Songwriting and composing can sometimes be labours of love, but they’re always hard work, nonetheless.

You have to do some sort of creative work to write a song or compose a piece, and there are as many ways to do that work as there are music creators in the world.

In honour of Labour Day, SOCAN would like to share a few quotes, from interviews with our writer and composer members, about some of the qualities that come up repeatedly as facilitators of their work: persistence, patience, vulnerability, and solitude.

Sarah McLachlan, on the value of solitude in nature to complete her lyrics:
“I have a dog, and I hike every day in the woods… and whatever kernels of ideas I have, I just go into the woods, usually by myself, and just sort of work on the lyrics. I’ve got so much music, a ton of music, but lyrics are the things that are tough, where I have to really turn my brain off; turn all the other things off in my brain to really focus on them. Being in the woods, in nature, is paramount in being able to just relax, and settle in, and do nothing but focus in on that one task.”

Jessie Reyez, on the challenge of writing songs from a vulnerable place:
“The only time it’s difficult is… [when I’m] anticipating my loved ones feeling my pain. Because I know they hurt different, they hurt differently for me. That makes me hesitant about putting things out sometimes. But I do it anyway, and they support me anyway. So I’m grateful.”

Grandson, on the persistence involved in co-writing the 2019 SOCAN Songwriting prize-winning song “Blood/Water”:
“That one in particular was like trying to get a big fish on board… It took a million different forms, sonically, and we just couldn’t crack it… Kevin Hissink and I got it to a place (about 60 percent done) we were excited about, where I had all the lyrics, but finally I came up with what would become the verse melody, and the buildup melody, but we needed something to put it over the top… We sent Chester (Krupa Carbone) the demo, and he built out the rest of it.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie, on the patience required for her songs to reach timely fruition for release:
“I had political problems in the U.S. [in the ’70s] so that I couldn’t get any airplay. But I made a lot of great records during that time, that didn’t get heard. So some of those songs showed up on [her 2015 Polaris Prize-winning album] Power in the Blood… As a songwriter, if you have a medicine, and the flu hasn’t hit yet, it’s very smart to hang on to the medicine until it can do some good.”


Marie-Mai (Photo: Malina Corpadean)

Marie-Mai, on the super-vulnerable songs of her 2018 Elle et moi album:
Elle et moi is an incredibly personal album from beginning to end. Definitely my most personal album ever… This record is like my diary while I was going through all of this turmoil… an open window on my life during these last few years. Each song reveals a little more about me, and I know people will have questions after listening to them. Did she really do that? Did she really feel that way?”

Christine Jensen, multiple JUNO Award-winning jazz artist, on the listening effort and solitude required for her composing process:
“When I start the process of composition, the first thing I look for, or try to get my ears around, is an idea that I know I can develop. That might mean checking out a lot of different music, whether it’s jazz, or world, or contemporary classical, or pop, or folk… Then I need a place by myself, usually, to just process some thoughts and get some seeds of ideas going.”

Nicolas Gémus, 22, on the persistence required to write the songs on his critically-acclaimed 2019 debut album, Hiboux:
“I was 15 when I wrote the first song on the album… A song will happen spontaneously through a chorus or a verse, then I’ll take a step back and find that song’s heart and soul. And then begins the tortuous process of finishing that song. ‘L’amour et la peur’ came out in three hours; but most of the time, I need three hours to write a single sentence.”

Amritha Vaz

Amritha Vaz

Leonard Sumner, on the patience required to create his 2019 JUNO-nominated album Standing in the Light:
“It was a six-year process… Everything from song selection for recording, to the actual “playlist” of track order, to every little detail I went over. It was a super-long process. I had the album title for years before I actually had the songs ready for it.”

Amritha Vaz, screen composer, on the persistence required as she started out in film scoring
“When you start working as an assistant, you might be exceptionally lucky to land a writing gig, but more often, you’re earning your way to that position. Perhaps because I hadn’t formally studied film scoring, I was keenly aware of my huge learning curve, so I was just as eager to learn how to set-up Logic templates and synch video, as I was to soak up musical insights… There was so much to learn!… And there’s the art of graciously letting it all go when what you’ve tried [for a score] doesn’t land, and you’re back to square one.”

High Klassified, Montréal-based hip-hop producer, and Weeknd/Future co-writer, on the value of solitude to focus on writing:
“My girlfriend lives in the Canadiens tower (downtown condo), and that’s a real headache to me. All that noise and entertainment bothers me. In (my basement studio in) Laval, I can concentrate on music and think about nothing else. That’s how I manage to create.”

