The numbers

  • 150 Million YouTube views
  • 950,000 YouTube subscribers
  • 65 million streams across Spotify, Apple, Amazon
  • 1.2 million monthly listeners on Spotify

Ever since Alex Porat was a kid growing up in Vancouver, she did everything she could to make it as a pop star. She spent her childhood going to auditions for kids’ talent shows, and her Saturdays singing Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera hits in the food court of the local mall, where there was a small stage and microphone set up for impromptu karaoke. In high school, she started posting cover songs on YouTube as a way to build an audience. “When you’re young, you don’t really know how to get your voice heard,” says Porat. “YouTube was a way for people to hear my voice.”

It wasn’t until she was in university, though, that Porat got her big break. In a Glamour magazine video, Shawn Mendes watched Porat’s emotional YouTube cover of his “In My Blood.” “Alexandra,” Mendes says in the video, “you are incredible, your voice is awesome, and you sang it perfectly.”

“That moment for me was this realization that being a musician is actually attainable,” Porat says. “Suddenly it felt like if I kept doing music, maybe things could keep growing.” At the time, Porat had just finished her second year of university, and was already considering not returning in the fall. That video gave her the final push to pursue music full-time.

Since then, she’s been working non-stop. In 2020, she released her debut EP, bad at breakups, which she recorded during the pandemic. A collection of catchy, alt-pop songs about heartbreak, loneliness, or seeing your exes move on over social media, it’s like the sonic precursor to Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. Her most recent single, “Dimension,” is a spacey, synth-driven pop song fit for the club. Porat’s also ready to hit the stage later in 2021: “The first song of my EP dropped the weekend before everything shut down in Canada,” says Porat. “To finally be able to sing my songs live is seriously a dream.”

When Steph Copeland was 16, her father booked some time at a local recording studio so that she could record four of her own songs. Copeland, who’d been making her own music since early childhood, had a clear sense of how she wanted her songs to sound. “I knew what I was looking for,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to make it massive.” Disappointed by the end result, Copeland decided that she would have to figure out how to do things herself. Getting her hands on an 8-track digital recorder, she read the manual and steadily taught herself the skills she needed to generate the sounds she wanted. “It was a long learning curve,” she recalls.

But for Copeland, it was one that paid off. For the last two decades, she’s let her musical interests guide her – from scoring for film, television and commercials, to touring as a back-up singer and musician (including for Ria Mae from 2016-2018), writing songs, and producing her own solo releases. And teaching herself what she needs to know along the way. Fortunately, she likes being busy. “I think I might be a bit of a workaholic,” she confesses, admitting that people do have trouble keeping up with her various projects.

“If I can dream the sound, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it”

In her 20s, Copeland, who grew up an hour from Windsor, got into the Detroit electronic music scene, and began performing, both as a solo artist under the name Perilelle, and in collaboration with other hip-hop and techno artists. She soon realized, however, that she was more interested in perfecting her sounds than in building an onstage persona, and moved her career into the studio. In time, she landed the opportunity to score an independent horror film when a director heard her dark, electronic music. “I’d never scored to picture,” she says, “and had to learn really quickly, updating my whole studio.”

It was a gamble worth taking. The film did well, resulting in an eight-picture deal, with Copeland hired to score seven of them. “It was a really wonderful bit of luck,” she says. “I always knew I had a cinematic thing going on with my music.” Copeland has since scored for a slew of dramas, thrillers, and darker genre films (Vicious Fun, The Oak Room, and I’ll Take Your Dead, among others), as well as television series (The Wedding Planners, Turning the Tables) and commercials (NBA Canada, The Pan Am Games and The North Face).

But Copeland, who’s been singing since childhood, still carves out time for her own songwriting. “I can’t ever decide what I want to do,” she explains. “I’m still drawn to the performing side of things and songwriting, so in between scores I’m always making releases and working on albums.” The release of her first solo LP Public Panic, in 2015, saw her sign with a New York-based music publisher, and led to writing and producing for international artists, and to song placements in films and series, including Tiny Pretty Things on Netflix. She still manages to put out a couple of her own releases each year. Her latest single (with Brigit O’Regan), “Gas Light,” is accompanied by a video.

