The upcoming movie Le Mirage won’t be what it is only because of Louis Morissette’s screenplay or Ricardo Trogi’s direction. Frédéric Bégin’s score will also strongly contribute in creating the atmosphere of the comedy-drama. “Ricardo had already placed two pieces of 19th Century classical music in his editing, Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’ and Bizet’s ‘L’Arlésienne’,” sats Bégin. “They’re very well-known pieces, but he used them in counterpoint. It also feeds into the aristocratic side of the characters who come from a moneyed environment.” In order to meet the needs of the director’s editing, Bégin re-arranged the classics and recorded them with the 69 musicians of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Le Mirage
He then composed a few additional piece,s also imbued with that classical feel. Says Bégin: “I wanted to respect Ricardo’s initial musical intentions, and the result is that when you hear my compositions, they sound like you’ve known them all your life, yet…” Bégin explains that as the movie evolves, there’s increasing silence to create drama. “As a composer, you have to keep your ego in check in order to remain aware of what the movie actually needs. We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band. We’re there to back the ‘singer,’ which in this case is the movie.”

The musical needs of movies are diverse as the movies themselves, just as working with the same director for years doesn’t mean that any kind of routine has set in. Quite the contrary. Bégin met Ricardo Trogi just after graduating from Université de Montréal, where he earned a degree in Music. He composed a jingle for an ad Trogi was directing. A few months later, Bégin won the pitch that ensured they worked together again, this time for the music of a TV series titled Smash. This proved to be a defining moment for the composer. “Trogi’s first series was my first fiction project,” says Bégin. “You could say that experience was my birth as a composer. I sourced my writing in all those anonymous creations, themes I composed as a teen and young adult. Smash allowed me to get rid of all those piano riffs that had been haunting me for a long time.”

“We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Trogi and Bégin collaborated on further TV series such as Les étoiles filantes and Le berceau des anges as well as on movies such as L’horloge biologique, 1981, 1987 and Le Mirage. But Bégin has also scored other films, notably Jean-Philippe Pearson’s Le bonheur des autres and Nicolas Monette’s Le journal d’Aurélie Laflamme.

The Trois-Pistole native now works in his home studio as well as at Studio Apollo, and says he likes being involved early in the creative process. “I know it’s a luxury,” he says, and cites the recent example of Interstellar, where Christopher Nolan tapped Hans Zimmer over coffee, asking him to start composing music for a movie about a father-daughter relationship. Nolan never mentioned that the movie was going to be a science-fiction one.
Le Berceau Des AngesWith Trogi, Bégin often has the opportunity of reading the screenplay long before a first cut is made. Such was the case for the TV series Le berceau des anges: Bégin started composing immediately after reading the scenario on the topic of baby theft. He was very moved by the story, especially since he was about to become a dad. “That was one of my more inspired sessions,” he says. “I wrote for two months before seeing even one image from the series. Surprisingly, everything fit perfectly. I was super happy, especially since I earned two nominations for that work.” The winners in those two categories will be announced this fall during the Gala des Gémeaux.

Bégin loves those moments of creativity that happen without a safety net. Currently, he’s working on stage music for a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of the presence of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. The show is directed by Olivier Dufour, an artist from Québec City world-renowned for his multimedia creations. Bégin is on board to underscore the narrative aspect of this performance music which tells the story, without words, of the parallel between a solo musician and an Olympic athlete. His music will be played over skating, fireworks and video projections. This challenge perfectly matches his constant desire to surpass himself.

“This music must intensely suggest, transport and punctuate without using any words,” says Bégin. “Operas had the same kind of goal and took years to compose. With this, I only have a few months. It’s a unique experience, but it’s so demanding that I realized I need composing for movies to reach a certain balance that is vital for me.”

Production music, also referred to as “stock music” or “library music,” is recorded music composed in a wide range of styles and genres, most commonly for use as background or incidental music online, or in film, television, games, advertising and other media. Some production music tracks have even been sampled by hip-hop and pop artists like Jay Z, Gorillaz, Ja Rule and Mark Ronson.

Production music libraries, featuring tracks which are thematically and stylistically similar, are typically marketed as part of compilation albums, with titles sufficiently descriptive of the content to assist audiovisual media producers and editors in their search for a particular musical ambience or groove.

