When it comes to music listening, curated streams are “the new black.”

As the public’s hunger for music – and the potential of exposing one’s melodic and lyrical art to masses of people on a global scale – has never been higher, the desire of music listeners to hear their favourite songs whenever, wherever, and however they want has led to a demand for curated streams.

That includes a new market for music streams curated by listeners themselves, which is the idea behind a promising new Canadian start-up Milq – a service designed to let participants collectively curate, and thereby organize, the world’s culture.

“The intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.” – Jordan Jacobs of Milq

Milq is the Canadian-American brainchild of three people: Torontonians Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen and New York-based Don MacKinnon. As a service, Milq is a curator of all things cultural, of which music is simply one component. Milq has been available online since November 2014, headquartered in Toronto with a staff of 12, with an additional office in New York.

“The idea behind Milq is simply is that we’ve reached this amazing place: all the world’s cultural content is available on demand to anyone on any device, which should be a fantastic experience,” says Jacobs, a former entertainment lawyer with Toronto firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP and his own Jacobs Entertainment & Media Law. “But we feel like it’s completely overwhelming, just based on cacophony.”

Jacobs describes Milq, which he calls “sort of a playable Wikipedia,” as a platform of engagement and community that “enables a niche audience to co-exist in a wider world. What we tried to build is cross-cultural, and it allows people to indulge their really super-niche interests, but in a wider context where you’re connected to the rest of it,” he explains. “That’s an experience that doesn’t really exist elsewhere.”

How does it work?

“Anything I search produces an automatic playlist,” Jacobs explains. “Everything is deeply tagged and indexed. We have much more metadata about every single piece of content and the tastes of the users, so we’re able to present people stuff that they like but is generally outside of their frame of knowledge; and when you click a tag, it produces immediately, in real time, a playlist.

“So whether it’s ‘New York Punk’ or the year ‘1985,’ whatever it happens to be, we type it and produce an immediate playlist for you and also show you every existing playlist where that tag has been used. Because of that, you see connections to things that you can’t find anywhere else. You get every frame of reference for an artist or a song, so that part I think is fascinating for people.

“Anyone can ask any question – whether it’s as simple as favourite cover songs, as niche as Polish jazz, or as obscure as you want to get – and then everyone can answer that question using media from Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram or Vine, and play it back using Rdio or Spotify.

“We basically pull content from everywhere so those playlists operate seamlessly. And those answers, when they come in, get organized on the back end by algorithms that are deeply tagged and indexed and really are meant to determine the best quality and most personalized taste for you.

“So the intention is to allow people to collectively curate, and by doing that, to organize the world of culture.”

Jacobs says hundreds of thousands of listeners/curators are currently using Milq, with partners ranging from The New York Times to the NBA to various record labels.

“Because the content is being curated by a person standing behind it and writing about it, it’s much more thoughtful and you end up with a much richer, deeper experience, and a community behind it,” says Jacobs. “So if you like something, you can connect with the person who happened to put it there, and you start to see these relationships forming from people across the world.”

Jacobs developed and produced the Elvis Costello songwriter performance/interview series Spectacle, and his co-founding partners have similarly illustrious histories, working in fields that prepared them well for Milq. Don MacKinnon founded Hear Music, later sold to Starbucks, and known for such titles as Bob Dylan’s Live At The Gaslight 1962, Joni Mitchell’s Shine and the multiple-Grammy winning Ray Charles album of duets, Genius Loves Company. Tomi Poutanen, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, ran Yahoo Search International and created Yahoo Answers.

As far as who Milq appeals to, Jacobs says the simple answer is everyone, from “kids up to great-grandparents.” He says classical music skews “older,” as do people using Milq on their computers; the younger generation uses it on their cellphones, and EDM lovers usually skew “younger.”

Jacobs says Milq has not yet begun to monetize its company, but hopes to eventually obtain sponsors for their playlists, and will be announcing partnerships “with lots of different cultural organizations and creators” within the next six months.

They’re still so young, yet their track record is already quite impressive: ground-breaking productions and collaborations, a highly successful tour that will see them play the Bell Centre for a second time, the 2008 Félix award for Rock Album of the Year, for Dangereuse Attraction, countless projects in the pipeline, and it’s not even spring yet.

Marie-Mai and Fred St-Gelais are doing quite well, thank you. And not just professionally. When they look into each other’s eyes in a bistro where we meet on Saint-Denis Street, in Montréal, the air is full of love, affinity and light. The young couple is engaging, enthused, bubbly, and exudes the very essence of intensity that fills their albums. They met through Marie-Mai’s record label. “We clicked immediately! It was love at first sight on a professional level, at first, and then emotions got involved,” she says with smiling eyes.

And although love is the subject of the vast majority of their songs, many more themes are on their minds. Like the reasons we lie, in one way or another (“Mentir”), how young people are very judgmental of each other (“Elle avance”), child abuse (“Encore une nuit”), and even the insecurities of a successful artist wondering how long their career will last (“Tu prendras ma place”).

And although he has, as a producer, worked on many side projects with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Randy Bachman, as well as, more recently, David Usher and Annie Villeneuve, not to mention TV networks, Fred St-Gelais’ priority remains his soulmate.

Composing and writing? It’s a four-handed process. No one has a specific task; improvisation and freedom are key, as is using everyone’s influences. “It’s nice to have someone to write with,” she says. “I learn a lot. I’ve become passionate about participating this way. It came about naturally. When we’re done with a song, we have no idea who did what because it’s so much a mix of both.” “It’s very organic, Fred adds. “We don’t really have a method to which we always go back. That’s the best way to avoid repeating ourselves.”

As highly collaborative as the chemistry with Fred is, that doesn’t mean Marie-Mai is closing the door on collaborating with other songwriters. “I want good songs,” she says. “If someone offers me a song and I love it, I won’t turn it down! I want the best possible album, so I’m open to co-writes with other artists.”

