When songwriters put their creations out into the world, they typically do so as an act of faith, without a clear picture of just how their work will be exposed and received.
Toronto-based songwriter Baillie established BigDay, and she works closely with multi-instrumentalist and producer Rogers in crafting material to suit the wishes of their clients. The company name refers to the fact that their original compositions are designed to be played on a special occasion, most commonly a wedding, a milestone birthday or anniversary. Less orthodox commissions have been songs for a dog, and a law firm’s anniversary.
The concept began organically. “I founded the company in 2014,” says Baillie. “Prior to that, as a labour of love, I was just writing songs for my family and friends, as gifts to celebrate their special occasions. These songs were shared, and as word spread, I was approached by others who wanted to commission songs for their loved ones, and the milestones in their lives. BigDay is the result.”
Baillie’s first customized song was for her brother. “He’s a great singer, and he sang that tune to his wife as a surprise at their wedding reception,” she says. “Shortly afterward, my grandmother Kitty was turning 95, and our extended family planned a huge birthday party at her seniors’ residence. I wrote two songs for her as a surprise, and she was elated.
“I think that moment made me realize just how meaningful personalized music is, for the family, as well as the person who’s the song subject.”
To have those “Kitty” songs professionally recorded and produced, Baillie tapped Marc Rogers, an A-list session bassist (Philosopher Kings, Holly Cole, Norah Jones) and producer. “I knew Marc through my roommate at the time, [noted singer-songwriter] Emma-Lee,” says Baillie. “I had a great experience, and I later decided to officially team up with Marc and launch BigDay.”
Rogers stresses that “Lee is the brainchild behind BigDay. She saw this as an unserved demand that no-one knew about, and it is such a good idea.”
Many early BigDay songs were co-produced by Rogers and his wife Karen Kosowski, an acclaimed songwriter/producer (Brett Kissel, Emma-Lee, Madeline Merlo). “Karen’s career has been exploding so she has zero available time to put into this now,” says Rogers.
“There’s a unique joy that comes from writing keepsake tribute songs that mean the world to a select few. It brings a whole new layer of meaning to the songwriting.” – Lee Baillie of BigDay Music
He’s happy to pick up the slack. “I really enjoy the work,” he says. “For instance, on a wedding song, I understand how important a part of one’s life that can be, as I’ve been married for 16 years. To be able to musically commemorate the inception of that journey is quite an opportunity.”
He also appreciates the chance to flex his musical muscles in a variety of genres. “As a session bassist, if you’re working for a pop artist, there’s an obsession with being up-to-date in the palettes and tones you use,” says Rogers. “In our custom songs, that’s not a concern.
“For instance, with one song, it was ‘they really like Spanish music,’ so I got to listen to old Paco De Lucia records and play nylon-string guitar. I haven’t done that since I was a teenager, so that was a fun challenge.”
The BigDay writing process begins with Baillie sending the client a detailed questionnaire, so she can get a sense of the personality of the song’s subject, as well as the preferred musical style.
“I’ve learned that people are much more poetic than they realize, when they candidly describe loved ones and share anecdotes, which makes my job as a songwriter much more inspired,” she says. “It’s a heartwarming experience to get a window into the loving way in which people view and celebrate one another.”
Baillie uses these notes “to pull out the gold nuggets of ideas and write the song with that information. I write and record it, adding vocals at my studio and laying down some piano chords. I send that to Marc, with the client notes on the genre, song references, or particular instrumentation they want. He does the full production, mixing and mastering, and always makes the track sound amazing.”
“My job is to dress the song up in such a way that it lives in the world that the client likes,” says Rogers.
“Instead of trying to make a piece you hope will appeal to the greatest number of people possible, you have the freedom to make a piece of music targeted at one very small, specific group of people to whom it’s going to be extremely meaningful, if you do your job right. There’s no other circumstance where you get that opportunity, and I love it.”
Baillie is equally enamoured of the concept. “While there’s a particular satisfaction in making music for the masses, there’s a unique joy that comes from writing keepsake tribute songs that mean the world to a select few,” she says. “It brings a whole new layer of meaning to the songwriting.”