Wondering how to transition from a basement-studio songwriter/producer to a world-class musician, who works with the likes of The Weeknd and Noah Cyrus? “When I find out, I’ll let you know,” responds Mike Sonier, half-jokingly.

While not a household name, the Cornwall, Ontario-born, L.A.-based producer has spent the last five years making inroads into the pop music community, and has something to show for it: co-writes and production credits with Maggie Rogers (“Love You For A Long Time”), Julia Michaels (“Priest”), and his biggest hit yet, Noah Cyrus’s “July” – which, both as a solo song, and in a version that features Leon Bridges, has accumulated more than 1 billion streams.

Mike Sonier, Noah Cyrus, "July"

Click on the image to play the video for Noah Cyrus’s “July”

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” he says, over the phone from L.A.  “As a fan of music –  somebody who’s been chasing this dream since I was 17 years old – to have a song that’s touched a lot of people is the greatest honour.  Just yesterday, I saw a video on Instagram, where someone tagged me, that was about ‘July.’ People have told me that they’ve written essays about it to get into university. That’s better than any reward.”

Signed to Jenna Andrews’ TwentySeven Music Publishing / Sony Music Publishing, Sonier might attribute his success to timing and luck, but the truth is closer to his ability to hustle, and “reaching out to the guys who’ve made it” – promoting his availability to assist with whatever they need in terms of studio expertise, musicianship, and grunt work.

“I’d end up in a lot of situations,” he says. “I met Alessia Cara on her first writing sessions, where she wrote ‘Here,’ as I did the engineering and the demoing.  Over time, as I worked for different producers, I had a big bag of tricks that was useful.” He rented a room at Toronto’s Dreamhouse Studios, and  also worked separately  with Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk as an assistant on Dua Lipa’s debut record during that same time period.

Later, after being frustrated by a project he’d just finished producing, Sonier aired his frustrations on Twitter saying  he wanted to work on “higher quality” projects.  Also on Twitter at the time: Martin “Doc” McKinney, co-writer and producer of Esthero, and an early writing/producing collaborator with The Weeknd.  He was looking for someone to help him out. “A contact at Dreamhouse was kind enough to make an introduction,” says Sonnier. “I interviewed with Doc and started the next day.”

One of the first projects he worked on with Doc was the Black Panther movie soundtrack main title song, “Pray For Me,” featuring The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar. Eventually, he signed a production deal with McKinney to find and develop artists, and also landed the Michaels, Rogers, and Cyrus tracks.  Sonier signed his publishing deal with Andrews after the end of his production deal with McKinney, then moved his young family to L.A. “It just felt like the right thing to do, considering the amount of work that’s available here,” he says.

“If I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut”

“In my world, if I’m not in the room, I’m not really getting the cut,” he says. “With how I work, we’re in the room writing the song, getting the vibe, and doing the production as we go. When you look at the multitude of artists that come out here from all over the world – and you’re signed to a major publisher – that’s the caveat where you have access, and you get to write with multitude of different people.”

When he writes, Sonier says he’s looking for something particular. “I really try and find where I can bring my perspective to a situation,” he says. “Sometimes, when writing a song, I may be just focused on the lyrics and strumming acoustic guitar. Or sometimes, I may be really trying to tap into the music side of things, where maybe the artist is off in their own world with the lyrics, and I’m trying to create an interesting music palette that might be unique for them.   I’m always trying to find a way to put a unique emotion into something that resonates.”

Produced by Sonier, and co-written with Noah Cyrus, Peter Harding, and Jenna Andrews, “July” was the result of a songwriting camp. “‘July,’ and a lot of songs like that, start with a conversation when everyone gets into a room,” he explains. “Everybody gets to know each other, and everybody’s going to be at a different emotional life-point. People start to communicate, and become a little more open, and share stories. I shared something that was going on in my life, and I had a very simple chord progression, strumming along.

Sonier Kenekts at SOCAN Sync Song Camp
In July of 2022, Sonier participated in the very first SOCAN Kenekt Sync Song Camp in L.A., organized to create songs to pitch to music supervisors for screen productions. He says, “You get placed with a group of people –  maybe other producers, a writer, and an artist – and the goal is  to write and produce a piece of music with a time restraint. It’s a really fun project, a cool challenge, and a cool way to sharpen your sword – and get out of your comfort zone. I thought it went really well.”

“Just putting your heart on your sleeve, and just standing in your shit, for lack of a better word, allows you to pull out that story, that human experience that we all relate to.  With ‘July,’ it was the first day of a songwriting camp, and what you hear is very much the result of that day.”

In late 2022, Sonier collaborated with Ruth B. on a song she wrote for the movie Maybe I Do, called “Always You.” “It was a time-crunch situation,” he says. “Ruth and the director, Michael Jacobs, called me to have a chat about producing the song. In addition to my role as a producer, I also orchestrated and played piano on the piece. We actually recorded two versions.”

