The day “Rick ‘n’ roll” gave way to rock ‘n’ roll will go down in history as another notch in the belt of independent Canadian songwriters.

After torturing its future listeners – maybe “torturing” is too strong a word, so let’s go with “teasing” – with seven days of 24-hours-a-day airings of British singer Rick Astley’s 1987 pop smash “Never Gonna Give You Up” ad nauseum, new Toronto radio station Indie88 finally whelped itself into existence with Arcade Fire’s “Ready To Start” on July 31.

With its noon launch on the 88.1 FM radio dial, Indie88 marked a new chapter for Canadian independent tunesmiths, a touch of fresh air in this less-than-a-penny-rate-per-spin era of emerging new media platforms.

“Our condition of licence is at 40 percent Canadian content, of which 60 percent must be emerging artists,” explains Indie88 program director Adam Thompson, who cites Hannah Georgas, Dan Mangan and Toronto band Pup as early station listener favourites.

“So there’s unlimited potential. We don’t put conditions on what we play or what we don’t play. It’s basically, do the work, play the shows, cut through and you have a home here.”

Since Canadian songwriters have been earning an average of roughly $1.35 per play on the station (as of the August 2013 SOCAN distribution) , it serves as a reminder that in an age where innovative, digitally-driven technological models are being ushered in with uncertain compensation models for music creators, the performance royalties generated by radio airplay still stand as a significant, reliable source of income.

And while most self-contained recording artists would give anything for mainstream radio airplay, the reality is that there are at least a few radio champions of independent music in Canada.

“You can kind of ballpark it, but sometimes there’s a huge spike because some radio station spun the hell out of it.” — Royal Wood

Domestically, for songs ranging from one minute to seven, Canadian indie songwriters  can rely on: campus and community stations (a SOCAN survey rate of $4.60 per spin, but only reflecting the survey period, which can last from three to 14 days annually, depending on the license fee of the station); commercial radio formats (the BDS or Broadcast Data Systems-monitored rate of $1.35 per spin); and CBC Radio 2, which has a reach of 2.1 million listeners and pays an average $27.50 per airing. These rates were calculated for SOCAN’s August 2013 distribution, and change slightly with each quarterly distribution.

Songwriters receive SOCAN performance royalty cheques four times a year, and the income generated for Canadian indie musicians is often  significant, but can vary widely in size.

“I’ve never counted performance income as income I can rely on, because you never have any way of truly knowing what it’s going to be,” says JUNO-nominated, Toronto-based singer and songwriter Royal Wood from a tour stop in Switzerland.

Wood, whose music is played regularly on CBC Radio 2, and campus and community stations, cites the ebb and flow of career activity as a reality affecting royalty generation, which ebbs and flows in turn.

“You can kind of ballpark it,” he says, “but sometimes there’s a huge spike because some radio station spun the hell out of it, and somebody used your song again in multiple countries. So there’s always that question of ‘What if?’ I don’t always pay my mortgage as much with my SOCAN royalty income; I put that back into my career.”

Of course, in a group situation with more than one songwriter, the royalties have to be split between the co-writing band members, notes ex-Two Hours Traffic singer-songwriter Liam Corcoran.

“It’s substantial at times, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to make a living off of what we’re getting,” says Corcoran, who started the ECMA Award-winning Charlottetown, P.E.I. power-pop quartet a dozen years ago before their split in October 2013.


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A virtuoso electric and six-string bass player, Alain Caron discovered jazz at the age of 14 listening to an Oscar Peterson recording. His 1977 encounter with guitarist Michel Cusson produced the popular jazz fusion trio UZEB, which released ten albums between 1981 and 1990, selling 400,000 copies worldwide. Following the band’s break-up in 1992, Caron created his own label (Les Disques Norac) and released his first solo album, Le Band, in 1993, followed with collaborations with numerous international artists, live concerts and more solo album releases. In June 2013, with collaborations from his longstanding musical partners Pierre Côté on electric guitar, John Roney on keyboards and Damien Schmitt on drums, Caron released Multiple Faces, his eighth studio-recorded collection of bass grooves.

“This last recording is pretty much in the same performing and writing vein as the one before, Sep7entrion,” Caron explains. “Besides, it’s the same musicians. We had toured together, and the band ended up creating a sound I wanted to develop on Multiple Faces. When I wrote the music for the new album, I did it specifically for our band members. While you’re writing, you always keep an ear on the final result, not only for the arrangements, but also in terms of solo distribution. As for the playing style, you might call it jazz-rock or fusion, although that’s such an overused term. Any composer who does more than writing radio music can be considered to be a fusion composer at some level. The core of my music remains jazz. So, let’s call it 2000s fusion,” he proposes in jest.

Caron started believing that there was life after UZEB when he personally received the most recent Montreal International Jazz Festival Oscar Peterson Award, nearly two decades after the same honour was bestowed on his former band in 1991. “You know, it’s not easy making a name for yourself after playing in a group that’s reached a level of success. Unless, of course, you’re Paul McCartney! You get labelled for life – even today I’m regularly being referred to as the UZEB bassist. That award made me happy because it reminded me that I still have things to make happen.”

Pastorius & Co.

Though Jaco Pastorius has had a considerable impact on his performing style, Caron clarifies that the U.S. bassist never was his main source of inspiration. “When I first heard him, I thought he played so well I had to stop listening right away because I didn’t want to be overly influenced. I was shocked by his sheer daring. But I spent much more time listening to Ray Brown, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez or Stanley Clarke, which of course doesn’t take anything away from my admiration and respect for Pastorius. I’ve tried to diversify my bass playing influences in order to develop my own idiom, and I also analysed the performing techniques of many other musicians such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker or Pat Martino,” Caron adds.

An exceptional musician having performed in over 30 countries, Caron considers the American market to be the most impenetrable of them all. “There’s too much protectionism down there. It’s very hard to make a living in the U.S. unless you are playing locally in large centres such New York or Los Angeles. American musicians themselves sometimes have to venture outside their own country to be able to earn their bread and butter. They have to move away. For a foreigner, it becomes very complicated in terms of paperwork and visas. Agents too are quite protectionist. I know – I contacted them all, and they all responded, ‘We’ve got tons of bassists!’ I would like to do a U.S. tour some day, but I’ve stopped fighting. I no longer call people. I wait for them to call me.”

Endless road

With invitations to teach master classes around the world, past musical contributions to the recordings of some 20 artists in a variety of genres, 11 ADISQ Awards, one Prix Gémeaux and two Oscar Peterson Awards, Alain Caron seems to have fully realized his musician’s dream. Considered by some to be one of the world’s top bassists, he personally believes that his apprenticeship is not over and that there is still much to be achieved. “Life as a musician is like an endless road,” Caron muses. “The only possible end is your own limitations, and I hope never to reach mine. As for musical expression, I’m now interested in developing my improvisational skills, how to play with the right amount of precision and intelligence. You can have a head full of music and never be able to write out. I also want to develop my composing skills so as to be able to express myself as accurately as possible. I often feel that what I write could be better. Then there is your work as a producer or arranger. It too requires good taste and the ability to make informed choices.”

As he gears up for the 2014 NAMM Show in January and a European tour in March and April, the 58-year-old performer is thinking of everything but retirement. “Obviously, I have been doing this for many years now. I try to keep in shape as much as possible. I know that I will eventually have to slow down, but I don’t think it will be to retire. I’m going to take it easier in specific areas – travelling, for instance. I want to enjoy life, but music is fun and I’ll keep going as long as I possibly can. No-one is ever going to be able to take this away from me.”


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Sometimes a single song will lead to a whole new album. Such was the case for Michel Rivard with “Roi de rien” (“King of Nothing”), whose words and music aligned themselves so easily in the songwriter’s mind that he could clearly see there was far more to come, a daunting prospect for an artist who was feeling somewhat spent after completing his second season as in-house songwriting teacher for the popular Star Académie reality show, writing songs for the Filles de Caleb folk opera and making a comeback as a stage actor.

“I felt over-stretched,” Rivard explained. “After that mad rush, I was hoping things would slow down awhile. But no, the song “Roi de rien” came to me all in one piece, very much inspired by my daily walks in my new neighbourhood of Plateau Mont-Royal, which I love for its cozy lanes and beautiful trees. This new tune was telling me, ‘I’m the opening song of a new series!’ This all had something to do with my moving back into the city and my desire to reconnect with the Montrealer in me.” For the next two years, Rivard was busy writing, composing and planning intimate concerts in small venues to test his new material. As the lyrics of his song “Et on avance” say, “Tomorrow never is what we thought it would be.”

This applies to the title song of Rivard’s new album, Roi de rien, for if Rivard were king, he would be the king of the intimate, of life’s little things and of acute observations that make one smile. “Styromousse,” a song about a man who leaves a city the same way he would break up with a woman, is a case in point. Rivard agrees that, in real life, he is not the King of Nothing his album is portraying. “You’re right,” he says, “I’m not referring to myself specifically in that song, but using the first person inclusively. I’ve always been fascinated by the infinitely small, by the minutiae of interpersonal relationships. When I came up with the expression ‘king of nothing,” I had no idea of what the rest of the song was going to be about. But, for me, these words expressed the comforting thought of having no responsibilities, of placing oneself above no-one and of not feeling the crushing weight of power. That was reassuring. The connecting dots of the song are that one can feel happy about a radio that’s gone dead and enjoy the silence, and that looking at the rain through your kitchen window can help you see the reality of your life. It’s far from being depressing.”

Wherever he is, Michel Rivard is busy writing music at some level, whether he is walking his dog with his recorder or repeatedly sending himself text message reminders of the words and phrases that go through his mind as he goes about his daily activities. Born in the 1950s, Rivard writes songs the way a novelist creates stories, but without giving way to soul-searching, and always remaining aware of the fine line that exists between private information and public knowledge – even in art.

“Yes, my repertoire includes a few songs that are definitely about me, such as “Toujours pour elles,” which deals with my love for my daughters, but I would be unable to write a song containing painful admissions about myself. It’s not my bag. What I like to do is create small pieces of fiction rather than documentaries. Plus, the moment you start looking for rhymes, you change parts of the puzzle and move even further away from real-life situations.” Rivard keeps writing his way into those magic moments where phrases scribbled in a notebook naturally fall into the lyrics of a new song, when words and music coalesce and an alternate entity suddenly appears. “Yes, you can use tips – writing is a craft – but it is also true that part of the process cannot be explained. And nobody can teach you that.”

The idea for the setup of the upcoming recording of Roi de rien came to Rivard as he was performing a country music version of his song “Maudit Bonheur” (Damned Happiness”) with the Mountain Daisies. “For the recording of L’Open Country de Mountain Daisies,” the artist recalls, we all performed live in the Piccolo Studios as if we were onstage. I wanted to reproduce this experience.” To obtain the particular sound he was after, Rivard hired producer Éric Goulet and spent ten days in the studio with his Flybin Band cohorts (Rick Haworth, Mario Légaré, Sylvain Clavette), recording all 15 songs programmed songs. “We often laid down two full tracks in a single day,” Michel Rivard boasts about the recording of his 13th album, a collection of hopeful and insightful songs by a creative giant whose unshakeable artistic integrity remains a shining beacon of our musical landscape.


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