Before he became one of Canada’s most renowned DJs, Charlie B was a kindergarten teacher. In the wee hours, he would be in the club on the 1s and 2s, or in the studio working with then-emerging GTA exports like Tory Lanez or Preme (formerly known as P Reign). By day, he was helping 30 schoolkids learn how to write their names.

“It’s crazy, because during that time, P Reign had a song coming out with Drake,” says Charlie B. “We waited so long to try to get this song; countless hours in the studio, working so hard. And finally, P Reign gets the song with Drake, and it’s Labour Day Weekend, and I’ve got work on Tuesday. I’m over here teaching kids how to walk in a straight line, all while this song was out.” Though Charlie, born Ajay Saxena, juggled teaching and music for three years, in 2016, he decided to make a leap and pursue music full-time.

Since then, he’s toured the world and worked with hip-hop standouts like Cardi B, Rick Ross, and DJ Khaled, the latter of whom he cites as a mentor. Most recently, Charlie released his first full-length album, Across the Board, which features hand-picked talent from all over Toronto. “I’ve been working on [the album] for the last two years,” he says. “It’s my view on talent in this city. I’ve been able to be in the studio and create with these artists. We’ve built these records together, collectively. And I’m super-proud of how it came out.”

For Charlie, in-person recording sessions were crucial to creating the album. “I was really adamant [about] having the artists coming to the studio and us building the song together,” he says. “Saying, ‘Hey, listen, this the concept I’m thinking about, this is the vibe.’ I’d play them some beats from my producers and essentially executive-produce these songs.”

Patience was another key ingredient in his creative process. If a song didn’t quite have the flavour he was looking for, he didn’t try to force things. This approach helped him and Driftwood rapper Pressa come up with the infectious single “Glitch.”

“Me and Pressa were in L.A., and we were working on music, and I just felt like we hadn’t gotten what we could have,” says Mr. B. “I didn’t want to rush it. Just because you lock in a studio with an artist, doesn’t mean that you’re gonna get the record you want the same day. It doesn’t work like that.”

Teacher’s Tips

Ever the teacher, Charlie B has three tips for other up-and-coming rappers.

  • “Never stop networking. Your network is obviously your net worth. Keep expanding on that.”
  • “Be consistent. Never, never give up. Keep going!”
  • “It’s very important to have good mentors and good life coaches in your corner that can guide you. I think we all need that in our lives.”

The creative spark they needed would be ignited weeks later on Charlie’s birthday weekend. He and Pressa were at Quad Studios, the legendary Times Square recording space that’s been used by everyone from Mariah Carey to Jay-Z. A change of location made everything click. “We were in New York, it’s Quad, and I’m working on my birthday,” says Charlie. “[I said] ‘Let’s try’. And we got one out, and we were really happy with the final product. It was in a memorable studio too, so that was even better”.

Known as “Mr. Canada,” Charlie aimed, with Across the Board, not just to put a spotlight on Toronto, but to help illuminate the possibilities for local artists. “I want to give these kids experiences,” he says. “If we can do something to make these kids believe that they can get out of the streets, that’s the most important thing to me. I love seeing the kids in Toronto live their passion; live their dreams. There’s nothing happier for me than to see these kids on the stage doing their thing.”

How do you carve out a successful career in music? For Chester Krupa, a 25-year-old songwriter/producer whose work has been streamed more than a billion times on various platforms, the path to success required flexibility and ingenuity. As soon as he began making beats in his first year of University, he began sending them out to potential collaborators. “I was reaching out to people [cold calling], hustling, and trying to start relationships,” he recalls.

This penchant for seeking out and wholeheartedly embracing opportunity eventually led to him collaborating with grandson, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful activist rap/rock/dance singer-songwriter. That partnership opened once unimaginable doors: working with an icon like Travis Barker; producing the song “Rain,” featured in Suicide Squad 2; getting his work into the Fast and Furious movie,  Netflix’s original Riverdale, and in corporate placements for Marvel, Mercedes Benz, UFC, Taco Bell, Microsoft, and Air Canada; winning the $10,000 SOCAN Songwriting Prize in 2019; and more.

Early on, unsure about what career path he wanted to pursue after finishing high school, Krupa enrolled in a General Media Arts program at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University). He would regularly have to record people and mix audio tracks for class assignments, which sparked his interest in audio engineering – and by extension, music production. He started routinely producing beats outside of class and sending them out to local artists and YouTubers. Within a few months, he was making music for one of the most popular YouTubers in the world, Casey Neistat.

“It was crazy,” says Krupa. “I’ve always been a huge fan of his stuff, and this was right when he was about to do his daily vlogs. I found his e-mail [address] on his website and offered to make him beats. He said yes, and asked me to send him some stuff. I started sending 10, 15 songs a week to him, and he would use them in every one of his videos.”

Meanwhile, Krupa was connecting with local Toronto artists and collaborating with them. His big break came when a local singer-songwriter he was working with, Blaise Moore, was signed by Interscope. “I was trying to leverage that while reaching out to people,” says Krupa, “which was how I met my manager.”