Looking to the future, Sonier is setting up his own creative company, Somebody Call Everybody Inc. “My goal is to use my platform, as it grows, to  advocate for creatives, and songwriters, and producers, and artists, and people that often don’t have a voice,” he explains. “One of our goals is to take part in the ongoing shifts in the culture of our industry, where we actively address the issues affecting creatives through action.”

Whatever happens as he moves forward, Mike Sonier continues to carve out an impressive niche for himself.

Even before they got started, you could say that Toronto R&B duo Spiritsaver had one up on the competition.

Prior to the duo of Zale and Tajudeen releasing last year’s psilocybin-inspired joint “I’m High, Have You Met Me?,” they were – and still are – being mentored by two of Canada’s brightest production gurus, 2023 Grammy Producer of the Year nominee Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels (Drake,  Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Jack Harlow, Travi$ Scott) and Grammy-nominated producer/songwriter  Stephen “Koz” Kozmeniuk (Dua Lipa,  Kendrick Lamar, Madonna, Nicki Minaj).

Spiritsaver, "I'm High, Have You Met Me?"

Click on the image to play the video for Spiritsaver’s “I’m High, Have You Met Me?”

“We’re really fortunate to be able to push ‘play’ on the music for guys like Stephen Kozmeniuk and Boi-1da,” says Zale. “People who are mentors, and that we work closely with, and get their opinions. That’s like having the top A&Rs to be able to bounce ideas off of.  We’re very grateful for our network, one that we’ve been building for our whole lives.”

Zale’s not kidding when it comes to mentioning lifelong connections, which extends to Nigerian-born singer Tajudeen, whom he met at age 12 at The Lair Studios.

Zale’s built up a bit of a heavyweight track record himself, working in the producer’s chair for such megastars as Eminem, Kanye (now Ye) West, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Hudson, Meek Mill, and Childish Gambino – both individually and as half of the songwriting-production duo The Maven Boys. But he got his start at the age of 13, handling the MySpace page for Boi-1da, creating beats with him two years later, and eventually signing with his production company when he was 18.

“I have a long history with 1da,” Zale explains. “Then I met Koz,  brought him into 1da’s system. At the time, Koz was doing two-a-days, he was doing a lot of synch/advertising music and pop stuff from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Then I’d pull up on him and we’d work until 2:00 a.m. on stuff to pitch to 1da. We got a bunch of cuts together; there’s a whole family relationship there that’s deeper than music. It’s the same thing with T [Tajudeen]:  We’re all friends before the music thing, and it’s more like a brotherhood. Everybody wants to see everybody else shine.”

While Zale and Tajudeen have known each other for a lifetime, their new Spiritsaver project is fresh out of the gate.

“We wanted to control our own destiny,” says Zale. “And we wanted to be able to make the art we want to make. There’s a lot of politics on both sides of the industry, whether you’re behind the scenes or you’re the artist. The difference is, we can take our careers by the horns, and do what we need to do to make sure the music comes out the way we want it to come out.

“We wanted to control our own destiny” – Zale

“When you’re working behind the scenes, you’re kind of giving your art away, and trusting the artist to make the right decisions. Being the artists, we’re able to make the art that accompanies the music.  It’s not just about writing songs: it’s about building a brand, showing the lifestyle, and doing all these extra things that are a lot of fun – photo shoots,  shooting music videos, and making content.”

Tajudeen calls Spiritsaver’s music “destiny-written soul,” and says the chemistry between the two was immediate, as evidenced by their first two songs: “I’m High, Have You Met Me,” which garnered 33,000 YouTube views in a single month, and their current ballad, “Killing Us Slowly.”

“That’s why we gelled so fast: This has been marinating for a while,” says Tajudeen.

Zale says, “I’m High, Have You Met Me?” was inspired by magic mushrooms. “We started writing that song after I had dabbled with a psychedelic experience,” he says. “It’s based on a trip, astral projection (when the soul leaves the physical body). It’s kind of like a rebirth. The experiences you have in that other dimension – and then the re-integration – is what the Spiritsaver project is for both of us. And the name, too.”

Click on the image to play the video for Spiritsaver’s “Killing us Slowly”

“Killing Us Slowly” is  a song about heartbreak, says Zale. “It’s about getting into something too soon,” he explains. “The beginning of the relationship can start fast and take off, and sometimes it may be based more on attraction than the right type of fit. We  wanted to look at a love story from that perspective: Looking at the relationship from outside, as a greater idea of,  ‘We’re both at fault here.’”

Zale notes that the two songs are derived from approximately 15 other songs they have in various stages of completion. “I come from a producer background, so I make the beats,” he says. “I’ll be creating music on my computer with T in the room, and he’s more of a melody guy. So, he’ll start going off on some melodies, and then I’ll start shooting lyrics at him. Then, we start building something freestyle, and see where it goes. We’ll get in a vibe, and once we feel we have something, we zero in and start arranging all the melodies.  Then if there’s a concept there, we figure out the hook, lock it in, and work on the verses.

