Kevin Figs

As a little boy, Kevin Figs wasn’t planning on being a music creator, in spite of the fact that everything seemed to be pointing that way. Born in Toronto and raised in downtown Montréal, in a musical family, all the stars seemed to be lined up. His father taught him to play guitar, bass and drums soon after he took his first steps and, at the ripe old age of six(!) he became the drummer of a church in Toronto’s High Park area – where he still occasionally performs today when his schedule allows.

Now in his mid-20s – and the veteran of an impressive eight-year career that took him from Toronto to Los Angeles through his hometown of Montreal – Figs is one of the most in-demand songwriters and producers of his generation. But while he’s shared the limelight for a time in the past as part of the401, he has no desire at this time to come out of the shadows: “Creating music was not something I was planning on doing when I was a kid,” he says, “so everything I create now is necessarily for someone else. I have no ambition as a performer, but this has definitely become my all-consuming passion, so I do it for myself and for others. My greatest ambition right now probably is to develop and apply a rock-solid work ethic for myself.”

Having co-created a number of global hit songs for the likes of Jeremih, Shawn Desman, Virginia to Vegas and Alyssa Reid, to name but a few – besides re-visiting major hits here and there on an ad hoc basis – the young creator has followed a more than enviable career path so far, and picked up kudos from Henry “Cirkut” Walter and a few other big industry names along the way.

Along with his great friend and collaborator O C, with whom he works most of the time and of whom he thinks the world – “he’s one of my greatest inspirations” – Figs co-wrote “We Are Stars,” performed by the aforementioned Virginia to Vegas feat. Alyssa Reid, winner of a 2015 SOCAN Pop/Rock Music Award. “The song’s instrumental part was first created in one night with O C, but we couldn’t even finish it because we locked ourselves out of my own studio!” he says. “We were already quite excited by that song before it landed in the hands of Alyssa Reid’s people. Our manager at the time essentially told them ‘This one’s the one,’ and everything just fell into place.”

It all happened so fast that Figs could hardly believe it. “Writing songs is what I do practically every day,” he says, “so I was also working on a handful of other songs at the same time, but seeing one of our creations get such massive airplay was an incredible feeling!”

Figs’s achievements as a songwriter have provided him with an industry profile that makes it possible for him to anticipate new collaborations. “Of course, there are times when I think of a specific voice when I’m writing,” he says. “Jeremih was definitely one. The first time I heard “Birthday Sex,” I fell captive to the charm of his voice.” Figs and O C went on to work on Late Nights, the artist’s most recent studio album.

Reiterating that he has no use for the more glamorous aspects of pop stardom, Figs insists that his main concern is to keep up the hard work. “I’m extremely grateful for being able to make music each day of my life, but it’s not all fun and games either,” he says. “It can come at the expense of other aspects of my life such as my social network, my family…  Over time, I’ve learned to become much more versatile, to be able to write in places where there is sometimes not even a table or a chair that I can use, and with 10 pairs of eyes eagerly watching me and waiting for a song.”

Clearly, Kevin Figs’ gamble is paying off.

Jean Anfossi is the little music publisher who could. Against all odds, he’s succeeded in building an impressive Canadian stock music library amid a landscape of rapidly, disruptively changing technology, shrinking royalties and bruising competition.

Anfossi recently re-branded his 11-year-old company, MFP (Music for Productions), and has taken on new staff in Toronto and Montréal in an effort to re-focus on the Québec market, and push harder into the music for film and TV business.

Anfossi started his career with Warner/Chappell Music Publishing Canada. When the company’s administrative services moved south to the U.S., he went to work for, and was mentored by, Mark Altman at Morning Music. It was there that Anfossi got his first taste of production music libraries, as he worked with Altman to build Morning Music’s first collections.

Anfossi knew the digital wave was unstoppable, so when he founded MFP in 2005, he built one of the first one-stop, online music licensing portals in Canada, where clients could sample, stream and buy digital tracks.

The landscape has been shifting ever since. Much bigger publishers like ole started acquiring major music libraries and ramping up their technology.

