It’s September, and we all know what that means for most people under the age of 18: back to the books, sitting at your desk, studying in the library, and lots more time spent researching on Google and Wikipedia. And also, new clothes, seeing old friends, making new ones, and so on.

For our songwriting and composing SOCAN members, we’re going “back to school” as well, with some curated tips on songwriting, touring, and your career, from the likes of Serena Ryder, Laurence Nerbonne, Kardinal Offishall, and more.

Touring with a band

  • Pay your fellow musicians and crew more than you yourself are getting paid. If you’re making more money than they are, give them a raise. Especially your drummer.
  • Always play solo. But if you must form a band, only play in bands with your closest friends. You’ll find it exciting to make music if you love the people you’re making it with. Make sure one of your closest friends is a great drummer.
  • Don’t tour. But if you must tour, tour Italy and Spain.


  • Write with a pen on paper! It gives you ideas that maybe you might erase when you’re writing on a computer.
  • Picking another instrument you don’t usually play can be really fun. You won’t go to what your sense memory knows, so you’ll find a new place to start from. If you play guitar, sit down at the piano and see where it takes you. The chords will be totally different, and you’ll play different melodies. That has worked for me before.
  • If you haven’t got something really solid within 90 minutes, don’t bash your head against the wall. Inspiration is a gift and you can’t force someone to give you a gift. As soon as you start thinking too much and trying to grab and hold onto it, it’s going to die. That’s like love.
  • You can revisit a stalled song idea later. You might have a new perspective on life a couple of years later that means you can understand the song in a way you needed to in order to finish it.
  • Try reading a book, a novel idea! I always get inspiration when I read a good book.


  • Find a dedicated physical space in which you write consistently, whether it’s a room in your house or a certain desk.
  • Do it regularly. When I come into this room at this certain time, I am here for one purpose, to write. That helps train your mind.
  • Always serve the song. Don’t be too specific in your goal. Let the moment take you. Once you feel you’ve uncovered a seed of an idea, let it be what it needs to become.


  • See Opportunities: There are opportunities out there, it’s just a matter of having the lens to see them. I joined the Canada Council for the Arts jury to better understand how the grant system worked. I worked in a music store to understand how music pedals work, and met with industry folks for coffee to hear their learned experiences, and maybe work/volunteer for them.
  • Be Your Unique Self: Your authenticity has value: There are a ton of people in this world, some are smarter, have more talent, and have more money than you. What will set you apart? Your unique experience, your unique style, and your unique perspective.
  • Use Contracts: Contracts must be clear and concise, there’s no room for assumptions. I book, pitch, collaborate with many people, festivals, and venues. There can be a lot of miscommunication and assumptions. Best to draw up contracts… With contracts, it’s clean and clear; job description, term, and payment.
  • Save Money: I’ll always try to invest in projects I believe in, and take more financial risks. It seems daunting, especially if you don’t have money to begin with. I started a savings account for artistic/hobby endeavors. It’s amazing how much money I can spend on materials that don’t bring meaning or substance into my life. Prioritizing has been helpful. For each gig I get paid, I put a little of that into that savings account even if it’s a small amount.


There are two rules of thumb that I live by:
1) You have to care. You and only you can make it happen. Read Winston Churchill’s words again. You have to live and breathe, eat and sleep and care uncompromisingly, no matter what the challenges are, no matter what the naysayers around you say, or tell you differently.
2) You and only you, have to do something remarkable in order to make them care, or at the very least “somewhat” remarkable to at least make them sit up and take notice.


My advice to any artist seeking to “get into the game” is to make sure you take note of who you are before you enter. It will change you (anyone who says otherwise is a liar). The challenge is to let it change you for the better. Learn from it, and take every obstacle as a lesson that you can springboard from to become more savvy, while you maneuver through the snakes and ladders.

Think about writing techniques, how a good chorus should summarize the issues brought up in the verses, the various shapes a song can have – all that allows you to highlight your inspiration, and make the result of your initial idea clearer for the listener. It’s like visual arts: Picasso had to become a master painter before he could start de-constructing everything. Picasso was in top shape! So, to write a good pop song, you need to be in top shape, because it’s a lot harder than it seems to arrive to such essential clarity, and pour emotion into it so that it’s not too clinical.”


  • Write everything. It doesn’t matter if it feels uncomfortable, doesn’t matter if it’s outside of your genre, just write everything that comes to you.
  • If people don’t respond to what you’re creating, keep creating. They will respond, at some point, if it’s honest.
  • Before you write your songs, have ideas written down, and make sure you’re editing, and editing, and editing… You can always write something better.


