Known for her Canadian hit singles “Can’t Stop Falling” (2010) and “Unbreakable” (2013), Laurell has won both the Billboard Songwriting Competition and Pop Album of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. Her work has been featured on MTV’s The Real World, NBC’s The Biggest Loser, and MuchMusic’s Degrassi, among others. As a professional songwriter, she now top-lines for DJs around the world, and works closely with signed artists on their singles. She’s currently featured on the hit single “Good Thing,” by Tritonal, which just broke the Top 50 on the Billboard U.S. Dance Chart. Here’s how she did it:

I live out of a suitcase and I’m still in disbelief.  A year ago I embarked on “the European leg of my songwriting hustle.” After relentlessly writing on the L.A. scene, my U.K. passport served as a gateway to more overseas collaborations, starting with an invitation, facilitated by SOCAN, to the famous Black Rock songwriting camp in Greece. The connections I made there evolved into me co-writing and collaborating in 15 countries over the past six months, with labels, publishers, artists and DJs. While the work is so much more than I ever would have imagined, thankfully so are the rewards. It’s pulled me out of my comfort zone, into an amazing journey I never would have expected. Here are some things that have helped my career and creative growth immensely over the last year. I hope they help you, too.

1. Manifesting
Even if it’s just a head game, it really works for me.  A year ago I read The Law of Attraction by Michael Lozier, and wrote down exactly what I wanted. I started training my brain to frame things more positively, and go into situations with more confidence and clarity. It increased the pace of my career development, and brought me so much more enjoyment along the way. I can just relax and deliver, rather than stress about who I’m with, and what’s riding on each opportunity. I often go into sessions thinking about how I want to feel at the end of the day. Usually all I want is for everyone to enjoy themselves, love the song, and ask me back.

2. Relationships
This is the most important thing besides your personal vision. There’s no such thing as doing it on your own. This industry is made up of a small circle of great songwriters in each city, creating a network – one I’ve been able to access in a short amount of time, via introductions to amazing people by other amazing people. Like SOCAN’s Chad Richardson, who invited me to the third annual SOCAN Kenekt song camp in 2017, which allowed that kind of access. Most non-writers/non-artists in this industry are working jobs with less risk, but they’re in it for the love of music, and job stability. When they help me, it’s because they believe in me – they don’t owe me anything. We need people to enjoy the journey with… beer after sessions, couches to crash on, people to call when you’re down, them calling you freaking out when they hear your new song for the first time… that’s where life is at.

3. Pay Attention
Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever. Finding out the hot artists, the fresh production styles, how other people phrase differently than you, and co-writers’ songwriting tricks you haven’t used yet, only helps you become a better writer. When I was in L.A., I’d go to 14-year-olds’ showcases just to hear how that generation sings things. Start learning and you’ll have way more to lean on in your sessions. Also, knowing who you’re co-writing with (artist, producer, DJ), and paying attention to what they want, is really key. When I write for the Eurovision Song Contest, I lean towards epic, soaring, emotional phrases and specific “moments” to serve the live performances of that show. When I’m writing with urban Toronto producers, I’m channeling my best Rihanna swag. There are no stereotypes, and songwriting can break the mold, but paying attention to the kinds of writing choices that make songs different from genre to genre makes us more adaptable writers. Paying attention to pop culture is also important.

“Soak up every single thing you can from any collaborating situation: It’s the best education ever.”

4. Pushing buttons
I used to be a recording artist, so I’m often the singer on my demos. Learning how to track and comp my own vocal opened up my world. I’ve been able to collaborate with DJs and producers while I’m travelling worldwide, and it’s because of learning this most beneficial skill. Because I was a recording artist (and a voice major), I’m very picky, and can now track and comp more quickly than most producers. That makes me even more valuable, because they can bounce the song to me, and I can track while they’re working on the song. It also feels good to pull some weight in the production department. The first song I tracked and comped for a young Chinese DJ won a radio award in China, and they flew me back to perform on national TV with him. If I hadn’t known how to record that song, it never would have happened.