“I jump around a lot. I don’t like [staying] with one thing”

His new manager, Prim8 Music, also represented grandson, and brought the pair together. “He told me they had one song that they couldn’t quite figure out the production for, and asked if I wanted to take a stab at it,” Krupa explains. The song that he helped out on was “Blood // Water,” Grandson’s second-highest charting song to date; For his work on the track, Krupa was a co-winner of the aforementioned 2019 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, alongside grandson and his longtime producer Kevin Hissink. Since then, Krupa has regularly worked with the rock/rap singer, most recently on his 2022 JUNO-nominated album Death of an Optimist.

Most of Krupa’s work is done remotely, sending stems back and forth with Hissink, and sharing ideas via e-mails and voice messages. He feels he’s grown significantly as a producer while working with grandson. “I wasn’t ever producing rock music until I started working with him,” he says. “It was diving in head-first and figuring it all out… People were bringing so many genres into his project – rock, hip-hop, electronic – and trying to meld it together. It’s been a cool process to experiment; throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

While working with grandson, Krupa has done production on tracks featuring stars like Jessie Reyez, Ke$ha, and one of his favorite artists growing up, Travis Barker. “I grew up listening to Blink 182, and getting stems for Travis Barker drums is a crazy experience,” he says. “I’ve gotten to work with a lot of cool people on a record, [with] so many new perspectives, and learning new tricks.”

The remainder of 2022 will have lots in store: more grandson work is coming out, as well as projects with high-profile artists like Quavo, Jason Derulo, and Swae Lee. Meanwhile, he’s also been working tirelessly on an upcoming solo project.

Recently Krupa has found himself experimenting with pop and dance production, while also making songs specifically for TV shows and commercials. For him, taking risks is still the most important thing. “I jump around a lot,” he says. “I don’t like [staying] with one thing. Constantly doing different genres keeps your production skills fresh.”

The Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM) is taking advantage of the 2022 Francos to kick off a spate of activities marking 20 years of existence. On June 15, 2022, the association will offer two roundtables: the first one on its history, with one of its founders, Daniel Lafrance (Éditorial Avenue); and the second one discussing the future of music publishing in Québec, with Diane Pinet (Édition Bloc Notes), Odette Lindsay (Third Side Music), Yao (Intello-Production), and Marie-Ève Rochon (Bonsound).

APEM, 20th AnniversaryFor the current Executive Director of APEM, Jérôme Payette, “it’s an opportunity to talk about the association does, what we embody as a collective group, aiming at the growth of the music industry in Québec. It’s also a way to bind the music publishing community by promoting our efforts to enliven our community by encouraging meetings and networking. We want to reach out to the hundreds of people we’ve trained over the years as well, and continue tom promote of best practices [in the industry] through our workshops, conferences, and the contract templates we offer.”

The association, which believes it now represents the vast majority of Québec’s music publishing stakeholders, is making its mark at a juncture in time where the industry is undergoing a major upheaval, while its business practices and opportunities must remain relevant as music consumption habits and technologies constantly evolve. “We must emphasize the importance of our collective efforts,” insists Jérôme Payette. “It may sound cliché to say it again, but there’s so much changing, so much adapting to do, so much need for representation – more than ever, I feel.”

The publishing sector’s main battleground today is the federal Bill C-11 amending the Broadcasting Act and the representations on it that have been made in recent weeks “in coalition with our partners in the music industry.” In addition, there’s the issue of a Copyright Act “which will generate better revenues for the industry,” and efforts to obtain more public funding for APEM members, “an issue on which we’ve managed to make progress for 20 years. This has been one of APEM’s great victories over the years: gaining access to public funding sources to which other industry players were entitled. Today, music publishers can ask for help, for example from SODEC and Musicaction, and this has helped our sector to progress.”

But APEM’s main challenge, as Jérôme Payette acknowledges, is still educational. Music publishing is an essential and important revenue generator for the industry, but it’s still poorly understood by many players in the field, starting with the songwriters themselves. “For the past 20 years, we’ve had to explain our trade, and I believe we’ll need to do so for the next 20 years,” says Payette. “At first glance, what people don’t immediately grasp when they enter the business is that the music industry is a very, very sophisticated business. People often ask us if there isn’t a way to simplify it all. I always give them the same answer: if it was possible, we’d have done it already! Now, with the hundreds of people we’ve managed to train through our programs – not necessarily people who’ve gone on to become publishers, but often as managers, for example – I think we’ve seen a better understanding, and recognition, of the publishing profession.”

Thus, APEM’s mission is two-fold: to train its members, and to rally them around common objectives. “I like the concept of co-optation,” says Payette. “Today, we can see that our members know each other, rub shoulders and collaborate, particularly within the association’s various working committees. This training work has helped build a community that, over the years, has contributed to the recognition of the importance of this profession, even though it has to be done over and over again. We evolve, after all, in a very small market: our members are all independent, the majors are not very present,” making this cooperation among publishers, and between publishers and other sectors of the Québec music industry, even more necessary.

Finally, APEM will take advantage of its day at the Francos to award Lucie Bourgouin, founder of the copyright consulting agency Permission Inc., the 2022 Christopher-J.-Reed Award. The award is presented “to an individual who is committed to his or her professional community, who demonstrates a high level of respect for creators and copyright, and who has made an outstanding contribution to the practice and recognition of the music publishing profession.”