Not a single facet of music creation slips through musician Mélanie Venditti’s fingers. While her album Épitaphes (2019) unfolded like a long, calculated, and precise farewell, her self-produced and self-released EP Projections, released on April 30, 2021, offers six unique pieces that unfold like scattered slices of life, that can be understood together or separately.

Melanie Venditti“These songs came slowly, in no particular order, over the course of two years,” says Venditt. “My album was very cerebral, as if I was writing a book, but this time, I wrote what I was living, no matter what it meant.”

Epitaphs brought us to the heart of Venditti’s mourning of her mother, in a calculated, dutiful remembrance. “This time around, it’s the opposite,” she says. “I let the music come to me.”

Obviously, 2020 was the year of pandemic self-isolation, but the stormy return of the waves of #metoo, in July, is also part of the collective memory of the past year. Regardless of what this movement evokes as a memory, trauma, or vague feeling, we have all, in one way or another, experienced or witnessed significant discomfort. “When I read some of the testimonials, I realized that it stirred a lot of stuff that I had experienced,” says Venditti. “It’s at the very heart of this EP, it truly fed my creativity.”

The result is sensitive, and she delicately underlines important observations that bring us back to the basis of the movement: the incoherence of a victim’s speech is legitimate. “It’s normal for someone who’s been abused or harassed to be unclear,” she says. They’ve experienced a trauma.” There are undeniably things that someone can never explain, understand, or judge unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

In her ethereal interpretation, Venditti addresses our relationships with others through what we love and what we hate about them. “I think that what bothers us in ourselves, we perceive more in others, and it’s the same for the things we love,” says Melanie. “It’s basic human nature to reproduce what we’ve experienced, whether it is good or bad. I was greatly inspired by that creative vibe.”

Even if it’s mainly due to lack of budget, and to benefit from the solitary time offered by COVID, that she chose to self-release her EP, Venditti doesn’t deny that there’s a “this is what I’m capable of” aspect to her decision. Producing is a another task at which she’s very adept, and she hopes to be able to do it for others in the future. “I’m competent enough to do that,” she says. “Women have a hard time saying they’re competent. And as women, we’re not afforded the opportunities to do so very often. I’ve also realized, recently, that I lack role models. There are very few women who do what I love – producing, creating songs for their project, playing on other people’s projects, and arranging.”

Venditti considers herself a musician first, and feels most comfortable in that role; songwriting came later. For “Projections,” she chose a starting point that she considers more “academic”: the piano. “What’s fun about this process is that it’s not the vocal melody that dictates the chords,” she says. “Everything starts with the music. You can see your chords more clearly on a piano. In university classes, we use the piano to understand all kinds of music theory. But if I grab a guitar, it’s often a no-brainer. With the piano, music isn’t just wallpaper for the lyrics: it has its own language.”

And when it’s time to say things and name them with words, Venditti likes little phrases that say a lot. “I’m very inspired by Philémon Cimon, who has complex ideas supported with simple words,” she says. “That way of writing touches me, and that’s what I try to achieve with my writing.”

While all the strands in the complex arc of music-making appeal to her, Venditti believes that there’s still a lot of work to be done so that women have the same opportunities as men. The chance or audacity to try things, to make mistakes, and to change course, isn’t given to women,  and isn’t innate, either. “Early in their careers, guys are much more likely to say ‘yes’ when asked to work on a project, even if they don’t feel they have what it takes,” she says. “I hope that women, in the next few years, will have more confidence in themselves, and that they’ll be given the visibility they don’t have yet. And that’s the responsibility of radio stations, big productions, and festivals, among others, because a woman who dares and speaks loudly is usually perceived as hysterical.”

The leap into the creative zone must become automatic for women, and large projects must, according to Venditti, offer a certain number of opportunities. “We need to stop hiring women to copy notes that a man has recorded,” she says. “Women need to be involved in the creation from the start. The results will be different. The creation will be that much richer. It’s time.” Indeed, it’s time.