  • Self-care. “Eating healthy, I do a lot of yoga. You can go on a treadmill every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.”
  • Packing cubes. “I just discovered these! They organize your suitcase [in little sections]. It’s important to be organized.”
  • “Lots of it. And no drinking on show days.”


  • Write with people that don’t write the same style/genre that you do; the variety is good.
  • Collaborate with people you enjoy working with, and write with people that challenge you. That’s a big one. I love working with people who are better and bigger songwriters than me. You can always learn. I’m learning constantly.
  • Every session is different. The more you write with people, the more you understand their process. Still, there’s no magic formula. You need to continue to work at it, and be 10 per cent better than everyone else all the time… that’s what I strive for.


  • Don’t be discouraged when you get stuck. Don’t force yourself to make an idea work. If you have a good idea for a chorus, or for a verse, but for some reason you’re not able to finish it, you can always just keep it in your back pocket and use it later.
  • Be open to collaborate. I have a problem finishing things, so it’s really great to have a band. When I get lazy, and I want to give up on an idea, they’re always there to offer me help. Then someone might have an idea that will inspire you, and you can figure it out together.
  • Always change the way you look at writing a song. For seven years, I would never write about my own personal experiences. I would just write from stories I came up with in my head. When I changed the way I approached songwriting, and started adding my own personal experiences as the basis for my songs, my writing really matured. I would encourage people to challenge themselves.

As an insurance brokerage, of course we’re interested in helping our musician customers protect their instruments, thereby avoiding the need for any claims. Let’s begin with a few general musical instrument protection tips, then move into discussing some specific instruments and how to protect them: electronic keyboards, guitars and drums.

smashed, guitar, protect, instrument

You don’t want THIS to happen

In some musical instrument claims that we’ve seen, the insured’s vehicle window was smashed. Presumably, this happened after the thief noticed that there was valuable gear inside. A simple way to reduce the likelihood of this happening would be to invest in tinted windows or low-cost security film if you’re going to keep gear in your vehicle. This helps keep your instruments out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. Additionally, if your vehicle has a back door or window, back it up against a wall to make it difficult for someone to enter from the rear. Have someone watching your van or trailer during load-in and load-out at all times. Vancouver, in particular, is notorious for thieves targeting gear being transferred into a venue from the laneway when the van is left alone for mere seconds.

In terms of protecting your instrument at airports and on planes: Rule No. 1 is to never check instruments with your luggage, unless it’s impossible to transport as hand luggage. Keep watch on your instrument while in the airport terminal. Consider using a Velcro strap to attach it to your trolley to prevent a snatch-and-grab. Hiding a Tile or similar tracker in your cases results in a good recovery rate for stolen gear. These products are especially valuable for vintage gear.

Consider transferring the risk of damage to your gear to an insurance policy. $10,000 of gear coverage can be purchased online in about five minutes, for about $130, for 12 months of protection for SOCAN members. You can get it here.

Protecting your Electronic Keyboard

Where to keep your keyboard? According to Yamaha, a room with relative humidity between 40 and 45 percent is ideal for keyboards. Avoid placing the keyboard outside, or near openings to the outside that expose it to sunlight, dust, or climate changes.

Use a multimeter to check if the electrical outlet you’re plugging the keyboard into is supplying the proper voltage recommended by your keyboard’s manufacturer. If it isn’t, try a different outlet. Multimeters can generally be purchased at Home Depot for about $30. Always turn the keyboard off before you unplug it, and unplug it when you’re not playing it.

Use a regular cotton cloth to clean the keyboard. Do not use a thinner, as that can remove the printing and even damage the (usually plastic) body.

If you’re touring, always use a high-quality carrying case such as a hard-bodied, foam-lined, locking Pelican case that protects against impact & moisture, and keep the keyboard covered with dust covers when not in use.

A seemingly innocuous action, like placing one’s drink atop a keyboard panel, can result in said drink eventually spilling and short-circuiting the keyboard. Insurance claims often occur after absent-minded actions such as this. So, put any nearby drinks on a side table, not on top of the keyboard panel.

Protecting your Guitar

Where to keep your guitar? Store your guitar in a room closer to the center of the building rather than near an outside wall. This helps maintain a constant temperature. Store the guitar in its case, standing up or on edge – never lying down – to prevent it from being stepped on. Also, loosen its strings one or two half-steps while the guitar is in storage.

