Cory Crossman

Cory Crossman

A Music City: What does this really mean? Nashville claims the official title, and rightly so – as the home of The Grand Ole Opry, with a rich musical history that includes a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of hit songs, seminal records, and iconic venues such as The Ryman Auditorium (“the mother church of country music”).

Recently, more North American cities are adding this designation to their marketing and tourism efforts — realizing the economic, social and cultural impact that music has on a community. Opening a Music City office, as a liaison between bureaucrats and the industry, is one way to formalize these efforts. In Ontario, as with the cities of Toronto and Hamilton, London is one of these trail-blazers.

In recent years, London has mapped out a strategy and hired a music industry development officer, Cory Crossman, whose main roles are to make connections between the music industry and City Hall, and to educate and advocate on behalf of the local music industry.

“It’s not just about the musicians, but the industry and all of its elements… all the jobs within the music sector,” says Crossman. “I compare the music sector in our city to an iceberg: there are small bits that float above the water – the artists – but there are dozens of people behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. To make a Music City you need all of those elements.”

FUEL is the acronym summarizing The London Music Office’s goals. It stands for:

  • Foster music education and incubation
  • Unite the music business
  • Engage the musicians and artists
  • Liven events and venues.

Some early successes Crossman credits to his office include the Music City Exchange, a program allowing London artists to perform at marquee events in Toronto and Hamilton; it also helps artists from those two sister markets to perform in the Forest City. September of 2016 marked the first time that London hosted The Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA), bringing in more than $8.4 million to the city. That was led by Tourism London, but other successful events that the London Music Office organized and hosted include the Canada’s Music Incubator (Coalition Music) Bootcamp and the city’s first-ever music career day. One hundred people were projected for this free event, and 190 registered. Topics included songwriting, production, music synchronization, publishing, royalties, radio tracking, music promotion, venue management, social media, public relations, industry development, and incubation.

Behind the scenes, The London Music Office is working, on an ongoing basis, to make changes to the by-laws governing amplified/live music on patios. Crossman is hopeful by the time patios are open for business in 2018, they’ll have a revised by-law that helps local artists.

London: Music City by the Numbers (2015)

  • $7 million: amount London artists made from SOCAN – earned by 1,144 music creators and 59 music publishers
  • 53 live music venues
  • 875 music students at post-secondary schools in London
  • 4,520 live music events held in the city.

To truly understand a sector or an industry, one needs to first understand the demographics that drive its growth. In the summer of 2016 The London Music Census captured figures from the 2015 calendar year. Over the six-week timeframe, 1,536 surveys were filled out. A major focus was to determine barriers that exist to music in the city, so that the London Music Office could look to potential solutions.

At a high level, the census results show the majority (45%) of musicians in London are between the ages of 20-34. Most musicians (89.5%) perform popular music genres such as; R&B, Roots, Country, Rock, Pop, Alternative, Jazz, Folk, EDM, Indie, Punk or Metal. Of the surveyed musicians, 83 per cent reported identifying as male. The Forest City’s musicians are a young, emerging demographic. Another key census finding showed that London’s music industry businesses aren’t applying for funding grants. The reasons vary, but a common theme emerged: London businesses largely don’t have the ability to submit for granting opportunities, citing the lack of time and low past success rates as major contributing factors.


Poesy (Photo: Chelsea Brimstin)

SOCAN member Poesy (a.k.a. Sarah Botelho) is one of London’s rising stars. She started playing music in the city about three years ago, and from the outset noticed a diverse and supportive scene.

“The more London is becoming a music city, the stronger those bonds and those communities are,” she explains. “The city itself is dynamic musically, because London is a city that really feels like a town. It’s possible to play at every venue in London, and get to know all of the people involved: sound engineers, bookers, club owners, other musicians, etc.  And it’s a much more personal exchange than I’ve felt in other music cities.”

Poesy says another way The London Music Office has really benefited London as a music city is through their involvement in helping new talent get established.

“Before I started getting involved with various London Music Office opportunities, hardly anybody in London knew who I was, or had heard my music,” she says. “Getting selected to play at London’s Canada 150 Sesquifest event [a Music Office initiative] really helped get my name out there… having support from the city you’re in really lights a fire under you.”

Chad Price, a London singer-songwriter, agrees. He says the music scene in London is alive and well, “bursting with talent” in so many genres.

“There’s definitely something good going on here right now, and I’m proud to be one of the people contributing to this momentum,” says Price. “What makes London so special and dynamic is that there is a real musical community beginning to take shape. As artists, we’re doing everything we can to help each other find success and not just be thinking about ourselves. I will be out there rooting for acts like Texas King, Poesy, Ivory Hours, Jessica Allosery, and Genevieve Fisher, just as much as I will for myself. We support each other, and it’s also great to have an organizational body and advocate for London music in the London Music Office.”

