Entrepreneurs: Synching made easy with Apollo Music Store
Story by Philippe Renaud | Monday August 27th, 2018
There are no problems, only solutions. “Our goal is to make life easier for brands to have access to good, existing music,” says Philippe-Aubert Messier, President and co-founder of Apollo Music Store, a Montréal-based start-up that offers advertising agencies a catalogue of music for promotional uses. The trick? Making it so easy to discover music and manage copyrights that these recordings can be accessed and usable in an ad in less than five minutes. “Ten if it’s my mom filling out the online form,” Messier jokes.
“Our position in the market couldn’t be any clearer: we don’t do videogame music, we don’t do music for TV or films, all stuff I’ve done in the past,” he says. The repertoire of more than 100 catalogues contains music by more than 1,000 artists. The Apollo platform targets them to advertisers “for TV, radio and, mostly, nowadays, for all online formats – such as promotional videos that are increasingly produced by major brands.” Among those that have used the Apollo Music Store catalogue are Ford, Adidas, and Absolut Vodka.
It couldn’t be easier: once on the site, one creates an account and proceeds to peruse the music repertoire using expressive categories like “rhythmic,” “catchy,” “organic,” “groovy,” “moody,” and the like. If an advertiser likes a song – let’s say “Her,” a lively electro-pop ditty by British duo Seawaves, which they listen to from beginning to end – then it’s “Click!” Into the shopping cart. Then she chooses the way and duration that the music will be used – let’s say a six-month TV and online campaign. She then indicates the number of spots the song will be used in, as well as the territory – local or international. A price is then established and it’s time to pay. It’s that easy.
Messier is a musician and entrepreneur who co-founded – and used to co-own, for about 15 years – the Apollo sound and music production studios in Montréal and Toronto. He stood “in the middle [of the whole composition transaction] because I made and sold music for [audiovisual] productions and, on top of that, I was in charge of obtaining the usage rights,” he says. “The basic observation was that the access isn’t simple.”
Another observation is that major brands that develop advertising campaigns, and the ad agencies that work on them, often have tight deadlines. That forces them to use royalty-free music libraries, often called stock music, library music, or production music. “Yet, no one wakes up in the morning thinking: for my ad, I want cheap, badly-produced music,” he jokes. “All agencies and all brands want good music!”
When Messier and his then-partners sold Studios Apollo in 2016, he kept the online platform, “because I thought there was still work to be done with that business,” he says, and adds that he still considers the project a work in progress. “My associates and I have been thinking about granting musical licences through an online platform for a while now,” says Messier. “We first launched a very simple version, a micro-site with 25 songs, and we evolved that from one version to the next, all the while validating that there was indeed a demand for such a service.”
And there is a demand, but not for any kind of music; it’s a demand for good music, Messier insists, before adding that his work and that of the start-up’s employees is to “curate” their catalogues.
“One of the elements that adds a lot of value in our clients’ eyes is our ability to find music that’s relevant to them,” he says. “Obviously, there are musical styles that are relatively timeless, and others that are more fads, but it all evolves very rapidly. I often say that it’s a moving target. There’s no way, for example, that I could make a list of the music that will be relevant over the next two years. What I do know, however, is that there are types of music that will never work. It’s too bad for those who make that music, but it does make our lives easier! And it’s got nothing to do with the quality of that music, it’s just that there’s no demand for it in this very specific market.”
Creators take note: the Apollo Music Store is open to submissions, “but as a general rule, we deal directly with publishers,” says Messier. “Some artists are self-published, but we generally deal with the publisher and the record label through them. We often only represent one or two songs per artist. We don’t try to work on their entire catalogue, we target the songs that we know will resonate with advertising agencies.”
Yes Mccan unpacks his album Oui (Tout, Tout, Tout, Toutttte)
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | Tuesday August 28th, 2018
Yes Mccan trusted his instinct on his first solo album “OUI (tout, tout, tout, toutttte)”. Co-produced with the help of a veteran (Ruffsound) and a newcomer (Yen Dough), the ex-Dead Obies frontman wanted to diversify his musical spectrum as much as possible. To mark the release of this album, whose title is emblematic of complete openness and limitless ambition, the Montréal-based rapper-turned-TV-star – thanks to his memorable role in the series Fugueuse – describes the creative process behind his eight new songs.
