If Toronto-born Matthew Tishler is feeling like a “Kid in a Candy Store,” it’s with good reason: the video of the song of that name – which he co-wrote for 14-year old singer, TV star and YouTube personality JoJo Siwa – has been viewed more than 74 million times.

But “Kid in a Candy Store” is only one of the latest of the L.A.-based Tishler’s accomplishments: over the course of his career, he’s been a writer, co-writer, or producer on projects that have sold a combined total of more than 15 million records, split between the Disney-saturated youth market and the foreign hemispheres of J-Pop and K-Pop.

“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy,” says Tishler. “I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”

He’s also able to write for youth. Tishler has worked with High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale, Liv and Maddie teen sitcom actress Dove Cameron, Girl Vs. Monster feature actress Olivia Holt, and Austin & Ally’s Ross Lynch, as well as penning the theme song for the TV series Girl Meets World (all Disney properties). Writing songs for TV is one of his niches.

“I met the Disney people when I was doing a lot of writing trips to Los Angeles in my early 20s,” says Tishler, now 31. “It was when Hannah Montana was really successful, and I always felt that those kinds of songs came natural to me. It works with Disney because our motivations are aligned: I really like what they do. I like writing songs for film and television, and I’m really compelled by that kind of storytelling and character-driven music. It’s been a natural fit.”

Tishler says that he does his job best when he gets into his collaborator’s headspace. “It goes back to that character. You have to put yourself in that mindset. You get a little silly and it helps just to talk to these artists and get to know them,” says Tishler, who recently completed 26 songs for a 52-episode Disney Jr. animated series that will air in the summer.

JoJo Siwa, in particular, has such a strong sense of who she is. The more you talk to her, you learn about what drives her, what excites her, and you get a big sense of who she is. Of course, it helps to collaborate. JoJo contributes a lot to lyrics, so we make sure it conveys her voice from a lyrical perspective.”

“I’m unabashedly commercial and poppy. I’m able to work well with Disney because I’m able to fulfill a vision with them.”

Another market that Tishler has developed for himself is the J-Pop/K-Pop arena (of Japanese and Korean youth pop) , where he’s written for the likes of EXO, Taeyeon, BTS, AOA, Koda Kumi and retiring J-Pop legend Namie Amuro.

Matthew Tishler’s top three tips for young songwriters:

  1. Follow your voice and find your niche. That’s proven to be so important to me, and I’m grateful for finding these niches, instead of banging my head against the wall and trying to do something that doesn’t come naturally.”
  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s one thing to be inspired by talented people for motivation, but I try to resist any comparison, if it stems from competition or envy.  It’s a fast-track to feeling self-conscious. I get my best results when I’m looking forward, focused, doing my own thing.”
  1. “A piece of practical writing advice that has helped me: truly think about the context. It’s easy to just start playing music, so I try to put as much work as possible in before I play a single note. What are we writing? Why? Who’s listening? Really think deeply about the project, the artist, the moment in time, the desired tone, and intended outcome. Understanding these things before writing helps to organize my thoughts and give direction so the execution can be fun and so much easier.”

“We had three songs on her [Namie’s] album Finally, and it sold two million physical albums,” says Tishler. “That’s virtually unheard of. I can’t remember the last time anyone around here physically sold that, except maybe Adele.”

Tishler says he received his introduction to the Asian markets when he was still living in Toronto, via his manager, the late Brandon Gray. “He had some contacts in the market and sent my songs there,” says Tishler. “They just responded to the kind of music that I was making, in a way that I never would have expected. Analyzing it in retrospect, I think I know why. My strong suit as a writer is melody, and that’s the most important thing in that market. Lyric is my weakness, and it’s no surprise that my first success was in a market where they change all the words,” he laughs.

Despite his initial successes in those markets, Tishler didn’t visit South Korea until three years ago, and he’s scheduled to make his first trip to Japan this April. “For many years, we worked long distance,” he says. “I would write songs in Toronto and then, ultimately in Los Angeles, send them, and our contacts there would send us briefs and leads.  We’d write and do revisions, and then send them the finals. I’d never meet anyone in person. Now we go to Korea every year: we do a writing camp with one of the big labels in Seoul.”

For Tishler, Seoul was an eye-opener. “Being there in person, you really understand how important music is to them,” he says. “It’s embedded in the culture. They’re genuine music fans. They care about the songs; they care about the artists and it’s reflected everywhere you go.”

The challenges of writing in a foreign tongue still exist, but Tishler says he’s learned some techniques to cope with interpretation. “You learn little tricks on how to write melodies that will translate well, and that certain kinds of phrasing will work better,” he says. “Certain syllable counts will also work – but certainly the act of collaborating and creating with the local writers is an exciting challenge.”

But Tishler says the true litmus test is quality. “Ultimately, the best songs win.”

 


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As a musical genre, blues faces a hyper-competitive international market, and is under-heard at home, so the international progress of our local artists should be celebrated exploits.

Dawn Tyler Watson

Dawn Tyler Watson

“It’s not surprising,” says singer-songwriter Dawn Tyler Watson, who’s just returned from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, where she rubbed elbows with Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal, to name just a couple of the headliners. “Our vision of blues in Québec is popular. The way we play it, the style, the authenticity, the repertoire. I’m asked to play regularly.”

