In a wide-ranging, free-form discussion, Grammy- and Academy Award-nominated songwriter, composer, producer, pianist, and recording artist Stephan Moccio shared his demo recordings, stories, and insights with a crowd of about 100 aspiring music creators and music ecosystem representatives, at a Masterclass presented by The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF), on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio in downtown Toronto.
Moccio was joined by SOCAN Creative Executive, Film/TV & Visual Media, Gagan Singh, who moderated the event, which was co-presented by RBC Emerging Artists, in association with Ontario Creates, and supported by SOCAN and SOCAN Foundation.
Moccio played recordings that illustratively segued from the solo-piano-and-voice demo versions of his most famous music to the final recordings of it, including those for “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, “Earned It” by The Weeknd, “A New Day Has Come” by Céline Dion, and “Daylight Saving” by Seal. He also demonstrated the evolution of those compositions – and others, including the Rogers Sports Network themes for NHL Hockey and Blue Jays Baseball, and the CTV theme for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics – by playing snippets of them on a grand piano, in the various styles assumed as he developed them.
Among the stories he shared was the one about how he co-wrote “Wrecking Ball” with Sacha Skarbek and Maureen “Mozella” McDonald. “Mozella was supposed to get married, but she called off the wedding that week, and almost didn’t show up to the writing session,” said Moccio. “Sacha had the pre-chorus idea, and we came up with the verse, but we were stuck for the chorus.” Moccio presented a delicate melody for it, that was later turned into big, dramatic piano chords. “Mozella spent the next three hours completing the lyrics for it, which was painful… She played it for her friend Miley Cyrus, who was going through her own breakup, and Miley loved it… My piano, which Mozella originally sang to, ended up being the final piano on Miley’s recording.”
Moccio also told the story of how, while studying at the University of Western Ontario, he attended a Céline Dion concert, introduced himself to her manager René Angélil, and asked to meet Dion. Backstage, he boldly told the singer that he planned to write her a hit song. Exactly a decade later, Moccio – with Aldo Nova – co-wrote Dion’s “A New Day Has Come,” a record-breaking hit that topped the Hot AC charts for 21 weeks in 2002, and was the title song of both her album and Las Vegas residency show.
Moccio said that passion and dedication are required to fulfill and complete that kind of 10-year artistic vision. As with “A New Day Has Come,” when he was inspired by David Foster’s theme for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics theme, he was determined to compose one as well – and 22 years later, he did. The same passion and dedication was in effect for the first TV theme he landed, for CTV’s the Camilla Scott Show. The 26-year-old Moccio was working three daily jobs – one as a house producer at Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada, and two as a lounge-bar pianist, at both the Four Seasons Hotel and Centro Restaurant in Toronto – when he cold-called a CTV producer and asked about pitching a theme song. When they agreed to give him a shot, he spent countless late-night hours recording, and endlessly refining, his demo in a small, camped apartment. But when it was accepted, his first SOCAN cheque after that was for about $17,000 – which he promptly re-invested into his career.
Moccio was at pains to explain that despite what it might look like, he’s had far more “misses” than hits. As an illustrative example, he played three different, high-end video commercials, with three different musical variations of his theme – all created independently, at his own considerable expense – that he pitched to Air Canada for a huge branding campaign. Despite a great reaction at the pitch meeting, the company ended up not using it.
Among Moccio’s best insights and advice to music creators:
- “Make sure your melody is reduced to the minimum amount of information required to get it across.”
- “Achieving your dreams will depend on your ability to fund them.”
- “Screen composing can provide invisible support for a pop music career.”
- “Go get what you need; nobody’s going to give it to you.”
- “Your audience will feel it if you’re making music for the right reasons.”
- “Believe, believe, believe in yourself, and keep on doing it.”