Are video games the future of music? That seems to be an opinion shared by many players from those two industries, which are both undergoing a re-engineering of their business models.

With annual revenues of several billion dollars, the videogame industry is still booming, contrary to the record industry, where a rapid decline is ongoing. Videogame business is so good, in fact, that many see them as a lifebuoy that could potentially slow down the music industry’s decline. Simon Cann, author of many practical guides on music creation and the industry that surrounds it, states it very succinctly in his book Building a Successful 21st Century Music Career: “Videogames are an excellent way to earn a living with music, since they’re at once both a revenue stream and a promotional tool.”

The best embodiment of this new reality dawned on us last October. Ubisoft – a multi-national company from France with offices in Québec City and Montréal – announced a partnership between its new subsidiary, Ubiloud, and the elder statesman of independent music labels in Québec, Audiogram. Besides strengthening Ubisoft’s foothold in the province – projections show that the company will employ more than 3,500 people by the year 2020 – this distribution deal means an expansion into new territory for both companies.

For Didier Lord, director of Ubisoft’s music group and Ubiloud’s de facto head honcho, the popularity of videogames is a golden opportunity to launch new talent. He’s a true believer in innovation, much more inclined to let emerging artists benefit from Ubisoft’s notoriety than to turn to well-established ones. “My goal is to encourage emerging artists,” he repeatedly says when asked about his motivations. “We are well-established in our field, and we realize that the impact of videogames allows them to become a cultural locomotive. Since our main specialization is games, we’ll benefit from Audiogram’s expertise to help us find the stars of tomorrow.”

“For the first time in history, our catalogue sales surpassed our new release sales. We must therefore find avenues that will allow us to introduce new artists, and this deal with Ubiloud is a big part of it.” – Alixe HD of Audiogram

As for Audiogram, the company fully embraces this new challenge. “We already have our publishing house, we are in charge of records and concerts, and this new partnership is one more that lets us diversify,” says Alixe HD, director of marketing and promotion at Audiogram. “It’s getting harder and harder to launch a new artist, and numbers don’t lie: for the first time in history, our catalogue sales surpassed our new release sales. We must therefore find avenues that will allow us to introduce new artists, and this deal with Ubiloud is a big part of it.”

In the same week as the Ubisoft deal was made official, Audiogram also announced a distribution deal with Sony Music, one more confirmation of the unstoppable globalization of the music industry. Where, in the old days, breaking internationally seemed almost unthinkable for some, it’s now part of and career plan. Rapper Imposs – a founding member of Muzion – is the first artist to benefit from Ubiloud’s support, and he can already attest to the impact that major distribution can have. Since his song “Stadium Flow” was featured in the game Just Dance 2016, he’s found many new outlets for his music.

Imposs“It’s really cool to get messages from Europe, South America or even Africa, at least it shows a videogame can have a real impact all around the world,” says HD. “The trick is converting those accolades into sales, and that’s what we’re working one with this new business model. Marketing has to be in on the game and that’s where Audiogram comes into play; but the artist, too, needs to be willing to play the game.”

“We want to seek out artists that already have their own universe, a unique personality, and integrate them to games that fit their universe,” says Ubisoft’s Lord, adding that he has no intention of creating a sausage factory pumping out generic music. “Obviously, if a game’s title is Just Dance, you know you’re going to need a certain type of music, says Imposs. “But when I met with the people at Ubisoft and Audiogram, they were adamant that they wanted me to retain my musical identity. We played stuff we were working on and they picked what they liked. There was never any kind of pressure to make me fit into a pre-determined format.”

But when the time comes for Audiogram to develop new talent, will the label favour artists with strong international potential, slowly moving away from its traditional role as an incubator for local Francophone artists? “Not at all,” says HD. “First, our catalogue already has Anglophone and instrumental artists. Plus, I really don’t see why we would stop seeking out new Francophone artists: bands like Loud Lary Ajust or Pandaléon, even though they sing in French, have a very contemporary sound that would be a perfect fit for many games.”

“What’s cool with video games is that they each have their own universe,” Lord concurs. “Just Dance will obviously require poppier songs, but take a game like
Far Cry, for example (a very elaborate first-person shooter, NDLR), we could very easily integrate more alternative material to it.”

