In 2018, Bonsound, one of the most important corporate entities on Québec’s music scene, decided to grow in a new direction: music publishing. The organization tasked Marie-Ève Rochon, their experienced booking agent, with developing the new department. And she did: “what I like about the world of publishing is that there’s no two days that are alike,” she says.

Bonsound was already involved in album production and marketing, concert production, and career management. Music publishing – a rapidly growing field, thanks to the many opportunities available to songwriters through synchronization (the use of music in screen productions) – thus completes the range of services offered by the company, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2024.

As the licensing and publishing executive for Bonsound, Rochon learned the ropes of the business as she was building her new department. As she started, she “signed up for a training session offered by the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale [APEM] and I learned a lot from that,” she says, also acknowledging the importance of the person she refers to as her mentor in the business, David Murphy. His experience as a music publisher led him to found his own company specializing in music and screen rights management, and who assists Bonsound with its administration.

Bonsound, Marie-Ève RochonRochon offers some insight into the thinking of Bonsound’s founders that led to the development of the publishing department. Various factors emerged with the transformation of the music industry, starting with the need to diversify the company’s revenues. “We got a Gold record with one of Lisa LeBlanc albums, but we’ll probably never see that happen again,” she explains. The decline in record sales revenue spurred record labels to rely more heavily on show production, and look into synchronization.

What’s more, “Established publishers already manage huge catalogues of works,” says Rochon. “We felt there was room for us to offer support to Francophone artists, which, in parallel, allows us to get involved in the creative side of songwriting.” Which they did by organizing song camps with musicians from the Bonsound roster.

“There’s nothing redundant in the publishing trade, not even the administration side of it,” says Rochon. “But as far as learning the trade, I took advantage of the structure that was already in place at Bonsound, which is where I learned accounting,” a skill that’s essential to publishing. “I don’t find it boring to make sure everything is properly declared, following up on requests, etc. I was lucky because I started from scratch in publishing, but I had experience and a structure behind me.”

The job of a music publisher, essentially, is to develop and exploit a catalogue of works; at Bonsound, that’s roughly 500 songs by 20 artists. But this approach is measured in terms of dissemination as much as in terms of income, and nowadays, a large part of that happens through placing songs in advertising, and film and television productions. This means the success of a publishing organization depends in part on how close its ties with those sectors are.

“Bonsound has invested a lot of energy in international development over the last two or three years,” says Rochon. “We participate in a lot of networking events and showcases to get in touch with music supervisors” – who are key players in the new music economy, acting as brokers for music used in screen productions.

Rochon says she receives about 30 music requests (briefs) a week from music supervisor with whom she’s in contact, looking for the right song for a new TV series or ad. Most calls originate in L.A., and the rest are from the rest of Canada, and Europe. It’s essential to prepare playlists specific to the needs of music supervisors, and to be pro-active and pitch them new works by artists represented by Éditions Bonsound.

“The important part is establishing and maintaining contacts,” says the publisher. “We’ve created a newsletter for our music supervisors, where we inform them of our new releases. Canvassing is a long-term job, and the risk of boring our music supervisors is very real, because you can imagine those individuals are constantly solicited!”

In five years, Rochon’s work has paid off. “But I still see the department as a start-up,” she says. “We’re brand new in the publishing world, so we’re still in the investment stage. It’s something we’re building slowly, but it’s promising,” she says, mentioning that Bonsound has also built a dedicated website for music supervisors.

Her work is also accomplished through a synergy with the label’s other departments. “When you get a sync project, it’s very useful when that artist’s manager is sitting at the desk next to yours!” says Rochon, who also collaborates with songwriters. “There’s still a lot of education to be done with artists about the role of the publisher,” she acknowledges.

“And also education on being well-equipped. For example, when an artist is recording an album, we’ll recommend that they make sure they have the instrumental versions of the songs, or the stems,” separate tracks of the elements of a song that are easy to share. “That’s very important when you want to get in the world of advertising.”

If you start your career by doing shots of liquor on someone else’s tab, there’ll be several steps to complete before you achieve wisdom. And yet, what could easily be construed as serenity lies at the core of Mélanie and Stéphanie Boulay’s musical project. Liberated, satuisfied, they “let life do its thing,” and now look back on the last decade that determined who they’ve become. Ten years, in which they wouldn’t change a thing.

May 2012
Les soeurs Boulay Les sœurs Boulay win the final round of Les Francouvertes, where they were competing with Francis Faubert and Gazoline. “There are very few of our opponents in that final with whom my sister hasn’t gone out,” says Mélanie, bursting with laughter, while her sister laughs just as hard. “I remember we stayed in the first position from the preliminary round to the final,” says Stéphanie. “Each and every step, we just couldn’t believe it. We could definitely feel it – not that we were going to win, but that something was brewing.”

Even back then, they followed their instinct and ignored all the “advice” people were giving them, moist notably what kind of performance to give for the finals. “We’d decided to do something very stripped down, with just one condenser microphone and everyone thought it would be a catastrophe,” Mélanie remembers. But that night, you could hear a pin drop in Club Soda. They won.

