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.

Marie-France LongA 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.”


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The booking agent as the main ally of the singer-songwriter? Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that over the past two decades, booking performers has become an increasingly influential activity in the musical ecosystem. Record sales are declining, nothing replaces live shows, and artists are earning most of their living by playing in person, for an audience. We talked about booking with Louis Carrière, founder of Preste, a booking agency that is turning 20 this year.

Preste“Actually, I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years,” says Carrière, who, in a previous life, was the bassist for the punk band Tuniq’s, whose sole album was released in 1985. “Playing in a band and going on tour are learning experiences,” says Carrière. “Back then, I was the guy in charge of booking shows in school gymnasiums. I produced shows, mostly punk and metal – alternative, as we called it back then. I learned a lot: how to rent a venue, buying a show, selling tickets. It was an era when we worked with very little. The Internet wasn’t really big yet.”

The fun he had organizing concerts would quickly become a calling for Carrière, and he founded Preste in 1999 in order to provide a better structure for supporting the tours of his friends in Grimskunk. “There were only two of us at the office in the beginning, but that number grew, gradually,” he says. “[Preste] expanded, thanks to my association with [record label] Indica, which was taking off. Grimskunk attracted other bands, and that’s when I understood that there was a need for these services out there… because otherwise, someone else would’ve been doing it!”

Today, the company employs seven people, and is in charge of organizing shows and tours for a roster of at least 30 artists, mainly from Québec, including Klô Pelgag, Lydia Képinski, Half Moon Run, Voivod, Hubert Lenoir, Choses Sauvages, Sally Folk, and Roxane Bruneau. Preste grew by leaving its “alternative” roots behind in order to occupy the widest possible territory, both geographically and musically.

“Over time, you meet new people, work with new artists,” says Carrière. “Whether you want it or not, your roster widens to include artists of whom you’re not necessarily a fan… But then you realize that they, too, have a story, good potential. Plus you also grow to understand better and better the mechanics of a tour. Opening up to more popular musical projects also gave us credibility with venues and networks that attract a wider audience, and also with festivals.”

One thing makes Preste stand out within the industry: it manages tours, and nothing but tours. “I sometimes say that we’re a boutique agency, in a way,” says Carrière. “To each their trade, and others can go into publishing, album and show production, artist management. Even though, lately, album production organizations have increasingly taken the responsibility of bookings.”

When Preste started, this type of “360-degree” contract didn’t really exist, asCarrière recalls. The drop in revenue from selling recordings transformed the industry’s business model, and such contracts became more widespread. Labels increasingly produced and organized their artists’ tours, incentivized in part by subsidies available for the development of the live show for a musical project.

But times, they are a-changin’… again. “Artists are moving away from that type of contract,” says Carrière. “There was a peak, about 10 years ago, when a lot of artists wanted a ‘360.’ But lately, it’s more fluid: artists who had signed that type of contract are coming back to work with us.

Carrière’s Career Advice
“I believe that, as an artist, it’s always a good idea to try out your material, to challenge yourself, before embarking on a tour. With your expectations of the public, of the way people see you, you should test what you’re able to deliver on a stage. And that’s easy to do with friends, colleagues, and people close to you. You just take over a small bar venue on a Sunday night, and try out your material in front of your friends and community to see if you’re able to deliver for 60 to 90 minutes; to play your songs right and, mostly, to have fun, to not look like you are stressed out. The idea, ultimately, is that you want to find out if you’re cut out for the stage, and if you can at some point go on tour. Playing in a rehearsal space is one way of testing it out, but why not test it in public? That’s the advice I most often give to new artists.”

“Nowadays, when I talk with younger artists, I see that that’s not necessarily what they’re after. To them, a record label is just one of many service providers. Signing to a label is not an end unto itself, but the beginning of something. And they know what they need: they choose to work with this or that organization for very specific reasons, and they seek out the service that is best suited to their needs. Business models have exploded, in other words.”

Carrière is in a good position to gauge how much the booking trade has evolved in the last few years. “Touring is even more essential now, but one of the main changes is the urgency,” he says. “What I mean by that is that as soon as an artist generates a buzz with a song, networks and venues want that artist on their stages right now. We used to have a little more leeway to develop an artist, but nowadays, if a song hits, the show has to happen quickly, even if the artist doesn’t really have much of a repertoire, or stage experience.

“Then there are artists who want to tour no matter what, but the impact of the web and the instant access to an artist’s work can have an opposite effect on the public. For some artists, we’ve noticed that tickets don’t sell well even when they’re played all over the web, or they’ve found an audience on YouTube. That complicates my job. I’m starting to wonder if the web means that touring is no longer the obvious answer to the decrease in record sales.”

