Maylee Todd is a Canadian independent singer-songwriter, musician, performance artist, producer, and creative powerhouse. Her song “Baby’s Got It” reached number 10 on the Tokyo radio charts in Japan, where she’s had much success, performing at the Billboard Live Tokyo venue and performing at other prestigious international music festivals like Trans Musicales in France and the C/O Pop festival in Germany. Her music covers a wide variety of genres, including pop, indie-rock, soul, jazz, electronic, experimental and bossa nova. She has a taste for eclectic instruments and sequencers, while her performances demonstrate a flair for both comedy and the dramatic arts. On Nov. 3, 2017, Todd released her third studio album, Acts of Love. Here, she shares point-by-point advice drawn from her career in music.

Working as a multi-media conceptual artist, producer, and musician means I have to wear many hats. I produce my own work, and put on conceptual shows that highlight music, 3-D projection mapping, waccking, installation, and interactive therapy. My interests lie in personal experience and impacting culture in a positive way, with psychology, spirituality and self-awareness acting as the core themes of my shows.

What does it mean to be alive? Do I want to live my life by design, or default? If I’m to be realistic, I know I won’t be able to control my experiences, but I’ll be able to guide my life in a direction that feels purposeful and has meaning to me. With this in mind, I have to be relatively fearless on many fronts. I can’t be afraid of putting work out that isn’t “good enough.” Creative expression and authenticity is the future for humanity.

Here are some navigational tools that I’ve used for this industry:

Seeing 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.

Development
I think it’s important to understand your strengths and your weaknesses while developing them. I love that Michael Jackson got different writers for Off the Wall and still wanted to develop his skills by writing and producing a couple of tracks on the record. You can get help, you can be collaborative, and you can also develop yourself as an artist.

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. I always try to be clear in e-mails, but I’ve noticed even that can get messy. I’ve been in this business so long that I’ve found even between friends, sometimes there can be miscommunications. Everyone I’ve worked with has been incredible, understands processes, the bigger picture, and what’s best for the project. I’ve collaborated with hundreds of people, and yet I can count maybe five people on my hand that have been very challenging and take up mental space. With contracts, it’s clean and clear; job description, term, and payment.

Gender/Race Bullshit
This one is so real it makes me want to puke. Some people have decided on their own type of hierarchy. They will discredit years of experience, talent, and hard work for their own issues with race and gender. Get outta there. It’s not worth it.

And If You Don’t Have The Choice, Use The Power Of Wit:
There was a workshop for women that I taught for 10 years, called The Power Of Wit. Historically I couldn’t call out misogyny, or I’d get fired, so I started this tactic. The trick is when you come across a misogynist in power that you can’t call out, you take a stab back with a witty remark that reminds them you still have your power, without absolutely making them feel threatened. It is the weirdest tactic I know. But it has historically helped me navigate through this patriarchal system. Seriously though, just call them out. It’s not the ‘80s or ‘90s anymore. Its 2017.

Saving/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.

Use Credit Cards That Have Benefits
Point systems are great! I have gotten groceries, flights and a printer from my points card. I make a lot of payments on my credit cards, and pay them off right away so I don’t climb into debt.

Improvise
Circumstances will change and sometimes things may not go according to plan. Just like in evolution, one needs to be able to adapt to the circumstances. You cannot control everything, and sometimes these changes are gifts. Use them.

Time Management
I was a personal trainer for 10 years and I used to hear this same line: “I just don’t have the time.” They were just not prioritizing the time. And that’s OK. But you can’t really use that excuse if you indulge in social media five hours a day, or watch Netflix. If you have two minutes a day, you could work on scales on your guitar. Or maybe spend one minute to tune and one minute to practice scales. It all adds up.

Patience and Perseverance
I know I will get there, maybe not next week, maybe not next year, perhaps it will be years from now. But I will get there. You can apply this to everything.

At the End of the Day
It’s all work. It’s producing over and over again. It’s writing 100 jokes a day and maybe one of them is funny. It’s a practice for a reason. Each show is a rehearsal for the next. Life is a work in progress. Data checking and aligning with your value system is important. My mantra is: Living your life by design, not by default, while balancing the art of adaptation.