Chad Price

Chad Price (Photo: Craig Chambers)

Price adds that the support from the city is also helping to inject some new life and confidence into London’s music scene. On a personal note, it has helped the songwriter better disperse his music. “I was the recipient of a grant from the London Arts Council’s Community Arts Investment Program this year, and used those funds to create several videos bringing awareness not only to my music, but also to culturally and historically significant landmarks in the city.”

Live music venues are key to supporting and incubating any music scene. With 53 live music venues, ranging from large-scale arenas (Budweiser Gardens) to more intimate spaces with varying capacities (The London Music Club, Call the Office, Aeolian Hall) the London scene is healthy and growing.

Looking ahead, numerous exciting initiatives are underway in London, led by Crossman’s team and supported by partners such as the London Arts Council, the city’s Culture Office, and Tourism London. The London Music Strategy, which Crossman inherited, aims to promote culture as a key part of economic growth and quality of life as identified in Council’s 2015 -2019 Strategic Plan and the Cultural Prosperity Plan for the City of London.

“When I was in high school I was asked by my guidance counsellor, ‘What do you want to do for a living?’” says Crossman. “I was 16 years old, and told her I liked hockey and music. She replied, ‘There’s no career in those, so go find something else!’ That conversation always stuck with me. What we’re trying to do is show that there are so many opportunities to get involved in the music industry, and arm students and the public with the message that these opportunities do exist.”

Nicole Lizée

Photo: Steve Raegele

Although we live in neighbouring boroughs in Montréal, it’s on the phone that I speak with composer Nicole Lizée. But instead of creating distance, the object we’re using to communicate becomes a subject of conversation: has she ever considered composing a piece for telephones? She has, after all, made music using vintage video games, toys, novelty instruments like the stylophone, and a plethora of strange objects throughout the years. “No, but that’s a good idea, I’ll add it to my list of projects,” she says with a laugh. Maybe she’s joking, but it would come as no surprise to anyone if she actually did it at some point.

And don’t go thinking it’s just a gimmick; these elements, usually foreign to serious or concert music, are part and parcel of the composer’s creative approach. “The objects I use all have a sentimental value,” she says. “At a very young age, I started keeping a list of dream objects that I wanted to integrate in my work, stuff I grew up with, like the E.T. game, an absolutely unplayable videogame for the Atari 2600 considered the biggest flop ever in the history of videogames. Or the Omnichord, a bizarre instrument that I purchased as an adult, but that fascinated me ever since I heard it in the Eurythmics song “Love is a Stranger.” They’re imperfect objects, and therein lies their beauty, to me.”

Lizée is fascinated by obsolete technologies and their sometimes haphazard operation. Raised in a small Saskatchewan village, she grew up in a treasure trove that her father filled with all kinds of electronic devices he repaired and collected. Her unusual musical path took her from Chopin to heavy metal, movie soundtracks to ‘80s pop. She took this baggage with her in the McGill University classrooms where her eclectic approach wasn’t always unanimously approved. “When I presented Nicole Lizée my Master’s project, a concerto for turntables, certain members of the faculty applauded my originality, and others told me that it wasn’t a real instrument and that it couldn’t be included on sheet music.” Says Lizée. “Which is ludicrous, because, as a matter of fact, I had created a notation system specific to that instrument!”

Since graduating, her bold creative approach has been validated on many occasions: commissions came from all over the place – the Metropolitan Orchestra and Kronos Quartet, among others – and she’s received several prestigious awards. The latest of which is the Jan V. Matejcek Award for new classical music, which she received during SOCAN’s 2017 Awards Gala in Montréal, after a unanimous decision by the jury.

“I was touched, because what means the most to me is the recognition of my peers and of the industry,” says Lizée. “The kind of music I do has nearly zero chances of ending up on the radio, so awards like these are helpful in promoting my work. I’ve immediately noticed increased attention to my work after I won the Jules Léger Award from the Canada Council for the Arts in 2013.”

Since 2012, her projects have grown exponentially, including several works inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, where she manipulates and re-mixes them in a dialogue with solo musicians or orchestras. When she’s not composing for herself or creating her own images, Lizée’s is a highly prized and sought-after musical collaborator.

“I’m so thrilled to see people coming to me, because they recognize and appreciate the specificity of my work,” she says. “I recently received a request from Pat Steward, who was Bryan Adams’ drummer for a long time. He saw one of my concerts in Vancouver and really liked it. After contacting me, he commissioned a piece and simply said, ‘Do your thing.’ That’s the kind of collaboration I find exciting.”