As a young adult, David Marin read obituaries for a community radio station in his hometown of Drummondville (a town of about 70,000 located about 90 minutes Northeast of Montréal). He suppresses a laugh. “It was a major source of revenue for stations back then!” he says, as if to justify the practice that has since been, well, put to death. David Marin, master of puns, will forgive us for our bad one, about technological progress. Nowadays, it’s on the web that we learn of Lisette and Adélard’s passing.

David’s love for the medium, however, never died. Having graduated from an Art and Technology of the Media program, the songwriter sat before many microphones in his twenties, and has found a new one of sorts in Radio Compost, his new live stage show that’s inspired by current and third album, Hélas Végas, released in November 2018.

“When I prepared the show, I did come up with a few anecdotes to tell, but we concentrated our efforts on the music, nonetheless,” says Marin. “But that always made me feel like I wasn’t delivering everything I have. I would improv, and towards the end, I told myself that if I just worked a little harder, it would be much better.”

That self-flagellation session led to the creation of Radio Compost, the radio station that invites – forces us – to tune in when attending one of his concerts. It’s constructed as an FM radio program that includes taking calls from listeners, ads (for Assurance Love, a love insurance broker), live reports from the Beach Club, and more traditional on-mic interventions that link together songs cherry-picked from his three albums.

“I love radio shows of all kinds – and sometimes it’s a bad trip, especially when I’m in Québec City,” he says. (For reasons that remain unclear, Québec City has a mind-boggling ratio of trash-talk and shock-jock radio programs per capita.) “So instead of trying to find the story, the anecdote that best segues into the next song, I asked myself: what element from the world of radio could be used to get people in the mood for the next tune? My idea was to give the audience an [Andy] Kaufman-esque experience: What’s real and what’s not? I think those are important questions to ask ourselves nowadays.”

He actually dreams, more or less secretly, of a virtual radio station that would link the various regions of Québec, so that they have can a greatly lacking dialogue between them. “We are so disconnected from what’s happening elsewhere, outside of Montréal,” says the man, who splits his time between his apartment in the city and his house in Trois-Pistoles (a rural town located about 4-1/2 hours Northeast of Montréal, in the Lower Saint Lawrence region).

“I’d like to create a common space that’s something other than trash-talk radio, something more than bitching, to create a true socio-cultural web of what Québec really is. We live in an era where there are a ton of loud speakers, people who yell their opinions. If we want things to change, we need to find another way of doing it.”

“Chu un été trop chaud/ Un automne humide/ Un hiver trop rude/ Et un printemps timide/ Je fais toutt les temps, toutt les temps/ Je reviens maintenant/ Avec le goût d’me refaire/ Une beauté du monde” (“I’m too hot a summer / A humid autumn / A winter too harsh / And a timid spring / I’m all over the place, all over the place / I’m back now / And I feel like re- creating/ A beautiful world”), Marin sings in “Rue de la Grève,” the piano-and-voice ballad that closes Hélas Végas.

As with all great breakup albums, this one is at once the autopsy of a relationship that’s dying, and the story of the necessary re-discovery of oneself – including all the anxiety-inducing, and not always thrilling, questions that this duel with the mirror implies.

After re-patriating his sentimental assets and mending his heart, a man in his forties wonders who he is, when he’s no longer a boyfriend and not yet a father. “We can devote ourselves to love or to a cause, but sometimes, in life, there may come a time when we decide to devote ourselves to ourselves,” says the singer. “That’s what I did: I gave myself permission that I hadn’t given myself in a long time. I was on my own, with nothing to negotiate for awhile, and I just left doors open to anything.”

Writing Tip: Cut Yourself Some Slack
“When you write lyrics and music, you have to learn to cut yourself some slack. What that means to me is, for example, that when I feel like one of my texts is a bit more on the cerebral edge, I’ll compose music that’s simpler to go with it. One also needs to learn that it’s OK to not always rhyme, that you can break free from metering. There are so many toys you can use as a writer. It can be as simple as ‘La nuit je mens/Je m’en lave les mains’ (‘At night I lie / I wash my hands of it,’ with the pun of “mens and “m’en”). It flows, it’s fun, it’s beautiful.”

