“After each show, there’d be this guy who’d come to me and say, ‘You made me cry with that song for your son.’ I don’t want that anymore,” says Dany Placard matter-of-factly. Spring has not sprung, but for Placard it’s time for a spring cleaning, and that starts with the songs that make up the singer-songwriter’s repertoire. “A lot of them I got rid of,” he goes on, as if to underline the musical and lyrical departure of his splendid and surprising sixth solo album, Full Face.

Dany PlacardWe reach him in Paris, where he’s touring as the bassist for Laura Sauvage during her European stint. He undertook his spring cleaning before getting on the plane… He bought all of his albums on iTunes “because the actual CDs were stored in [his managment team] Costume Records’ offices.” Out of his entire repertoire, he picked 25 songs, many of which he’d never played live, and some even dating back to his first solo album, 2006’s Au rang de l’église.

“I listened to everything. So, see, songs like ‘Santa Maria’ [2014], or ‘Au pays des vieux chars,’ my ‘country-er’ songs, if you will, they just don’t fit in my universe right now,” he says. “Same for the more personal songs I’d written on Démon vert [2012], the songs for my kids… I don’t feel like making people cry anymore. I want to take them with me on a journey. I want to move them, but in a different way. I want to make them think. About the lyrics. All that has a lot to do with depression.”

“That” refers to Full Face, a recording that was necessary to Placard’s mental health. A record that’s a reaction to his previous records, and to an entire year spent in the studio working on other people’s music. “I did eight productions and lost myself in the process,” he explains. “When you produce, all you do is listen to other people talk. Then, you put your ideas on the table, but in a messy way, trying all kinds of stuff. It’s draining.”

To shake off his studio funk, he needed to get back to writing. That finished him. “I said to myself at some point: You need to start writing. And that’s how I ended up not wanting to go out anymore: no happy hours, or record launches, or anything else,” says Placard. “I spent a good three months at home with just my family. They’re the ones who helped me, who made me want to smile again.” From this professional and creative exhaustion came a record “that I’m proud of, now”, says Placard, assuring us that he’s now doing well.

The songs on Full Face are like nothing we’ve ever heard before from Placard. Yesteryear’s folk-rock and country have disappeared. “I’ve been wanting to do something more ‘out there,’ more grandiose,” he says. “I wanted strings and keyboards, I waited to used keys, because they’re back in fashion now.”

But above all else, he forced himself to write differently. “As soon as it started leaning towards folk, I left the song behind,” says Placard. “I tried composing with guitars I didn’t use for that activity before. I bought new ones, I tuned them differently. As soon as I hit a familiar writing pattern, I moved away from it immediately.”

The same was true for guitarist and co-composer Guillaume Bourque, the only member left from his old band. “He bought a four-string, baritone guitar, just to see if he could write differently, to break his old habits,” says Placard. “I would come up with a basic idea, a musical theme I’d come up with on the guitar, and he would try to come up with a different one on top of it. He would say, ‘Let’s try and add a chord or two in there, just to break the mould, so it sounds less square.’”

Guitars are one of the key elements on this gem of an album, one that’s surprisingly groove-oriented, and miles away from Placard’s usual raw folk sound. Two-thirds of the album tackles, head-on, the depressed state he was in for a few months. Despite that, he insisted on creating an album with luminous music, despite the dark lyrics.

“I said to the boys, look, we all know how I’m doing,” says Placard. “You’ve read the lyrics and heard how I sing them, but I don’t want us to go there musically. I don’t want a musically ‘deep’ album. I want something dynamic, rhythmic – there are even some world-music rhythms on there.”

The spring cleaning isn’t over yet, says the singer-songwriter who believes that Full Face – and his burnout – is the beginning of a new creative cycle.

“I already have a new band project I’ve started with some friends,” he says. “I started writing new songs right away, because I don’t want to wait another three years before I release a new album. I think it’s going to move further away from folk, without becoming full-on rock. I’m 41, you know, I no longer have anything to lose. I prefer trying stuff rather than boxing myself into a crowd-pleasing format. That being said, I don’t think I’ve disappointed my audience, because I know they’re loyal.”

Maude AudetLast year, she re-visited Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in a Francophone adaptation that transported us to the edge of this scent of decline, that feeling of withering away a little more every day. This fall, without the song even appearing on her third album, Maude Audet’s reprise sits at the epicentre of her entire oeuvre like a pillar. Comme une odeur de déclin, which was released on Sept. 29, 2017, is slowly seeping into the zeitgeist. “It’s about the decline of life, which remains a fact we all have to contend with on a daily basis,” says Audet. “We’re all going in that same direction,” says the Groose Boîte label’s new protégé, absolutely un-pessimistically.