“I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out.” – Steve Pecile of Soundminer

In the digital age, as the number of digital media channels and platforms in search of music has dramatically increased, production music has enjoyed huge growth. Predictably, with the increased demand, budgets have shriveled and production music – which is much cheaper than hiring a composer to write a customized score for a project – has been the more frequent option for producers at every level. This has opened up a world of both opportunities and challenges for A/V composers and music publishers.

“When I first started, production music libraries were pretty much low-grade, and your avenue of last choice,” recalls Steve Pecile, a composer and pioneering creator of the Soundminer Audio File Management System, which makes desktop, server and web software in varying packages for different types of users – including both music supervisors, and music consumers looking to add a soundtrack to their YouTube cat videos.

“You’d always want to hire a composer to do something original,” says Pecile. “People were used to larger budgets because they knew that when they got a program on television, the program would pay very well. But, as we live in a 1,000-channel universe, and with YouTube and all the other services, that same dollar is now split 100 times, so now you’ve got a few cents instead of a dollar to play with. I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out, than [I am] trying to get a gig to compose the next children’s show.”

Explains composer Ross Hardy: “The reason I fell in love with this market is that nobody hovers over me. I’m best in a situation where someone says, ‘What do you want to compose? Compose a lot of it, give it to me and I’m going to sell it.’”

Besides being a composer, Hardy is a former SOCAN staff member who’s worked with a number of different publishers in the production music sphere over the years. In June of 2013, he founded the production music company hard, of which he is the CEO, with partner and company president Craig McConnell, a veteran, award-winning film and TV composer, record producer and songwriter, who also sits on the board of Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC).

As an organization, the SCGC – which found in a recent study that along with TV and film projects, one third of its members work on games and online projects (35%), advertising (39%) and stock music (34%) – is not enamoured with the concept of production music. To some screen composers, the low pricing of production music undercuts that of their work directly scoring a project, and fosters a decrease in the perceived value of original audiovisual music.

The SCGC website says, “Music libraries can be a great place to find specific period music or songs which pair with a particular scene, but when it comes to the underscore, many libraries are restrictive with the choices available, and a music editor is needed to create smooth edits and transitions between pieces.”

Composers working in the field of production music should be aware of the potential danger of re-titling.

“What re-titling is about is essentially having catalogue A, which is your main catalogue with thousands of titles,” explains Hardy. “Because you’re the publishing company and you are reaping the benefit of the return of performance royalties through PROs like SOCAN, every time your works get used, you look at that and say, ‘That’s my piece of the pie!’ Now you enter in to negotiations with a network like NBC and, to make the deal, you sign over half of the publishing figuring that 50 percent is better than nothing. The incentive is there for the network to use the music a lot and the royalties roll in. You then figure, ‘I’ll make the same deal with ABC,’ but to make it work, you change the titles. The net effect of that is it denigrates the value of copyright, the very thing we set out to protect in the first place. At its very core, the integrity is gone. It creates a very uneven playing field for production music catalogues.”

In continuing our series of stories about the creative meetings of a writer and a composer, but with a twist this time, we present the duo of singer-songwriter Rémi Chassé and his “musical janitor,” Guillaume Beauregard.

No, you’re not dreaming: sometimes musicians with seemingly nothing in common do actually work together. In this corner, Rémi Chassé, a runner-up in the second season of La Voix who was recruited by coach Louis-Jean Cormier, who wants to become a pop singer, and who’s currently working on his first album. And in this corner, Guillaume Beauregard, leader of legendary Québec punk band Les Vulgaires Machins and the pope of protest music for the past 15 years.

“My job is to ask the right questions about his work so as to get to the very core of it” – Guillaume Beauregard

Before La Voix, Québec’s adaptation of The Voice, Chassé tried his luck in the U.S. He and his friends lived on a campsite in Nashville, looking for writing partners to launch their careers. But after awhile, they gave up. Back in Québec, “I spent a year singing covers in resto-bars to pay rent,” says Chassé. “Then, at some point, I thought to myself ‘Why not try La Voix? I’ve nothing to lose.’ And that turned out good.”

