It hasn’t been easy.

Recording artists, musicians, entertainers, and songwriters alike have been blindsided by the sudden halt to live performances. And truth be told, it’s messing with our heads.

Despite future uncertainty, some have been trying to make the best of the time everyone unexpectedly has on their hands – and staying creative in less than ideal circumstances.


As for multiple Latin Grammy and JUNO Award winner Alex Cuba, he’s trying to remain buoyant

“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” he admits from his Smithers, B.C. digs. “Some days are more positive than others. When I’m feeling positive, that’s when I go to my craft, write songs, and record myself. My music is positive and uplifting, and we need  that now more than ever.”

However, Cuba, who releases his latest single “Concéntrica Canción” on June 12, admits that the pandemic has unearthed some surprising sentiments.

“This time is making me want to be the most upfront and vulnerable I’ve ever been with my music,” he says. “I never like leaving my audiences with a sad vibe: I always find a way to throw an optimistic spin into everything I do.  Now with the quarantine, I feel that creativity is more present, maybe because of this luxurious extended vacation,” he laughs.


East Coaster Rose Cousins had only completed two shows of her Bravado tour when governments shut down venues. “I spent the first couple months just trying to switch gears,” she says. Cousins’ adjustment from performer to writer hasn’t been as difficult, due to an annual June tradition.

“This is usually the time of year where I’ve gone on an island writing retreat in New Hampshire with friends from Boston,” Cousins explains. “This is the first time in 10 years we haven’t. I’ve also done six co-writes through Zoom, exercising those creative muscles. For me, June is very blossoming.”

Like Cuba, Cousins is continually acclimatizing to the current reality.

“It’s a constant adjustment,” Cousins admits.  “I wish I had clear answers on how I’m dealing with things and what it means. This isn’t like we’ve experienced the pandemic and now I can write about it. I’m connecting with myself in a different way. I spend a lot of time by myself – from where a lot of this last record was written – and as someone who proclaims to be well-adjusted on their own, it’s a different layer, because it’s not chosen isolation.”


Reached in Los Angeles, TR/ST’s Robert Alfons is embracing his isolation, in lieu of touring behind his band’s latest album Destroyer Part II. “I have much more time to be working on ideas, and find myself being more focused with less to do outside of my yard,” confesses Alfons.

He’s been busy collaborating, and is contemplating the release of several projects during this enforced hiatus. “I love albums, but I do feel there’s power in presenting an extended piece or a collab,” he says. “I have all sorts of things I want to release. An album is just an option.”

He’s coping by keeping life simple. “When I’m being told to stay at home and make stuff because you can’t tour, there’s a positivity and productivity that’s the upside for me.”



Nate Hilts of the Dead South said he took a wait-and-see attitude when the pandemic hit. “At the beginning, it was a big shock to the system,” says Hilts. “To be honest, I didn’t pick up the guitar, because I didn’t know what was happening. But the band and management talked on what we could do, and we filmed some isolation videos.“

At the moment, Hilts says creativity is far from his mindset. “We were geared to have a 2020 of touring, and then take winter off to start preparing a new album.”

Instead, he’s been catching his breath. “I’m not going to lie: it’s been years since I’ve been able to sit at home for a little bit,” says Hilts. “The schedule has been a couple months on, a few days off, for years. Eventually, that starts wearing on a guy. You don’t even realize how tired you are. I started implementing positive routines in my life and re-connected with family and friends, and now I’m just taking time to better myself.

“I know a lot of people who are doing that right now.”

Steven Lee Olsen is clearly a glass-half-full type. Rather than wallowing in disappointment over the coronavirus cancellations of Canadian summer festival dates that would have helped promote his new material (four songs released in March, on his own SLO Circus imprint), he’s donned his other hat, that of a much in-demand songwriter for major country acts.

On the phone from Nashville, Olsen says self-isolation has been a real boost for his songwriting. “All my co-writing of late has been over Zoom, and I’ve been working towards more writing by myself,” he says. “With most of the cuts I’ve been getting recently, I’ve gone further than before, writing full choruses, and basically building the track in my studio. So instead of just presenting a title, or an idea, I can present the whole chorus, or a skeleton of it – ‘Here’s a demonstration of what it could be.’ Artists appreciate that.”

Olsen moved to Music City from Newmarket, Ontario, in 2004, but 2017 was the year he finally broke into the top echelon of Nashville songwriters. He co-wrote Kip Moore’s No. 1 hit “More Girls Like You,” but the tune that most accelerated Olsen’s career trajectory was Keith Urban’s double-platinum hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” In 2017, it was named the NSAI Song of the Year, crowned Single of the Year at the CMAs, and earned two Grammy nominations. Not to mention 274 million YouTube views for Urban’s video of the song.

“The title of ‘Blue’ came to me in the middle of the night,” Olsen recalls. “I woke up for about 30 seconds, it popped into my head, and I wrote it down. When creativity calls you have to answer it. I feel I have a 20-minute window with an idea, a concept, a drum-beat, a guitar riff, or a lyric idea to really grab it. If you don’t ride the wave, you’re gonna miss it.”

That life-changing song was scheduled to be on Olsen’s major label album debut. Columbia Nashville signed him in 2014, but label changes nixed the album he worked on for a year. “‘Blue’ was probably going to be my next single,” says Olsen. “That was a heartbreaking time, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, as I ended up pitching that song to Keith. Everyone knew it was so strong, but it was a hard decision to let it go.”

“If you don’t ride the wave, you’re gonna miss it”

The resulting NSAI award means a great deal to Olsen. “As a songwriter, to get that one from your peers is as good as it gets,” he says.