 

 

 


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Dominique Fils-Aimé

Photo: Jeff Malo

Like the proverbial water off a duck’s back, Dominique Fils-Aimé lets people’s differences slowly fade into oblivion. More than anything else, for her music is at the heart of what brings us together, what bonds us. On Stay Tuned!, the second in a trilogy of politically conscious albums, she has a clear plan: detaching ourselves from the need to only be “here.” “No matter who you are, I want to hear what you have to sing,” says Fils-Aimé.

As soon as she was signed to her label, she got carte blanche. “Write down your dream project,” they told her. “I’ve always loved school,” says Fils-Aimé, who didn’t choose the easy way. “I decided I would re-visit Black history. I wanted to know, from a historic perspective, what the things were that we repeat, and could avoid.” It was during this study that Dominique Fils-Aimé realized that even though she didn’t know the history, she had felt it through music. “Music has a historical imprint that you can read,” she explains. “The blues, blue, misery. It was an era when we made music with what we could get our hands on: rocks, your body, your voice.” And thus was born the first part of her trilogy, Nameless (2018), a dense, intentionally heavy album. “Silence was one of the main instruments, and it was almost a metaphor for the silence to which a whole people were reduced.”

Stay Tuned!, which came out in late February, takes us “out of that torpor” and moves us forward into the history Dominique decided to portray. “It’s red, it’s jazz, it’s blood, it’s woman,” she says. “Jazz was born of a desire to break free of the rules of classical, and create new boundaries. Music can change minds. It’s the softest and most empathetic way of doing so.”

The next instalment of the project, due in Spring 2020, will take us toward the sun. “The trilogy will end with the revolution,” says Fils-Aimé. “It’s the part of the history where even though the situations have left marks, we allowed ourselves to be light-hearted. That’s when funk, reggae, and disco came to be.” In a context where artists often feel bogged down by a system that doesn’t move quickly enough to accommodate their creativity, she’s conscious of how lucky she is to have the freedom to create this triple-punch over a three-year period.

Music has proven an unavoidable outlet of African-American culture. For Fils-Aimé, music is therapeutic. “This is true whether you listen to music or play it,” she says. “When you spend night after night, especially as a teen, listening to albums you’re obsessed with, that’s one thing. But it’s important to understand that the concept of mental illness and therapy doesn’t exist in many languages. Mental illness doesn’t exist in Creole. You aren’t depressed, you’re tired.” That’s how, according to her, music becomes unifying; because it fundamentally says that you’re not alone. “There’s part of that in me,” she says. “It comes from the music, this desire to find your therapy, to create it. You finally feel as if you are contributing to the process.”

“People think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it.”

“Let’s destroy the concept of world music,” hisses Fils-Aimé when we touch on that totally unjustified category, that’s crept into our everyday vocabulary. “I don’t even know where it came, from or why it exists. To me, it exemplifies a desire to integrate people by creating a niche, an isolated space where we can point our fingers at them and say the’re different. Underscoring the cultural background of people is putting them in a box. And that box is a huge one containing the world,” she says.

The soulful Fils-Aimé doesn’t need any excuse to get onstage, but she does believe her genre of music tends to want to export itself and leave. “This music doesn’t know if it has a place here,” she says. “There’s a system in place where people think you need to be a singer with a guitar to have any kind of success. The more artists leave the country to play that music, the less people here have access to it, and the cycle begins again.”

Raised Fist

Revolt, revolution, and changing minds are ever-present in Dominique Fils-Aimé’s mind and voice. “I dream of true change, she says. “That we literally retire the concept of violence. I want us to re-think the women’s jails system, I want us to find all the First Nations women who’ve disappeared, that we integrate First Nations in our daily lives, as well as black women in feminist movements.” All of those desires aim to ensure the safety and well-being of the ones who come after us. “It’s important for the next generation to know that we care,” she says. “It’s our duty to bring back revolutionary discourse to the present time.”

Musically, Stay Tuned! is emblematic of the artist’s value, diversity being nothing short of a duty: “I invited Elli Miller Maboungou on percussion, and Hichem Khalfa on trumpet,” she says. “But above all, after spending all of my time complaining on Nameless, I wanted to take control again,” she remembers, laughing. “I integrate women more. Salin Cheewapansri, on drums, is the heartbeat that I wanted. I wanted my album to beat to the rhythm of a woman’s heart.”

Fils-Aimé believes the solution is within u,s and that our will to integrate as much variety as possible in our music will necessarily translate into more diversity in our society. “Music is a metaphor for life,” she believes. “By focusing on what unites us, our passion for music, we’ll discover that we see things the same way. We all have a change to contribute.”


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