Once A Tree is the singer-songwriter/production duo of Hayden and Jayli Wolf. Their new single, “Born for This,” is the soundtrack for a national TV ad campaign for Nissan’s new KICKS, and Jayli is featured in the commercial. The B.C.-born, Toronto-based duo won a 2018 Indigenous Music Award in the category of Best Electronic Album for their previously released full-length, Phoenix. They participated in the 2018 SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nicaragua. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences there…

Hayden: I’m having the most nostalgic dream. I’m in mid-conversation with an old friend, as his face begins to melt and a deafening howl fills my head. I launch out of bed. It’s 3:00 a.m. We’re in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua and a family of howler monkeys are partying on our roof.

The next morning we walk the hill to our meet-up point. The scene around us is filled with wild cats, surfboards, and the sound of majestic bird calls. We catch our first glance of the howler monkeys; they’re damn cute. Already feeling inspired, and we haven’t even had coffee yet! We’re at the SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp, in Maderas Village. Our breakfast is spent getting to know the other musicians, and taking in the scenery around us. It’s dry season, so the hills remind me of desert land, but we’re also just a short walk from the ocean.

Jayli: Before we landed in Nicaragua, we were a bit nervous about splitting up to work with others, as we usually only work together. But after the first-morning feast, and the welcome chat from SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy, the nerves turned straight into excitement. We were ready to build relationships and get into writing mode. Each day we were split up into different groups, to ensure that we had a chance to work with as many people as possible. The energy in each session was completely unique, with each artist coming from their own musical background and style of writing. Some days we would write for someone in the group, other days we would decide to write with a different artist in mind. Writing for other artists was such a wonderful change of pace for us; it was so freeing. I was able to create in styles of music with which I’d never even experimented before, from early-2000s, pop-inspired sounds to rock-infused tracks. I started experiencing growth by the end of the first day!

With songwriting, I normally focus into my own headspace and go from there, but working with others took me totally out of that comfort zone. We all have our own ways of getting inspired, working through writer’s block, and our own feelings that we’d like to express on any given day. So to begin a new track as a group opened up new pathways of creativity. We all threw out ideas at the beginning of the day, until one resonated with all of us – and then we would go for it! Sometimes a song idea was sparked from thinking on a specific genre, other times the inspiration came from a narrative, or even a word. Each group dynamic was so unique, there was never a dull moment. There were times when a song seemed to flow out of the group effortlessly, and other days seemed to take a lot more energy. We even had days where, half-way through, we would scrap everything we were working on and start completely fresh.

We were on a pretty tight deadline! Each day we had to have one full song done to play for everyone at the end of the night. It was the golden hour, when we’d listen to all the tracks that everyone had created that day! It also completely renewed our energy, and inspired us to work even harder the following day. The inspiration would bounce off the walls at listening time. The genres, pace, and storylines of the other groups’ songs would ignite something in us for the rest of the week. Hayden and I would go back to our cabana and discuss the tracks in total awe! We truly felt like every single song we heard could be charting. We were honoured to be in the company of such talented artists. It also helped that we loved each and every artist as people, too! It felt like we had a big family there with whom we could create.

Hayden: This camp truly built our confidence in songwriting, gave us new tools, and gifted us an experience we’ll never forget. We built so many new friendships with people right from our own city, with whom we might have never crossed paths, in such a powerful collaborative way. The camp wasn’t only about making hits; it was about creating those long-lasting relationships that blossom into further creations in the future.

The SOCAN Kenekt 2018 Song Camp was forever life-changing for us, allowing us both to grow as artists, and as people. Huge thanks to SOCAN!

Before applying for any funding, the first step is to ensure that you’re eligible. “Read the guidelines and eligibility requirements thoroughly, and understand the scope of work required to apply,” says professional grant writer Erin Kinghorn, of eEK! Productions. Kinghorn also suggests artists apply on their own initially, to learn and understand the process.

Clayton Bellamy

Clayton Bellamy

Applying on your own also helps to refine your vision for a project. “It’s one thing to talk about what you want to do, but when you put it on paper it makes it real,” says The Road Hammers’ Clayton Bellamy. “It gives you direction; so I really encourage it. Take your time, do your research, ask your friends and peers for help, for clarity. Even if you don’t get funding the first, second, or third times, you’re still learning, and building relationships.”

The application process is daunting, so the more information you have from people who understand the requirements, the better. The granting agency itself is the best starting point.

