become successful, but to me, that’s like giving up part of your income, like separating the two sides of our trade – stage and studio – and saying that one should become voluntary work?

Stefie: There are very good examples of artists from abroad that make it big while giving away their music. Good for them. But it goes without saying that their reputations and audiences are global. In Québec, it’s hard to get a big enough buzz to go on the road for a 200-concerts tour that you can earn a living from.

Dumas: Back then, labels could take risks on an album and recoup their cost from sales, but let’s be frank: nowadays, most of us barely recoup production and marketing costs from sales and hope to make money from licencing and publishing. Those are the real stakes in 2014. From this perspective, a record is no longer more than a business card to get concert and festival bookings.

Daniel: I just hope that, at some point, we’ll figure out how to compensate for that loss of revenue. It seems to me all we need is a way to get back some of the money that’s on the Web – maybe through a higher royalty destined to artists, a bit like what broadcasters pay to SOCAN?

Dumas: True, but I think it’s also an incredible opportunity for up-and-coming musicians. Back in the day, even if you were nominated for an ADISQ Award, if you didn’t play during the award show, nobody remembered your name the next day. Nowadays, if I hear about an artist I didn’t know about, I can immediately go on iTunes or Bandcamp to listen to and buy their music. This is an extraordinary time to discover tons of artists.

Daniel: That’s undeniable, but we need to make sure the work is compensated fairly…

Dumas: In then end, all a songwriter can do to survive is to write good songs that connect with the public. If you make good music, people will be interested in it; we need to stop saying it’s the fault of consumers who no longer buy CDs.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, is home to many noteworthy SOCAN members, including award-winning fiddler Natalie MacMaster, country-folk music group The Rankin Family, Celtic/pop band The Barra McNeils, and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Gordie Sampson. Nova Scotia is also home to SOCAN-licensed Ceilidh’s Pub – a neighborhood bar and eatery in Dartmouth, well-known for its Cape-Breton-style live entertainment and Gaelic folk music.

The East Coast business opened its doors in 2013, and has grown a loyal crew of musicians and songwriters that visit regularly to perform on both weekdays and weekends to a crowded house of Maritimers.

“I wanted to bring that traditional Maritime kitchen party atmosphere into the pub,” says owner Roseanne MacKinnon. “Music is a huge part of Ceilidh’s Pub. After all, the name ‘Ceilidh’ represents a gathering of friends and family enjoying music, dance, stories and fun.”

A variety of traditional music written and composed by Cape Bretoners can often be heard playing in the background. The pub also hosts weekly open mic nights with traditional live fiddle music on Fridays.

“Our pub is becoming the place to go within the community for great live music, and of course food,” says MacKinnon. “Being licensed by SOCAN allows us to be the place in the community where musicians and songwriters can showcase their talent and share their music.”

Another way Ceilidh’s is helping to nurture the East Coast musical community is by way of their monthly songwriting circles, where local and regional songwriters – most of whom are budding SOCAN members – gather to showcase their music and collaborate with one another.

MacKinnon adds: “Having great food and music creates longtime customers.”

Kiesza didn’t grow up inspired by Joni or Janis or Aretha, or any other big-name songwriter or artist. The 26-year-old Calgary native, whose video for her hit dance song “Hideaway” is fast approaching 200 million views on YouTube, didn’t give a music career a second thought until she was sailing tall ships in the Royal Canadian Navy and met a bosun.

“The bosun played guitar and he used to be able to sing people to sleep in the middle of a storm, practically,” says Kiesza, whose birth name is Kiesa Ellestad. “I was in awe of the power that music had over people, so I just wanted to be able to do the same thing. That’s what inspired me to start writing.”

“The year after I started songwriting, I wrote a song every single day of the summer.”

She was 17 by then. Of course her first songs weren’t sea shanties, but they were in a folk vein, she says, a far cry from the retro, soulful dance music found on her 2014 major label debut, Sound of a Woman, which lyrically “channeled a real love story,” she says. The album came together with her main collaborator, producer/co-writer Rami Samir Afuni,

“We were both babies in the ‘90s, and our moms both liked ‘90s music, played it a lot, and that’s what ‘Hideaway’ sounded like,” says Kiesza. “So we thought it would be fun to make a throwback-themed album, that had that deep-house element in some of the music, but also explored the R&B of the early ‘90s, and some of the hip-hop sounds. We put it together in a more modern way to create this album.”

Although Kiesza didn’t set out to be a recording artist, as a child she would “compulsively hum and sing.” She was shy, but performed for the first time in front of a crowd with the Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede. She did some musical theatre, but her heart and soul was in ballet. She danced until she was 15, when hip and knee injuries squashed that dream. “I needed a new passion to focus on, so I got my licence and started sailing tall ships,” she says.

Inspired by the bosun, she picked up a classical guitar and wrote her first song, “When the Rain Falls.” “I only knew a few chords. The song was very slow and soft,” she says, singing a couple of lines. “I just had a natural sense of melody and my instinct for songwriting came instantaneously.

“The year after I started songwriting, I wrote a song every single day of the summer,” Kiesza remembers. While at Selkirk College in Nelson, BC, to study music, she received a grant from a new Calgary radio station, and made her first, self-titled album during her second semester.

“I didn’t have any idea of who I was, what I was doing, or where it was going,” she says. “So if you listen to that album, it’s all over the place. You get orchestra songs, a big-band jazz song, funky song, a country song that goes into gospel, soft rock mixed in with soul. It was more a compilation of my early songwriting, whereas Sound of a Woman really feels like my first album.”

She got a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  “[But] I quit all the songwriting classes because they actually weren’t helping me. It felt like they were pigeonholing me,” she says. After trying different majors, she decided she wanted to be a commercial songwriter for mainstream artists. She talked to a professor who linked her up with Berklee grad Afuni in New York.

“[Rami] introduced me to all my connections and got me into writing camps. He opened my eyes to the world of being a professional songwriter,” says Kiesza, who to date, has written for, or with, Icona Pop, Jennifer Hudson, Rihanna, Skrillex and Diplo. “I really loved it, really had a passion for it, and I thought that was it, ‘I’ll be a professional songwriter and I’ll do my fun side projects that can be whatever I want them to be.’

“As I started getting known as a songwriter in the industry, I wrote ‘Hideaway.’ That was the first time I wrote a song that was mine, and I had a vision for myself as an artist. So I kind of bet on myself, took a chance on it, and created the whole album around that vibe with Rami.”

Now her music doesn’t lull people to sleep like the bosun, but instead inspires us to dance like the ‘90s.

Turning The Page
“It was definitely writing ‘Hideaway.’ That changed everything. There were a lot of ‘wow’ moments – like playing at Wembley Stadium this summer for the first time, two months after I released my song.”

Publisher: Elephant Eye Music Publishing Ltd., EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
Discography: Kiesza (2008), Sound of a Woman (2014)
SOCAN member since 2010