MFP was a small fish in an increasingly hostile pond, but scrappy Anfossi stayed in the game by mastering search engine optimization (SEO) and leveraging Google Adwords to his advantage. But even those tactics are seeing diminishing returns as the digital world morphs and evolves.

“I always stress that composers should be paid for the work they do, not just in terms of performance royalties.”

Jean Anfossi

Photo by Jacqueline Grossman

The stock music business has also seen a raft of new players enter the marketplace with new licensing methods. Royalty-free image giants like Getty and Shutterstock have expanded their service offering to include royalty-free music, an advent that Anfossi says is hurting traditional music publishers.

“Royalty-free is driving down the value of music by eliminating synch royalties,” he says. “The publishers are satisfied with a small up-front payment and back-end performance royalties from performing rights organizations like SOCAN. But composers and publishers who relied on synch earnings to help them make a living are finding it harder and harder to survive in this climate.”

For a long time, MFP’s bread was buttered by advertising and corporate video clients, but as competition has increased and rates have fallen, Anfossi was forced to pivot.

“Recently, I’ve focused on the Québec market,” he says. “I hired Pascal Brunet as the Business Manager in our Montréal office. He worked with Virgin-EMI Music for 15 years and he has lots of contacts. His experience and musical knowledge will be an asset to our company, in order to serve such a creative marketplace as the province of Québec, in terms of local and international production.”

MFP’s catalogue has grown substantially, thanks to its recent partnership with BMG/USA whose stock libraries of 50,000-plus tracks have pushed MFP’s published or sub-published offering to more than 160,000 tracks.

“We’re now in a position to offer the TV, film, advertising, corporate and multi-media industries an amazing selection of quality music,” says Anfossi.

BMG/USA’s Darrel Shirk, Director of Operations, says, “The synergy with MFP is undeniable. With their track record for distribution and our extensive music offering, we know the possibilities are endless.”

Anfossi constantly advocates with his clients for composer and publisher rights.

“I always stress that composers should be paid for the work they do, not just in terms of performance royalties,” he says. “Too many composers are giving their music away because they’re struggling to survive. I don’t accept composers on my site who are also in royalty-free libraries. In a few cases I’ve allowed those composers in under pseudonyms.”

Anfossi has another arrow in his quiver, a newer venture called,  specializing in indie/alternative music for film and TV; ReelSongs is the repository for BMG’s Fieldhouse Music, among other catalogues.

“I love what I do,” says Anfossi. “I’m not in a hurry to sell my business. I’m going to keep building my library with more Canadian content. I just got 15 tracks from a composer in Québec who’s doing Québec folklore. It’s a unique offering, because nobody can write or play music like that unless they’re from Québec. I think deals like that make my library more valuable, because I have exclusive material that’s hard to find in other libraries.”

Canadian artists and SOCAN members like Dear Rouge and Coeur de Pirate have an unexpected and relatively new champion when it comes to promoting their wares, both at home and internationally: Spotify Canada.

The global streaming service, which opened shop in this country in November 2014 after years of anticipation, has been doing its utmost to help Canadian recording artists – almost all of whom are SOCAN members – establish themselves, both internationally and domestically, through carefully curated playlists and spotlight programs.

They have the podium to do it: boasting 100 million monthly active users around the world (Spotify doesn’t provide territorial breakdowns), the platform has become a prime source of influence since its 2008 launch in Sweden.

And influence is one of the chief reasons industry veteran Nathan Wiszniak signed up as Spotify Canada’s label relations manager 18 months ago.

“We really want to build the story in Canada, but the ultimate goal is to help globalize these Canadian artists.” – Nathan Wiszniak of Spotify Canada

“When you look at a global platform like Spotify, it’s got the potential of building audiences for the growth of Canadian artists globally,” says Wiszniak, whose career résumé includes multi-year sales stints at Fusion III, Fontana North and Sony Music Canada. “It was a really great opportunity.”

Especially since the popularity of streaming services here is on the rise, with companies like Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Music Play, Galaxie/Stingray Music, Groove, and Slacker – all licensed by SOCAN.  Streaming music accounted for $15.5 million of SOCAN’s $308 million revenue in 2015, a 24.4 percent increase over 2014.

For successful streaming artists like BadBadNotGood, Ria Mae, SonReal and Jazz Cartier, Spotify Canada is opening doors through its full domestic talent spotlights.