And she continues to seek out new challenges. As a producer, Copeland oversaw the all-female orchestra performance that opened at the 2018 SOCAN Awards, and has twice adjudicated the SOCAN Foundation Young Audio-Visual Composer Award. This year, she’ll be participating in the Women in the Studio program offered by Music Publishers Canada, a national accelerator for female-identifying producer-songwriters, and recently produced a song for Oleyada and KINLEY as part of Music PEI’s 2021 Canadian Songwriter Challenge. “Every time I work on another person’s track, I learn something, and then want to explore that in my own world and see what happens,” she says.

When she thinks about her future, Copeland lets her curiosity be her guide, always chasing the sound that she’s after, just like she did as a young girl. From continuing to produce for others, to scoring films, Copeland allows herself to dream big, pushing her own boundaries in the process. “Now that I’m aware that there are larger, more intricate sounds out there – like the orchestra – I want to go grab that,” she says. “If I can dream the sound, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it.”

Originally from France, former equestrian sports journalist Xavier Debreuille is now Development and Publishing Director of Musicor Disques, as well as a Board member of The Professional Music Publishers’ Association (APEM). He recently shared his professional experience with us, and volunteered to provide some advice to would-be publishers and songwriters looking for the perfect publishing partnership.

Musicor, Logo“The music publishing profession is misunderstood, quite often by the musicians themselves,” says Debreuille, who learned the complexities of the business in the sports television world he worked in before changing lanes. Time was, he noted, that singer-songwriters naturally turned to their publishers, but nowadays, they “often believe that they can do the job themselves, because they hear that all a publisher does is take money, that getting a publisher is a waste of time, and that joining SOCAN is probably all you’ll ever need.”

“Such perceptions may be fed by confusion between what a record company does and what a publishing house does,” says Debreuille, who should know, now that he’s active at both ends of that spectrum. “Obviously,” he saays, “the life of a piece of music becomes much easier once it’s been published. So, when the recording is produced by the label, and the label goes on to promote and market it, the confusion definitely stems from the fact that the job is being performed by the record label instead of by the publisher.”

The publishers themselves must stress the importance of a publisher’s job – among other venues, through the professional training programs being offered by groups such as APEM (The Professional Music Publishers’ Association), a major organization “on which the music publishing profession should be relying even more than it does now,” says Debreuille. “APEM’s training program is superb, but its success depends on the willingness of industry participants to learn more. The next step, I believe, is to provide training at the post-secondary [Cégep] education level, and as part of more music festivals. We must reach out to artists.”

All of this in order to support and train future musicians. “A good publisher is above all a good manager,” says Debreuille. “He or she is someone who’s extremely strict and painstaking, because a large part of the job deals with the administrative work that complements the artistic side of the equation. It’s administrative – but also human – management: you’re working with artists who are all unique, with their own egos, you’re dealing with songwriters who may sometimes find it frustrating to be living in the shadow of performers.”

“You should always be willing to try something new, to look beyond”

Debreuille has two pieces of advice for would-be publishers. The first one is, “Level with songwriters from the word go. Don’t wait for success, or the lack of it – failure is often easier to manage than success is, by the way – for the publisher and the author to see eye-to-eye, at long last. The publisher must have a conversation with the artist before they go into the studio, and it’s essential that the publishers of two different artists [working together] should also talk to one another before the studio stage, in order to set out the rules of the game properly. What I’m saying here has nothing to do with art, but it is important.”

“The other piece of advice I’d like to give publishers is this: facilitate collaborations between songwriters. I believe publishers need to broaden their horizons creatively. Of course, when you realize that the chemistry is working, let’s say, between a composer of music and a lyricist, encouraging such collaborations can be tempting – but you should always be willing to try something new, to look beyond.”

To that end, Musicor Disques regularly invites songwriters to take part in writing camps in preparation for the recording of a performer’s album – as has been the case with Alexe Gaudreault (best new artist from La Voix in 2013), and also with Geneviève Jodoin (winner of La Voix’s 7th season). “That’s how you avoid running around in circles.

“It all comes down to human relations,” says Debreuille. “There should be a sense of trust between the songwriter and his or her publisher. Personally, when that trust exists, I try to be as realistic as I possibly can with the singer-songwriters who approach me. I show them how I work. I don’t tell them that everything’s going to be easy. Nothing is for sure.”