If you’re a songwriter, it‘s important for you to learn as much as possible about music publishing.  Whether you’ve signed a publishing deal, administer your own publishing, or work without any publishing entity, you need to ensure that you know how to claim all the royalties that are owed to you.

Signing a deal with a publisher

There are many obvious advantages to signing a deal with a music publisher: they can constantly, actively seek licensing opportunities for your music, on a full-time basis; they strive to get the most monetary mileage out of your songs, whether it’s through recording, live performance,  or synchronization (or “synchs,” placement in commercials, TV shows, films, videogames, digital platforms, etc.); while doing so, they can negotiate fair market value for synch placements, and know what license fee a song should command in any given medium based on terms, use, and territory; they can arrange co-writing sessions with other songwriters, or participation in song camps, including some co-writers or camps that you might not be able to attain without them; and a publishing deal allows you to focus on making music, rather than having to do the labour-intensive business of exploiting your own songs.

Furthermore, music publishers can provide music-industry market intelligence to help develop a songwriter’s career. They can further that career by championing the songwriter – talking them up, getting them on panels, in showcases, included in articles, and so on. Publishers can track the writer’s income, a task likely too time-consuming for the writer to do on their own. A publisher can ensure that the writer’s songs are registered in every territory where they’re showing activity (e.g., being played on radio, performed live by other artists, etc.).  A publisher can  obtain, and submit to SOCAN, cue sheets when a writer’s song has been licensed for audio-visual use in a film, TV, or other screen production, whether domestically or internationally.

Working without a publisher

Alysha Brilla

Alysha Brilla

Singer-songwriter Alysha Brilla has taken the indie route, after spending time with a major publisher and deciding to do it herself.

“I’ve gotten some synchs and some licensing deals on my own,” says Brilla, now working on her fifth album. She adds that one of the advantages is autonomy. “I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for anything. I can sign off on everything myself, and I get to solicit and approach people myself. There are pros and cons to it, but for me it’s been the better choice.”

Among the disadvantages of working without a publisher is the fact that the songwriter likely won’t be able to actively seek licensing opportunities for their music on a full-time basis. They’ll have to spend their own time and effort chasing those deals, which takes time away from writing songs. And to go it alone, the songwriter also needs to be able to negotiate effectively when licensing their music, in order to ensure that they’re fairly compensated for their work.

In Brilla’s case, she’s dealt and consulted with artists, managers, and other publishers, so she has a good handle on negotiations. “I have a good idea of what the range is, and all the different variables when it comes to licensing,” she says. “I’m never worried about not getting an adequate amount for my music because I don’t have a publisher: I always ask for what I think is competitive.”

The value that’s potentially generated by a song placement can be substantial – and if you’re a writer, being a novice negotiator can bite you in the butt, as singer-songwriter Donovan Woods discovered all too well when he initially self-published under his own  Meant Well imprint.

“I was just writing songs on my own and I had very little understanding of anything,” says Woods, who recently signed with Concord Music Nashville, after spending three years at Warner Chappell Nashville. “I remember I licensed something to TSN to be used during the intro of a Grey Cup game for something like $104. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea. I was kind of doing it alone.”

Starting your own publishing company

Donovan Woods

Donovan Woods

Woods says  it can be an advantage to have your own publishing company in order to conduct business with a larger publisher. “When you have a co-publishing deal with a publisher, you own 50 percent of your publishing and 75 percent of the song,” says Woods. “You have to form your own publishing company to hold that publishing stake.”

“Having their own publishing company makes it easier for the songwriter to assign a publishing administrator, or a publisher,” says Michael McCarty, CEO of Kilometre Music Group, and former Chief Membership and Business Development Officer of SOCAN. “If the songwriter has an administrative deal with Publisher A, and their publishing reverts back to them when the deal expires, it makes it easier for them to newly assign the administration to Publisher B. And if the songwriter is earning significant money from publishing, then it could be tax-advantageous having half of that money flow through a business, splitting the income to pay less tax.”

“If your company is incorporated, your tax rates are only 12 percent,” explains Phil Goldband, a Managing Partner at Toronto-based Gold Entertainment Accountants. “Had you not incorporated, you’d be roughly at the 40 percent tax rate.”