Among the numerous projects that will keep her busy in the coming months, there’s the recording of Death to Kosmische, the piece commissioned by the famous Kronos Quartet, which catapulted her to success on the international scene. She’s also working on a collaboration with the band Collectif9. During Printemps Nordique, in April, she’ll present – alongside Innu rapper Samian – a work for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra inspired by Native legends.

“I don’t care about the genre, as long as it’s a bold and creative project,” says Lizée. “If I’m allowed to maintain my vision, and everybody works from the heart and with integrity, I’m happy.”

Andréanne A. MaletteSome album are new beginnings, a new swing of things. Such is undeniably the case for Andréanne A. Malette, who left the Productions J record label after Bohèmes, her first album, which sold 15,000 copies. As if to illustrate this fully assumed autonomy, the cover of her sophomore effort only bears her name as a title, and a picture of her and a ghost double.

“I’m a girl who constantly asks questions, who wants to know how things work,” says Malette. “I didn’t leave angry. On the contrary, I left with the idea of doing things my way. Simple as that.”

After completing various training sessions on production, taxes, distribution and marketing, Malette decided to bet on complete control, and moving forward will act as her own producer, artistic director, administrator and publisher.

These new responsibilities allow her to express her new creative approach. After writing in English for many years, she admits having tried for a long time to find her own style of writing in French. “I’m inspired by music I like, folk that’s best sung in English, like Bears of Legend and First Aid Kit,” says Malette. “So obviously, when I sang in French, there was something ‘off.’ I would veer towards text-based chanson française, gypsy music, which is not like me. On this album, I wanted to work on my delivery, how I stress words when I sing a text. I wanted to make French sound the way I like, and I did.”

The writing process also differed, this time around. Where Bohèmes was a compilation of seven years’ worth of writing, this time Malette was filled with creative urgency. Used to waiting for inspiration, she decided to force the issue, holing up in a cabin in the woods with a single goal in mind: write songs. “But the truth is, inspiration didn’t come when I wanted it,” she says. “There I was, with writer’s block, taking walks in the woods and making fires, hoping it would soon come. But the context did provoke things; I managed to write six songs, and forest is one of the most common nouns in the songs. It left its mark…” Since then, Malette’s phone is constantly in record mode to capture her melodic ideas, and a notebook is never far, so she can jot down themes, or lyrics snippets.

In order to convert those introspective creative impulses into financially viable ones, Malette also had to come up with new financing streams. She rapidly abandoned the idea of crowd-funding à la Kickstarter, a model that’s become over-used and impersonal, to her. After the Bohèmes tour, Malette wanted to keep going, so she came up with the idea for her “Feu de camp” (“Campfire”) tour. She contacted more than 300 camping sites. The response was immediate. In no time, 40 gigs were booked. No middlemen, no venue to pay, only one musician to accompany her (Judith Sun), minimal expenses.

“It creates deep ties,” says Malette. “You have a beer with people, you pee in their bathroom, you partake in their méchoui (spit-roasted whole lamb)… I have spare keys for cabins all over the province. And I’ve learned a lot.” Nowadays, she repeats this winning formula for other artists like François Lachance and David Paradis.

The other financing stream she set up is a VIP Fan system. For a certain amount of money, three interactive shows were presented to her fans in Montréal, Québec City and Granby, and the fans chose which songs she would sing, as well as those that would appear on the eponymous album. Malette also asked for their comments in order to get to know them better. “I did everything on my own, and I needed to step back from my songs a little,” she says. “I knew my fans could provide me with that perspective. I was surprised to find out that what they crave the most are my compositions. I did a cover of Francine Raymond’s ‘Pour l’amour qu’il nous reste’, [‘For the Love We Still Have Left’] and my fans were very clear that that was only OK live.” The singer – who has left her mark on the Star Académie TV singing competition, the Festival de la chanson de Granby, and Ma première Place des Arts – honours those ties with her fans in various ways, notably an early release of her second album just for them.

A multi-talented artist, Malette questioned the “complete control” route she’d taken until the very end of the process. “I thought it’d be faster,” she says. “And I’ve realized how much time doing all of that requires. It’s very demanding, but I have good support. A month before the album’s release, I got an offer from a record label. I did hesitate for a moment. But I thought it was crazy to have worked so hard on self-producing, only to embark in another vehicle. It’s like I had decided, five minutes before a marathon’s finish line, to ask somebody else to cross it for me. I did not go through all this for that.”

Don’t miss Malette’s “making of” video playlist for he new album: