When Words & Music asked me to contribute a few tips on how a screen composer could best navigate the Toronto International Film Festival, I don’t think they realized how much I’d have to say on the topic. The 2016 festivities marked my 10th time around and as a composer agent and former film composer, so I have a lot to talk about. Also, I love the sound of my own voice.

Prepping for TIFF is crucial. As soon as the calendar ticks “August,” start putting in the extra effort into getting yourself onto party lists. First, focus on who you want to meet by researching the films and directors in the Festival. That’s what you’re going to be talking about at all of your meetings and parties, so you better know who the directors are and what they’ve done. Despite my decade of experience, I only started pre-booking my meetings, parties and film screenings a few years ago. That’s like your dentist telling you that she only started flossing last week. But it’s never too late to start!

Naturally, you can’t see everything or meet everyone, so pick a target and go for it. My focus is the Canadian independent feature film scene. I start by booking tickets (either comps or purchases) for films scored by our own Core Music Agency composers. Then I turn my attention to the films we pitched for but didn’t get – I want to know who they hired and why. Finally, I see the Canadian films that totally slipped past us, unnoticed. It happens… rarely, but it happens. Knowing who’s who and what to see will not only give you something to talk about, but will also give you some idea who you might be talking to at these parties. You can’t expect to be a part of the Canadian film industry if you don’t watch Canadian films.

Planning your party schedule requires a little strategy. There are early parties and late parties; if you do it right, you could have two parties every night and possibly a lunch-time barbeque on each of the weekends. But first you have to get on the right lists. That’s not easy if you don’t know who to talk to.

If you have a film in the festival, or have an industry pass, that makes it easier. You can introduce yourself to the party list coordinators by saying, “Hi I’m so-and-so, I’ve got a film in the festival called (insert name of film here).” What you really mean is that you scored a film in the festival, but if they misinterpret that as to mean that you’ve created a film showing in the festival, that’s their problem. Obviously, don’t lie if they ask further questions. Scoring a feature that shows at TIFF is still a pretty noteworthy thing.

Don’t brag about yourself or about the brilliant movie you just scored. Don’t even bring it up, not until they ask about you. This is just good manners, but it works.

Start with the party for the film you scored. Don’t take it for granted that your name will automatically be on the guest list. Nobody remembers the composer. Call the production company and ask for the guest-list co-ordinator for that film. Once you explain who you are, you should have no trouble getting an invitation. And make sure to go to the film before the party. Even though you know the film inside and out, you should really go. If the music was a hit, the director may call your name out to draw attention to you. It would really suck if you weren’t there to raise your hand and blow a kiss. Also, it would really suck if they totally replaced your score and didn’t tell you. If you don’t have a film in the festival, put it out there to your friends who do, to see if you can tag along as their “plus-one” guest. Buy them drinks before the party and be gracious if they can’t get you in. No one likes a plus-one whiner.

Some parties are really tight with their lists, some aren’t. If you’ve done this as many times as I have, you know who, how and when to ask. The more parties you go to, the more parties you’re likely to get invitations for. Chicken, meet egg. Egg, chicken. Failing that, hire a publicist to put your name onto everything.  If you can’t afford that and you’re feeling lucky, just get in line early and when they say, “Name?” say, “I totally forgot to RSVP.” Which again, technically isn’t a lie. The gatekeeper may say, “Okay, write your name and e-mail in at the bottom” and you’re in. Or she might just say. “Sorry… next!” Fortune favours the bold.

So now you’re in the party and asking yourself, ‘What do I do?’ Well for starters… have a good time! Talk to people in the bar line, ask them about themselves, what brings them here, and what party they’re going to next. Show genuine interest in what they’re doing. Don’t brag about yourself or about the brilliant movie you just scored. Don’t even bring it up, not until they ask about you. This is just good manners, but it works. “There’s a fine art to knowing how to conduct oneself in any environment,” says my friend Hilary Robinson at Polished Professionals. Whether you’re receiving a business card or brushing off a drunk Hollywood A-lister who wants to fight, there’s a certain grace to everything. Basically, it all boils down to relationships. Partying with your film-mates strengthens bonds (especially if you’re the one posting bail). Meeting new people widens your circle.

Keep the message simple: your name + composer + title they recognize = awesome person.  Oh, and don’t hand out your demo CD. Nobody wants to schlep it around all night. Even if they do, odds are it’ll get put on a shelf until the person you’ve given it to breaks up with their current partner and moves out (cut to box of CDs getting crushed in a landfill). You could use some of the cool USB flash drives out there: burn on your logo, load up some of your music and a PDF filmography. People like things they can they can use: USB key chains, USB bottle openers, USB nunchuks.  Though I think that’s still too “me-me-me.” Better to subtly drive them to your site and online playlist. It has to feel like their idea to listen, not yours. Facebook ‘em the next day and invite them to follow your artist/professional page.  If they’re young, then… Instagram or Snapchat ‘em, or whatever it is “the kids” do these days.

Dancing, drinking top-shelf whiskey and getting free swag is fun, of course, but the films and industry events are really what inspire me. Also, you never know who’ll be sitting next to you when the house lights come up. Be ready to pull out your business card at any moment. Look good, wear classy shoes, and don’t forget to trim your nose hairs.

As primed, preened and prepared as you may be for your TIFF experience, you also have to leave yourself open to the beautiful randomness of the universe. The best times I’ve had were with complete strangers I met through another group of complete strangers. One minute you’re getting into a cab to an unknown location, next thing you know, you’re doing tequila shots and watching Wim Wenders play ping-pong until sunrise.