Lord adds that he’s fully committed to use music beyond the simple game soundtrack. He cites Woodkid, whose track “Iron” was used in the ad campaign for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. “The song didn’t fit with the historic side of the game, but it was perfect for the ad. And God knows that the trailers for major franchises like Assassin’s Creed are hotly anticipated, so we expose those artists to a huge audience.”

Cœur de Pirate When a strong brand pairs with a strong song, the result is what could be called the iPod Effect. Just think how many people got into Canadian singer Feist or Israeli chanteuse Yael Naim after hearing their songs in Apple TV ads. That’s what Ubisoft plans to do for a new generation of artists, thanks to its videogame titles.

Which doesn’t mean that well established or even retired artists won’t be able to benefit from this. If a good placement in a game can help an emerging artist, a few old-timers have also received a boost from this new platform. The latest episode of the Metal Gear franchise takes place in 1980s Afghanistan. Songs from the era were therefore used, from Billy Idol to Kajagoogoo, Europe to Hall and Oates, thus exposing a whole new generation of listeners to those thirty-year-old classics. And that not to mention strictly musical games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Even though their popularity is declining steadily, they were still a boon for “historical” artists to develop new markets. One good example is Aerosmith, who had more success with its special edition of Guitar Hero than with their own albums, which were million sellers nonetheless!

The possibilities seem nearly endless. Beyond songs themselves, one can also imagine deeper collaborations with certain artists. “That’s what happened with Cœur de Pirate, who penned the music for Child of Light,” Lord explains. “We felt her musical universe was perfectly aligned with the game. It’s really exciting to work with top talent, like a few years ago when we worked with Amon Tobin on the game Splinter Cell.”

Background music, soundtracks, ads… After years of hardships, one could be forgiven for thinking that the industry is about to bounce back thanks to the huge video entertainment market. “We have no choice but to explore new avenues, which means that we’re going to start attending E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest yearly trade show in the videogame industry, on top of the music events we’re used to attending,” says HD. “We can’t let ourselves be victims of this crisis, we must act. When Michel Bélanger founded Audiogram thirty years ago, one would be hard pressed to say that the conditions were ideal to launch a new record label, but he did it anyways because he believed in his idea. He launched Paul Piché’s Nouvelles d’Europe and that took off, and he came back with Richard Séguin’s Double Vie.”

Apparently, where there’s a will, there’s a way.


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COLEMAN HELL

Coleman Hell is a smoky-voiced pop songwriter who might just be a new dance-music star.

Originally producing hip-hop in Thunder Bay, he relocated to Toronto and started writing songs more suited to the dancefloor.

His latest single, “2 Heads,” was released this past summer and has garnered more than 4 million views on YouTube, plenty of MuchMusic rotation, and rave reviews from fans and critics for its hard-edged but soul-influenced sound.

Expanding his sound by incorporating such disparate elements as deep-house drums and country-tinged banjo licks, Coleman Hell makes a bold statement with his arrival on the pop charts.

Look for his next album later in 2016.

AARON GOODVIN

Aaron Goodvin has been playing music his whole life – from the singing contests he entered as a 12-year-old to becoming a professional songwriter at age 18.

After setting out on several trips to Nashville to ply his trade, he soon signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and began contributing to songs for other artists (like Luke Bryan’s multi-platinum “Crash My Party”).

However, Aaron also chose to break out as a solo artist in his own right, releasing his debut album Knock On Wood in 2015.

“I’m so excited that 2016 will be the year people finally get to hear the music I’ve been striving my whole life to make,” says Goodvin. “I can’t wait to be on the road, promoting my songs and making new friends. See ya in your town!”

Expect new music from him in the Spring of 2016.
SAMANTHA MARTIN

Samantha Martin is a singer-songwriter from Toronto, but from the soulful sound of her voice, and the style of her sound, you might assume she’s from way down south.

She and her band, Delta Sugar, made waves with their bluesy, roots- influenced country songs, impressing audiences at festivals around the nation – including the Calgary and Vancouver Folk Festivals, the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, the Dawson City Music Festival, and the Summerfolk Festival.

Martin has showed no signs of slowing down on her current album, Send The Nightingale, released in February of 2015 to a hugely positive response.

“We already have some more great summer festivals across Canada [lined up for 2016], including StanFest in July,” says Martin. “I’m very proud of the momentum that Send The Nightingale has gained in 2015, and hope to build on that foundation.”