“We want to see artists get funding,” says Karina Moldovan, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Officer at FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings). “That’s what our Project Coordinators are for; to help clients navigate this process successfully. There are so many unique situations, so we encourage people to ask whatever questions they might have. Also, your plan should be really specific, with realistic, achievable goals, and not too long. There’s only so much time jurors can dedicate to one application, so get your point across quickly and professionally.

“Some people’s idea of what’s impressive in their career doesn’t always match with what the funder thinks is impressive,” adds Cat Bird of Catbird.ca, who’s been writing grant applications for 11 years. For example, having developed a relationship with an organization that sends your music out to its database, or attaches physical product/online freebies to their product is worth mentioning, but may be peripheral to your chances of success.

One thing that can increase your chances is how legitimate you appear, says Brian Hetherman, (owner of Curve Music/Cerberus Artist Management/Sonic Envy, former VP of Industry Affairs/interim General Manager of FACTOR, and former Executive Director of the Radio Starmaker Fund). “There’s got to be something from the outside world backing up what you’re trying to say; even just some quotes,” he says. “If you’re not far enough along for album or live reviews, get people in the industry to back you up and give you a legitimate quote.”

Damhnait Doyle

Damhnait Doyle

But know that there’s a line between talking yourself up legitimately, and going too far. As Hetherman says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another person on a jury say, ‘I’m not working on this project. Why is my name attached to it?’ That’s doesn’t bode well for you.”

Additionally, ensure that your music files sound good on various playback devices and work in multiple web browsers, and that your social media are up to date. And start early, says singer-songwriter Damhnait Doyle: “It’s an unbelievable amount of work; weeks of your time. Even if you’re working with your manager, or a grant writer, you still have to supply all the hard facts and information.”

Ideally, to get the most out of your interactions with agency staff, you need time to ask questions and have meaningful conversations, and if you’re hiring a grant writer, the closer to deadline the less likely they’ll be able to help. “I’ve never done more than 30 grants in a month,” Bird says, “but (then) I’m living on Red Bull and my kids are afraid to enter the room. And I don’t want to give anybody else a half-assed application because somebody called late.”

Beyond that, granting agencies’ online portals, though generally reliable, can have issues at the 11th hour, Hetherman cautions: “Because everyone who’s either halfway through, just starting their applications, or even putting the final touches on, is trying to push it through at the last minute.”

Above all, be persistent. “It’s unlikely that the first time out you’re going to get funded,” Hetherman continues. “Being unsuccessful doesn’t necessarily mean your application or project has no merit. There’s only so much money to go around. If you don’t receive funding, some agencies will provide feedback explaining why, if you ask for it, which will help next time out.”

Julian Taylor, leader of The Julian Taylor Band, has been approved for funding several times. “But I’ve also been denied several times,” he says. “I’d say don’t start with the big grants. When I was [applying] on my own, I’d start on smaller, more accessible grants. Those gave me practice in what to put down, and how to execute that. And I’ve found the applications are the blueprint for any business plan you’re trying to conceive as an artist; one you can use as your template, and build from.”

Julian Taylor

Julian Taylor

Bear in mind, too, that depending on the program you’re applying for, the cost of hiring a writer may eat in to the funding too much to make it worthwhile.

Regardless of the funder – FACTOR, The Radio Starmaker Fund, Canada Council for The Arts, or other federal, provincial or municipal agencies – they want you to succeed. “I got my first FACTOR funding 25 years ago, and I’ve dealt with different people along the way, but they’re always competent and understanding,” says Doyle. “They have to adhere to strict rules around how money is spent, but there’s compassion, and an understanding of how the industry works. I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted, but I’ve applied for things that haven’t been accepted, and that’s the way it should go. It should be nurturing new artists. But I appreciate their willingness to see artists through their careers. It’s not just a focus on what’s shiny or new. It’s a fair funding model for established and emerging artists.”

One artist for whom various funding agencies’ support has been particularly helpful is Alberta-based singer-songwriter Nuela Charles. Like Bellamy, Taylor, and Doyle, Charles has been turned down, but since starting out in 2012, the funding she has received, and the process of applying, have been integral to her career.

“It was trial and error, and speaking to other people who’ve written grants… A gradual learning curve, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can contract out for other artists if they need grant writing, and have been able to get FACTOR and Alberta Foundation for the Arts funding for a couple of bands.”