But you have to ensure that your publishing company runs as an above-board business. “You’ve got to open up a separate bank account, and you’ve got to keep track of your expenses. Anything you pay on credit, you have to keep the invoices,” says Goldband. If you do start your own publishing company, you’ll also need to ensure that when you claim expenses, those expenses remain within the confines of business. For example, if your dog is your company mascot, don’t claim the food it takes to feed him as an expense. “If you get too aggressive, you’ll be double-taxed – both on the corporate and personal levels,” Goldband advises.

Goldband’s colleague, Oksana Bernatonis, says that if your songwriting income is fairly low, it might be prudent to wait before you take the step. “If you’re saving more than $3,000 to cover [the] costs [of incorporating the publishing company], then it’s worth it,” she says. She also says that in order to apply and receive certain large grants, being incorporated can sometimes give you an edge: “Some grants that people apply for require a corporation. To get $50K or $100K in grants, you have to incorporate.”

Your songwriting income will determine whether you’re ready to start your own incorporated publishing company. “If your songs are earning under a few thousand dollars a year, it doesn’t likely justify the costs of incorporation and maintenance of the company,” says entertainment lawyer Kurt Dahl. “There are a few scenarios that might indicate that the time is right. If you find yourself licensing music internationally, entering a sub-publishing deal with a foreign publisher, or being offered a co-publishing deal from a third-party publisher, the time is right to incorporate your own publishing entity.”

You don’t have to go the incorporation route: another alternative is being a sole proprietor.

“Sole proprietorship is the same as being self-employed,” says Bernatonis. “So instead of filing a corporate tax return, you would file just the regular personal tax return at a graduated rate. You’d have to report everything, so there is no tax deferral.” While there are no fees to establish your sole proprietorship, you’d also lose any potential tax breaks you’d receive by incorporating your music publishing company [such as tax deferral from one year to the next, in a high-earning year].

“And once you reach $30,000 in income, you have to pay HST and register for a business number with the Canadian Revenue Agency,” Bernatonis adds. “Royalties are usually zero-rated, so there’s no HST on royalties. But you still might want to register, because you can claim HST back on any expenses you’ve paid.”

Another big difference is that if legal issues pop up,  you may have more protection if you’ve incorporated your company, and be more vulnerable as a sole proprietor.

Whatever path you choose, rest assured that SOCAN will be there to collect your royalties and ensure that you get paid.

Steps to Start with SOCAN

If you’re applying to become a SOCAN member publisher, membership isn’t automatic, although the qualifications to become a SOCAN publisher member aren’t strenuous.

Whether you’re setting up your publishing entity as a sole proprietorship or an incorporated company, before deciding on, or registering, a publisher name for the entity with the appropriate governmental registry, we recommend that you contact our Information Centre at 1-866-307-6226 to verify that there’s no other SOCAN publisher member already using that name.

If you’re starting a sole proprietorship for your publishing, to apply for SOCAN membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the sole proprietorship document (such as a statement of registration issued by the appropriate governmental registry), and either your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or business number, for tax purposes. If you’re providing a business number, we’ll require a document that shows that the number is associated with your particular sole proprietorship. For more details on registering a sole proprietorship, click here.

If  you’re starting an incorporated company, to apply for SOCAN membership, the company must meet at least one of the following two criteria:

  • The company owns at least five copyright-protected musical works written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian; or
  • The company is entitled by contract to receive the publisher’s share of the performance credits of at least five copyright-protected musical works that were written or co-written by a writer member of SOCAN (e.g., you), or by a Canadian.

And to apply for membership, you’ll need to provide a copy of the relevant publishing agreements to demonstrate that the company meets one of the above criteria .

For more information on registering a corporation, click here.

Laura NiquayShe was born with a guitar in her hands, in a family of musicians that sang Hank Williams as much as it did Georges Moustaki. “I inherited my family’s talent,” says Laura Niquay who, on April 30, will release a new album of folk and rock songs titled Waska Matiwisin, which means “circle of life” in her native Atikamekw language. “I was born to be a messenger,” she says. “That’s my talent and it’s important to value the talent you have.”