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It’s all about connection.

When SOCAN organized its first-ever annual Kenekt song camp at the Shobac Cottages in rural Nova Scotia in September of 2015, the goal was to have the talented group of songwriters and producers assembled there connect creatively with each other – and, in the process, come up with material capable of connecting with a wide audience. That mandate was fulfilled, and the personal connections cemented amongst the attendees seem destined to pay dividends in their careers.

To get their take on the experience at the camp, and the songs that came out of it, Words & Music spoke with young singer-songwriters Sophie Rose and Levi Randall, and fast-rising production/songwriting duo Young Wolf Hatchlings.

SOPHIE ROSE

Sophie RoseA compelling singer, 16-year-old, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sophie Rose (left) has been making songwriting her top priority since signing a joint publishing deal with Prescription Songs and noted songwriter Ester Dean two years ago. Prescription have pitched Rose’s camp songs to such artists as Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Ellie Goulding, Pia Mia, and Hailee Steinfeld. Since her publishing deal, a song Rose wrote, sang and produced by herself, “Friends Forever,” was featured in a national MasterCard Stand Up To Cancer commercial. When asked to come up with a theme song for the Awesomeness TV-produced show Guidance, Rose wrote the very well-received song, “Attention.”

For Rose, the opportunity to join the Kenekt camp came out of nowhere. “I met SOCAN’s Chad Richardson [Kenekt’s organizer] here [in L.A.], and he invited me to the camp,” she says. “My first reaction was ‘Nova Scotia is so far away, I’m not going there.’ But Chad told me, ‘If you go, this will change your life.’ I couldn’t say no to that. And yes, it has [changed my life].”

Rose had previously attended a songwriting camp in L.A., but says “that was just two days in a studio. That’s not the same as going somewhere else, to an environment like that.”

The Kenekt camp’s scenic physical setting and its collaborative approach certainly set creative juices flowing for Rose. “I didn’t bring any ideas with me to the camp but I was so inspired there,” she says. “Every night after the song we wrote was played for everybody, I’d have new ideas for the next day.”

“I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.” – Sophie Rose

The interactive format pleased her. “So many times in L.A., you write a song and send it to a producer and it’s not the kind of experience you hope for,” says Rose. “I feel that the best songs are written when you’re all together, and an energy is flowing through everybody. That’s how camp was every single day.”

She cites the writing of “Take My Breath” as an example. “I had the verse idea late the night before,” she says. “I recorded it into my phone and brought it. We worked off that, and the rest of the song was completely collaborative. I wrote it with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Dave Thomson, all sitting on the couch, brainstorming ideas and titles. When I played it that evening, Chad went, ‘This is a hit. Send it to your publisher now.’ I sent it that night and got an immediate reply that they loved it. They have sent it to lots of people for possible placement.”

Another camp-created composition for which Rose has high hopes is “Hands High.” “That was my favourite writing process of the camp,” she says. “I wrote it with Fredro and David Myles. We didn’t have anything beforehand, it all came from nothing. Fredro built this really crazy drumbeat, and we wrote the whole song over the beat, with no instruments.”

The creative chemistry between Myles and Rose has led to further writing. “A few weeks after the camp, David played a showcase show at the Capitol building here [in L.A.],” she says. “Chad and I and our moms all went, and the next day David came over and we wrote a new song together.” Since camp, Rose has also written with Fredro, Levi Randall, Heather Longstaffe, and Young Wolf Hatchlings. “When YWH visited L.A. after the camp, I started a new song with them and another writer I work with here, Jackie Young,” she says.

LEVI RANDALL (VACAY)

Levi RandallAlso attending Kenekt was Toronto-based singer-songwriter and actor Levi Randall (left), who now records and performs under the name Vacay. He previously fronted Cardinals and The Juliets, pop-rock outfits that toured nationally and gained a following.

Randall is now forging a solo path, and he, too, terms the Kenekt experience “life-changing” in this pursuit. “That was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences,” he says. “I can’t thank SOCAN and Chad enough for taking a chance on me.”