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Ralph James

Ralph James

“10,000 hours isn’t sufficient, it’s 20,000 hours now.” If those numbers don’t scare you away from attempting a career in music, read on. Considering the source, veteran agent Ralph James – doubling author Malcolm Gladwell’s rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field – you’d best take the advice seriously. James, of the Agency for the Performing Arts in Toronto, and five-time winner of Canadian Music Week’s Booking Agent of the Year award, says that the best way to get an untried band booked for those all-important early gigs is to be very, very good at what you’re doing. That’s the bottom line, but it’s only the beginning. SOCAN spoke with a cross-section of booking experts to learn the rest.

To say that technology has turned the music business upside down (more than once) in the last 30 years is a huge understatement. However much things change, though, some of them obstinately stay the same. It’s never been easy for a newcomer musician to get booked for a gig. Of course, those great strides in technology also created some unexpected collateral damage. One was a sudden influx of one-hit wonders – songs could be written, recorded, “videoed,” and released without the performer having any experience outside their home studio, thereby diluting the number of capable, career-minded musicians. Another was that, with so many more people believing they can make a go of a music career (along with an economy that has whittled away at the number of venues available), the competition for existing dates has grown exponentially. So how, with so many people vying to get the same small handful of bookers to even click “open” on a soliciting email, let alone hear their music, does a newcomer get a break?

Derek Andrews, who’s been booking acts in Toronto since the 1980s (at The Edge, Albert’s Hall, Harbourfront, and now Hugh’s Room Live), e-mailed a checklist that aims to provide the bedrock that all musicians require in order to build the foundations for their careers:

  • 10,000 hours: (Ralph James aside) Get really good in performance by playing a lot.
  • Research: You want to dig into every possible corner to find gigs, and data.
  • Consult: With colleague musicians, and anyone who knows what’s going on.
  • Mentor: Find one, or more. Get them to believe in you by being serious about your goals.
  • Showcase: Apply to every one for which you qualify.
  • Conference: Attend all the appropriate ones, even if you’re not showcasing.
  • Network: Everywhere you can, including showcases, gigs, and industry functions.
  • Video: You want to have a solid performance video on your website, YouTube, or social media.
  • Profile: Build your profile with a really active social media strategy.
Derek Andrews

Derek Andrews

Seeing a performance is still Andrews’ preferred way to select acts, but he knows that’s not always possible. There are two other things he looks for in those cases. The first is referrals – it’s a small industry and everyone talks. As Ralph James says, “What gets the attention of bookers is bands that can draw people. [Establish] a track record of being able to fill rooms, or to do reasonable business when you get the opportunity. Let’s say you get the opportunity to play any night at a club in Toronto and you [do well], everybody knows about it. It’s not a secret. If, in the course of a week or 10 days, you hear about the same band from three or four people, then that gets your attention.”

To capitalize on those early opportunities, you need to know where you ought to be playing. Booking a cozy teahouse for your rollicking, five-piece klezmer band isn’t a good fit, and won’t do anyone any good. That’s where research comes in handy. Mike Campbell, who’s been booking shows at the Carleton Music Bar + Grill in Halifax since 2008, agrees that knowing which venues to approach is a very good first step. He’ll know immediately whether you’ve checked out the Carleton beforehand, because he’s headed you off at the pass with a “So You Want To Book A Gig” FAQ page on the venue’s website. Go take a look, at http://www.thecarleton.ca/music/booking-faqs/.

Charlotte Cornfield, a working musician herself (both as a singer-songwriter and a drummer-for-hire), has been booking acts at The Burdock in Toronto for the last three years. She’s not so concerned with the artist’s genre or back catalogue. Her first priority is, “Would it do well on our stage?” After her first year at The Burdock, in a NOW magazine interview, Cornfield laid out the five questions she asks herself whenever someone pitches her a show:

Charlotte Cornfield

Charlotte Cornfield

  1. Am I excited about it?
  2. Does it… reflect the city and the neighbourhood we’re in?
  3. Will it draw?
  4. Is there an online presence?
  5. Are there positive vibes?

She’s used her booking experience to further her own career by learning how to write an effective solicitation e-mail: “Be short, punchy and to the point: what is the reason for my show, why is it exciting?”

Derek Andrews’ second option, when he can’t see the band for himself is to look for what FACTOR and other funding organizations are looking for: “The size of your digital profile. We’re looking for how many people are watching your videos and liking your Facebook page. It used to be record sales, but now it’s your digital profile.”

