Brampton, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Astrokidjay recorded his breakthrough hit “Ibiza” in a closet. At the time, he had lofty ambitions of reaching 50,000 views with the video – a last-minute, DIY shoot in an Airbnb. Those visuals have over a million views to date, and a lot more has changed since then.

The 2019 single (recorded with Stenno) put Astro on a white-hot trajectory, earning attention from producers like Murda Beatz and Evrgrn, as well as Astro’s manager, Karma Jonez. “He’s the one who pulled me aside and told me to sit back and work on my craft. He felt like I had potential, and that I could do more,” says Astro. “I learned, and I practiced a lot. I read the dictionary, I read a lot of books to help my grammar and my lyrics. I sat back for a little bit [and] stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft. To get better flows, better melodies, and better lyrics.”

That diligence led to a big year for Astro in 2021. He dropped an independent album called Wizard Boy, earned a feature with Polaris Music Prize-winner Haviah Mighty on her single “Coulda Been U,” and landed a record deal with Interscope in November. “I’m more of a developed artist now,” he says. “I know better, I grew up a bit more. I’m signed to a major record label [and] I have way crazier music than [on] Wizard Boy. I just feel like my things are getting better and better.”

The youngest of six kids born to Tanzanian parents, Astro’s music aspirations started relatively late in life. As a child, he preferred soccer over songwriting, and didn’t take an interest in rapping until his late teens. Thanks to varying musical tastes across his large family, though, the 20-year-old does remember being exposed to a mix of genres at home; artists who would later influence his own work. His inherited an appetite for R&B from his siblings, and credits the genre with his distinct, melodic delivery.

“I sat back for a little bit, stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft”

“I listen to a lot of throwback R&B, like 2000s R&B – Keyshia Cole, Alicia Keys,” he says. “I [still] listen to a lot of R&B before my sessions, because it helps me with melodies. A lot of people my age don’t listen to throwback R&B. [But] there are different types of melodies in it that we don’t hear in today’s music. It definitely helps me.”

Andreena Mill

Astrokidjay mentor Andreena Mill

Now gearing up for his tentative April 2022 release, Guns and Roses, Astro – who turns 21 years old in May – is taking a different approach to his writing than his earlier music. He’s traded trap-leaning freestyles and small basement studios for heavier doses of R&B, big studios, and a production team. Seeing an opportunity for professional growth, manager Jonez paired Astro with singer-songwriter Andreena [Mill], who, in addition to her solo work, has collaborated with artists like Melanie Fiona, DMX, and Drake. She serves as co-writer for much of Astro’s upcoming music.

“She’s, like, the best in the world! I learn a lot from her,” says Astro about Andreena. “She helps me with my vocal training, helps me hit certain notes. [She] helps with my writing process sometimes. It’s great working with her and being around her. She’s definitely one of the mentors who help me with my sound today.”

Working with new collaborators like Andreena, OVO-signee Roy Woods, and Jamaican artist Popcaan (perhaps most widely known for his feature on Drake’s “One Dance”) means Guns and Roses will be Astro’s most versatile project yet. While he’s close-lipped about the full list of featured artists, he promises that his new album is sure to widen his audience, and leave a mark.

“I’m on a whole new wave. There’s everything on there for all audiences: children, grandmas, aunties, mothers, everybody,” says Astro. “A lot of people are going to be able to relate to it. It’s going to leave an impact on the city when it drops. I know that for sure.”

 



Having run the Permission agency ever since she founded it back in 1995, Lucie Bourgouin has known for a long time that copyright permissions ( better known as  licensing) are an important niche branch of the screen industry. More than 20 years after starting her own company, she knows exactly how to make sure that all parties are dealt with fairly when it comes to integrating one creative work into another one.

