After Steve Waxman graduated from NYU in 1982, with a screenwriting and acting degree, he stumbled into the music business. It was the tail end of the recession. Waxman took a Madison Avenue gig as an errand boy for Aucoin Management (KISS, Billy Idol). Two hours into his first day on the job, he knew he belonged in this business.

Nearly four decades later (the last 27 in publicity, promotion and marketing at Warner Music Canada) Waxman uses his talents and experiences today to help artists discover their story with his recently launched business: I.M. Steve Waxman. Just like landing that first job with Aucoin, finding this new calling at 60 was a “happy accident.” The epiphany came after many coffee conversations. He stresses his service is not a consultancy; rather, he offers entertainment career guidance.

“You need to define the narrative first”

Waxman is a storyteller with a curious mind, and a conversation with him is a lesson in listening. He rambles from one anecdote to another. Each sentence starts with, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?” From stories of dressing up in KISS’ outfits in Aucoin’s warehouse along the Hudson River to launching Scott Helman’s career, what emerges is this: Waxman knows his narrative. The value of an authentic story, well told, pairs with the most important lesson Bill Aucoin taught him: we’re all facilitators.

“If the artist has a vision, it’s our job to make sure they succeed at their vision, but so many artists don’t even know who they are,” Waxman explains. “They want to put themselves in the hands of the ‘experts’ and let the ‘experts’ guide them. Bill taught me to do it a different way. You need to sit together and figure out how we can get out of you what your vision is, but you need to define the narrative first. Sometimes you just need an unbiased third party to ask all the right questions until you figure it out, but it has to come from you.”

Once an artist has a clear vision and a compelling story, Waxman works with them to determine what steps to take next, and what actions make the most sense at that particular stage in their career, by asking the right questions. Do they need a manager? What about a publicist? Just because you made a record or uploaded some songs to Spotify, Waxman says, this alone is not a story. You need something that defines you or your band, and makes you stand out.

“My goal is to help as many artists as I can get into a position where they can successfully take the next step, whatever that is,” he says. “From getting out onstage to finding a manager or agent. Your best friends are always going to be wowed by what you do. You need an unbiased truthsayer if you’re going to take your career seriously.”

Connect with Steve to learn more about how he can help you navigate your career and define your narrative:

Steve’s Top Five Tips

  1. Set goals. A lot of times people don’t set goals, or they set goals that are too big, like ‘We want to fill an arena one day.’ That’s a big goal that’s hard to get to, unless you have a whole bunch of smaller goals you can achieve first.”
  2. “Ask questions like, ‘What makes you special?’ Define your narrative and start to create your unique story. Then, figure out how to get this story out to the world.”
  3. Be original. Chasing what’s on the radio, or someone else’s sound, is pointless.”
  4. Develop your live experience. People often don’t think about that enough. What are you doing to entertain your fans? Envision what your greatest performance looks like, then scale it back to what you can afford. Keep that vision in your head, so when people see you perform, it always looks bigger.”
  5. Get social. Create content online that’s consistent, and matches your narrative and vision. Many artists fear social media; they think you have to be everything to everybody, all the time. Instead, you need to strategize and plan.”

You wouldn’t guess it – especially when listening to “Uebok,” a song sung in Russian that’s been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube – but Apashe lives and works in Montréal. It’s in his Mile End studio that he composed Renaissance, an orchestral/electro album recorded in Prague with a 65-piece orchestra.

ApasheJohn De Buck, a.k.a. Apashe, is a special case. Born in Belgium, his Francophone parents chose to enroll him in a Dutch-language school, and the now-trilingual producer completed a degree in electro-acoustic music at Concordia University before his career exploded. To this day, he’s written music for ad campaigns by Budweiser, Adidas, and Samsung. Famous franchises such as Marvel and Fast and Furious have also availed themselves of his services.

We meet with him in the office of his record label, Kannibalen Records, also home to Black Tiger Sex Machine. It turns out De Buck is the antithesis of his music, which is full of abrupt drops, intense buildups, and frenetic crescendos. The man is calm and affable.

The secret of his success? Following his instinct. “My team and I work in a very organic way,” he says. “We create music, we put it on the internet, and we wait and see. It grew very naturally, to be honest, we never really tried to push things. But we’ve now gotten to a point where the projects we get are huge!”

Huge? The word could hardly be more appropriate. SOCAN members who see and hear their sheet music played by a horde of seasoned musicians in Prague’s Dvořák Hall are few and far between. After seducing the dubstep world and ad agencies, Apashe was chosen for a substantial subsidy, the first of his career.

“Up to this point, I’ve always been 100% independent,” he says. “We were so used to doing things on our own that now, if someone gives us the financial means, we’re like ‘Yo! Let’s go all out!’ Without FACTOR’s help, I wouldn’t have had the chance to work with the orchestra. I owe them that.”