“Temps” “We wanted to set the tone and have an intro à la Drake, a piano and voice number where the MC does a reality check, as if to tell you where he’s at in life and in his head. We listened to the whole Nothing Was the Same album for inspiration, and Yen came up with three beats along the lines of that vibe in one night. We picked this one because we felt it grounded the album. It’s a track that’s emblematic of how I worked for the rest of the record – by gathering notes, images or punchlines that I’d jotted down in a notebook. Initially, my first verse was 3:30 long, which was a tad too bold. For the sake of the song, I made cuts to the lyrics, even though I wasn’t showcasing my talent as a rapper as much, so that the melody could be at the forefront. Generally speaking, it’s about how everything in life is a question of timing. You need to go with the flow, accept where life is taking you, and above all, grab the opportunities that present themselves.”
“Près de moi” “Yen and I really wanted to reach the widest possible audience with this album. But as we were nearing the end of the recording process, we felt we were missing something required to achieve that mission. While I was on my way to his place, I walked by a supper club where people were starting to dance to way-too-loud music. I liked the atmosphere, though, and figured we needed a catchier song like that, a song that had the potential to make girls dance and sing. Once I got to Yen’s place, we went back to the source of pop rap like French Montana, and right away, he started working on a beat, and I was freestyling over it that very night. I then did a bit of songwriting inspired by what I hear in American pop music. I’ve always liked Rihanna’s writers and their forbidden pleasure, ‘It was wrong but it felt right’-type themes. I wanted to work on that notion of a dangerous liaison, in a clearly sexed-up track that suggests rather than reveals. There’s probably a link to the very sudden and superficial popularity I experienced during the peak of Fugueuse. All of a sudden, there was a ton of girls gravitating around m,e even though I was still part of a couple. I’m not the kind of guy that’ll jump the fence, but there was clearly some tension. Maybe that’s what came out on this track.”
“Forêts” (featuring Ogee Rodman and Caballero & JeanJass) “Before going to our first songwriting session in the Spring of 2017, I was walking down the street listening to a beat on my iPhone. I started reciting patterns over it, rhymes I’d written before. So back at the camp, Ruffsound was really down with my verse, and Yen started making a beat. We then invited Ogee (Dead Obies) to join us, and as usual, he got his part down in a single take, giving us a powerful and catchy chorus that became the song’s leitmotif. During that summer, Caballero and JeanJass were in Montréal for the Francos, and since I’d had a great time with them in Belgium a few months earlier, we invited them to the studio to finish that track. The thing is, with hindsight, I wasn’t down with my verse and nasal tone anymore, so I decided to re-write and re-record the whole thing. I added deeper sentences like ‘Elle habitait sur la Rue de l’amour/Y’a fallu que je Google map’ (‘She lived on Love Street/I Had to Google Map it’) and ‘Ils veulent me kill pour mon papier comme les forêts québ’ (‘They want to kill me for my paper, like Québec’s forests’). I thought that nod to forestry gave a new meaning to the song, because trees are the source of paper, and at some point, there’ll be no money left to make if we don’t take care of that source. On another level, the song also means that if you’re in the music biz just for the money, your shit might last for a while, but not necessarily very long. But if you believe in something, if your motivation or your ambition is deeper, you’re never going to run out of inspiration.”
“Money Convos” “At a certain point, I really needed inspiration for my writing, but my sessions with a whole bunch of talented producers hadn’t panned out. So, I forced myself to write at least one verse per day over instrumentals I found on the Net. I did that with “Look Alive,” a track by BlocBoy JB with Drake, with which I was obsessed. It was going around in my head so much that I was almost starting to copy its patterns. I needed to break that, so I asked Yen to make me a similar beat. We then sent that to Ruff who made crazy arrangements on top of it. We fine-tuned it a few weeks later during our second songwriting session, and it’s at the very end of the recording process that we realized 21 Savage had also just released a song called ‘Money Convo.’ Initially, I wanted to completely re-do the chorus, but I ended up accepting that it was part of my instinctive creative process. I simply assumed that I maybe had heard his track and that, consequently, the title had stuck in my mind. To me, “Money Convos” is a figure of speech that means, I don’t have time for free shows of promotional bits for this company or that. My priority now is to make music and enjoy my life, so I prefer doing my thing rather than chasing false opportunities and empty promises. I’ve done enough stuff for exposure, and visibility.”
