Matthew Samuels, a.k.a. Boi-1da, was a teenager working at clothing retailer Winners in Toronto when he received a lump sum of $500 for remixing Divine Brown’s “Twist My Hair.” That’s when he knew he could make a living making beats and producing. “If I wanted 500 bucks at Winners, I’d have to work full-time for two weeks or more,” he says.

The 23-year-old has since produced tracks for Drake, Kardinal Offishall, Eminem, Saukrates, Dr. Dre, Clipse, k-os, G-Unit and more. His most recent smashes include Drake’s “Forever,” which led to Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” “I’d give a lot of credit to Drake because we’ve been working together since Day One,” says Samuels of how he got his big break. “We were both 17 years old. We had no idea what to do — we went through it together. My friend had given me his contact and we always talked on messenger, but we officially met in this studio in Scarborough and did our first song, ‘Do What You Do,’ together.”

Veteran rapper Saukrates also recognized Boi-1da’s skills and acted as a mentor early on, opening doors and presenting opportunities. “I actually met Kardi throughSoxx,” says Samuels, who went on to produce Kardi’s song “Set It Off,” which featured Dre.

Born in Jamaica and moving to Canada with his family when he was five, Samuels began making beats “for fun” when his mother bought him a Casio keyboard at age eight. By 15, he was using the FL Studio beat-making program and ended up winning three consecutive Battle of the Beatmakers, Canada’s official producer competition. “I would study other people’s beats,” he says. “I listened to a lot of Timbaland-produced tracks, a lot of Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze and Dr Dre. What I used to do a lot is remake people’s beats to a T. By doing that, I saw what they did. I taught myself. They were secretly my mentors without even knowing it.”

Samuels still works in “a basement corner” with a laptop, hard drive and MIDI keyboard, but is now creating, not recreating, beats for some of the world’s top artists. He is currently working on new tracks for Drake, Keri Hilson, B-Major and Eminem. Why are they going to Boi-1da, does he think? “Because the beats I make knock hard,” he says. “People like that hard-hitting sound and they just want to feel their music. I don’t make music because this is the style of music being made now. I try to make my music with emotion in it. I think that’s what people feel about my music — and my sound is different,” he adds. “I try to experiment with different sounds. So people appreciate that.”

And if two or more artists like what he delivers, “first come first served,” Samuels says. “That’s how it works.”

Song camps and writer retreats, which bring together top songwriters and artists for periods of intense writing and collaboration in relatively isolated yet inspirational locations, have proven to be extremely effective in generating songs for specific recording, TV and film projects.

ole, which is arguably the number-one operator of songwriting camps worldwide, has presented camps, with various partners and sponsors, in Berlin and London, England, and this fall will be heading back to Europe and running the fourth annual L.A. Pop + Urban song camp. “Song camps channel the spirit of the legendary Motown and Brill Building environments, focusing an elite group of songwriters to create hit songs for top pop and urban artists,” explains ole president Michael McCarty. “About 15 world-class songwriters from North America and Europe are brought together for a five-day, intensive writing retreat. These camps are fun, creative, competitive and productive. They are attended by key industry decision-makers such as music supervisors and major label A&R execs, who brief the writers on what kind of songs their stars or the latest movies and TV shows are looking for.”

Nettwerk One (NW1), the publishing arm of Nettwerk Music Group, and Island Records Australia recently got together for a 10-day Writer Retreat with a mix of international participants that included established and up-and-coming artists, writers and producers. Both Michael Taylor of Island Australia and Peter Coquillard of NW1 had purposefully sought out a creative and inspiring location to hold the retreat and came up with Ubud, the centre for fine arts, dance and music on the island of Bali. “Creating a unique and special environment for artists and writers to work together undoubtedly brings about special songs,” says Taylor.


Some of the earliest songwriter retreats took place in the early ’90s at the 14th-century Château Marouatte, which music executive/artist manager Miles Copeland (The Police) had bought in southwest France. Here, at his invitation, promising unknowns and established industry names regularly bonded in the spirit of creative collaboration. Reportedly, Canadian songwriter Greg Wells MEMBER(we can’t find him as a SOCAN member)? co-wrote the Céline Dion hit “The Reason” with Carole King while they stayed there and Keith Urban rose from obscurity after writing “But for the Grace of God” with Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos at the château. Copeland would later find that the location was perhaps part of the magic. As he told The Sunday Times, after doing some research on the area, he found that four of the top 10 songwriters of the Middle Ages came from near there. “This castle was almost central to the land of the troubadours,” he noted.

It’s the No. 1 song in Universal Music Publishing Group Canada’s catalogue of more than 200 titles. Toronto classic-rock radio station Q107 plays it every single day. These are just two facts that stunned the crowd at the SOCAN panel “Life of a Song” at this year’s Canadian Music Week. Songwriter Mars Bonfire, who penned the tune made famous by Steppenwolf and the film Easy Rider, made a rare appearance to discuss this classic with SOCAN’s Rodney Murphy in front of a packed house of hard-rock fans and fellow writers looking for advice on how to turn heavy metal into gold.


Where did in the inspiration for “Born to be Wild” come from?

I had moved from Toronto to Los Angeles with a group. They had a station wagon but I didn’t have my own transportation. Eventually, I got enough money to buy a used Ford Falcon. The delight of driving around in my own car, seeing the beach, the mountains, the deserts of Southern California, inspired the song,


I heard it was originally a folk song. Is that true?

In my mind it’s always been a hard-rock song, but I was a starving musician at the time and I made my own demo of it. I couldn’t plug my guitar in because every time I did, my neighbour would pound on the ceiling. So I had a dry Telecaster, a tape recorder borrowed from a friend and my voice, which was worse than Bob Dylan’s. I guess that’s where some people got the impression it was meant to be a folk song.


How did the song come to Steppenwolf?

The precursor to Steppenwolf was a band called The Sparrows. I had been in that band with my brother, and after breaking up, most of the members decided to get back together and that became Steppenwolf. My brother said they needed some songs, so I took some songs over to his house. He wasn’t home. I took my tape and pushed it through the door. I could hear the sound of this big Great Dane and I thought, “There’s the end of the tape.” But luckily, it survived and they happened to like it.


Can you talk about how you got your first publishing deal and what that meant to you at the time?

The style of the day was to walk down Hollywood Boulevard with a guitar strung over my back and, unannounced, go into publishers and say, “Hey, want to hear one of my songs?” I got to see many publishers and played “Born to Be Wild” and they said, “Well, if you change this or change that…” But I loved it as it was, so I said I wouldn’t change anything. And then I went into what was then Leeds Publishing, and Warren Brown, the head fellow, sensed the music business was changing and they needed to have songs in a different category other than standards and swing. I played the stuff for him live, and I could tell he just had no concept of what it was. But at least he was willing to take a chance. He signed me for $50 a week. And it was great.


How important is the role of a publisher in managing all the business that this song continues to bring in?

For me, it’s critical. Because the period in which I wrote — the psychedelic ’60s — really was psychedelic! So no matter how hard I tried, I could not manage the business. Without a world-class publisher like Universal the full potential of the song could never be reached.


How does it feel to know how successful this song still is?

I feel so incredibly lucky. I was only doing music as a hobby. It might not have worked out and I’d be back on the line at GM in Oshawa, [Ont.], where I started