We already knew he had a knack for epic, opera-like creations. But this time around, he’s not re-mixing a Mozart concerto. It’s his own creations. “I listened to a lot of classical music when I grew up, all the great composers,” says Apashe. “Now I’m exploring the lesser-known composers. I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks, and they’re generally classically-trained composers who work with orchestras. People like Daniel Hoffman, Philip Glass, or even Hans Zimmer… People always tell me I make cinematic music, but the thing is, when I try to do something else, I just can’t.”

Apashe’s love of strings, and especially sacred music, has been well-known for a long time. He also loves foreboding and heavily treated choirs, to add another level of intensity to his music. “I’m not sure exactly where that comes from, it’s quite strange,” he says. “I just love grandiose and supernatural sounds. Just like bass music! It’s heavy and immense, like classical music. That’s why I want to bring them together.”

This penchant from dramatic sounds doesn’t mean he can’t flirt with hip-hop, such as when he collaborates with Instasamka. Their collaboration might have seemed improbable at first, but it was unavoidable. “I wanted someone to rap in Russian over the melody of ‘The Little Birch Tree,’ a very popular folk song in Eastern Europe,” Apashe explains. “I asked my contacts over there, and she [Intasamka] was highly recommended. They told me she’s more of a comedian and influencer, but that she had just dropped a kick-ass album. I listened to it and thought it was perfect. I wrote to her manager and he told me she knew my 2014 track ‘No Twerk.’ She said yes right away, and within a week everything was done.”

The video, which was filmed between his appearance at the Sziget Festival in Budapest and à concert in Nizhny Novgorod, is articulated around Russian stereotypes. A ride on a tank, bare-chested hunting (à la Vladimir Putin), a face-to-face with a bear… The images that play over “Uebok” allow Apashe to add a touch of humour and self-deprecation. Clearly, aspiring to excellence hasn’t gone to his head.


This opinion piece written by SOCAN CEO Eric Baptiste, was uploaded to La Presse tablet and website on Apr. 3, 2020.

SOCAN, CEO, Eric BaptisteIn trying times, more than ever, music matters.

Canada, with most of the rest of the world, is stepping up to deal with the COVID-19 situation.

Music might not be the first thing on the minds of concerned Canadians, but, as it often does, music will play an essential background role in helping us to cope.

The millions of citizens now working from home can soothe any anxieties with music. Whether streamed, downloaded, over the airwaves or even on vinyl, our personal playlists will be a soundtrack for the situation.

One of the greatest things about Canada is that our country is a respectful, open, and welcoming one. We should never forget that. It makes us very special, but this is a time to rally around community and country. Paradoxically, by being told to stay apart we will actually get closer together, as we become united in the common goal of vanquishing this virus. And music bridges us through these troubled times.

As Canadians, we identify with and rally around the arts. Made-in-Canada music will be more important than ever to foster the pride of our people. When we hear the uplifting songs of Drake, Gordon Lightfoot, Marie-Mai, The Weeknd, Luc Plamondon, Joni Mitchell, Hubert Lenoir, Shawn Mendes, or Grimes, to name only a few, or the glorious compositions and scores of Mychael Danna, Leslie Barber, Alexandra Stréliski, or Keith Power, our hearts surge with common joy and pride.

Canada’s music brings Canada’s people together, truer and stronger.

Citizens will gather around the CBC or Radio Canada or other media to receive their reliable news. Canada turns to them, and so, too, should radio and television turn to made-in-Canada content to bind us even tighter as a country.

Our live music might go on hiatus as we avoid crowds, but eventually we will return to joyful and powerfully emotional concerts. We will rally together, and music will certainly continue to help us to heal, just as it did after the SARS crisis, and always has in times of need.

While many of Canada’s music makers will miss the revenues from paying gigs, we can perhaps help them to replace lost funds by playing their music even more. At home. On radio. On streaming services. In the car. Wherever you need music to help you through the times. Our benefitting from their music should be of benefit to them, too. They’re helping you, so it’s only right that all of us, in our small ways, help them in return.

Music might not be the first thing we think of in these troubling times, but it is certainly one of the most powerful tools we have to help us through this crisis. Our music creators will inevitably reach deep into their souls to capture the muse that emerges when emotions are raw, and answers are few.

History shows us that the creative arts perhaps counter-intuitively thrive in times of trouble. Through the harrows or wartime, new art almost always emerges in new and surprising ways. I fully hope, and even expect, that Canada’s music creators will find their muse even more than usual to express themselves through their work.

Canadian music holds value, bearing a gift beyond price. To Canadians, but increasingly, to everyone around the world

Put music on. Keep it on. And let’s keep on keeping on.

Eric Baptiste is CEO of SOCAN, the largest organization in the Canadian music ecosystem. SOCAN represents the rights of nearly 170,000 songwriters, composers, music publishers and visual artists.