While performing on stage, set your guitar in an area where it is less likely to be knocked into by passers-by, and try to set up your guitar last because, generally speaking, the less time an instrument is onstage, the less risk there is of potential damage.

Even if you sit while playing, having a strong strap is an intelligent precaution that can prevent your guitar from dropping to the ground. But don’t wear a belt buckle while the guitar is strapped on – belt buckles often cause unfortunate scratches and dings on a guitar. Or untuck your shirt to act as a buffer between your belt buckle and the back of the guitar.

Keeping your strings clean will help protect them; you can make the life of your strings last longer by wiping them down with a cloth or towel after playing. For guitars with steel strings, putting 70-90 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol on the towel to help clean the strings is generally considered a best practice.

If traveling with your guitar, consider stuffing its case with some extra padding (e.g., socks, towels, other fabrics) to pack it in tightly and prevent slippage.

Protecting your Drums

Where to keep your drums? If you’re storing drums for an extended period, leaving the heads on under moderate tension would be best for them, and help keep them in shape. Look into getting some hard cases with polyethylene shells for each drum. Extreme temperature changes can cause drums to grow or shrink slightly in size, so storing them in a room where the temperature won’t change dramatically is ideal.

If you’re touring on your own, you’ll want bring your drums in bags with high-quality zippers and some padding. You’ll then want to look into using fiber cases, or the aforementioned polyethylene cases. Remember to label each case with your contact information.

Of course, when it comes to flying, drums would have to be an exception to the above rule to “never check instruments with your luggage.” But rather than checking it as regular excess baggage, you could consider flying your drums as air freight cartage. This may cost a little more, but it adds the benefit of having your gear handled more professionally. Otherwise, you could always look into just renting a drum kit in the area of your gig instead of flying your own kit across the country.

Consider Front Row Instrument Insurance Brokers

Front Row Insurance Brokers is a brokerage specializing in entertainment-related risks. We have a simple online instrument program available 24/7 for SOCAN members – no need to talk to a broker. Custom packages include tour liability, and coverage for recording studios. We have offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Los Angeles, New York City, and Nashville. Our staff of 50-plus people have a combined 510 years of insurance experience. Front Row Insurance Brokers provides fast, affordable musical instrument insurance for Canada’s music professionals who are Canadian resident members of SOCAN. Read more about the program here.

About Grant Patten
Grant Patten is Vice President, Marketing, at Front Row Insurance Brokers Inc. Grant has an insurance background with about six years of experience at CSIO, where he did plenty of marketing communications work for that organization. Grant has also worked as a Technical Writer at CIBC, and as a Research Assistant at the University of Toronto. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Film Studies (Ryerson University) and a Master’s degree in Information Studies (University of Toronto). He is also a Project Management Professional (PMP)®.



In a series of articles, called The Breakdown, Words & Music offers short, basic answers to the most common and essential questions from SOCAN members. This time, it’s mechanical royalties.

What are mechanical royalties?
Mechanical royalties are royalties paid to a songwriter, composer, or music publisher whenever a physical or digital copy of one of their songs or compositions is made. They’re the royalties earned from the right to mechanically re-produce your recorded song in almost any format. For example, when a record label presses a CD or vinyl album of your song, or songs on an album, you’re owed mechanical royalties. The same holds true if your music is reproduced for a digital download, or an interactive stream.

Who pays mechanical royalties?
Mechanical royalties are paid by whoever obtains a license to reproduce and distribute your song or composition. Mechanical rights are broadly based on the act of mechanically reproducing your music, and as such, are one type of what are called “reproduction rights.”

Who collects mechanical royalties?
Until 2018, a music publisher, or a self-published songwriter or composer, accessed their reproduction royalties either via the CMRRA (the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency), or SODRAC (the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers & Publishers in Canada). In 2018, SOCAN acquired SODRAC, and added mechanical rights administration into our collection and distribution services. Now SOCAN can help you collect mechanical royalties, both in Canada and foreign territories. One registration now means two rights collected (both performance rights and mechanical rights), should you choose to assign both those rights to SOCAN.

How are mechanical royalties collected?
The collection organization (the CMRRA or SOCAN) grants mechanical licenses to people or organizations who want to reproduce music for public sale or broadcast, in exchange for the payment of license fees, which it then distributes as royalties to the songwriters, composers, and music publishers who created and administer that music.