The result: David Marin, already known as one of his generation’s most agile writers, penned some of his most brilliant and touching lyrics yet on Hélas Végas, thanks to a poetic style that draws the listener in, and lets them slowly discover its prowess (rather than highlighting it gaudily).

“I found my comfort zone as a writer by listening to the words of Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung’s lyricist), he’s the one who taught me where the limit is,” says Marin. “My earlier albums contain some seriously regrettable puns, and Jean Fauque made me realize that if I want to play with language, it has to be refined, not cheap puns.”

Yet, Jean Fauque is often called “hermetic.” So how does one avoid writing, for oneself, overly opaque lyrics? “When I hear ‘Quelle autre solution/Que de se dissoudre’ [in Bashung’s song “Faites monter,” ‘What other solution is there/but to dissolve’], I go nuts! Not you? There’s nothing opaque there! To me, good lyrics are like images, like the strokes of a paintbrush. It’s having three coats of paint in a single sentence. It’s like beautiful fireworks for your brain, your intelligence, and your heart.” He’s talking about Fauque, but he might as well be describing his own songs.

David Marin presents Radio Compost on Sept. 10, 2019, at Ministère.

Iqaluit, Nunavut:  It’s Nunavut Music Week 2.0, and rapper FxckMr is taking advantage of meeting a small group of people from the Canadian music industry, mostly from Toronto, there to learn as much about the remote, stark, beautiful capital city and Arctic community of 7,700 people and the struggles and logistics facing musicians there, as they are from us.

FxckMr – real name MisterLee Cloutier-Ellsworth – performs numerous times, at Inuksuk High School for a CBC q radio special; the Royal Canadian Legion (the only true live music venue); an unprecedented outdoor concert on bone-chilling Frobisher Bay; and at the NuBrew open mic.

He also performs at the Franco-Centre in the daytime, where the informal informational sessions take place, with everyone seated in a circle, talking about what they do and taking questions from the local musicians – designed to provide mentorship for those interested. FxckMr is interested.

“I’ve always been good at articulating my thoughts and new ideas.”

By the end of the three-day trip, he’s won the visitors over, blowing us away with his rhymes, and endearing us with his friendly personality. He’s even impressed a mainstream daily like The Toronto Star enough to cover him. But underneath his smile, FxckMr uses hip-hop to expose the realities of life in the North, one often filled with addiction, depression, and suicide, familiar to so many youth from the territory.

His eight-song debut album, 1997, which includes previously released cuts “Higher,” “PMFWAFT” and “Hunnid Grand,” drops Sept. 20, 2019, on Aakuluk Music, the label started by Iqaluit breakout band The Jerry Cans, via Six Shooter. FxckMr has just turned 22, but it’s taken him five years to land this unique opportunity, releasing a hip-hop album on a national scale with the industry behind him.

“I’ve always been good at articulating my thoughts and new ideas,” he says, standing outside the Franco-Centre. “I started writing poetry when I was about 15.  I might’ve done some more when I was younger, but 15 was when I was like, ‘Okay, I like this.’”

There was no hip-hop scene in Iqaluit, he says. Most of the music is traditional, passed down from the elders to ensure it doesn’t die with the next generation. “Rock bands, or folk singers playing acoustic Inuktitut music, is mostly what people are interested in,” says FxckMr.

“I wasn’t big into hip-hop. There was a Childish Gambino, I was into him when I was 15, and a bit of Eminem, but I wasn’t hip-hop-oriented. I was into electronic and dubstep music in those days, and then 17 was when it started switching.”

At 16, FxckMr lived in Montréal – where his mother’s side of the family is from, and where he now resides – and was introduced to some rap from friends, before moving back to Iqaluit a year later, where he was exposed to local hip-hop artists, like Lekan Thomas, Hyper-T, and Brian Tagalik.

“We started freestyling,” he says, “and there was a high school talent show that was going to be happening, and it happened to be while we were doing a poetry unit in English class, so I was like, ‘We’re doing this.’” He got a good response and kept on writing – dozens, then 100, and now approaching 200 songs.

“I haven’t gotten into producing yet,” says FxckMr. “I’ve been trying to perfect the lyrics first. I will become proficient in the producing, and even instruments. I know I’m going to catch on to the drums, the keyboard, trying to do the guitar. I don’t think it’s quite my thing, but I’m trying to go outside the lyrics a little bit.”

But as important as preserving the Inuk language is, FxckMr always rhymes in English. “I know I could sit down and write an Inuktitut song, but I don’t see it as what’s going to help my career right now,” he says.