COLEMAN HELL

Coleman Hell is a smoky-voiced pop songwriter who might just be a new dance-music star.

Originally producing hip-hop in Thunder Bay, he relocated to Toronto and started writing songs more suited to the dancefloor.

His latest single, “2 Heads,” was released this past summer and has garnered more than 4 million views on YouTube, plenty of MuchMusic rotation, and rave reviews from fans and critics for its hard-edged but soul-influenced sound.

Expanding his sound by incorporating such disparate elements as deep-house drums and country-tinged banjo licks, Coleman Hell makes a bold statement with his arrival on the pop charts.

Look for his next album later in 2016.

AARON GOODVIN

Aaron Goodvin has been playing music his whole life – from the singing contests he entered as a 12-year-old to becoming a professional songwriter at age 18.

After setting out on several trips to Nashville to ply his trade, he soon signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and began contributing to songs for other artists (like Luke Bryan’s multi-platinum “Crash My Party”).

However, Aaron also chose to break out as a solo artist in his own right, releasing his debut album Knock On Wood in 2015.

“I’m so excited that 2016 will be the year people finally get to hear the music I’ve been striving my whole life to make,” says Goodvin. “I can’t wait to be on the road, promoting my songs and making new friends. See ya in your town!”

Expect new music from him in the Spring of 2016.
SAMANTHA MARTIN

Samantha Martin is a singer-songwriter from Toronto, but from the soulful sound of her voice, and the style of her sound, you might assume she’s from way down south.

She and her band, Delta Sugar, made waves with their bluesy, roots- influenced country songs, impressing audiences at festivals around the nation – including the Calgary and Vancouver Folk Festivals, the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, the Dawson City Music Festival, and the Summerfolk Festival.

Martin has showed no signs of slowing down on her current album, Send The Nightingale, released in February of 2015 to a hugely positive response.

“We already have some more great summer festivals across Canada [lined up for 2016], including StanFest in July,” says Martin. “I’m very proud of the momentum that Send The Nightingale has gained in 2015, and hope to build on that foundation.”


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Welcome to the latest in our series of stories on the creative meetings of songwriting duos. Paroles & Musique met with Gabriel Louis Bernard Malenfant and Jacques Alphonse Doucet – better known as the voices of Radio Radio – to discuss the state of exile required to create their special brand of debonair, tongue-in-cheek rap.

Radio RadioEven though it’s a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in a Mile End café in Montréal, the guys are dressed to the nines, as always. “For Jacques, it comes naturally, he dresses like that every day,” whispers Gabriel Malenfant in my ear while we wait to order, staring his bearded acolyte (who’s wearing a navy pinstripe suit with a butter-coloured shirt and tie). We didn’t ask if they dress that way on days when they isolate themselves from the outside world to work on new tracks.

Whatever the case may be, Light the Sky is the latest result of such sessions. It’s the duo’s fifth album, but their first without the help of the longtime sidekick, DJ Alexandre, who left to pursue a solo career as Arthur Comeau after tinkering with other pseudonyms, notably “Nom de plume.”

But let’s get back to our coffee, and the event that prompted this meeting: the release of this new album of party anthems, their in English only. And even though that means no more of their amazing linguistic acrobatics – where French, English and the regional Acadian dialect of Chiac was as typical as poutine râpée – the core of their appeal remains: electro-pop party anthems. For this album, they tapped the production talent of Shash’U, J.u.D. and Alex McMahon as well as Champion for the song “‘Cause I’m a Hoe.”

“As on the previous albums, there is that unpretentious, fun first degree,” says Jacques Doucet. “But there are also deeper themes. That’s kind of the idea behind the title, Light the Sky, which symbolizes that the conversation we want to have can go very far.” One needs to scratch the surface very little in order to find some songs whose themes are deeper than leisure and dancefloors. “We also want to write songs that touch on subjects people don’t expect us to touch,” says Malenfant.

“We are so good at feel-good stuff – that ‘Acadianness’ of which we’re emblematic – but you need to go beyond the hooky choruses to find our depth.”—Gabriel Malenfant of Radio Radio

The least we can say is that they have a rather unusual workflow, for rappers. Despite being wordsmiths, they’re not the type to carry a notepad and pencil in the breast pockets of their stylish blazers. For them, writing is neither something spontaneous, nor a daily routine. All their albums followed the same work plan: “We extricate ourselves from our friends, families, lives, and we furiously work on writing and recording the album,” says Malenfant.