“We re-write a lot. We’ve probably re-written, like, 10 different versions of  ‘Killing Us Slowly’ alone.  We’re always experimenting and trying to get it right.”

The next step for Spiritsaver is working on their live show, which they’ll debut at some point in 2023. They also aim to release a new song every four to six weeks, and, in Zale’s words, “stay consistent.” “We’re trying to do everything from a place of originality, and a place where it’s not about ego,” he says.  “It’s just about telling our stories, and doing it in an original way that we feel that people can relate to. Music is a way for people to overcome things in their life, and look at it from a fresh perspective.”

Meeting Charlie Kunce-Belhadj and Emma Cochrane, one immediately notices the nascent passion and youthful ardour that fuel their desire to kock on every door – and break it down, if necessary. Their musical project, Mayfly, grew slowly over time, and is rooted in a friendship that allows them to become the best possible version of themselves.

Mayfly“We met in the Creative Art program at Champlain College in Sherbrooke, and we both already knew that we wanted to pursue our passion for music, no matter what,” says Kunce-Belhadj. Their motivation was completely free of doubt. Their HIDEAWAY Vol. 1 EP, which was released in January of 2023, is the first half of a two-tiered whole, and the first step toward their shared dream.

Rarely sitting at the same table to create, the duo generally proceed with Kunce-Belhadj’s music and Cochrane’s lyrics – although sometimes the former will create a fully formed song based on three chords proposed by the latter, and vice-versa for the lyrics. “We know each other so well that we can write about the other’s wounds without asking questions,” Cochrane confides. “We’ve been together 24/7 since we were 19 years old.”

At that age, the two young women chose to live in the city to make things happen. “For us, it was Montréal or nothing,” says Cochrane. “We knew that was where we’d be able to learn by doing.” And rather than pursuing musical studies, or some similar form of training, they chose to go all-in with networking. “We didn’t know anyone, but we knew that contacts are at the very heart of this trade,” Cochrane explains. “So, we’d put everything we did online. We are fully self-taught, from marketing, to aesthetics, to building our social networks. That’s what allowed us to meet people.”

Artistically, the modus operandi has always been carte blanche, and an irrepressible desire to forge ahead. “When we moved to Montréal, we spent our entire savings on buying equipment, and building a studio in our apartment,” says Kunce-Belhadj. “Our good friend Jules [Bonneville-Coulombe] was a trigger. We did our first shows with him, as well as a few performances in cafés to build our confidence.” Then came Les Francouvertes in 2021, which paved the way for things to come; even though Mayfly didn’t move on in the contest itself, that’s where their record label discovered them. Duprince Records has been grooming the duo for almost two years. “The things that have happened to us since have been exponential,” adds Kunce-Belhadj.

Mayfly, Ma Peau Brûle

Click on the image to play the Mayfly song “Ma Peau Brûle.”

Although the songs they presented during Francouvertes had to be in French, they undoubtedly feel more comfortable singing in English because it “allows us to go further.” “We weren’t at all confident in our Franco catalogue when we got to the Francouvertes,” says Kunce-Belhadj. “We feel like we’re playing a character when we write in French.” “French is our native language,” says Cochrane. “It’s going to be obvious on volume two of HIDEAWAY. A sentence in French is always more personal, and that can be intimidating. We can be more open in English.”

Alongside Adrian Villagomez, they developed their visuals and music videos that are true to themselves. “We admired him, so we used the 2020 method and DM’d him,” the women say with a giggle. They’re satisfied with everything that’s come out of that collaboration, which allowed them to create a visual universe true to what they had imagined. “Our music is our bubble, it’s a safe space. We want our album to come across as a statement, a dark but danceable moment, that’s both wistful and hypnotic,” says Kunce-Belhadj. “It’s a bit like the album as a whole [volumes one and two] was an avowal: you have emotions to live through, and it’s OK to feel them.”

Kunce-Belhadj admits that Mayfly’s music was “embryonic and unclear” when they enlisted for Francouvertes. “During the pandemic we found the intention of our project,” she says. “We wanted to make sure our label felt they made a good choice when they picked us. We worked really hard to fine-tune our sound.”

Mayfly, Black Water

Click on the image to play the video for Mayfly’s “Black Water.”

They found that finesse at Homy Studio. “We needed backup and better material,” says Kunce-Belhadj. “We knew Hologramme. We told them, ‘Here’s our project and its essence.’ We spent two months in the studio with them, and everything we’d done up to that point was the same but sounded better. Analog sounds, layers, textures… Everything was prettier. Working on a project with six heads instead of two was a challenge, but the result is exactly what we wanted.”

Whereas Volume 1 was an introduction, Volume 2 will be the “A-ha!” moment when the emotions and desires have been recognized, and everything left to be expressed will be said out loud. “Volume 2 will be the cherry on top,” Kunce-Belhadj. “It has a bit of everything: big Franco pop, American rap. We express our feelings, ranging from hate, to joy, to fatigue. 2023 is the year of letting go.”