The writing of a song is only part of the journey.
Once it’s committed to a demo recording, the task is then to get some influential people to listen to it, approve and endorse it, and hopefully turn it into some sort of success.
Such is the case with “Drifting,” a song born out of a 2014 songwriting camp held at the Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka, Ontario, organized by Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs.
Two SOCAN writers, Nygel Asselin and STACEY (Howchin), teamed up with SESAC writer Nathan Eiesland – also a singer at the time, for Minneapolis indie rock band On An On – and finished the original demo within a few hours. “It all came together pretty quick,” says Asselin, whose previous claim to fame was producing Half Moon Run’s 2012 debut album Dark Eyes. “We did the whole thing at camp on my laptop. Then I went back to my studio and mixed it, and within two months it was released and started its success. The song came together in the matter of an hour or two, maybe three. Then we tracked and everything kind of fell into place with the initial production.”
For STACEY, it was an auspicious occasion. “I was a little nervous because this was my first-ever co-write,” she says. “I didn’t know what to expect. But I remember we went out on the patio and had a great view of the lake, and the song happened really quickly.”
By the time the smoke cleared, “Drifting” had landed seven synchronizations in TV shows, and been streamed on Spotify more than 12 million times.
How did it happen?
“This was written on day one of the retreat,” says Jana Cleland, Vice President of Casablanca/Red Brick. “We put them together – they hadn’t known each other. They wrote the song with our guidance, because then it could be targeted toward our needs a little bit more, filling some holes we might have, especially when it comes to synchs. Once the song was written, we were really concentrating on it for synch. We wanted to finish the song quickly and have it out there.”
One of the first avenues Casablanca/Red Brick chose to promote the song was The Hype Machine, a Brooklyn-based website that acts as a meeting point for the tastemaker press. “Hype Machine is a collection of press outlets and music blogs that are tracked, so basically it pulls in the feed from all the different sites,” says Cleland. “People go there, fans can listen to the music directly without having to go to the actual sites, and they can discover music that way.”
“We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” – Jana Cleland, of Casablanca Media Publishing/Red Brick Songs
Listeners that like the music can signal by applying a heart to the track, and can also add it to their own personal feeds. Through that system, “Drifting” eventually reached No. 2 on the chart – via fan reaction. “It’s the kind of song that brings a lot of feelings and emotions the first time you hear it, which is why I think fans reacted so strongly to it,” says Cleland.
Casablanca/Red Brick also circulated the track to tastemakers. “We sent it out to 70 press outlets and they picked it up really fast,” says Cleland. “People were just drawn into it. We put the song up on Soundcloud, and it was shocking how much love it was getting from everyone around the world.” It got so much love that co-writer Eiesland decided to re-record it for his band On An On and release it as a single. Casablanca/Red Brick also issued a promotional-only vinyl album that showcased all of the most promising songs written at the 2014 camp.
As “Drifting” gained momentum, music supervisors (who determine the music to be used in movies and TV programs) came calling. Eventually, the song – which ended up with several remixed versions being circulated – landed seven placements, with TV shows The Fosters, iZombie, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, Scream and Degrassi: The Next Class. “Drifting” also landed in a TV commercial called “33 Buckets” for Arizona State University, an environmental message about providing water in other countries, which aired during the Super Bowl in the U.S. “Because they bring such emotion into a scene, these kinds of songs are the best for synch placements,” says Cleland.
For a program like Degrassi: Next Class, which airs in more than 130 countries, and on Netflix around the world, Instinct Entertainment music supervisor Dondrea Erauw had a bit of an early start. She was a Casablanca/Red Brick employee during the time of the song’s creation, so she had heard the original demo before she started working in her current position.
However, hearing a song and landing it for a television program are two different things. Just because you’re aware of a song, doesn’t mean the show’s producers will like it enough to use it. “I was kind of working on a scene of Degrassi: Next Class – the first episode of the new rendition of Degrassi that came out – and it needed something extremely emotional, that kind of grew as the song went on,” says Erauw. “I remembered that the re-recorded version of ‘Drifting’ by On An On did just that, and I hadn’t used it before. So, I tried it to picture and it worked extremely well.”
Initially, Erauw didn’t pitch it to Degrassi’s producers, but directly to the show’s editor. “I had ‘Drifting’ and a few other songs in a folder that I had sent off to the editor,” she says. “I was working directly with him, and I said that ‘Drifting’ was my favourite, because when I tested it to picture, it seemed like it was edited to that song already. Sometimes, that’s a little bit of the magic synch rule for us, when the editor doesn’t need to go back in and do another picture edit, they can just lay the track in nicely and it kind of does the job for them… which is what this song does… He said, ‘Oh my God, this is the one.’”
For Jana Cleland, the story isn’t over, not by a long shot. “I feel like the song does have way more life in it,” she says, “in that we’ll see more placements – and, substantially, that an artist will feel like they might want to do a version of this song, because it could be done so many different ways. Somebody could make it their own.”