Watson demonstrated her versatility in her former eclectic duo with guitarist and singer Paul Deslauriers; they gave concerts in Russia, Australia, Morocco, Brazil, and all over Europe. It shows, as well, in her current role as a big-band singer in Ben Racine’s group, which is perfect for her. Only three months after undergoing triple-bypass heart surgery, she won top honours at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis in 2017. She came out on top among 200 contestants. No wonder bookers and festivals are all over her since then.

“Artists who sing the blues in French can forget about developing their careers abroad,” says Brian Slack, a programmer, and Watson’s manager since 1997. “I have a hard time booking them even in Québec! International programmers are afraid of French blues. I’m very attuned to what others are doing,” he says, referring to festivals in Canada, the U.S. and overseas. “We need to create momentum, it’s super-important. Keep them in the loop continually. A blues artist, no matter where they’re from, has to release a well-produced album every other year. We pick the events. There are plenty of singers out there!”

The Montréal Blues Society’s role in the thriving career of many Québec artists shouldn’t be underestimated. Go-between, catalyst, source of information: this non-profit undertaking makes good use of social media, like everybody else. It’s they who send Québec artists to the IBC, as a pre-requisite for entry to the contest: all contestants must be sponsored by their local blues society.

Another can’t-miss event is the Canadian Blues Summit, held every other year in Toronto, serving as the Canadian Music Week or Bourse Rideau of the Canadian blues scene. It’s an undeniable career accelerator.

Steve Hill

Steve Hill

Steve Hill – Québec blues patriarch, winner of the 2015 Blues Album of the Year JUNO Award,  and a plethora of Maple Blues Awards – has been criss-crossing Europe for the past two years, both as a solo act, and with British legends Wishbone Ash, playing 1,000- to 2,000-seater venues. “Everything I make here, I re-invest in those European tours,” he says. “Tour expenses, my technician, etc. I lose money when I tour Europe, but blues is a business where you need to be seen. It’s an investment.”

His European press kit is to die for. Major British outlets like1 Classic Rock Magazine rave about the bluesman’s solo performances. Same goes in Germany, where rock and blues are highly appreciated: the press loves him. This summer, Hill will open for Joe Bonamassa on the German leg of his tour, and play in front of audiences of 10,000-plus.

Hill also took up another daunting challenge on Feb. 16, 2018: the Electric Candlelight Concerto, a 20-minute piece, in five movements, that he played alongside The Montréal Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Kent Nagano, during an atypical Concert in the Dark at Montréal’s Maison Symphonique. In doing so, Hill entered the hallowed halls of classical music, an exploit that would have been unimaginable 20, even 10 years ago. Could his development abroad also benefit from this type of visibility? “The next morning, I was having breakfast with maestro Nagano at the Ritz,” says Hill. “There are discussions about playing this piece elsewhere in the world with other symphonic orchestras.” Hill, who does three or four Canadian tours each year, for at least the last five years, also benefits from SODEC subsidies.

Montréaler Michael Jerome Browne is a traditional blues specialist. His records on the Borealis imprint are a delight for purists and delta blues aficionados. Alongside the renowned Eric Bibb, Browne has travelled to all corners of North America. He hasn’t had a manager for the past decade and yet, next April, he’s booked for a series of 15 concerts in the U.K.

Jordan Officer has three albums of refined guitar stylings, and his new one is due in June of 2018. Even though he was awarded with a CALQ creation subsidy in New York City in 2013, he prefers camper-van pilgrimages with his family to the American South as a way to create contacts. Plus, year in and year out, a French booker steadily books him for 10 gigs. “It’s possible to develop anywhere, even outside existing networks,” says Officer.

Angel Forrest has been active in Canada for 30 years, and she, too, will release a new album soon: the live recording Electric Love. Just as her Québec brethren, Forrest also hires a European booker. In a few days, English audiences in Sheffield, Bristol and Glasgow, to name but a few, will have their first contact with the raspy-voiced singer. Then, she’s headed to Omaha, Kansas City and Minneapolis, in August. “It’s word-of-mouth in action,” she says. “And that necessarily requires concerts.” Forrest stays away from re-visiting blues classics, and presents audiences with her own folk and rock-tinged songs. She was one of eight finalists at the IBC in January 2018. “I was surprised,” admits the Anglo-Quebecer, “because my music is quite outside the box, and less conventional.” She won Female Singer of the Year at the 2018 Maple Blues Awards, yet she admits that “winning trophies is nice, but they don’t bring anything concrete.”

Mike Goudreau

Mike Goudreau

Guitarist Paul Deslauriers just signer a deal with renowned blues booker Intrepid Artist. His agenda now includes several concerts in Florida, including the Daytona Blues Fest, Omaha, Las Vegas, and a long list of other shows. Winner of four Maple Blues Awards this year, The Paul Deslauriers Band is in great demand all over Canada. He and his bandmates finished in second place in Memphis in 2016, and the sailing has been smooth ever since. “We’re no longer just a band from Montréal, for American bookers,” says Deslauriers. “The only way to build your audience is to play in front of people as often as possible.”

