“For us, it was part of a band, as we weren’t really writing for someone else. There have been some very nice cheques coming in [from SOCAN], that are very helpful, and we look forward to getting them, but it’s not really anything we can rest on at this point.”

Like Wood, and surely many of his other domestic peers and contemporaries, Corcoran calls CBC Radio airplay essential for survival.

“If you write songs and you’re in Canada, the CBC keeps people going,” says Corcoran, who plans to continue to perform and record as Express with his cousin Kinley Dowling.

“If you play a show that they record, you get paid very well. Everything you do, you get compensated very well. A few of us had side projects, and with even just a few spins, you see it show up on the printout and it’s a surprise – you don’t expect it. They pay for everything they broadcast so Thank God for them – it would have been very hard to keep things moving without the CBC.”

Kai Black, CBC Radio 2’s Executive Producer, says his organization’s playlists rely heavily on independent artists.

“There are tons of music genres on our network, so with 50 percent Canadian content, you can bet that independent music is going to be important,” says Black. “Because, at the end of the day, once you look at what the major labels might release that we might play, there’s still lots of opportunity.”  

“It would have been very hard to keep things moving without the CBC.” — Liam Corcoran

A glance at a CBC Radio 2 playlist at press time, in October 2013, revealed a number of independent artists – Arcade Fire, Matt Epp (with Serena Ryder), City and Colour and Joel Plaskett – receiving repeat airplay two or three times a day. And Black says CBC Radio 2’s playlist was recently reduced to 21 songs, 10 international, 11 Canadian.

“We shortened the number because we wanted to get songs in front of people more often,” he explains. “Recently, research has shown that you need to play a song five or six times before audience members decide if they like it. The songs in our current rotation will probably stay two or three months.”

How does one get on that playlist? Black says after they’ve scoured the DMDS (a music industry digital delivery system for new songs), iTunes and any relevant blogs, his music programming team of Julian Tuck and Jeannette Cabral join him for bi-weekly music meetings to determine what will be added or dropped from the playlist.

“We listen to songs in their entirety and have a criteria sheet that evaluates each of the songs, so we’re not just subjective,” says Black. “Technically, does it sound good? Does the performer have an interesting voice? Will it polarize some people because it’s so unique? Is there a good, discernible hook? Does it have the classic verse-chorus construction? And, most importantly, is this a song that Canadians, once they hear it, are going to want to hear again?’”

Independent music is also “crazy, crazy important” to campus and community radio, declares Shelley Robinson, executive director of the Ottawa-based National Campus and Community Radio Association, which counts 42 English-language licensed and online campus radio stations among its members.

Although the SOCAN survey rate was $4.60 per spin for the August 2013 distribution , Robinson says the music itself is integral. “It’s local culture, local voices, stuff you’re not going to hear anywhere else,” she says. “It’s the backbone of our sector.”

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.”

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.