March 2013
On March 26, 2013, the duo released their debut album, Le poids des confettis. “It was a super-playful album, because we didn’t even know how to write songs. We were constantly wondering if we could actually use the chords we were using in that sequence,” remembers Mélanie. At Studio Wild, in Saint-Zénon, Québec, the sisters “created while completely drunk out of our minds.” “We’d drink Grand Marnier in the morning,” Stéphanie admits with a giggle.

It was Stéphanie who wrote the lyrics and music of “Mappemonde,” still Les sœurs Boulay’s most popular song, to this day. “I remember how much Mélanie hated it,” she says, laughing. “She wouldn’t shut up about how corny it was, while I was still writing it.”

June 2014
Infidelity is the subject of the single “Ça,” which was never released on an album. “We’d recorded it for the album, but it was rejected, and I really felt mournful about it,” Stéphanie confesses. The song still had its moment.

October 2015
Les soeurs BoulayThen their make-it-or-break-it sophomore album came out. 4488 de l’Amour saw the light of day in the fall of 2015. Throughout the album, Mélanie and Stéphanie explore individual, real-life experiences. The fact that each song seems like a solo was perhaps so that they could better be re-united. “We felt an urge to claim our own space,” Mélanie says. “We lived together and hung out with the same people. Anytime I’d get somewhere, the first question people asked me was, ‘Where’s your sister?’ That’s why we had to travel alone for a while.”

 Less candid and already much more down to earth about the world in which they lived, they wrote more involved songs, and more songs about life’s many disappointments, big and small. “It reeks of coming out of a post-first-tour burnout,” Stéphanie giggles. “But it’s still our change-of-paradigm album. We’d appeared on La Voix and we’d also had a scary experience where people were a little too intent on talking to us after an outdoor show, where there was no backstage area. That’s when we decided to keep our respective private lives far away from the cameras.”

August 2016
Les sœurs Boulay release a very “the way we want it” cover of Céline Dion’s “Pour que tu m’aimes encore.” “It’s the first cover we did where we truly understood our aesthetic,” Mélanie reminisces. “That’s what we did with Marjo’s ‘Les chats sauvages.’ We understood we could take a very personal song and apply our sound to it. It was really satisfying to realize that.”

As a matter of fact, her love of music was triggered by “My Heart Will Go On,” from the movie Titanic. “It stirred something deep inside of me, even though I was super-young,” she continues. In September of that year, they released their E.P. Lendemains, where said aesthetic was even more apparent, even though it contains only four short songs. These were 11 minutes of unfiltered gentleness.

April 2017
The duo covers Richard Desjardins’ “L’engeôlière” on a tribute album to the artist. “I couldn’t talk to him,” Stéphanie says, remembering the live show that followed the album release. “I couldn’t say a word, because I was scared that this monumental figure of music, that I admire so much, would think I’m stupid,” she says, laughing. “We took a deep breath and sang next to him. It was a major moment for us.”

September 2017
Les soeurs BoulayAs part of the Journées de la culture, the sisters composed “De la terre jusqu’au courant,” one of their first “remote” creations. “I started by writing unstructured lyrics, and Mélanie worked on the music separately,” says Stéphanie. “That’s when we started working through voice memos,” adds Mélanie. “We’re very attached to the Petite-Vallée choir from Gaspésie. Those kids sang their part and recorded it with very basic equipment in their school gymnasium.” Then, in the expert hands of Alex McMahon, all these tidbits combined to become something magical.

March 2018
That’s when the duo enjoyed their first screen music commission. “I was super-hopeful it would be the first of a long and fruitful series of commissions,” says Stéphanie, visibly delighted about her collaboration with the team for the TV series Trop. The song “Le temps des récoltes” plays over a key moment in one of the episodes, where we start to understand the relationship between two sisters. “We had a few pointers on the scene where the song would be used. We watched the show and really liked it. It’s about the love between two sisters as much as it is about mental health,” says Stéphanie. “We hadn’t seen the finished scene, and the first time we actually listened to the song after it was recorded was in Alex McMahon’s studio. He cued up the images to the song. We all cried. It was like magic to see our ideas meld perfectly with the story that was being told.”

September 2019
Les sœurs Boulay release their third album, La mort des étoiles. It would be their last release for Dare To Care – now known as Bravo Musique – before they left the label during controversy-laden times. Mélanie talks about this album as one of disillusionment: “The social climate, the environment, the #metoo movement… I was trying to make sense of it all for my children, but it felt like everything was dragging us into an immense sorrow. But then again, we always were big on melancholy,” she says. “For the longest time, my e-mail address was (thesaddays3).” For Stéphanie, La mort des étoiles was a pandemic album before the pandemic started. “It’s like we intuited a major upheaval,” she adds. “Sometimes, when you write, you feel like it’s going to take its full meaning later on. That’s exactly what happened with this one.”