The Importance of Block Booking
What’s most important about the showcase events listed below is that talent buyers and festival producers are guaranteed to be there. They take advantage of the moment by getting together to do something called “block booking.” “Block booking meetings happen through the fall,” Andrews explains. “That’s when the planning cycle begins for festivals that are produced in the summer… Block booking is done when a group of presenters agree to co-ordinate a tour directly with an artist, or an agent – (in part) to ensure access to the touring grants that are available at Canada Council, or FACTOR… Historically, there was a date in December that was a deadline to apply for tour support. So, if you work backwards from that date, you had to have some kind of discussion going on in September or October to find the groups that you wanted to support [the next summer]…”

He says, “The first thing I’ll ask them: Is your show calendar clear?” For local acts he wants your calendar clear in the general vicinity for three weeks before and three weeks after, but he’s quick to add, “unless the band is really taking off.” Burke offers up one major insight: “If a band says they’re going to draw between 50 and 100 people, chances are it’s an empty promise. Why such a wide range? That immediately puts up a red flag.”
There are other practical concerns as well. Dan Burke, who until recently was booking the late, lamented Silver Dollar in Toronto (and now booking shows at The Horseshoe, Lee’s Palace and The Monarch) won’t book you if you’re overexposed in the market. Or maybe he will.

All five experts agreed that networking at various levels is paramount. That doesn’t just mean communicating through social media to like-minded communities, or targeted demographics. It means getting out there and meeting the movers and shakers, face-to-face, as often as possible. Going to as many conferences and showcases as you can might seem like a big investment, but it can really pay off. In recent years, the bookers themselves have organized and regularly meet at showcase events like Contact Ontario, whose website calls it “an opportunity for those working in the touring performing arts sector to come together to network, and to share information in a three-day conference.”

Other such events happen all across Canada:

If you thought there were any shortcuts, or special, secret ways to get booked, there aren’t. To make it in the music business today, you need social and communication skills that weren’t necessary before. But take James’ advice: “Don’t get distracted by how much time you’re spending working on your websites, and all of your social media… These days there’s so much involved, there are so many different things that need to get done, that somehow some bands forget that the top priority should be the performance and songwriting.” Sure, it may take 20 hours a day to get everything done. But hey, he adds, “sleep is for humans.”


  1. julian Giedroyc says:

    Hello,
    My name is Julian G. I am a beat maker in the GTA. I started with music 10 years ago on a school laptop. I’m 20 now working with a few local beat makers & rappers in my lil studio. Although I did not go to school I have a working knowledge of audio production and a some understand of music business from field experience. My best quality is work ethic. Recently I’ve been looking for more artists to make beats for and venues that artists I produce music for can play. Today I am reaching out to professionals.

    I would like to know about yourself. Ultimately I am looking for information I can use to progress my career and I’m happy with all suggestions including being referred to someone else I am better suited speaking with. Regardless I’m seeking information in general.

    Much appreciated!

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Rachael Kennedy is one-third of the songwriting/production team L I O N C H I L D, which placed a song on a Britney Spears album in 2016, attended the third annual SOCAN Kenekt Songwriting Camp in 2017, and recently signed its first publishing deal, with Alex Da Kid, at Kid in a Korner. As usual, it was a long road to reach this point. Here’s how she did it, with some tips that might help on your own songwriting path:

L I O N C H I L D

L I O N C H I L D signing their publishing deal with Alex Da Kid.

When I was 14 years old I sat in my bedroom, wrote my first song and bawled my eyes out. It’s one of the only times in my life I can say I truly had an epiphany; I was going to be a songwriter for the rest of my life. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that that was the easy part, and I was about to embark on a crazy, exciting, overwhelming, exhausting, life-changing, 10-year rollercoaster ride.

Before I even begin writing this, I want to point out I’ve never met any two songwriters with the same story of how they got to where they are, so, first and foremost, there’s no right or wrong way to navigate this wild and ever-changing music industry. All I can say is, there are a lot of talented people trying to make this happen, but one thing you will always be able to control is your drive… SO PEDAL TO THE METAL, BABY!

The Hibernation Period|
The first leg of my journey was what I like to call the “hibernation period,” which occurred from about age 14 to 17, and consisted of me taking all that teen angst and writing songs whenever I could; after school, before school, after terrible high school parties… and this was a very important stage, because it was about the craft. I established a “by myself” writing style and developed instincts which would lay the groundwork for the rest of my songwriting career.