Lucie Bourgoin“When I got my Bachlor of Music at the Université de Montréal, I had no career path in mind,” Bourgouin admits straightaway. She simply went along taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves to her. Her expertise was frequently sought, and a few steps later, she ended up managing ancillary/product (or merchandise) rights for Société Radio-Canada. “Radio-Canada even had a record company at the time,” she recalls. “That was in the late 80s.” After running the Crown Corporation’s rights management branch right across the country, her position was eventually cancelled “on account of petty politics.”

“On February 1 of this year, I celebrated 27 years as a copyright negotiator for producers,” she says proudly. “I’ve had clients like Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil. When these people needed a song, I dealt with the release of the copyrights attached to that work.”

In her view, understanding an artistic creation as an indivisible whole is at the very heart of her career. ”You have to understand how people operate,” she says. “You have to know people, show temperament, and be able to understand the sensitivities that are involved for all those having a stake in the work: creators, and all those who wish to use someone else’s creative work.”

To this day, the fuel that drives Bourgouin is a deep respect for the artist standing behind each aspect of a work. “I negotiate on a daily basis with entities that have interests, but I always make sure that everyone gets paid fairly,” she maintains. “If we didn’t have creators, nothing would happen, and I’ve always been on the artists’ side.”

Since Permission was created in 1995, Bourguoin has been negotiating on behalf of just about everybody, with unsurpassed ardour, and a passion for creative works. And not just musical ones, but also paintings, or books that people wanted to turn into TV series. She always knows the real value of a work of art, and how to help all parties reach an agreement that’s satisfactory for all involved. “I’ve even negotiated a Picasso work. And what a trip that was!” she recalls.

Also in charge  of negotiations for the archive of the TV show Les enfants de la télé, she only brings up a single example when asked what was, in her view, the greatest thing she’s ever done professionally: “The best calling card I’ve ever got in my life was Jean-Marc Vallée and the film CRAZY,” she says, getting emotional. “That was my career’s top adventure. You rarely get to work together with film producers when you’re negotiating a copyright licence, but Jean-Marc and I worked side by side, all along.” This close partnership turned into a personal friendship. “He’s the only one who ever thanked me on TV. That was during the Jutra Awards show,” she says. “For me, that was a high point in my desire to help people get what they want.”

Over time, music and the way we use it have changed, and Bourgouin’s work has evolved accordingly. The reason why CRAZY stands out stands out so clearly in her mind is that, for the time, there was a monumental number of music copyright licences to be dealt with, as some 20 songs were to be embedded in the soundtrack. “Things are different today,” she added. “I’m working with Xavier Dolan on his next series, and we’re dealing with 52 songs, and counting!”

“All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with some visibility”

 Lucie Bourgoin

Lucie Bourgouin in 1995

In Bourguoin’s view, the lack of experience of some producers is one of the main challenges being faced because of the “magical thinking” some of them are exhibiting. “You can’t get a Beatles song on the cheap, alter the lyrics, and do it all in 24 hours,” she says, as an example. “I have a tremendous amount of contacts and healthy relationships in the industry. You have to, if you want to get all the rest. I obtained the G.I. Joe intellectual property for a film free of charge, provided we didn’t alter that image. We wanted to get “Stairway To Heaven” for Café de Flore, but we failed. We tried everything. My work is filled with lots of small victories, but there are disappointments too.”

Besides securing copyright agreements, Bourgouin also works as a consultant to suggest alternate avenues when plan A fails. “I love working with people who truly respect music,” she says. “Xavier Dolan is one of them. He’s a true music lover, and when there’s not enough money in the budget for a song he’s after, he’ll just pick something else, instead of asking me to negotiate a better price.”

As time goes on with the decline of record sales worldwide, copyright licensing acquires a new meaning. “My profession’s future is hard to predict,” says Bourguoin. “Copyright owners are becoming more demanding, greedier, and that’s normal, seeing as their sources of income are weakening in other areas. All parties will have to re-examine their values if we’re to provide local artists with a visibility for their songs in our homegrown productions, while making sure we don’t take anything away from film composers.”