A seasoned sailor of the many intimate musical seas, what sets Audet apart from the rest is that her melancholy writing imbued with a raw strength. Whereas some calculate every last detail, she feels more instinctive. “I forget to plan ahead, but on this project, I felt I needed to re-invent myself,” she says. “I could’ve done hip-hop. I love hip-hop, but I wanted to retain my essence,” she says laughing.

Contrary to 2015’s Nous sommes le feu (We Are the Fire), this new offering manages to create strong links to its themes because most of the songs are presented in the second-person singular. “They’re conversations, whether it’s with a friend, a lover, or even a stranger,” says Audet.” Each song is a dialogue.” Musically, we find ourselves navigating the calm waters of folk, yet with several additional musical layers added to her silky-smooth sound. “I wanted this to come across as vintage folk-rock, generally,” she says. “But I need my distorted electric-guitar songs, just as I need my guitar-voice-and-cello songs.”

The lyrics and mood of Comme une odeur de déclin might inspire concern for Audet. It certainly did so for writer Erika Soucy, who helped with the lyrics after being seized by Audet’s artistic outlook, very similar to her own. “We know each other well, but on a professional basis,” says Audet. “She has a very raw and sensitive kind of writing. It’s feminine and strong.” Audet wasn’t looking for complements, or add-ons, she was looking for validation, and a catalyst for good ideas.

“Just as with Ariane Moffatt’s production, I let people’s suggestions run free,” says Audet. “You can’t collaborate with someone and put road-blocks on their path at the same time. It’s like painting an artwork with four hands. You need to accept that the other person will paint their part,” she says, adding that through it all, she managed to remain true to her core. “It’s funny, because when I told people I was going to work with Ariane, everybody thought I was going to do an electro album,” she says. Instead, producer managed to rein it in without stripping it of its essence.

Moffatt was a natural choice for Audet’s when she decided she was going to work with a woman on this album. “The choice is indeed rooted in solidarity and awareness,” says Audet. “When I was thinking about a producer, only guys came to mind. And then I thought, wait, why not a woman? I’m always acting instinctively and, yes, at some point, there are some wake-up calls that need to happen.”

The critical acclaim is almost unanimous, and Audet isn’t worried about the absence of commercial radio support. “I do what I please, and commercial radio is very narrow,” she says. “I’ll never conform to that mould, and even if I wanted to, I just don’t get what the formula is,” she says with a laugh.

Audet’s art resides in keeping a balance – between musical genres, with other people, in her own life. “I have a family, so my life is not about writing songs until three in the morning on weeknights,” she says. “It mostly happens during the day, when I’m alone at home. I’m guided by concerns, troubles, hopes or sadness.”

Still, sometimes, inspiration strikes like lightning: “Léo is for Leonard Cohen,” she says. “I wrote it the day after he passed. Trump had just been elected, I was at home, and I didn’t know what to do. That song came out on its own. It allowed me to take a pause.”

Justin Gray has had a 25-year career as a professional songwriter, amassing a personal catalogue of some 1,500 songs.  He’s worked with John Legend, Luis Fonsi, Mariah Carey and Joss Stone, and had song placements in movies like Sisters, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Oz The Great and Powerful, and in TV shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Hannah Montana. Still, he’d grown “completely dismayed” with how poorly organized songwriters are – “including myself,” he readily admits.

Gray had a personal problem he needed to solve:  How could he upload and quickly search his songs in a database, preferably from his smartphone, in order to pitch a song for a placement?  And how would he know if his co-writers have pitched it, and to whom?

“There is very little communication between co-writers after the fact, and If I were to draw a circle around their relationships —  their managers, their publishers — that grew very frustrating for me, not being able to organize that data,” says Gray.

MDIIO logoTo solve the problem for himself and his peers, the Los Angeles-based Canadian, through his company Songistry, has launched a service called MDIIO. It’s “an easier way for our songwriter community to collaborate, network, pitch and monetize music,” says the MDIIO website.

The user can embed each registered song with as many as 90 points of metadata, such as lyrics, collaborators’ contact info, performing rights organizations, master owners, beats per minute, musicians, and so on, thereby improving accuracy – and payment. Gray had once been notified by SOCAN that dozens of his songs had been uploaded with the wrong IP (intellectual property) number.

“We’re trying to clean up the process of data management in songs, while at the same time linking a global community, because it’s collaborative,” says Gray, the founder and chairman of Songistry, which developed MDIIO. “If we can help find opportunities, that would be amazing too.”