Get Over Yourself: Start Writing with Other People
Yes, we all get it, it’s your art, no one fully understands you, you have your own unique style, etc.  That’s all well and good, but if you want a career as a songwriter, it doesn’t mean much if no one knows who you are. It wasn’t until I started writing with other people that my career even began to exist. When you write with other people, you’re not only expanding your craft, you’re networking – forming relationships, that open doors to other relationships, that may end up bringing opportunities to you that wouldn’t have existed if you were still sitting in your bedroom, writing songs with your guitar, by yourself (though you can always still do this and fill up your emo, angst-y, songwriter-y heart).

As a side note, when it comes to collaborating with other songwriters, I just want to emphasize how important being a good human being is to a successful songwriting career. If you’re a jerk, or hard to work with, or your ego is bigger than the studio, no one is going to want to work with you. There are too many talented people in this business, and if you’re not a fun hang, there are a lot of other nice, friendly songwriters, just as talented as you, who would be more fun to write with.

Networking
When I was 19 I called SOCAN and said, “I want to go to Nashville and write songs with dope songwriters… Where do I start?” SOCAN connected me with their Nashville representative Eddie Schwartz, who introduced me to a few people, and sort of gave me the run-down of the Nashville scene. Fast forward to about nine months of writing trips back and forth between Toronto and Nashville, and I decided it would be good to expand my songwriting to one of the other major music hubs, Los Angeles. So I booked the SOCAN House in Nashville for a week, then the SOCAN House in L.A. the following week. I packed up my car and drove to Nashville where I met with Eddie again, and he said if I was heading to L.A. I should send my songs to Chad Richardson, who runs the L.A. branch of SOCAN.

Chad would become my first champion, the first person to really believe in my potential, and he set up all of my first sessions in L.A. I fell in love with the city, and how much momentum I was generating. I began working three jobs in Toronto in between trips back and forth, to save up money so I could spend three months in L.A., network with as many people as possible, and write my face off before getting my work visa to make the move officially. Again, I packed up my car, drove across the country to California, and networked like a maniac. I said yes to everything. I booked two sessions a day, I got into ASCAP’s Lester Sill Songwriting workshop, where I met Grammy-nominated songwriters and formed relationships I still maintain to this day. I went to every music industry event, party, show… you name it, I did it. During this time, I applied for my work visa. Three months later, in a grocery store with my sister in the suburbs of Ontario, I got the news it had been approved. Again, I bawled my eyes out.

The Leap 
The next stage was a game changer: I moved to L.A. At the time, I remember talking to people about moving, and everyone saying what a big deal it was, and how scary it was to uproot your life and move across the continent to a whole new situation. But it felt normal to me. It wasn’t scary, because I knew in my bones it was what I was supposed to do, and I was willing to do whatever it took to chase this dream I had. I truly think that when something is your passion, and fills you with purpose, nothing is out of reach, because reaching for it feels instinctive, and completely natural.

L I O N C H I L D

L I O N C H I L D with producer Matthew Chaim at the 2017 SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp.

A side note: be fearless. If you’re afraid of failing, this is not the career path for you. Life is way too short, and way too fast, to not do something because you’re afraid you’ll fail, or that all those people back home will judge you. So if you’re going to go for it, you gotta go ALL THE WAY for it.

In L.A., I quickly met two of my best friends, who would become my songwriting partners, and our songwriting/production team, L I O N C H I L D, was founded in 2015. We wrote hundreds of songs together, and managed to get a song placed on the Britney Spears album in August of 2016. That would never have happened if we all hadn’t spent years, on our own and together, growing a network of relationships that would bring such an opportunity to our doorstep. We were invited to attend the third annual SOCAN Kenekt Song Camp in Nicaragua in April of 2017. Then, after a year of meeting with publishers, about six weeks ago we signed our first publishing deal, with Alex Da Kid at Kid in a Korner.

To Be Continued…
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that your journey is going to have a lot of different stages, and it’s probably going to be very different than you imagine it, and that’s okay! Have your goals, and have a clear vision of what you want, and where you want to be, but be open to the path changing. Most importantly, make music with people you love, and enjoy the small stuff; the goofing off in the studio, the blooper takes from your vocal demos, the struggle, the not-so-good meetings, the amazing meetings, and the interesting people you meet along the way. Cause let’s be real here: songwriters are the coolest people on earth!


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