As well as those two U.S. chart-toppers, Olsen has co-written Dallas Smith’s platinum hit “Drop,” and cuts for Garth Brooks, Billy Currington, Rascal Flatts, The Judds, Emerson Drive, Craig Morgan, Melissa Lawson, and more.

Olsen’s naturally optimistic outlook encouraged him to move to Nashville to pursue his musical dreams at just 19. “All my friends were off to college but I had my heart set on this,” he remembers. “I was so young, I didn’t know I couldn’t do it, and it seemed like an exciting adventure. I never had a plan B.”

Steven and SOCAN

SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards
* “Drop” – performed by Dallas Smith – Nielsen BDS Country chart – Aug. 8, 2019
* “Blue Ain’t Your Colour” – performed by Keith Urban – Nielsen BDS Country & Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – Nov. 28, 2016 & Nov. 19, 2016
* “Raised by a Good Time” – performed by Steven Lee Olsen – CMT Canada Countdown chart – April 3, 2015

2020 SOCAN/CCMAs Song Camp, Jan 19-24, 2020
Says Olsen: “I was there as an artist. We’d all write a song in the day, then get together at night in this one big log cabin, play these songs, and have drinks. I was great to see everybody in their zone, and I formed some great friendships.”

SOCAN Country Music Awards
* “Raised by a Good Time” – 2016
* “Make Hay While The Sun Shines” – 2011

He secured a publishing deal right away, a co-venture with then-manager Ron Kitchener (of RGK Entertainment Group), and ole, but he wasn’t living on easy street. “I wasn’t even making enough money to pay my car insurance, and I’d sneak into ole after hours to grab toilet paper and snacks,” Olsen admits. “I didn’t have any success for years and years but I genuinely loved doing it. I wrote 1,000 crappy songs before writing a good one,” he laughs.

“Before any royalty cheques were coming in,” he continues, “SOCAN was crucial with its advance program to keep me afloat here. It’s a wonderful lifeline for artists and writers, and I’m proud for SOCAN to be my performing rights organization.” (See sidebar)

As a solo artist, Olsen debuted with his 2009 EP Introducing Steven Lee Olsen. Two singles, “Now” and “Make Hay While the Sun Shines,” charted in Canada, with the latter earning a 2011 SOCAN Award. Further success eluded him until his 2014 single, “Raised by a Good Time,” went gold in Canada. In 2018, he inked a new publishing deal, with Rhythm House. “That company is a co-venture of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Warner/Chappell Music,” he explains. “That appealed to me because of the diversity of my writing. I love writing Top 40, pop, and rap.”

After one close miss, Olsen has yet to meet Jay-Z, but he laughingly says, “I figure if you make anybody enough money, that’ll happen!”

Olsen can’t go on the record with names yet, but some major country stars have already cut or put holds on many more of his co-writes.  Expect the money-making to continue, with a Jay-Z meeting in Olsen’s future.


In a new series of articles, SOCAN will look at the ways that songs written or co-written by our members have been licensed (or “synchronized,” or a “synch,” in the parlance of publishing) to movies, television, streaming platforms, videogames, online, and other screen media. First up is Ndidi O, whose “Call Me Queen” was licensed to the Netflix series Self Made.

JUNO-nominated, WCMA Blues Award-winning singer-songwriter Ndidi O is recognized for wide-spanning work, from blues to jazz, and now trip-hop with her band BOGA (who recently released “Trigger Happy”). Her music has also expanded into the world of synchronizations, boasting song placements In True Blood’s final season (“May Be the Last Time”), where the episode was later named after her song; GAP’s denim campaign (“Move Together”); and Mary Kills People (“What Do You Say” by BOGA).

As her work is recognized for its signature mix of empowerment and vulnerability, it’s no surprise that her righteous, raucous track “Call Me Queen“ landed on the soundtrack the 2020’s Netflix series Self Made, a biopic inspired by historic African-American entrepreneur and activist Madame C.J. Walker, starring Octavia Spencer, and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

What inspired “Call Me Queen”?
“Call Me Queen” was written about female empowerment. There’s a constant patriarchal struggle – patriarchy is exploding.  Women have been minimized. We’ve been taught weird forms of competition [and] to overtly sexualize ourselves to get power. But none of that is necessary. All we need to do is to be in our strengths and form communities — that’s what women naturally do; we form communities to get shit done. So, the intention [was], let’s celebrate what it means to be a woman and get shit done.

I work with agent Mike Jansen [The Greater Goods Co.] and I have an excellent co-writer, composer, producer, and bandmate [Mischa Chillak]. He’s quite prolific. He’ll be like, “Let’s do a song. How are you feeling? Are you feeling empowered? Let’s do a song about empowerment.” Writing about deep emotions is what I do.

How did “Call Me Queen” land in the series?
This song was written and finished the year before. I had just released an album. I have a bunch of songs that are done, but I don’t want to release until I have a new album coming out. Mike has a lot of unreleased material from me, so when this show came up, he pitched this song and the music supervisor really liked it. It fit. [Self Made] was the perfect place for that song to come out, and it gave me a good reason to release it because I wanted to anyway – I tend to release music when it’s had a synch.

How did it feel to be picked for the series and then hear your music in the episode A Credit to Race?
The episode was so succinctly written. It moved at a good clip and there was a lot of development and growth. That scene was powerful. I was like, “Oh wow! This is a perfect usage for that song,” and I feel really honoured to be part of it. The music supervisor for that show is a woman of colour [Mikaila Simmons], and she was very specific in the music she picked. Almost all the songs are by women of colour. To be included in that roster of artists – for this Canadian Black woman – I’m proud and excited.