As the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA) enters its 68th year in 2017 as the oldest music trade association in Canada, not only can it look back on its storied history as an agent of change and a dogged opponent of legislative stagnancy in matters relating to safeguarding and advancing the interests of composers and publishers, it can also look forward to a similarly ambitious agenda in the coming year, in creating global business opportunities for its members and promoting their interests, and those of their songwriting partners through advocacy, communication and education.

A recently released report by Circum Network Inc. on the state of the Canadian music publishing industry, commissioned by CMPA and the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM), revealed that, in the most recent year, their members’ businesses generated $199 million in revenues – 73 percent of that total from foreign sources.

Margaret McGuffin

Margaret McGuffin

The association will build on that solid foundation moving forward with Executive Director Margaret McGuffin and newly-elected President Vincent Degiorgio at the helm. Jodie Ferneyhough, with his 13 years of domestic and international experience as CMPA President and as a board member of the International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP), remains on the CMPA board as Vice President.

McGuffin, who will oversee the CMPA’s various strategic initiatives in the next year – which will focus on advocacy, leadership, education, market development, promotion and member relations – has been widely hailed as the right person at the right time to take on the challenges that await given her impressive body of experience which includes time as CEO of the Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC), as a member of the senior executive team at Access Copyright, and as a consultant to some of Canada’s leading copyright collectives, including the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA). She started her career at Connect Music Licensing (previously AVLA) and Music Canada (then CRIA).

“In the coming year, CMPA will collaborate with other trade organizations, including those in ACCORD and the Music Policy Coalition, to pursue our overall objective of strengthening the Canadian music publishing industry,” says CMPA President Vincent Degiorgio. “We will continue to champion the role of music publishers, songwriters and music creators in areas such as copyright, Canadian content in the digital world, and Canada’s innovation agenda.”

Creating global business opportunities for its members is an integral part of the association’s market development strategy which includes trade missions for publishers and songwriters, and the continuation of the highly successful Canadian Music Café initiative held during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It provides the opportunity for a select group of Canadian creators to showcase for a lineup of prominent music supervisors from the worlds of film, TV, advertising and video games.

CMPA is also providing international business-to-business opportunities with programs like CMPA Create Germany and CMPA Create L.A., which will provide the opportunity for its publisher members to meet with their peers, record labels, film and TV music supervisors in those territories, and offer the chance for their songwriters to collaborate with local writers during songwriting camps.

Beyond member relations, which will see the association develop enhanced communications to its members and stakeholders, CMPA is on a mission to define and increase the profile of music publishing by educating partners and stakeholders – and the public at large – on the role of music publishers and their song writing partners.

Many a publisher has mused over the glazed look they get at social engagements when they respond to the question of “What do you do?” CMPA and APEM, in collaboration with the SOCAN Foundation, recently defined, with great clarity, the role of music publishers with an engaging animated video featuring Sophie the songwriter and Patrick, her music publisher. Thanks to this short but informative production, the answer to that dinner party question is now, “Here, have a look at this!”


After careful and systematic planning with our global partners, Fair Trade Music International (FTMI) has at last become a reality.  In 2015, the S.A.C. took the lead and incorporated a separate company called FT Music International.  In 2016 this new company certified its first fair trade music release: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ PersonA. The program’s success still, however, relies largely upon the S.A.C. and volunteer efforts, including an international Board of Directors, International Advisory Council of music creators from five continents, and certification auditors based in Nashville. (Do Write Music LLC). The S.A.C. will continue to support this initiative while FTMI expands the certification types.

The S.A.C. also works with music creator organizations globally, including CIAM (International Council of Music Creators) and ECSA (European Composer and Songwriter Alliance); the SGA (Songwriters Guild of America), SCL (Society of Composers and Lyricists), the Council of Music Creators, and SONA in the U.S.  The umbrella group, called Music Creators North America, encompasses almost all major North American music creator organizations.  Eddie Schwartz, President Emeritus of the S.A.C., continues to represent Canada as Music Creators North America Co-Chair. Joint ventures have resulted in lobbying efforts regarding U.S. Copyright and the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI.

Music Creators North America also has one of the three creator seats at the table helping to make decisions on distribution policies and programming among all CISAC societies, the international umbrella group of creators’ rights organizations.


Jasime Denham, Vince Degiorgio, Murray Daigle

Two of the writers and the publisher of the official 2015 Pan Am games song “Together We Are One,” written at a S.A.C. Song Camp, receive a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award for topping the CBC Radio 2 Top 20. Left to right: co-writer Jasmine Denham; publisher and Song Camp producer Vince Degiorgio of Cymba Music; co writer Murray Daigle. Co-writer Bobby John received his award at the Montréal office. (Photo: Tiana Feng)

On a national level, the S.A.C. provides leadership and education to songwriters throughout Canada. The S.A.C. Songworks Camps provide a unique collaborative experience for our members. Working with local music associations and publishers, the S.A.C. Songworks producers bring together a wide range of songwriters, diverse in collaborative experience, age, genre and language. Here are some of the camps’ successes:

SAC Success Table


Murray Daigle says of co-writing the official 2015 Pan Am games theme song: “The value of the experience, making new top-level industry contacts, and earning a second SOCAN No. 1 Song Award is less tangible, but very significant as a career milestone, and will definitely contribute to future opportunities and successes.”


The S.A.C. also continues to work hard to develop cost-effective educational programming.  One of the most successful programs is our One on One Mentoring sessions.  Members have the opportunity to connect, via Skype, with top music industry representatives in Canada and the U.S. For 20 minutes, a songwriter has the chance to ask their mentor for help with any aspect of the songwriting business.

For an annual fee of $60* you can join the Songwriters Association of Canada to make the world a better place for songwriters, and support those who support you. For more information, call Isabel Crack, S.A.C. Managing Director, at (416) 961-1588, or e-mail isabel@songwriters.ca.

* Professionals can expense against songwriting income