For example, take 2016 JUNO Award-winning, and 2015 SOCAN Songwriting Prize-winning husband-and-wife duo Drew and Danielle McTaggart, better known as Dear Rouge.

“Dear Rouge was a spotlight artist in 2015 for us,” says Wiszniak. “We worked very closely with the band, the label and management at the beginning, so we could identify a long-term plan and map it out. Dear Rouge did a great job of using artist playlists as a content driver to fill the gap between single releases.

“From there, we were able to work on our international teams to include it on some playlists outside of Canada, which resulted in the U.S. becoming Dear Rouge’s biggest territory, representing almost 40 percent of the band’s market share.”

Dear Rouge also made great strides across the Atlantic through Spotify Canada’s efforts. “You see that their number three territory is Spain, so we know now that we’ve been able to globalize our platform and increase audiences, opening opportunities for them to tour these markets.”

“When we heard Spotify was coming to Canada, we told them that we wanted to become actively involved, make playlists and embrace the service,” says Drew McTaggart of Dear Rouge. “So they helped us get on all these playlists and got us tons of exposure… I think we now have 30 million hits on ‘Black to Gold,’ which is amazing. We were released around the world through Spotify, even though we only did our record in Canada… There was a review in U.S.A. Today on our song, and they said it was going to be a great summer anthem. That was absolutely amazing because they heard us on Spotify… And our first tour in the U.S., we didn’t release anything, but there were always people at the shows from hearing us on Spotify… U.S. labels are [now] interested in signing us because of the numbers.”

Québec artists have also benefited from “the unique Francophone category that lives in our browse section,” as well as collaborations between Spotify Canada and some the main organization’s satellite offices.

“Coeur de Pirate worked with our French team and on some localized programming and playlists,” Wiszniak notes. “As a result, we were able to transition their highest market of Canada to France.

“When you look at a very Québec-centric band like Dead Obies, one of our editors who curates an international hip-hop playlist was able to add them into the playlist and broaden their audience. Canada remains the top Dead Obies market, but the U.S. is their second biggest market; interesting for a Québec band that now has over 1.8 million streams in the last year alone.

“Globalization and working with teams in other markets is how we’ve been able to do this.”

Spotify Canada’s tools of promotion also apply to indie artists like the reclusive Allan Rayman, a Toronto-based singer and songwriter who’s not even signed to a label (though he’s managed by Joel Carriere, the head of both Bedlam Music Management and Dine Alone Records), but whose music, particularly his album Hotel Allan, is gaining traction. Pop singer Saya also topped the global viral chart with “Wet Dreams” largely due to fan support.

How does it work?

Once Spotify Canada receives music from its variety of sources, including managers and artists, Wiszniak works closely with a playlist editor “in identifying priorities.”

“A lot of it is data-related – we use data as a definite driver/indicator as far as things are either happening, and an indication of where that initial audience is,” he explains. “When we have new releases or see things are reacting on the platform, whether that’s through our viral charts or on Discover Weekly, where people discover artists, we work together on prioritizing those releases.”

One of the more effective promotional tools is their spotlight program, first launched in December 2015.

“We identify artists that are poised as breaking for Canada and globally in the coming year,” Wiszniak explains. “We partner with those artists on helping them break into other territories. Our viral charts are a really great indicator of music that fans may be reacting to, especially artists that we don’t know.”

Wiszniak’s other label relations duties include educating different facets of the music industry on what Spotify can do for them.

“Essentially I’m the point of contact for the music industry here,” he says. “Labels, independent distributors and aggregators from the Orchard to Kobalt; independent platform labels in the U.S.; those that need to seek distribution, and even direct labels like Paper Bag: I deal with them weekly or bi-weekly to make sure that we’re ahead of their releases.”

Wiszniak also informs organizations like the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA) and SOCAN about “our best practices” and maintains direct relationships with artists and managers. Overall, Wiszniak says Spotify Canada’s mandate, with “a storefront that’s conducive to Canadian artists,” is a simple one.

“We really want to build the story in Canada, but the ultimate goal is to help globalize and cover the fan base of these Canadian artists.”