October 2022
Échapper à la nuit, Les sœurs Boulay’s fourth album, was released by Simone Records. In a bona fide renaissance after letting bygones be bygones, Les sœurs Boulay came back with a renewed interest in music, as well as a new team. “I remember that when we started making music, we constantly felt like everything was a question of life or death,” says Mélanie. “But Antoine Gratton, one of our mentors back then, always said ‘It’s just music, it’s not rocket surgery,’ and that’s the biggest lesson he taught us.” Stephanie is convinced that she still has things to learn from the person she was 10 years ago, and she’s also convinced, as a realist, that they’ll never experience the huge wave of success that carried them forward early in their career.

In a strong yet tempered stance, both women take an empathetic look at their journey and would change absolutely nothing. If Le poids des confettis still moves them today, in 2023, it’s because it’s filled to the brim with a “youthful” truth, and a desire to break everything in the hope of making the world a better place. “I believe that what we need to do the most, 10 years later, is to remember the urge to create that we felt when we started,” says Stéphanie. “We don’t want to forget to keep getting mad at things,” her sister adds. “And to live a fearless life.”

It seems appropriate that our conversation with Alex Cuba comes exactly one year and one day after the acclaimed singer-songwriter from Smithers, BC, won his first-ever Grammy Award. That was in the Best Latin Pop Performance category, for the album Mendo, and came after three earlier nominations.

“I found out [that I won the Grammy] in the most Canadian way possible, driving home in a snowstorm,” says Cuba. “I’d just played two symphony concerts in the Okanagan, beautiful shows that made me feel properly back onstage after lockdowns. Some areas lacked cell service, so my U.S. publicist couldn’t reach me. When he finally did, he said ‘I need a quote. You just won a Grammy!’”

Cuba is no stranger to awards. He’s previously won four Latin Grammys, including a Best New Artist nod in 2010, along with two JUNO Awards, and, most recently, a 2022 SOCAN Hagood Hardy Award.

Alex Cuba, Quiero Quedarme

Click on the image to play the Alex Cuba video “Quiero Quedarme”

He’s certainly not resting on his laurels now, with multiple projects on the go. His first release of 2023 is the track “Quiero Quedarme,” the third advance single from an EP arriving later in the year.

“I see this project as a perfect marriage between my organic vibe and the electronic elements,” says Cuba. “During the pandemic, as I was building the album that won a Grammy, I started writing these songs I saw as having an electronic soul feel.

“It’s a completely solo record, with one voice, one guitar, and at least 20 songs. This is connected to my recent solo tour, which was so inspiring. I’m doing this because I’m concentrating on songwriting.  Everything you hear now is so hook-focused that the art of writing songs, with bridges that feel natural, seems to be becoming rare. For this acoustic album I already have seven pieces recorded. It will be primarily Spanish, as I want it to be very honest and soulful, and that’s easier with my mother language.

“One of the most important things to me in music is melody,” he continues. “A melody can contain huge amounts of information, and it’s capable of making people feel something. I believe that’s why this solo Canadian tour I just finished was such a success. It was just me onstage, and people were crying, laughing, having a blast.

“I believe melodies are the gift in music. You can spend three months, or years, writing lyrics to a melody that you have. Most people can do that, but the melody is the true gift, the one that comes from you don’t know where.”

“My fans stay because I keep them guessing where I’ll go next”

Cuba continues to challenge himself musically, as is showcased on the stylistic variety of his catalogue – one that features Latin, soul, pop, and rock elements. “My biggest pride in music is that in eight albums, no song of mine sounds like another,” he says. “My fans stay because I keep them guessing where I’ll go next. That’s a healthy thing for a musician and songwriter. If you only do one kind of music and you get your fans used to that, then when you want to do something different, you’re trapped. I’m so happy to have that freedom creatively.”

Unlike so many peers, he has reason to feel grateful for the pandemic. Unable to maintain his usual busy touring schedule, he took the opportunity to build a home studio, which has provided a huge boost in his creativity.

“I recorded Mendo, the Grammy-winning album, in my living room,” he says, “but I’ve now turned our garage in the back into a studio. It has a stable temperature, so my instruments stay in tune. I get lost in there, and that’s so inspiring.”

Aaron Miguel, La Aguja

Click on the image to play the video of Aaron Miguel’s “La Aguja”

This new facility gives Cuba the opportunity to pursue some of the production work he’s now being offered. “What I’m proudest about with my Grammy is that it says ‘Alex Cuba – Artist, Producer, Engineer,’ so it feels like three Grammys in one. The morning after I won, I was flooded with texts and e-mails from artists wanting me to produce them. I’m looking forward to spending more time at home working on productions, while being careful that it never feels like a job.”

Some ongoing production work has been with Aarón Miguel, an artist Cuba signed to his record label, Caracol Records. “I’m also finishing up music for Mi Tierra- Homeland, an audio book by David Lindes, an American friend of mine,” says Cuba. “It’s a brilliant book about migration trauma, with songs to the stories, and I’m adding instrumentation to, and producing, those.”

He’s also excited about yet another future project. “You’re the first person to know about this, and it’s called Voices of My Family. I’m recording songs with members of my family, and I see this as a potential mini-documentary, where I travel to Cuba to record and film more.

“I hope I can keep borrowing from the infinite universe of music. I believe music is the biggest gift we have.”