“Vie” “We recorded this one at the time when Kanye was releasing an album a week. It was inspiring for us to see such a prolific artist in action, because we were in a rush to finalize the album. I wrote that in 15 minutes, on the corner of a table. It was just honest writing: I didn’t use a character, and didn’t try to come up with stylistic devices. I just said the first things that came to me, and the result is quite weird, with references to Jean Leloup’s album Les Fourmis and KC LMNOP’s ‘Ta yeule’… He’s the first rap artist from Québec that I really listened to, paying attention to the lyrics. I knew his song by heart, and it’s the song I would use when I took the stage during improv matches in high school. In any case, I wasn’t trying to look cool, I just wanted to let my raw feelings out, while giving a nod to the music I listened to when I was a teenager. Then we re-did Yen’s beat entirely with Ruffsound, and that’s when we added the Caribbean vibe and syncopated snares. The tune got a good swing out of those changes, but I still felt a little fragile and vulnerable because of it. I wasn’t sure it was any good at all until Hubert Lenoir heard the album and told me it was his favourite. I really dig his music, so his opinion was very important.”
“Slick Rick” (featuring Rowjay) “When we started rapping with Dead Obies, we were the new kids on the block, the up-and-comers. We saw the guys from Alaclair Ensemble as models and idols. Same for Loud, Lary and Ajust, who were roughly the same age as us but had a lot more experience. We really saw ourselves as kids, and now there’s a whole bunch of kids who are ready to kick the ant hill, just like we did a few years ago. Rowjay is one of the guys I saw coming, and who I’ve followed on Soundcloud ever since he started out, back when everyone thought he was funny, or ridiculous. But as time went by, his songs were getting stuck in my head, and I grew really fond of his character. I’ve always liked myths and bigger-than-life personae in rap, and, at least in Québec, he’s definitely the one who plays that game the best. I immediately thought about him when vxnyl sent me a beat entitled Post Malone feat. Migos Type Beat. I’d come up with an airtight chorus centred around the Slick Rick persona, who’s one of the most highly respected American rappers, a kind of untouchable royalty that all American street rappers like to name-drop from time to time, because of his swag and jewelry. I was quite proud of the chorus, but I had no inspiration for the verses. It constantly sounded like I was dragging the beat down. Rowjay really gave the song a new lease on life. He came to the studio empty-handed, and like a true legend, he smoked backwood after backwood and completed his part in two hours. It was amazing.”
“Over” “This one went through a lot of stages. It’s based on a beat vxnyl did a year ago. When Yen Dough heard it, he immediately wanted to record a hit with it. In the end, he made an improvised, three-minute-long demo, be he never managed to finish it. A good while later, when we were looking for more melodic and pop stuff to round out the album, we stumbled upon it again. I felt like giving it a try, and right away, I was able to latch onto a raw feeling that I felt, relative to people who insult me on Facebook. The sentence ‘Qu’est-ce qu’ils feraient pas pour me garder au sol juste parce qu’ils ont peur des hauteurs ?’ (‘What wouldn’t they do to pin me to the ground just because they’re afraid of heights?’) set the tone, and I thought the image was quite powerful. But I got stuck again, and a little while later, I woke up one morning with the idea for my verse, where I talk about how I dread popularity contests. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of music and dreamt of being onstage, but now that I am living that life and I go on TV shows like Les Échangistes, I feel like I don’t belong there, that I’m an outsider to stardom. The result is an uber-pop song, but one with a strong and real authenticity.”
“Désirée” (featuring Cape Tula et Yen Dough) “It’s quite a cartoonish take on Désirée, a character based on that idea of desire, the dream being sold by American rap; think Kylie Jenner or Amber Rose. The girl doesn’t really exist, but the roots of her world come from a universe I’ve often rubbed shoulders with. When I was on tour, I realized how omnipresent coke was among the younger generation, especially outside of major urban areas. It’s often easier to find than weed! When I’m onstage and I look at those kids high on blow, speaking super-fast, eyes wide open like zombies, I find that very intense. It’s not really my vibe, so I thought it was interesting to put my vibe of a guy who just wants to light it up in contrast with the vibe of that debauched femme fatale. Again here, there’s a bit of that notion of the forbidden, of a shady grey zone. I sincerely didn’t expect this song to be such a hit. We had a really hard time finishing it, and I must’ve rewritten the first verse at least 10 times. Yen and I thought it was all jumbled, so much so that we were close to calling it a complete failure. But we decided to roll with it, begrudgingly, and we released it the day after I told the guys in Dead Obies that I was quitting the band. We spent a super-intense evening in a true break-up atmosphere, really deep; the next day, my song was No. 2 in Canada, over The Weeknd’s. I couldn’t make sense of it, and felt bad for the guys, who surely thought it was all planned. But the truth is, I had absolutely no idea.”