Ironically, the Eastern Townships’ Mike Goudreau is probably the one artist who’s the most popular in the U.S. and worldwide, yet he hasn’t played a single show in those territories. With 19 albums in the bag, TV programs and films are crazy about his music. Since 2007, we’ve heard his blues guitar composition in more than 100 American productions, such as NCIS (CBS), Gotham (Fox), and Hung (HBO), to name just a few. Even the 2016 European leg of the Forever Gentlemen tour, and 40 shows in Eastern Europe accompanying Garou, have nothing on his American success – proof that Québec’s blues has a little je-ne-sais-quoi that audiences everywhere love, even in the birthplace of that music.

Clearly, to paraphrase Dawn Tyler Watson it’s all about the way we play it: the style, the authenticity, the repertoire, and – no doubt – simply because these artists are so talented.


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Dumas“Where have my ideals gone? They’re being held captive. By forsaking my ideals, I built a cage for myself,” Dumas sings, reflecting on his life, with a healthy dose of nostalgia. His new album Nos idéaux (Our Ideals) arrives just as he’s about to turn 40, and finds him taking a look back at the journey so far, 20 years down the road of his career.

“I truly was in a certain frame of mind, lyrically,” says Steve Dumas. “I wanted to reveal really personal stuff, and to write songs deeply anchored around the lyrics.” Alongside author and lyricist Jonathan Harnois, mainly known for the magnificent Je voudrais me déposer la tête, he dove into a writing project initially destined to be a solo tour more than an album. “I hadn’t toured on my own since 2004,” says Dumas, “and I felt like experiencing that one-on-one vibe with my audience on the road again, to meet with the people that were there from the beginning.”

Gus Van Go, the Canadian producer now based in New York City, contacted Dumas and changed the course of things by inviting him to spend a few days at his studio. “In the end, I had an issue with my flight and only got to spend one day with him in Brooklyn,” says Dumas. “We recorded the song ‘Nos idéaux’ in one day. It was wonderful to work with people I didn’t know.” Gus, alongside Werner F, had only one idea in mind: applying the demos Dumas sent him to the musical instruments of Chris Soper and Jesse Singer. “They’re coming out with an album together soon,” says Dumas. “Their band’s called Megative. I’d heard what they do through a common friend, and it was a perfect match right from the start.” Dumas went back to Brooklyn to finish the album.

Playing With the Past

Nos idéaux is a return-to-songwriting album, one that’ll please fans of Cours des jours, those who hummed ‘J’erre’ while strolling ‘Au gré des saisons.’ “I’m fully aware that I was all over the place over the last few years,” says the songwriter. “Now, I want to talk to people in the same way I did in my twenties, but with my present outlook.”

But because Gus Van Go had never heard Dumas’s older material, the finished product has shiny new clothes, a more eclectic sound wrapped around the lyrical landscape where Dumas and his fans have roamed for two decades. “J’errais, j’errais en solitaire,” (“I roamed, I roamed alone”) he sings on “Bleu Clair,” as a clear nod to the past, while singing about the present. “I feel like I’m doing something that’s very ‘now,’” says Dumas. “I had the opportunity to work with fresh ears. It’s every songwriter’s dream. My DNA re-emerged naturally. and I didn’t try to stop it.”

“I challenged myself. The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in, and abandoned my safety net.”

Dumas remembers when first emerged on the music scene, “at the end of an era,” when it was impossible to do anything without a record contract. “Things have considerably changed when it comes to independent production,” he says. “It makes things more interesting, as far as diversity goes. Québec’s music scene now has a lot more sub-genres. I can count on the fingers of one hand the music that touched me as a teen in Québec. Today, the offerings are much, much wider.”

Dumas’s first album came out 17 years ago, and the artist’s career has consistently grown since. “It’s been exactly 20 years since I became a member of SOCAN!” says Dumas, immediately realizing the implications. “The word ‘career’ scares me, but I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I like being part of the group of people who barely played any kind of big variety show, but who are still around. It serves as an example for the younger generation that there are several ways to do what we do.”

Pop music, too, has changed a lot over the last two decades, yet we still associate the genre with a simplistic, limited, or even corny creative approach. Yet, it’s a musical genre that Dumas has championed from day one. “I really enjoy making pop music,” he says. “You just need to not push it too much, so that people feel your authenticity. The Beatles are a pop band, but when you listen, you can always feel John in the back. That’s the key.”

Twenty more years?

“We often wonder if we’re going to record another album,” says Dumas. It’s quite normal to wonder about the future of the physical format of music when the methods of consumption are undergoing a disruptive shift. Nos idéaux is an album that arrives at just the right time. “I challenged myself,” says Dumas. “The people I worked with gave me my confidence back. I went all in and abandoned my safety net. I did exactly that on Le cours des jours. I remember telling myself to do things exactly as I wanted, like there wouldn’t be another album.” 

For the next few months, Dumas will hit the road. “I really thought long and hard about what you can do alone on a stage,” he says. “With all the DJ technology around today, you can do everything. Mes idéaux will be a solo show!”


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