Those opportunities are numerous: A user can post a project to MDIIO’s community, privately or publicly, and can customize it.  For example, he or she can look for instrumental music for a documentary; search for four- or five-star rated songwriters and ask them to submit songs; post the payment amount; and even license music directly from within the application. “We do all of the transactions within it, so for the user who’s licensing the song to you, they don’t have to pay a lawyer, and you don’t have to pay agency fees on top of that,” says Gray.

Songistry debuted in 2013 under Gray, who later brought in tech-savvy Albertan Curtis Serna from the energy and gas sector, as President and CEO, and the concept evolved. The new MDIIO service is an acronym for Music Data Information In and Out.  He’s hoping it catches on, with users saying, “Oh, did you MDIIO the song yet?” in the same way people now use “Google that” or “Shazam it.”

“Our number-one goal with MDIIO is to help everybody in music build viable opportunities and networks to help really propel their careers forward.” – Songistry’s Justin Gray

MDIIO is beneficial to any and all songwriters, he says, no matter how prolific or accomplished, and is offered absolutely free to SOCAN members with a six-month activation code: SOCAN6FORFREE.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve written 10 songs, or 1,000, or none,” says Gray. “It works on so many levels. We try as much as we can to link any of those songs that you’ve written to potential opportunities that may be out there. Maybe there’s an opportunity to place a song on a TV show, or to place a song with an artist. Maybe you’re living in rural Saskatchewan, and you create music, but there’s somebody who writes Spanish lyrics in Majorca. We’re really trying to encourage collaboration on a global level, and connect the dots.

“Of course, anything that you collaborate on, within this connection that you’ve made through MDIIO, hopefully we can help monetize that relationship down the line, so it’s really about creating.

“I’d rather not use the term ‘social network,’ because it’s not, but [we’re] creating this global community where we connect people to people, songs to opportunities. And it’s not just songwriters. The platform is meant to encourage music supervisors to come on, and there’s huge advantages for them. We have music publishers and record labels who are already using it.”

Songistry logoDuring the soft-launch of the past four years under the Songistry name, the service acquired 1,500 users in the beta phase, and converted half of those to MDIIO users, says Gray. “We haven’t done any branding on it,” he says. “We haven’t done any marketing on it. We really wanted to take the time to make sure that it worked. These early users were people that were founding users, legacy users, that we felt gave us a good base for expansion.

“If you’re in a writing session with two other songwriters, and one writer is using MDIIO, that’s the best kind of marketing that we can have, because it’s validating a platform to other users, from somebody that’s already on our platform within our community,” Gray explains.

“We want to use the word ‘community’ because that’s really what it is. For us [songwriters], you can kind of use Facebook and LinkedIn and Soundcloud in a sort of inelegant manner to try and do this; we just wanted to put it into one very cohesive, very robust application that’s fun and sticky. It creates a deeper level of communication between collaborators, and opportunities.”

MDIIO makes its money from subscriptions – which offer users even more opportunities for networking and uploading more songs, for example – and collects a commission of any placements that comes through the site.

“I wanted to make sure that the percentages that we take are less than what those percentages would be in the real world,” says Gray. “For example, there are a lot of placement companies here in the U.S. and everywhere in the world where they’ll take up to 50 per cent of any placement fees that they would get on a song.  That feels absurd, so we wanted to make sure that we cut that percentage down to as low as 20 per cent.

“So if someone is paying a subscription fee, and they get a placement, that comes down to 20 per cent, one time. We want to also act as a temporary publisher for somebody, if somebody’s in the middle of going from a publishing deal to another one, and they need someone to help administer their copyright, then that percentage reduces down to 10 per cent.

“Obviously I wish that we could be philanthropic in that way, but we do need to keep the lights on somehow,” says Gray. “We feel that this is the least we can do in order to help build our platform, and help it grow… We can provide these sorts of recurring administrative deals, so if a songwriter wants us to administer their copyrights, we can do that, and in 30 or 60 days – or whenever they want to end that deal, because they’re doing a new publishing deal somewhere else – they can just let us know, and get their rights back.

“We want to be very transparent.  We really are trying to help songwriters. Our number-one goal is to help everybody in music build viable opportunities and networks to help really propel their careers forward. Songwriters, artists, managers, labels, publishers, and music supervisors alike. Too many, songwriters especially, feel a sense of helplessness after they’ve finished their recordings. ‘What now?’ is a common phrase I encounter daily. MDIIO will close that gap for everyone.”