Lucie Bourgouin’s success is squarely based on the plethora of relationships she’s developed with rights holders over time. Using psychology, and acting like a career diplomat, she’s spent the past 27 years meeting people half-way, to make sure that every transaction remains a human gesture. “You need a great deal of patience and passion to do my kind of work,” she says. “It’s a long, time-consuming process.” In other words, practice makes perfect.

 



TiKA SimoneTiKA is a woman of many talents, and entrepreneurship isn’t the least of them. Released in February 2020 on Next Door Records, her first album Anywhere But Here established her as a voice to be reckoned with on Canada’s soul and R&B scene. In parallel to that career, the singer-songwriter took her first steps into the world of screen composing and co-founded StereoVisual, a non-profit organization aimed at fostering the integration of BIPOC musicians into an industry that, even today, leaves them very little space for expression.

Her latest obsession: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Nearly two months ago, TiKA Simone and rapper Allan Kingdom auctioned a song, “Yebo Life,” via the Etherium protocol, whose token eventually fetched 4.4ETH, the equivalent of just over $14,000 at the time of the transaction. Tika has since followed up by offering tokens of songs from her recent album, limited editions of the .wav files, in this case, while retaining her publishing rights.

“I’m super-stoked by the potential of NFTs,” says TiKA on the phone from Toronto, where she spends her time when she’s not in Montréal. “I find the concept to be a source of progress, especially for artists who are under-served by the music industry.” In other words, they’re a way to generate new, autonomous revenue for artists who often work without the support of established structures or record labels.

These revenues count for a lot in the process, admits Tika, but “they’re also a way to build a community of fans around your project. A major part of the process is posting it on socials or, in other words, being self-confident enough in your own work to actively promote it. You can truly build a community that will, down the line, allow you to rely of a stable source of income. A lot of artists are going through rough times right now because they couldn’t tour. I believe NFTs can allow artists to make ends meet during this rough patch.”

And during said rough patch, TiKA added a new string to her bow: screen composer. Co-written with Casey Manierka-Quaile for Thyrone Tommy’s feature film Learn to Swim, her song “And Then They Won’t” is currently up for Best Original Song at the Canadian Screen Awards Gala on April 8, 2022.

“Composing for a film is a much more intimate and private experience than when I’m creating for my own projects,” says TiKA. “There’s a whole world of difference between composing a song for myself and watching a film, or a scene, to imagine what music would best underscore it, and deciding what instrument best fits that emotion; that’s why I find that process a lot more intuitive. It was especially true with this project, since the director hadn’t finished his movie when I started working on it. That meant we had to communicate a lot about the film’s message, and the emotions the song needed to express. I composed a song based on our conversations, so it’s like I channelled the director’s energy to be able to flesh out the music he was imagining.”

It was also an opportunity for TiKA to take measure of the hurdles she’s had to overcome to gain a foothold in the world of screen composing. It’s a world, she believes, that’s not conducive to the integration of people of colour, who are still very much a minority. As a result, she helped create StereoVisual, an organization that equips that minority to enter the business.

“This project was born out of a strong desire to help this industry change,” says TiKA, who enrolled in a screen composition program at the Slaight Music Residency of the Canadian Film Centre. “It was an awesome experience, but I was also told stuff like, ‘You know, TiKA, if you want to become a screen composer, you must learn to play a string instrument.’ OK, fair enough. But what about all those who don’t get the financial means, or the opportunity, to get such training? Why should they be excluded from that realm, especially since many marginalized people don’t have access to such training, and must learn to use music software on their computer, since that’s all they can afford. It’s the accessibility to that training that sparks a conversation, because if you’re told that to compose for film you have to know music theory, that excludes a whole category of artists who are very often people of colour.”

That’s what the people behind StereoVisual are working on, building bridges between musicians from cultural communities and the “very white and very male” world of film and television. “The whole movie industry needs to change, not just the screen composing segment,” TiKA firmly believes.