Elijah Will still remembers the first time he wrote a song. His mom provided him with “one of those bendable mics from the dollar store,” he says, and he teamed up with his best friend and younger brother to form a hip-hop group called The Triple Threat. In that song, “Living in the Maritimes,” he gives a shout-out to fellow Nova Scotian artist Classified. Little did he know, then, that the rapper would later become an instrumental player in his rise to fame.

In 2014, a songwriting session at The Gordie Sampson Songcamp resulted in a co-write for Will that was sent to Classified, who quickly responded by inviting Will to join him in the studio to record vocals on his self-titled album. “We’ve been working together ever since, and I’m grateful every day for it,” says Will. He’s now become the first artist signed to Classified’s newly re-launched record label, Halflife Records. Earlier this year, Will released his debut EP 3am, a collection of R&B-infused pop songs that show off his penchant for penning infectious hooks, like those in the moody title track, or the upbeat funk of “Like a Fool.”

And that’s only the beginning. Will is currently working on more new music, and says he’s planning a big tour in the fall of 2018. Most importantly, he hopes to continue learning from Classified, from whom he’s already taken some valuable lessons. “He taught me to be hungry for it,” Will explains, citing Classified’s work ethic. “He’s always been there to motivate me and show me where I need to be, if I was ever to fall off. Working on this EP, and being around him, has really inspired me to be better.”

Jennifer Beavis has seen reams of change in the music business during her 25 years in the game. Contraction and amalgamation have been the watchwords since she graduated from Fanshawe College in 1993. She’s been employed full-time, and she’s been a contractor and consultant, but in her heart she’s always been a music publisher.

“The business has transformed into a gig economy,” says Beavis, who accepts the reality with cheerful resignation. “I started Librascor because it was hard to find another full-time permanent position in a similar executive capacity. But I’ve never looked back.”

Today, as the principal of Librascor Copyright Consulting, Beavis marches to her own drum, working for a roster of clients that currently includes BMG Rights Management, where she is a director for the Canadian entity, Zoomer Media, and Corkscrew media. Other Librascor clients have included Arts & Crafts Productions, 604 Records, CCS Rights Management, Street Quality Entertainment, C2W Music Ltd., and Entertainment Tonight.

“I love what I do, and thankfully I reached a level in my career where I had enough experience and enough contacts that I was able to offer my services on a consulting basis. The business is getting smaller, and a lot of the work is done in the U.S. but they need Canadian expertise.

“At first there was a lot of picking up the phone,” recalls Beavis. “That’s what happened with BMG, which had ended their relationship with their previous Canadian administrator. I called up the head of North America because I had a relationship with him, and two weeks later I had the job. I can’t believe it’s been five years already.”

“I called up the head of North America because I had a relationship with him, and two weeks later I had the job.”

Beavis’ tips for songwriters seeking a music publisher

  1. Be visible. We live in a social media and marketing world, and publishers need to be able to find you. Unsolicited works are still a no-no. The onus is on the writer/performer to create a buzz, and once they do that, the industry people need to be able to find you.”
  1. Be present. Go to industry events, conferences, etc. Hang out and meet the players after the panels, most of them are happy to talk, they want to give back. Once you have a relationship, your work is no longer unsolicited, and they’ll often accept your submission.”
  1. Do your research. If you’re sending songs to publishers or music supervisors, know what they’re looking for, don’t waste their time. Landing a song in a show is a huge way to gain profile and start building a story. Never send physical product, send links to online files.”

In some ways the BMG gig represents the closing of a circle. One of Beavis’s first professional jobs was as a publishing assistant with BMG Music Publishing Canada. Beavis credits BMG’s Dianna Rybak with helping to set her on her way. “She gave me my first job and taught me the basics of [copyright] administration,” remembers Beavis. “We had an excellent working relationship and she respected me, which went a long way in building my confidence, and re-affirming my decision to do this for a living.”

While so much of the business is focused on the sexier A&R side, Beavis has made her mark in administration. “It’s not the sexy side,” she agrees, “at least not until people want their money. Different territories have different rules, and I like knowing that stuff. I guess it’s in my genes – I have two lawyers in the family. Maybe there’s something about rules that I enjoy, understanding that there’s an answer to a given problem. It just makes sense to me.”

Beavis has always made it a priority to give back. She’s served on the boards of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Publishers Association, the Durham College Music Business Management program, and on committees with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS) and the Canadian Country Music Association Awards. She’s also taught and lectured at Durham College, The Trebas Institute, the International Academy of Design and The Audio Recording Academy (TARA).

“The Boards I’ve served on are good for my network,” she concedes, “but they also feed my interest in the specifics of the business. I’m genuinely interested in copyright matters, and I want to stay abreast of changes in the field. I think I have a lot to contribute – the admin side may not be sexy but it’s elemental to keeping the business afloat.”