Photo by Meghan Tansey Whitton
T. Thomason documents his unique journey, with music
Story by Meredith Dault | Wednesday August 22nd, 2018
When T. Thomason got in trouble as a young child, his parents would send him to his room for a time out, and would then sit on the other side of the door, suppressing their laughter, as he made up sad songs about his situation. “They would listen to me sing about how sad I was about being bad,” he laughs, recounting the tale. “I was always writing stories, and always making up songs, before I could write them down.”
Now 23, Thomason has never stopped using songwriting as a way of understanding himself and his world. Growing up in Nova Scotia, he put out his first album, 2009’s Through the Static, at 14 and began travelling around the province to play shows with driving support from his mother, actress and writer Shelley Thompson, best known for playing Barb Lahey on Trailer Park Boys.
The album, which generated two Music Nova Scotia award nominations, set Thomason on course for a career in music, his upwards trajectory continuing as his songs crept up the charts and were used in television shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation. His subsequent albums, Beauty Queen (2011) and Columbus Field (2014) won him many accolades and awards, including Young Performer of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
“Every time I picked up a guitar, I would write a complete song in one sitting, just one or two hours,” Thomason says, recalling his early songwriting style. “And I wouldn’t edit. They just came. Every single time I picked up the guitar.”
But as Thomason grew up and began grappling with the world around him, the songwriting slowed. Then working at a crisis-counseling centre for homeless youth, Thomason moved into what he has describes as “a period of self-reflection,” began undergoing testosterone hormone therapy, and moved away from the gender he had been assigned at birth.
“I wasn’t writing, and I was feeling guilty,” he recalls. “I felt so disconnected from my music career. I wouldn’t even look at my guitars because I felt so guilty.”
Most critically, he was concerned about his voice changing because of the testosterone he was taking. “Once you started testosterone, you could never sing again – or that’s the belief. It’s taken as gospel,” he says, explaining that at the time, he could find few resources to support his research.
“I felt like it I was going to have to choose between the two things, and I knew I needed both of them to continue to survive… but I felt like I could only have one,” he recalls. “It was not fun.”
“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match… whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world.”
He connected with Lucas Silveira of The Cliks, who had gone through a similar transition, and also engaged vocal coach Ali Garrison, with whom he worked several times a week through the transition.
Finally, in April 2015, Thomason shared his new identity and name with his fans in a candid Facebook post, and began making sense of it all through his music.
“There are quite a few songs that come from different points during that time,” he says. “It’s an attempt to make sense of something that happened. That’s the only way I knew how to try to do that. You can feel very out of control of yourself and your future in that situation… Uncertain about what’s going to happen to you, and what it’s going to mean for your career.”
He released Sweet Baby, his first EP under his new name, independently in 2016 – and again in 2017, through Rae Spoon’s label, Coax Records. Thomason is currently working on a full-length album he expects to release in early 2019. The first single, “Bliss,” dropped earlier this month
Thomason, who counts everyone from Joan Jett and Bob Dylan to Carly Rae Jepsen among his musical influences, worked with producer Dave Henriques at Toronto’s Coalition Music on the album, describing the process as “collaborative in a way that my stuff hasn’t been in the past.” He credits Henriques, who also gets co-writing credits, for pushing him out of his comfort zone and into unknown territory, as he finds a new musical identity.
“We didn’t sit down and write the songs together, but Dave helped me explode them and re-arrange them,” says Thomason. “I learned so much from him about relaxing, and letting things go where they’re going to take you. It was amazing to learn those lessons, both personally and musically. There have been a lot of crossovers.”
Thomason says that his experiences in the last few years have given him an enhanced appreciation for the pursuit of honesty, both in life and music.
“I want to be part of a group of musicians who brings an indie attitude of ‘we still have to be honest here,’” he says. “We aren’t going to package and sell a consumable, easily digestible product. We are challenging our audiences to face themselves when they hear our music.”
At the same time, Thomason is quick to add that, while he’s proud to be part of the LGBTQ community, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as making music for any one sort of audience: “I don’t want to alienate anyone who might take something from my music, even if they don’t have a queer or trans experience.”
Instead, he stresses how much his own journey – to find himself and his voice as a musician – has helped him to realize that everyone is searching to find their place in the world in a similar way.
“Everyone is trying to figure out how to take their inner life and have it match… whatever outer version of yourself you have to present to the world,” he says. “Everybody struggles with that.”