For 15 years, Marie-France Long has been working as music supervisor, one of the most sought-after roles among music stakholders. This role is reltively new, and still rare, in the small-yet-decisive world of Québec television. Long does it for the hugely popular Québec talk show Tout le monde en parle, which makes her very influential. The two-plus-hour show airs Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m., and has consistently garnered more than a million viewers, with peaks as high as 1.8 million.
A mere five-second excerpt aired on the show can be enough to kick-start a songwriter’s career. “The return from an ad break is short. I sometimes wish it was a little longer, so that people would enjoy the music a little longer,” says Long. “I would be really happy if the excerpt I picked really helped an artist’s career. But I have to admit, I don’t think about that. I don’t follow up to find out if it helps a band’s career; as long as I did my job well, I’m happy.”
But the musical supervisor does occasionally receive praise, from one singer-songwriter or another who writes to let her know that her use of one of their songs helped finance the production of their album. Another one bought a new guitar with the money received for being played during the Sunday night show. “It’s not a lot,” says Long, “but for a band or an artist who still doesn’t earn a ton of money, it’s great. That makes me happy.”
When Tout le monde en parle arrived on the airwaves of Radio-Canada, Marie-France Long’s role was still being defined. Initially, as she recalls, the show’s credits indicated that she was the production coordinator and director. “I still believe it’s musical supervision, because anything that has to do with music has to go through me,” she says. “I pick the songs, then the ‘chief’ has the last word, and I then proceed to clear the rights.”
For each episode, six songs have to be identified to be played in what she calls the “ad returns,” and a few more songs are selected for guest entrances, and sometimes, to be played during interviews. “Six songs are played during the ad returns, but Guy [A. Lepage, the show’s host, writer, and producer] can play between 12 and 14 more on his keyboard,” says Long. “He chooses the ones he feels like hearing, and picks them on the spot; he’ll try out a few during rehearsal to figure out which ones work best, but it really is on the day of the taping that he decides which song will play, and when.”
“We try to play music by artists that don’t get played as much on commercial radio.”
Long is in charge of presenting a list of songs to the host. “It’s a phase thing,” she says. “I send about 50 songs to guy before the season begins, and again about halfway through the season. He’s the one who has the final say: ‘I like this one, that one not so much.’” She spends whole days, at the beginning of a season, and several hours a week after that, listening to the music that publicists send her (whether CDs, files, links, or streams). “I try to be up to date in my choice of music,” says Long. “I’ll rarely play a song from an album that was released 18 months ago, I try to be as close as possible to what’s going on in the music world.’
Over time, Long has developed a musical profile that’s representative of the host and his show. “We try to play music by artists that don’t get played as much on commercial radio,” she says. “Generally from Québec artists or, at the very least, from the Francophonie, and a preference for emerging artists. In other words, we prefer music that has had less visibility, so far.
“During Tout le monde en parle, especially during ad returns, we want the studio to be alive. When the ad break is over, we want to see people clapping their hands, and we need to feel that they’re having fun. That weeds out a lot of music: anything ethereal, sad, slow, I just don’t go there. The M.O. is to find catchy songs,” says the woman who, in a previous life, played electric guitar in the all-woman band Camionette, which competed in the 2007 edition of the Francouvertes competition.
Collecting the songs that will have the honour of being played during Tout le monde en parle certainly is the most visible (or audible) part of Long’s work, but she’s also in charge of supervising the arrival of guests on the set (the walk-ins), of the so-called formatted interviews (“an interview within an interview”), and all the music that’s featured in them – work that she accomplishes in collaboration with the research team.
There’s also a clerical aspect to her work. “Out of the 50 or so songs that I compile and submit to Guy at the beginning of the season, he’ll pick about 30,” she says. “I then whittle that down to 15, and proceed to clear the rights – that means both the right to use the master, and the permission from the songwriter.” In 15 years, not a single songwriter has refused that their song is used on the show.
But there’s one burning question that remains: does Guy A. Lepage have good taste in music? After all, he does have the last word on the songs that are played on-air. “I do think that he should’ve picked this or that song from time to time,” Long admits. “Sometimes, when I go over my selection, I will think to myself, ‘I’m really disappointed he didn’t play this one!’ Sometimes I’ll get back to him about a song. In the end, he’ll say, ‘OK, let’s play it.’ Guy trusts me, we’ve built a great working relationship over these 15 years. But he also loves to put his personal touch on the musical selection. He loves boosting artists that get played less, because we do have exceptionally talented artists in Québec.”