But despite that, some ideas are born on the road during tours. “We jam on ideas, hooks, we laugh at our stories, we are constantly arguing about everything, says Malenfant. “We record everything in our phones; we’re perpetually researching song concepts. But once the album project is on track, we go for a solid recording session, preferably outside of Montréal.”

Work on Light the Sky started almost a year ago during one of those work sessions in Cuba. Ah, the life of the rich and famous! “We had just launched the previous album, but we immediately went to Cuba to ‘re-focus’ and start thinking about our next album,” says Doucet. “A little time at the beach, then back to our rooms to write, or make beats, for an hour or two.”

The idea of making an English-only album had been in the air for a while. Which explains a change in the work venue: Brooklyn, last September. Says Malenfant: “We wanted to be part of the local culture, of this Mecca of rap. Turns out we were surrounded by French people and Québecois,” he laughs. Shash’U’s and Alex McMahon’s productions were pretty far along, so all that was left to do was to write the lyrics and record the vocal demos.

The guys each write their own lyrics, but each heeds the other’s comments. “We have our themes, we brainstorm, and within a week, we have a general idea of the album’s direction,” says Malenfant. Everything comes together in the studio. “We do it all at the same time; I can’t write without the music,” continues Malenfant. “Once we have a good hook, everything else comes naturally: the theme, the verses, the chorus. When we went to Brooklyn, we only had Shash’U’s instrumentals; everything else was done in Montréal.”

For Radio Radio, an album is a snapshot in time, an initially spontaneous thing that’s then elaborated on and polished to perfection. “The music that inspires us has to be dynamic, bouncy, happy,” says Malenfant. “And then we simply elaborate on them.”

The party-anthem side of Radio Radio’s music stems from their work method, but doesn’t entirely summarize its spirit, the rappers warn. Let’s go back to the meaning of the title Light the Sky. One can approach star-gazing in one of two ways: “You can look at the sky and take in the moment, be grateful for what we’re getting out of it,” says Malenfant. “Or we can study the stars, observe them intently, look for answers.” That’s what Doucet calls the astrophysical aspect of Radio Radio’s songs.

As Malenfant concludes, “We are so good at feel-good stuff – that ‘Acadianness’ of which we’re emblematic – but you need to go beyond the hooky choruses to find our depth. Our choruses are often light-hearted, but the verses veer off in a completely different direction. Like on “‘Cause I’m a Hoe,” we talk about the issue of prostitution in our society. People don’t expect us to be talking about stuff like that. Party tunes are all well and good, and we like them. But look a little bit further and you’ll see there is a subtext.”


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Are video games the future of music? That seems to be an opinion shared by many players from those two industries, which are both undergoing a re-engineering of their business models.

With annual revenues of several billion dollars, the videogame industry is still booming, contrary to the record industry, where a rapid decline is ongoing. Videogame business is so good, in fact, that many see them as a lifebuoy that could potentially slow down the music industry’s decline. Simon Cann, author of many practical guides on music creation and the industry that surrounds it, states it very succinctly in his book Building a Successful 21st Century Music Career: “Videogames are an excellent way to earn a living with music, since they’re at once both a revenue stream and a promotional tool.”

The best embodiment of this new reality dawned on us last October. Ubisoft – a multi-national company from France with offices in Québec City and Montréal – announced a partnership between its new subsidiary, Ubiloud, and the elder statesman of independent music labels in Québec, Audiogram. Besides strengthening Ubisoft’s foothold in the province – projections show that the company will employ more than 3,500 people by the year 2020 – this distribution deal means an expansion into new territory for both companies.

For Didier Lord, director of Ubisoft’s music group and Ubiloud’s de facto head honcho, the popularity of videogames is a golden opportunity to launch new talent. He’s a true believer in innovation, much more inclined to let emerging artists benefit from Ubisoft’s notoriety than to turn to well-established ones. “My goal is to encourage emerging artists,” he repeatedly says when asked about his motivations. “We are well-established in our field, and we realize that the impact of videogames allows them to become a cultural locomotive. Since our main specialization is games, we’ll benefit from Audiogram’s expertise to help us find the stars of tomorrow.”

“For the first time in history, our catalogue sales surpassed our new release sales. We must therefore find avenues that will allow us to introduce new artists, and this deal with Ubiloud is a big part of it.” – Alixe HD of Audiogram

As for Audiogram, the company fully embraces this new challenge. “We already have our publishing house, we are in charge of records and concerts, and this new partnership is one more that lets us diversify,” says Alixe HD, director of marketing and promotion at Audiogram. “It’s getting harder and harder to launch a new artist, and numbers don’t lie: for the first time in history, our catalogue sales surpassed our new release sales. We must therefore find avenues that will allow us to introduce new artists, and this deal with Ubiloud is a big part of it.”