Beauregard cofounded Vulgaires Machins in 1995 and the band’s last album came out four years ago. He has since launched his first solo album, D’étoiles, de pluie et de cendres, in 2014. Lately, he’s also helped other musicians in creating their albums. “Writing, arranging, that’s what I love doing,” says Beauregard. I’ve helped Caravane, Brutal Chéri, Marie-Ève [Roy, of Vulgaires Machins], who’s working on an album, too. I love working on material that’s not mine. It requires a different form of involvement, an objectivity, a distance, an outlook,” which he can have on other people’s work, and they’re more than happy to rely on his experience.

Rémi Chassé and Guillaume Beauregard

We met with the pair at the home of Hubert, Chassé’s close collaborator, one sunny afternoon on the terrace while they were fine tuning the words and music of a song called “La Tête pleine, les mains vides,” slated to be on Chassé’s album, whose launch is set for late summer.

Chassé’s rocking his Ray-Bans with a guitar in his lap and a laptop on the patio table in from of him. When we arrive, he’s playing around with a few chords and juggling some rhymes. “This song we’re working on,” says Beauregard, “is one of Rémi’s tracks which inspires me the most, but there’s something bugging me about the melody.” In the days leading up to this work session, Beauregard had re-worked the words and music so that the melody would flow more naturally. “I was just showing him what I changed and why I thought they made sense,” he says. “Then, we talk about it.”

“There were some elements of the song that I wanted to keep, but beyond that, I will take any idea Guillaume has and assimilate them into my song to the best of my ability,” Chassé chimes in. Each song on the album requires a different approach: sometimes it’s the words that need an overhaul, other times it’s the melody and arrangements. “I’ve never written bridges in my songs before,” Chassé admits with a smile.

What Chassé was seeking after making it to the final on La Voix was the input of a seasoned songwriter. “I’d started writing in French before La Voix,” says Chassé, “but I still needed someone to vet my songs, someone who’d take a look at my work and say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool’ or ‘No, this doesn’t work because such and such.’ It had to be someone with a lot of experience in writing songs in French. I asked Guillaume because I like his writing. I guess there must be something in my writing too, because he said yes right away.”

The connection was established through Musicor’s Richard Pelletier. “When he told me about this project, I had no idea who Rémi Chassé was,” Beauregard admits. “But I looked at his pedigree and heard the song Louis-Jean [Cormier] wrote for him. He sent me a demo, it was good groundwork, with some orchestration, drums and bass. The poppy side of his stuff was fully integrated, so we didn’t need to look for a direction for this project.”

Rémi Chassé and Guillaume Beauregard

That’s why Beauregard sees himself as Chassé’s musical janitor; part writing coach and part musical director, as far as the arrangements go.

“I haven’t changed the nature of Remi’s stuff,” he insists. “His songs are totally him. When I hear [the first single] “Sans adieu,” I do feel that we’ve found a way for me to slip inside this project in the most helpful way. It is Rémi’s song, but I found a way to contribute my own experience to it. My job is to ask the right questions about his work so as to get to the very core of it.”

Let’s just say that if there’s one type of musician who knows how to get to the core of things, it’s undoubtedly punk musicians! Beauregard, the leader of Vulgaires Machins, agrees: “Punk songs are songs just as well as what Rémi does. He brings his own colour to his songs. To me, it’s all the same regardless of the genre: what does this song have to say to me?”

And in case it’s not clear, this collaboration is mutually beneficial. By working with a legend from Québec’s punk scene, the ex-La Voix contestant gets an aura of credibility that will surely help when his first album finally comes out. “Absolutely no doubt about it,” admits Chassé. “It was crucial for me. It’s not because I was on La Voix that I’m a variety singer. The contest, television, that was nothing but a springboard. I was already writing edgier rock songs before that, and that’s the image I want the public to get. Obviously, I wanted to work with someone with a lot of edge.”

As far as Beauregard is concerned, to him it’s a “learning rapport. I’m fully aware that from an artistic point of view, it’s not quite my cup of tea, but I’m learning a lot, and on many levels. Such openly pop material is not a ‘natural’ for me, yet being given the opportunity to work on such material without having to defend it, since it is Rémi’s material, is really cool. I feel like exploring the limits of this pop thing, how far can I take it before losing my relevance as someone else’s musical janitor.”