From a business plan drawn on a napkin during the JUNOs back in 2009, to a charity which in 2015 reached a major financial milestone of $1 million; today, the Unison Benevolent Fund is as strong as the vision expressed when those scrawled words were first shared between two friends seven years ago.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is the brainchild of music industry veterans Jodie Ferneyhough and Catharine Saxberg. Nearly a decade on, the duo’s dream continues to grow and evolve; it’s an essential support system for Canadian musicians and those that earn a living in the industry.

“When we started this organisation our mandate was to support anyone who earns a living in the music industry who has fallen on hard times,” explains co-founder Saxberg, Vice President, International Relations for SOCAN. “Jodie and I often talked about how difficult it is for those in the arts with no support. Even if you’re signed to a major label, there are very few mechanisms available to artists and their families in times of crisis.”

The impetus for the idea started bubbling to the surface following an accident that left Jacksoul’s lead singer Haydain Neale in dire straits. “Haydain was a dear friend and his accident was catastrophic”, says Saxberg. “His situation got Jodie and I talking about both Haydain and others facing challenges without a safety net.”

Today, thanks to the Unison Benevolent Fund, musicians – and anyone employed in the music industry – now have a place to go for short-term financial aid and discreet counselling services, offered via third-party provider Shepell-FGI – the largest Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) counselling network in Canada.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is a non-profit, registered charity, administered and funded by the music community it serves. There are two distinct types of support available through the fund: financial assistance and counselling & health solutions. There’s not a week that goes by where the charity doesn’t see applications for financial assistance. The operation is lean; the Unison Benevolent Fund only has two part-time staff.

“We hear stories all the time from those that have used our services,” says co-founder Ferneyhough, also President of the Canadian Music Publishers Association. “They tell us our counselling helped save their marriage, or helped them put together a financial plan. Our emergency fund has allowed other artists to eat, and prevented them from being evicted from their homes.”

Unison is the official charity partner for the 2016 Toronto SOCAN Awards Gala in June. The organization will use this platform to raise more awareness, and hopefully more funds, for its charitable work. SOCAN has always been an integral partner and invaluable supporter of the Unison Benevolent Fund. Via former CEO Andre Lebel, SOCAN gave the fund $15,000 at its inception for outside legal work to get the fund registered as a not-for-profit, with the assistance of Anne Godbout, formerly of SOCAN’s legal department.

The need for this service is ever-present, as illustrated by the rise in the use of their counselling services over the past year. How does the non-profit measure success? “In the uptake of calls,” says Saxberg.  “The amount of calls we are seeing to our help line has dramatically increased. Word is getting out, which is the goal, but it also increases the pressure on our limited funds. We’re constantly fundraising to stay operational and help those in need.”

Funds are raised via various events – such as the second annual Unison Jam set to occur during this year’s NXNE, on June 16, 2016, at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, and the annual Golf4Good tournament on June 28, 2016, at Lionhead Golf Club in Brampton. It was during the first Unison Jam last year that the not-for-profit announced it had reached the monumental financial milestone of $1 million, allowing them to launch the new financial support program to aid Canadian music makers in times of crisis.

The charity raises awareness as well as funds, through various partnerships with artists and other like-minded industry associations. For example, during the 2016 East Coast Music Awards in April, Amelia Curran shared her personal struggles with mental health issues at a session presented by Unison. The singer-songwriter is just one of more than 150 artists that have lent their support to the charity since its creation.

Why is the Unison Benevolent Fund so important? Most musicians are self-employed, and many are the sole provider for their families. As independent entrepreneurs, 45 percent have no health insurance, and almost half (49 percent) have endured some type of hardship that’s prevented them from working at some point in their artistic career.

“There is still a huge need for our organization,” says Saxberg. “But I’m always blown away by the compassion and generosity in the music community.”