In the same week as the Ubisoft deal was made official, Audiogram also announced a distribution deal with Sony Music, one more confirmation of the unstoppable globalization of the music industry. Where, in the old days, breaking internationally seemed almost unthinkable for some, it’s now part of and career plan. Rapper Imposs – a founding member of Muzion – is the first artist to benefit from Ubiloud’s support, and he can already attest to the impact that major distribution can have. Since his song “Stadium Flow” was featured in the game Just Dance 2016, he’s found many new outlets for his music.

Imposs“It’s really cool to get messages from Europe, South America or even Africa, at least it shows a videogame can have a real impact all around the world,” says HD. “The trick is converting those accolades into sales, and that’s what we’re working one with this new business model. Marketing has to be in on the game and that’s where Audiogram comes into play; but the artist, too, needs to be willing to play the game.”

“We want to seek out artists that already have their own universe, a unique personality, and integrate them to games that fit their universe,” says Ubisoft’s Lord, adding that he has no intention of creating a sausage factory pumping out generic music. “Obviously, if a game’s title is Just Dance, you know you’re going to need a certain type of music, says Imposs. “But when I met with the people at Ubisoft and Audiogram, they were adamant that they wanted me to retain my musical identity. We played stuff we were working on and they picked what they liked. There was never any kind of pressure to make me fit into a pre-determined format.”

But when the time comes for Audiogram to develop new talent, will the label favour artists with strong international potential, slowly moving away from its traditional role as an incubator for local Francophone artists? “Not at all,” says HD. “First, our catalogue already has Anglophone and instrumental artists. Plus, I really don’t see why we would stop seeking out new Francophone artists: bands like Loud Lary Ajust or Pandaléon, even though they sing in French, have a very contemporary sound that would be a perfect fit for many games.”

“What’s cool with video games is that they each have their own universe,” Lord concurs. “Just Dance will obviously require poppier songs, but take a game like
Far Cry, for example (a very elaborate first-person shooter, NDLR), we could very easily integrate more alternative material to it.”

Lord adds that he’s fully committed to use music beyond the simple game soundtrack. He cites Woodkid, whose track “Iron” was used in the ad campaign for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. “The song didn’t fit with the historic side of the game, but it was perfect for the ad. And God knows that the trailers for major franchises like Assassin’s Creed are hotly anticipated, so we expose those artists to a huge audience.”

Cœur de Pirate When a strong brand pairs with a strong song, the result is what could be called the iPod Effect. Just think how many people got into Canadian singer Feist or Israeli chanteuse Yael Naim after hearing their songs in Apple TV ads. That’s what Ubisoft plans to do for a new generation of artists, thanks to its videogame titles.

Which doesn’t mean that well established or even retired artists won’t be able to benefit from this. If a good placement in a game can help an emerging artist, a few old-timers have also received a boost from this new platform. The latest episode of the Metal Gear franchise takes place in 1980s Afghanistan. Songs from the era were therefore used, from Billy Idol to Kajagoogoo, Europe to Hall and Oates, thus exposing a whole new generation of listeners to those thirty-year-old classics. And that not to mention strictly musical games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Even though their popularity is declining steadily, they were still a boon for “historical” artists to develop new markets. One good example is Aerosmith, who had more success with its special edition of Guitar Hero than with their own albums, which were million sellers nonetheless!

The possibilities seem nearly endless. Beyond songs themselves, one can also imagine deeper collaborations with certain artists. “That’s what happened with Cœur de Pirate, who penned the music for Child of Light,” Lord explains. “We felt her musical universe was perfectly aligned with the game. It’s really exciting to work with top talent, like a few years ago when we worked with Amon Tobin on the game Splinter Cell.”

Background music, soundtracks, ads… After years of hardships, one could be forgiven for thinking that the industry is about to bounce back thanks to the huge video entertainment market. “We have no choice but to explore new avenues, which means that we’re going to start attending E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest yearly trade show in the videogame industry, on top of the music events we’re used to attending,” says HD. “We can’t let ourselves be victims of this crisis, we must act. When Michel Bélanger founded Audiogram thirty years ago, one would be hard pressed to say that the conditions were ideal to launch a new record label, but he did it anyways because he believed in his idea. He launched Paul Piché’s Nouvelles d’Europe and that took off, and he came back with Richard Séguin’s Double Vie.”

Apparently, where there’s a will, there’s a way.


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