Beavis has special regard for SOCAN. “Canadian songwriters and music publishers are very well represented,” she says. “What we do in this country with fewer resources is incredible. Somehow SOCAN has been able to make its members feel like it’s a mom-and-pop organization, and yet they compete and are respected on the international stage. SOCAN represents its writers very well internationally – better than any other society, in my opinion.”

Montréal band Suuns’ fourth album represents a turning point in the band’s approach of writing and recording an album, and assembling its sonic elements, which were created in a “closed committee,” without the help of a producer. It was also developed with a much greater level of spontaneity. The result is a vivid and lively album “not unlike a mixtape,” says drummer Liam O’Neil, speaking with us about about bells, team spirit, and the late Jaki Liebezeit, before embarking on the European leg of the band’s tour.

SuunsFelt doesn’t open with a bang, but rather, with a ding-dong. A concert of church bells, as it were, introduces the highly visceral “Look No Further.” One could hardly get any more “Montréal” than that. Yet those bells were recorded in Graz, Austria. “The funny thing is, I’m the one who recorded those with my iPhone,” says O’Neil. “We’d just finished our sound-check, and when we stepped out of the venue, all those bells were ringing, as if giving a concert. It lasted for almost an hour.”

This reference to the “city of a hundred steeples”, a moniker some attribute to Mark Twain during a visit to Montréal in 1888, is totally fortuitous, the drummer assures us. “But I’m glad you made the connection,” he says. “This album was made in the spirit of sound collages, by splicing together various recorded tracks and studio experiments, as well as stuff found on YouTube, and other miscellaneous stuff we had on our phones. If you listen carefully, there’s a whole lot of those, all over the record.”

Therein lies Felt’s “mixtape” spirit, according to O’Neil. “Well, not a mixtape as known in the hip-hop world,” he says. “I don’t think anyone who listens to Felt feels like they’re listening to an actual mixtape. It’s more like an experimental rock record. What I associate with a mixtape, in this case, is the somewhat incongruous nature of the hand-made collage of found material. That said, we do listen to a lot of rap, even the biggest current hits. What I’ve noticed is that they go through a wide array of emotions, sounds and grooves.” Not unlike the colourful Felt, which seems to represent a turning point for this band, one that’s often deemed austere and cold, hence the “goth” label some have given it.

For the recording process of the first three albums, the quartet rehearsed the songs in the studio until they were exactly as the band wanted them, before committing them to tape, “which usually took about five or six days,” says O’Neil. “This time around, we recorded over five or six sessions that each lasted several days, in what I call our ‘home studio’, Breakglass Studio.” Singer and guitarist Ben Shemie is the main songwriter, inasmuch as he’s the one who sows the seeds of a song in his bandmates’ minds. “A theme, a melody,” says O’Neil. “We build upon that, we expand the scope of that idea. The lyrics generally come after the music is complete.”

Without any specific game plan to start with, the four musicians let themselves be guided by the moment, “to record demos for the next album and see where that would take us,” says O’Neil. “We intended to hire a producer to guide us, but everything was flowing so smoothly that by the third or fourth session, the album just materialized. That was it. It fit with our notion, with the ethos, of a mixtape that reveals itself; just the four of us in the studio working with whatever we have.” The previous album’s producer, John Congleton – who’s worked with such luminaries as Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Erykah Badu, and The War on Drugs, among many more – was tapped at the tail end of the sessions, not as a producer, but as a mixing engineer. ‘He came to Montréal and wrapped everything in four days,” says O’Neil.

Felt gives off a certain nervous energy, thanks to its eclectic sound collages, abrupt rhythmic changes, and very tense main thread, alternating between calm, minimalist grooves and rhythmic explosions. “We spent a large part of our career being perceived as a ‘serious’ band,” says O’Neil. “Yet seeing us live is a very entertaining experience, and in some ways, this album is closer to what we give people in concert: it’s more varied and fun.”

As a matter of fact, Suuns has set a rule for itself that the band tries to respect on each album: don’t overload the composition, and ensure each track, each detail, will be playable by the four musicians on stage. “That’s what attracted me when I started working with this band [around 2009],” says O’Neil. “This feeling I’d be able to explore different musical avenues, to experiment. Our musical range is extremely wide.”

This is very much in line with one of the band’s heroes and influences, the late, great drummer Jaki Liebezeit, a founding member of German combo Can, who passed away last year. “I discovered his work at a time where being in a rock group was starting to sound corny and uncool,” says O’Neil. “The John Bonham [Led Zeppelin] style of drumming just wasn’t me… I discovered Jaki at the same time as I did Mick Fleetwood who, in my opinion, has a similar sound. There’s something haunting about the way they play. And thanks to Jaki, all of a sudden I understood that it’s possible to mix rock drumming and electronic sounds. I could now imagine playing with a rock group without it sounding like ‘big rock,’ by playing in a modern way.”