5. Expectations
I expected professional songwriting to be a tough hustle, and it’s been even harder than that. But… I also expected myself to rise to the challenges and become better along the way. Early on, someone said to me that whatever you put in is exactly what you’re going to get out of something – and I totally agree. There’s luck, there are breaks, there’s the law of attraction, and there’s balance. Everything evens out in the end. However big you’re willing to dream is measured by how hard you’re willing to work. I know this is true; I’ve seen it, both in others and on my own path.

6. Timing
I’ve learned to trust the timing of things more this year than ever before. I now understand that a year ago, I wasn’t ready for certain things, and I may still be a year away from being ready for other things. And timing can actually end up serving us. For example, I recently suggested a title during a co-writing session with two very successful songwriters, who both shot it down as cheesy. A week later I walked into a writing camp in Amsterdam with a very successful DJ, and when I asked if there was any specific brief, the two producers in the room literally said “Well, he is all about insert my title here”. We then wrote a song with that title, it’s been recorded, and it’s going to be his new single in September! I called the first set of writers and actually thanked them for saying ‘no’ the week before.

7. Persistence
A songwriting career isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of us got into it because of passion, and that’s what keeps us going. The one thing I’ve learned about persistence is that the only way to guarantee failure is if I stop the process. Just keep going. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing. I was a mess three weeks ago because I was tired and wanted results more quickly. I even wanted to go home. But I know that going home is the only thing that will stop this train. So I can’t. And you can’t. Show up, get the job done, and love the ride!

 


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Technically a blogger, Bob Lefsetz is really a leading expert on the music industry. His widely-read, independent e-mail newsletter, The Lefsetz Letter, features his lively, iconoclastic opinions on the state of the business of music. Lefsetz’s sharp, sometimes cutting scrutiny, and uncensored ideas, have established him as one of the most influential voices in the industry. He makes all of his writing available for free online, or via e-mail, earning a living instead through paid speaking engagements, and writing for other publications.

His recent post on “How to Promote” is a typical one – it’s brutally honest and realistic, but provides an excellent distillation of an approach that should benefit every SOCAN member as they pursue a career in music. In it, Lefsetz discusses how to incrementally distribute your music and build statistics, the importance of playing live and taking your time, and only building a team when it makes sense to do so.

You can read his “How to Promote” column here.

You can subscribe to The Lefsetz Letter (delivered to you via e-mail) here.


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A life in the creative world or in the arts has its rewards. Self-expression, yes. Creative satisfaction, hopefully. Financial rewards, hmm, maybe. Security and safety nets, well, not so much.

If you’re a SOCAN member, you probably wish you had the health insurance and other benefits that your “nine-to-five” friends can access through their employers. But there is an insurance plan that provides coverage for independent creative professionals. It’s the Arts & Entertainment Plan® offered through the Actra Fraternal Benefit Society (AFBS), and it’s available to SOCAN members.

Jason Saulay of AFBS

Jason Saulay of the AFBS Arts & Entertainment Program®

It started when Canadian author and activist Susan Swan began talking to AFBS about setting up an affordable health care plan for the writing community. As a result, AFBS established The Writers’ Coalition Program in 2009, followed in 2011 by the Arts & Entertainment Plan – the first health insurance plans designed for self-employed artists in Canada.

Around since 1975, the AFBS is a member-owned and -governed, not-for-profit, federally incorporated insurance company that currently insures more than 17,000 self-employed people, and manages more than $625 million in member retirement assets.

Jason Saulay, the representative for the plan, explains that while their main business is insuring ACTRA and the Writers’ Guild, what they offer through the Arts and Entertainment Plan and the Writers’ Coalition Program is an insurance program for the artistic community as a whole, for organizations and people who otherwise don’t have access to such benefits and coverage.

“We’re not your typical insurance company,” Saulay says. “Although on the back end we operate similarly, we’re very different. Because we’re creatives ourselves, we understand the needs of others who earn their livelihood in the creative space. So when we design insurance programs, we do it with expertise, knowledge and compassion that can’t be matched by traditional insurers.” AFBS started offering the plan to SOCAN members about four years ago.

One of the main goals of the plan is to make getting insurance easy. “There’s no barriers to entry or anything like that,” says Saulay. “We have the simplest, easy-to-join plan you can possibly imagine. If you want to join up, it takes literally three minutes. You can join online, or get a quote in two steps. If you want to look around, compare plans, you have that option. When you want to actually enrol, you provide your personal details, what plan you want, how you’re going to pay, and you’re ready to go. It’s that simple. If you want to file a paper application, we have that option available as well.”