For more information:
info@unisonfund.ca;

(416) 479-0675

http://unisonfund.ca

1-855-9UNISON (1-855-986-4766)

Follow @UnisonFund


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A wonderful mystery has dominated the BDS chart for the past year. Entrenched in the Top 100 for a year now, Alexe Gaudreault’s song, Placebo, stayed in the Top 10 for 46 weeks, including 7 weeks at number 1, earning her a SOCAN #1 Song Prize in the process. This tour de force was made possible thanks to a beautiful pop song off of her 3-song EP, an independent production that features her voice that balances between control and abandon. Placebo was the key that opened many doors: “There’s no way we anticipated such success. We knew we had a good song in our hands, but you never know what’ll happen next,” says Mariane Cossette-Bacon, the singer’s manager and co-author of the song with John Nathaniel.

Alexe Gaudreault’s first full-length LP under her own name will be released on May 20, 2016. Some may not yet know her face, but many were introduced to her during the 2013 edition of the popular TV Show La Voix. During the blind audition stage, the young singer had won over judges Marc Dupré and Marie-Mai’s attention thanks to her spot-on interpretation of Jacques Brel’s Quand on a que l’amour. She was eliminated during the second live round, but she was asked to be the opening act for ex-coach Marc Dupré’s live concert at Montréal Bell Centre next June 10 and 11. “The last time I was there was to see Cirque du Soleil, and now I’m going back to sing! I’ve got the butterflies just thinking about it.”

“You can’t fake emotion. Sometimes many takes are necessary. The recording of Placebo was wrapped at 3 in the morning with a blanket over my head!”

Aloud
Alexe Gaudreault P&M mai 2016 credit Ali Kay InStoryAlexe Gaudreault comes from Dolbeau-Mistassini, a town about 6 hours by car northeast of Montréal in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Québec, and one can tell just by her voice. She’s endearing and a perfect ambassador of the fun-loving side of the inhabitants of said region. Her great musical sense and nightingale voice come from her mother’s side of the family. “My mother, uncle and grandfather have always enjoyed singing, while my dad can’t even carry a tune whistling!”

Now 23, Alexe has sung in church choirs since her early days and also picked up the transverse flute when she was in high school. “I’ve never said ‘I want to be a singer’; music has always been a part of my life, simple as that.” Not only can she sing, but she’s great at drawing and signed up for an Art degree in cégep. When she was 19, she participated in the Festival de la chanson de Saint-Ambroise, a Francophone singing contest that acts as a springboard for young singer-songwriters. “That’s when I got hooked. After that I auditioned for La Voix and things rapidly fell into place.”

Although it might look like a fairy tale from the outside, it was really a question of talent, encounters and perseverance, as well as risk, efforts and instinct. “When I decided I was going to have a career in music, I knew I’d have to work really hard,” says Alexe during our meeting while munching on a bagel with cream cheese. We met at Café Lézard, in Rosemont, the popular Montréal neighbourhood where she relocated. Life after La Voix can’t have been a cakewalk. “That experience is all about performance: you have to deliver. It’s a great platform, but it all happens at lightning speed. I don’t want to take away anything from that program—it has changed my life—, but I do feel we come out of it a little lost at sea. Thank God, my mom was always there to keep me grounded. Soon after, I was lucky enough to meet the people that helped me evolve as an artist.”

John Nathaniel did not watch La Voix. “The first time I heard Alexe sing was on my Facebook feed, out of the blue, during a piano-voice jazz performance,” says the 32-year-old producer. “I said to myself: ‘That girl has something special, a tone,’ and I immediately wanted to meet her. I invited her to come over to my studio to listen to some music. We didn’t owe each other anything and decided to record a single, just to see where that would take us. It wasn’t long before that idea morphed into an EP.”

Mariane Cossette-Bacon, also 32, is John’s wife, Alexe’s manager and occasional chauffeur, as well as a lyricist and stylist. She holds a degree in fashion marketing as well as an MBA and has this to say about the crucial stage at which an artist consolidates their identity: “John and Alexe took time to research what Alexe likes to listen to, what moves her, what works with her voice, the sounds that inspire her. It was very important to come up with music that fit her like a glove. It’s likely that not all La Voix contestants don’t have the same opportunity, and luck, to be so well coached after their presence on that show.”