Charles’ latest record, The Grand Hustle, was nominated for a 2018 JUNO Award, in the Adult Contemporary Album of the Year category. “That record,” she says, “was actually funded by FACTOR. Without their funding, that would never have happened…

“[But] when applying for the funding, have a backup plan,” she adds. “If your goal is to create a project and you don’t get funding, have a way to still do it, and plan to do it because, I feel, you shouldn’t be dependent on funding. It’s nice to have, but still create your art.”

It may not seem like a high priority at the outset of your career, but if you’re recording music, putting it online, and taking it on the road for people to hear and, hopefully, buy, then it’s wise to make the early investment in (at least) a band name search. And then trademark it before any headaches and legal bills start to pile up. It’s a nuisance best met head-on. Don’t confuse this with copyrighting – you can’t copyright a name in Canada, but there are several ways to gain the protection of a trademark, including doing nothing at all.

A name is your brand, the foundation upon which you build the image of your band. It’s your flag, and you want to fly it high and make it undeniably, legally, and perpetually yours. The last thing in the world you want to see when your group gets its first smattering of recognition is a Cease and Desist order from a bunch of guys in another town (or worse, another country in which you’ve just booked a tour) who cooked up the same name three weeks before you did. Just ask the boys in the bands Bush X, Charlatans UK, Blink 182, and Dinosaur Jr. how much fun they had having to retro-fit their names after a legal challenge.

Or the 2015 Polaris Music Prize long-listed band Viet Cong, who had to change their name to Preoccupations after protesters strenuously objected to the band naming themselves after a brutal insurgent group that terrorized citizens during the Vietnam War. It even impinged on their ability to tour, as the band lost bookings in Australia.

There are several musician-advice websites that offer wise guidance on how to proceed with protecting your band/performance name, including a page at SaskMusic and one at DIY Musician. They all start by suggesting a name search. Just Googling the name is insufficient. There are websites, like Band Vault and Band Name that will look for similar names for about $15. If you’re planning to register a trademark you can’t just search for a duplicate of the name, you must search for similarly spelled or similar-sounding names, too – as those bands could make a serious claim against you, should they choose.  You’ll want to finalize your search by checking in on the Canadian Trademarks Database at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and – if you’re smart and have cross-border ambitions – the US Patent Office website as well. You’ll need to check in with other countries’ trademark rules if you’re planning to go worldwide.

Common law has determined that prior (first) usage is viable proof of a trademark, and if you can establish that you used the name and were recognized for it (e.g., in a review) before anyone else did, it’s yours. Even if someone else registered the name after you made your debut. On his aptly named website, Lawyer/Drummer, Saskatchewan-based lawyer (and drummer in One Bad Son) Kurt Dahl points out that, “absent a federal trademark registration, your rights in a mark are limited geographically to the scope of your reputation.” Which means, in more drummer-friendly language, if you’re just playing gigs within driving distance of home, and have been recognized for it, you can claim your dominance in that territory, but only that territory. If someone else can establish that they are more well-known or successful than you (through ticket or record sales, press clippings, etc.), then you can lose your identity, snap – just like that. How lucky do you feel? If not too lucky, then it’s time to look for a lawyer.

Of course, deciding on a band name is a most painful procedure. This late in the game it seems as though all the good names have been taken. You’ll most likely have to settle on some unsatisfactory variation on your 45th choice, but once it’s done and you’ve invested in the trademark, it’s done. Wry writer Mike Blick, in an article titled “Naming Your Band – in 10 Easy Steps,” says that “trying to find the greatest band name ever is a fool’s errand. The best you can hope for (and what most bands settle for) is the least bad band name.” To save you some time, here’s a list of the most common band names, according to curiosity.com: Bliss, Mirage, One, Gemini, Legacy, Paradox, and Rain.

The benefits of trademarking your band name are far-reaching, and imperative if you have long-term plans for success. Your brand needs protection from inferior competitors who can tarnish or diminish your reputation. It can help you protect your own products from merchandise bootleggers, and ensure the assistance of legal authorities to enforce your rights. You also might want to consider establishing the ownership of the name itself – your bandmates will appreciate that.

The last word goes to drumming lawyer Dahl, who notes that it costs about $1,000 to file a Canadian trademark registration. “I’ve dealt with several band name disputes, and can confirm that they end up costing far more than the cost of a trademark,” he says. “I appreciate that paying rent, buying a new guitar, and maintaining your tour van might take precedence, but the cost of a trademark will be money well spent. When you look at the ongoing decline in music sales, it’s hard to deny the increasing importance of ancillary revenue streams like merchandise and the increasing value of your band’s brand.”