Two songs he co-wrote at the camp are definitely set to appear on an upcoming solo EP due by the summer of 2016. “Shaky Hands” is a co-write with David Thomson and David Myles, while “The Other Side” was written with Carole Facal (Caracol) and Drew Scott. “Both songs fit the direction in which I’m going,” says Randall. “I’ve already recorded both, and I’m getting Drew and Carole to add background vocals to ‘The Other Side.’”

The other three songs on the Vacay EP will be solo originals. “On your own you can really think long and hard on a song,” says Randall, “but I also like co-writing, for bringing another perspective to the music and lyrics.”

“The Kenekt Song Camp was one of the best weeks of my life, and one of my strongest learning experiences.” – Levi Randall


Randall’s growing profile as a TV actor will help bring his music attention. He appeared on the hit TV show The Next Step and has landed a lead acting role on the music-themed series Lost & Found Music Studios. Having premiered on Canada’s Family Channel in January, it goes worldwide via Netflix in May of 2016. “That’ll be great exposure,” says Randall. “I hope it means fans of the show will stick around for my music. I’m proud of the show, but think there needs to be separation from my acting and my music, and that’s why I came up with the Vacay name.”

Since Kenekt, Randall has written again with Drew Scott and also Ash Koley. “I learned so many things at camp,” he says. “When writing with Anjulie [Persaud], I learned about having vulnerability in your lyrics. We can get caught up in trying to sound cool, but I learned it’s cool to be vulnerable. Music is not about being cool, it’s about connecting with people.”

Randall stresses that “I definitely feel more like a musician than an actor. I love acting, but not with the same amount of passion. I see it as a stepping stone for my ultimate goal, writing songs that move people.” If those are songs performed by other artists, that’d be fine by him. “Most of the songs I co-wrote at camp don’t fit what I’m doing, so it’d be great if other people picked them up,” he says.

YOUNG WOLF HATCHLINGS

Young Wolf Hatchlings, Jarrel Young, YWHYoung Wolf Hatchlings had also achieved a measure of success before the camp. The Toronto-based production and writing duo of Jarrel Young (left) and Waqaas Hashmi had a huge crossover success in 2015, when American rockers Fall Out Boy scored a double-platinum hit single with “Uma Thurman,” a track YWH co-wrote with the band. Young Wolf Hatchlings also scored a 2015 MuchMusic Video Award nomination for “You Lovely You,” a single they released on Universal Canada.

But for YWH, Kenekt was nonetheless their first song camp, and Young now describes it as one of the greatest musical experiences of his life. “It’s an extremely friendly but also a semi-competitive environment,” says Young. “Each night, everyone got together and played what they came up with that day. I’d consider us the least experienced of the producers there, and we wanted to do well in front of those people. Every day we pushed to do our best.”

Young cites the beautiful physical setting as an inspiration, along with the fact that “all you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed… The greatest take-away was the confidence of knowing we can push ourselves past what we thought we were capable of.” The truly collaborative process appealed to Young and Hashmi. “I personally like working in the room with artists, getting things together,” says Young. “That’s where we’ve had the most success and we’ve tried to reproduce that after the camp.”

“All you had to think about was the music, from the time you woke up ‘til bed.” – Jarrel Young of Young Wolf Hatchlings

On the tangible side, YWH emerged with three strong cuts. “Where Ever You Are” is a co-write with Caracol and Sophie Rose. “We’ve been shopping it around for placements,” says Young. “We have faith it can be used somewhere, as it’s a great song with a great message.” “91 Days” is a co-write with Myles and Anjulie Persaud that Young says “will likely be on the EP following the one we release in the Spring of 2016. The song has such an energy.” A collaboration with Fitzgerald and Koley, “Stay True,” will be released as a single on Ultra. “That one came so naturally,” says Young. “You have Michael rapping on the song, yet he’s primarily a folk singer.”

Young Wolf Hatchlings also enjoyed the post-camp collaboration with Sophie Rose. “We’re really excited about the material,” says Young. “Sophie is such a mature talent, and it was great to be in a different environment and see how she does her stuff.

“In my opinion those songs [from the camp] have helped jump-start our career, in the sense of having songs that can cross over,” says Young.For EDM producers such as ourselves, they’ve opened a lot of doors. Not just for our career, but for ourselves – as it shows we can be freer, making music that can cross over to mainstream.”

The songs and creative bonds forged at SOCAN’s Kenekt Song Camp promise to yield all sorts of significant results in the years to come. Stay tuned!


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