Six Hands, Three Heads, One Passion

 
alex gauderaultIt’s Alexe’s first album that is coming out on May 20, but all three of them feverishly await on the starting line. The album is a high quality, unifying and well-produced pop offering. The creative trio signed with Musicor, “which has no bearing on the artistic level, specifies John. They understand what we’re trying to do and gave us carte blanche. The success we had with the EP and Placebo made us realize that we really needed a team of true marketing experts.”

Australian singer-songwriter Sia immediately comes to mind upon hearing the song L’hiver. Other musical influence of John and Alexe can also be heard, and although the common thread is pop music, they both love moody and atmospheric artists such as Bon Iver, Coldplay, or London Grammar. Lyrics were co-written by all three of them with a fourth collaborator on some songs. All the music was created by John Nathaniel.

Their creative process has something intriguing. “We are highly disciplined, explains John who’s taken a songwriting workshop in Los Angeles. We plan work sessions in the studio. There’s no alcohol involved and no back and forth of emails. We truly write six-handed, tailored-made songs for Alexe. We are hard-working people and do not shy away from rewriting.”

Mariane: “We don’t strive for perfection, we strive for a convincing vocal performance, solid lyrics and a production that works with those elements.”

“Perfection is sterile, John adds. What we want is emotion, something raw. We’re instinctual and work very fast. From writing the lyrics to the final production, a song takes us three days to finish.”

The longest part of this process is for Alexe to place her voice: “You can’t fake emotion. Sometimes many takes are necessary. The recording of Placebo was wrapped at 3 in the morning with a blanket over my head!”

Alexe Gaudreault’s first album is true to who she is and is a perfect postcard of the process that led up to it. “Since moving to Montréal, I’ve evolved tremendously as a person, I think I have found myself! I’m still a bit of a baby, but I can say the little girl has become a woman. I left home, my family is far from me and, in the beginning, I found that quite hard. . . Luckily, I have a great entourage.”

The tattoo she sports on her arm reads, “Home is where your heart is”. If Placebo is a key, Alexe Gaudreault’s home is music and its heart beats at the tempo of a pop song.

Alexe Gaudreault Facebook page


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“To be perfectly happy as a musician right now, I need two projects that seem to stimulate very distinct parts of my brain. Also, there’s never any downtime, and that’s great for someone like me who thrives on new challenges and exciting projects,” says Antoine Lachance of the challenges inherent to his burgeoning solo career, on top of being a member of pop-rock trio On a créé un MONSTRE for nearly 10 years.

Last winter, the singer-songwriter was a contestant in the Ma première Place des Arts competition, where he won the Grand Prize in the Singer-Songwriter category, as well as the Song of the Year Award for “Le fleuve,” a song that can be heard on his first album, Cimetière d’avions, released in April 2016.

“I wrote ‘Le fleuve’ during the roughest period of my life,” says Lachance. “I went through a very bad heartbreak a few months after losing my dad to brain cancer. Alone, in a nearly empty apartment, I felt like everything was collapsing around me, that everything was being ripped away from me. I was born in Sorel (a small town of about 34,000 people one hour northeast of Montréal) and the St. Lawrence is part of our daily lives. I stared at the water and imagined myself on an ice floe.”

His solo career might just be taking off, but he still needs to put it on hold every so often, since On a créé un MONSTRE will launch not one, but two EPs before the end of this year. The first of those two EPs, Théâtre des catastrophes, was just released by Slam Disques.

“The difference lies in my contribution to the project,” he says. “In On a créé un MONSTRE, I’m called upon mainly for the musical aspect of things, arrangements, the fact that I can play many instruments, and, more recently, my expertise in recording and mixing the band. For my personal project, the main difference is that I’m the writer of those songs. Everything depends on me, although I do get some help from my friends Maxime Reed-Vermette, Éric Tessier and Louis-Étienne Sylvestre. This solo project also allows me to sing from a more personal perspective,” says the man who will play the Francofolies de Montréal on June 11, 2016, and who’ll also spend the latter part of the coming summer in France to test the waters.

“Strangely enough, both endeavours work perfectly well with one another,” says Lachance. “I never have any scheduling or any other type of issue that comes from having two serious creative projects. They even benefit from one another in terms of visibility and creativity. I’m constantly learning from both projects and both projects benefit from those learnings.”


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