The plan offers flexible payment options. You can pay online monthly or annually by credit card, by cheque with a paper application, or by automatic bank account withdrawals each month.

“We offer health insurance, but we’re really artists helping artists.” – Jason Saulay of the Arts & Entertainment Plan offered by AFBS

The portability of the plan is also a key selling point. “With this program, it’s individual enrollment packaged up as group insurance,” Saulay explains. “So when you go to SOCAN or, say, if you work at some of these organizations, if that employee wants to leave, this insurance follows you. That’s very important for freelancers and self-employed people.”

The plan offers coverage for families and enrolment also has certain advantages come tax time. “If you file self-employed, you have tax advantages to joining the program,” Saulay says. “A significant portion of the premiums are a straight business expense and any unpaid portions of claims are also tax deductible.”

There are two options under the Arts & Entertainment Plan: a standard plan and a comprehensive plan (a more robust version of the standard one). While premiums will vary, Saulay says they’re very conscientious about the cost. “We know we’re dealing with artists, [we know] where the price points are, so they can’t scale too high from where they are. We actually offer the best guaranteed issue plan for the price available on the market, against any other plan in Canada.”

The Standard Plan premiums are $77 per month for those under 65 years old; for those over 65, the rate varies slightly per province, where there are “a couple of different minor premium jumps.” The Comprehensive Plan premiums range from $110 to $140 per month, depending on one’s age.

Saulay explains how some people come to the plan after having heard about it, while others who perhaps have never had employer-supplied insurance benefits contact them to inquire into what it’s all about. “Those people are tough because you’re dealing with people who say, ‘Okay, I’ve never had anything, now you want me to pay you every month, and then I may or may not use this plan?’ So then it’s [all about] getting into what you’re paying for; that’s a longer educational process,” he says. “Then you get others who had insurance already either from another job, or they’ve secured it through their spouses. They hear about it and they just come over.”

But Saulay says he and his team at AFBS are always there to help you through the process. “When you contact us, you tell us what you need, we explain what we have, we leave it in your court, answer any questions you have until you’re fully comfortable, and then we hope you come with us,” he says. “And in most cases people do.”

Amanda Sadler

Amanda Sadler

SOCAN member and freelance composer Wolfgang Webb had heard about the plan through friends who are ACTRA members. “I knew it was a non-profit insurance provider owned by other performers and writers,” says Webb. “Once I found out that SOCAN was providing this plan, I jumped at the chance,” he says. “I’ve never held a typical ‘day job’ or had an employer pay for my benefits. My medical premiums and expenses can often be written off as a business expense, and prescription drugs are reimbursed up to 70 per cent. My dental is 50 per cent up to $800, and increases to $1,250 during year three.”

Amanda Sadler is a singer-songwriter, and while she finds her work “unequivocally fulfilling” in many ways, she notes that the lack of insurance coverage is definitely a downside to her chosen profession. For her, the plan has helped to provide some stability in her music career, through access to affordable insurance benefits, which also gives her some financial wiggle room. “AFBS has allowed me to invest more money back into my music,” she says, “and has given me peace of mind to know that a trip to the dentist, or a prescription for new glasses, won’t be taking away from a songwriting trip or my next recording session.”

For singer-songwriter and film/TV composer Jon Mullane, there are also the advantages of the plan’s extended coverage. “One of the big benefits to me from this program is the travel insurance component,” says Mullane. “We travel a lot in this business, and it’s been great for me as I spend much of my time in the U.S. They also offer a phone consultation service where you can speak with experts on finance, legal, etc., which I’ve accessed a few times as well. It’s really excellent.”

Saulay boils it down the fact that the plan is exclusively designed for artists, by artists. “You’re getting something offered by people who completely understand you,” says Saulay. “We understand many of the concerns you may have, we know the benefits that are helpful to you, we have experience providing insurance to the artistic community. We offer health insurance, but we’re really artists helping artists.”

SOCAN members who want to learn more about the Arts & Entertainment Plan from AFBS can visit their website, or give them a call at 1-800-387-8897, Ext. 238.


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