But the most important thing, insists the singer-songwriter, is to enunciate clearly while singing. “Especially since I write more and more with disused Atikamekw words that were used before,” she says. “It’s good for the young people in our community, especially those who live in urban areas,” as she is now, having moved to Trois-Rivières, more than three hours away from her home village of Wemotaci, northwest of La Tuque, Québec.

One example of such disused words, which can be heard on “Moteskano,” a folk song propped up by electric guitars, and rock as well as traditional drumming: “Nikinako ketcikinako,” sung in the chorus. It means “taking our shoes off and putting our shoes back on.” “It’s something we express differently today,” the musician explains. “What’s more, our Nation has three distinct communities that all speak Atikamekw slightly differently. I have nephews and nieces who live in the city, and who are slowly losing the use of our language, and this affects me a lot. It’s important for me to sing properly in our language.”

Niquay’s creative process is meticulous: she consults elders and works with techno-linguists – “three Atikamekw women who specialize in the field” – to make sure she has the right words in her songs, and to try to rehabilitate some that time has almost erased from memory. “I actually learn new words that I’ve never heard before, and that’s why it’s important to work with a techno-linguist,” she says. That’s not to mention the new words that enrich the vocabulary of the ancestral language. “Like the word ‘computer,’” she says. “That one hasn’t existed for very long!” And if you’re curious, it’s translated as “Kanokepitcikan.” The word for “iInternet” is even more complex: Pamikicikowipitcikan.

You won’t, however, hear those words on Waska Matiwisin, because Laura Niquay prefers signing about the universal rather than the modern. The importance of family, respect for nature, the sacred, and the spiritual realm are the central themes. “But above all,” she says, “it’s an album about resilience,” a word whose meaning was already too well understood by First Nations peoples before it became a mantra for the rest of Canadians during the pandemic.

“There’s also a song about mourning, ‘Otakocik/Hier,’ because we go through a lot of it in our communities, that also touches me a lot,” she says. “Another song, ‘Nicim/Mon petit frère,’ is about suicide. They are, however, songs that aim to prevent these things; that’s why I consider myself a messenger. I certainly don’t want to be a downer, but I just want to share my perspective on this ‘circle of life’ we all find ourselves in,” she says, with its dramas and happy moments. “We all live with our problems no matter where we are in the world. We’re all human, and this album was made for everyone.”

Niquay spent three years working on the creation and recording of the dozen or so songs on Waska Matisiwin, at Sophronik Studio in Verdun, under the direction of producer Simon Wall. They range from the soft, slide guitar-driven folk ballad “Aski/Terre” – which she sings with a voice that she herself deems “gravelly” – to the powerful rock of the formidable “Eki Petaman/Ce que j’ai entendu, to the aforementioned “Nicim/Mon petit frère,” an astonishing collaboration with Shauit, on a vaguely reggae groove, sung in Atikamekw and Innu.

One of the most touching songs of the album is “Nicto Kicko,” where Niquay’s soothing voice is carried by the sound of an upright piano, before beckoning an orchestra. The title means “Three Days,” which refers to the amount of time during which the artist didn’t hear about her father. “I turned that story into a slow song, because three days without a word is a long time, especially since it was snowing,” she says. “One of my uncles had been found dead at home and we were hoping it wouldn’t be my dad’s case.” Three days later, he was seen coming out of the grocery store. “Il ne nous avait jamais entendus / Parce que pendant trois jours Il voulait être seul / Avec ses écouteurs aux oreilles,” Laura sings softly. (“He never heard us / Because during those three days / All he wanted was to be alone / With his headphones on”).

“Most of the time when I’m writing, I’ll look for a melody, and I record myself to make sure I don’t forget,” says Niquay. “If I happen to hear a melody while I’m dreaming, the first thing I do when I wake up is to play it on my guitar. Then I write the lyrics. Sometimes I use other people’s stories, because a lot of people write to me. They share their stories, they confide in me. I look for the right words in their stories, and I use them to write a song.”