What the key ingredient of their success? A lot of work. They write a lot, challenge each other, and have a hard time stopping. For them, writing, composing, arranging, playing live, and recording in the studio is a single continuum. Any preference? Each and every one of the facets of their trade.

“I made a place for myself with a sound that’s mine,” she says. “I wanted people to see me and recognize me for who I truly am. That may explain why it took a while to take off, initially. But I think that in the end, it played in my favour. Of course, the team is important too. And I’m well aware that I’m very lucky to have someone like Fred in my life.”

Why pop music? “It’s not a choice. It’s in me. I don’t even question it,” Marie-Mai says. “We look down on pop too easily,” she says, regretfully. “It can be profound! That’s what we’re trying to accomplish in each and every one of our songs: depth, colour, meaningful lyrics.” “People often ask me how I write tunes for the radio. You don’t set out to write a radio-friendly tune! If you try to write for the radio, you’re already on the wrong track,” says Fred. “The golden rule is authenticity. You can’t fake a musical style; it has to inhabit you. I find it much easier to write a complex song than a three-chord song. Simplicity within originality is the hardest thing to achieve,” he continues. “That’s the challenge that gets me going when I write music: creating something simple that will touch people.”

The couple has started working on a third album to be released next fall. What colour will it be? Marie-Mai and Fred can’t tell just yet. They’re content to be carried away by inspiration that they hope to find in the cities they plan to visit. One thing’s for sure: it will be intense. “I don’t plan on becoming tamer any time soon!” Marie-Mai says with a smirk.

Rumour has it that a synth for sale on Kijiji is the genesis of Le Couleur. Singer Laurence Giroux-Do confirms: “We were at the guy’s place who was selling it, and all three of us flipped out on the sounds coming from the instrument. We decided to draw at random to find out who would get to keep it. Steeven (Chouinard, drums) and I are a couple, so we figured we had the best chances, but as it turned out, we lost. We exchanged phone numbers with Patrick (Gosselin, guitars and keyboards) and ended up going for drinks… And that’s how Le Couleur came to be.”  

“It’s more natural for us to play in Berlin than in Chicoutimi.” – Laurence Giroux-Do of Le Couleur

It was during a brief stint as the keyboard player for the band Plaza Musique that Giroux-Do – classically trained on the piano at renowned music school Vincent-d’Indy – had her first taste of pop music. “In the beginning, I was thinking ‘If this is what making pop music is all about, it’s definitely not for me,’” she says. “But the more we rehearsed, the more I played and got acquainted with the genre, I started liking it, to the point where I wanted to start my own project. For different reasons, I ended up leaving Plaza, and that’s when I saw the ad for that synth on the internet.”

Last February, Le Couleur launched their first, slightly kitschy yet suavely titled EP, Dolce Désir. One of its songs, “Club Italien,” was inspired by the cafés in Little Italy where men spend their days talking, sipping espressos and watching soccer on TV. “I’d love to know what these guys are talking about,” says Giroux-Do. Out of the five songs on the EP, only “Club Italien” and “Autovariation #64” are new material. The other tracks were either re-visited, inspired by their re-mixes, or by their live show’s evolution. The contrast between the slick and ethereal album versions and the very Disco-tinged live versions is indeed quite marked.

“We’re completely smitten by the live approach of Norwegian producer Todd Terje,” says Giroux-Do. “His live sets are completely insane! Steeven studied drums and pop music at UQAM. On stage, he plays really loud and it propels our songs. The tempo gradually accelerates and although we navigate through various atmospheres, one thing remains constant: driving bass. It’s a recipe that works well for us and it’s that type of show we’re going to deliver during the FrancoFolies on June 18.”

Crossing Boundaries

Le Couleur’s electro-disco-pop fare is easily exportable anywhere in the world, and it’s the Lisbon Lux imprint that had the wherewithal to bet on its success. Giroux-Do’s airy voice recalls those of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Mylène Farmer, while the trio’s sound adds the French Touch to Scandinavian Nu Disco or the sexy pop of Montréal’s Chromeo. The band just returned from a few dates in France. The label is working several key markets – such as Francophone areas of Europe, in addition to Germany and Austria, major American urban areas and even parts of Asia – and it’s starting to pay off. “We’re doing great in Europe, and most of our influences are from there,” says Giroux-Do. “It’s more natural for us to play in Berlin than in Chicoutimi. The way things happened for Peter Peter is an inspiration for us; we’d love to follow in his footsteps and go to France for three or four months in order to build a solid base from which to move forward.”

This type of outside-the-box thinking is also noticeable in the way Le Couleur release their music. They prefer releasing EPs, a logical move in a market where album sales are declining new music is constantly pouring forth. The band also does re-mixes for others, and doesn’t shy away from vinyl. This D.I.Y. and polymorphic approach is perfectly adapted to the current multi-format environment, and certainly not a hindrance for the band. “It allows us to go with the flow and follow our whims,” says Groux-Do. “Our label doesn’t try to make us fit in any kind of industry-related mold. We do music, and that’s it.”

Fille ou garçon, on se pose la question / Une robe ou un pantalon” (“Girl or boy, we wonder / Dress or pants”), sings Laurence in “Télé-Jeans.” This playful transgression also refers to gender issues. “In French, words have genders,” says Giroux-Do. “I felt like playing around with it, to see how one could play with that rule and sidestep it – hence the name of our band. Plus, on a lighter note, I think it’s really sexy when Anglos say ‘Le couleur’!”

Le Couleur and Les Marinellis
Showcasing during the Rendez-vous Pros des Francos
A SOCAN presentation
June 18, 5 p.m., Pub Rickard’s, Montréal