Mediate, don’t litigate

David Basskin has been a lawyer long enough to know that a courtroom is the last place you want to find yourself, no matter how egregiously you may feel you’ve been treated in a civil matter.

“The cost of litigation is sort of like opening a vein, it’s horrible,” says Basskin. “And the outcome, in a smaller market like Canada, is often not significant enough to justify the expense.”

“‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’ is one of the oldest phrases in the recording business.”

Basskin took a few months off after “retiring” as President and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd. (CMRRA) in 2013, but he has no intention of walking away from his life’s work in music and copyright.

“I’m simply not interested in retirement,” says the man who recently established DBCI (David Basskin Consulting Inc.) to mediate, and in some cases, arbitrate disputes on behalf private clients.

Fortunately, copyright and music-related court actions aren’t commonplace in Canada, and many jurisdictions require a mediation process before civil actions will be heard by a judge.

“Mandatory mediation has been imposed by the courts as part of an effort to clear backlogs, which are endemic to the system,” notes Basskin. “A full-tilt civil litigation process can take upwards of five years or longer. Life’s too short.”

Some common music-related legal grievances relate to songwriting share splits, income participation and merchandise rights.

“‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’ is one of the oldest phrases in the recording business,” observes Basskin. ‘If a song makes no money, nothing’s going to get litigated or mediated.

“Mediation or arbitration likely won’t yield what you consider to be the perfect answer,” he concedes, “but believe me, if it goes to court you won’t be getting a perfect result either. And another benefit is that the thing will be done and you can move on with your life.

“Parties who have mediated their way to the resolution of a dispute frequently remain on speaking terms,” he adds, “whereas it’s very difficult to find people who’ve been involved in a fight to the death in court who want to do anything further with each other in the future. And this is a business of collaboration, after all.”

Basskin’s years as a copyright specialist, not to mention additional mediation training, makes him uniquely qualified to help bring warring parties together.

“At the CMRRA, I had to be Switzerland,” he says. “I never took anybody’s side. The idea here is to arrive at a solution faster, cheaper and without the downside of negative publicity. The mediator’s only stake in the process is to make sure that everybody gets heard and that they make an honest effort to deal with the issues. Not every mediation leads to a complete resolution, but it can help clear away some disagreements and leave the parties to focus on the real problem.”

Alexandre Bernhari’s day job is as a pianist for a modern dance troupe. The rehearsal just ended and the pianist is once again free to become a drummer and a singer, to transform back into Bernhari, although that’s not quite his real identity. A journalist published his real name and he feels unmasked – and a little irritated. “Even when I was in my previous bands, L’Étranger and L’Ours, I used a pseudonym,” he says. “I’ve always loved keeping things a little mysterious, I don’t like things to be set in stone.”

“Let me be somebody else,” he sings in his song “Au nord de Maria.” “Certain lyrics on the album are about identity,” he explains. “Not only do I say it, but I become it when I sing. Right from the get-go, when I started working on this project, Emmanuel Éthier, the producer, and I agreed that my voice would serve the music.”

“All these people shouting slogans at night… it definitely had an impact on me and my songs.”

Speaking of his voice… The first time one hears it, it’s rather stunning. It’s pitched very high and sculpted by tons of reverb  – not unlike that of Claude Léveillée, Christophe or even Malajube’s Julien Mineau –  but with a sophistication that’s more akin to the European rock tradition of Indochine or The Cure. “A nervous breakdown voice,” as music critic Sylvain Cormier wrote, and “the result of a lengthy trial and error process,” as the key player puts it. “Ultimately, I’m satisfied with the result, because it’s not a flat album. It’s all over the place and my voice is but one of the elements. There’s also a story, a narrative with a beginning and an end.”

There is indeed the story of an encounter that happens right in the middle of a street action during the 2012 Montreal student protests. The keyword here is “engagement,” whether emotional or social, because Bernhari’s first album was born and shaped by those protests and their unique energy. “True, it’s the swing of things,” he says. “I was there, I marched, I was part of the movement. All these people shouting slogans at night, and the strange echo of their voices on the surrounding buildings, it definitely had an impact on me and my songs. But obviously, it goes deeper than that.”

There’s something epic, frenetic and even chivalrous in Bernhari, whether from his German and Russian war-inspired allusions, or the images he uses, such as Bartabas galloping backwards. The protagonist is a deserter, and his muse is a queen named Kryuchkova. “Yeah, I’m that type of person,” he admits. “That intensity feeds me, especially on stage. ‘’m seeking verticality, I try to elevate myself, only to come back down on piano and voice songs like ‘Je n’oublierai jamais’ or ‘Matapédia.’ More often than not, that’s my favourite part of a concert, when a connection with the audience is made and we all come back down together.”

Many discovered Bernhari during last summer’s Francofolies when he opened for Fontarabie at Théâtre Maisonneuve. Onstage, the musician sits at his drum kit installed right up to the edge of the stage and it’s quite a sight to behold when he plays his drums with one hand, keyboard with the other and sings all at once, transfixed by “Kryuchkova,” the album’s magnificent climax. The song is driven by its rhythms, as a march, a protest, a budding love story. The drums are the song’s undeniable dynamo. “When you have complete control of the rhythm, it allows for something symbiotic to occur with the voice and something gets anchored down,” says Bernhari

After honing his skills in his previous two bands, L’Étranger and L’Ours, Bernhari is now regaling us with his ethereal rock, and lyrics that so aptly serve the music. And there, once again, is his voice, close and distant all at once, just like those dancers packing up their stuff and chit-chatting while they take their legwarmers off next to the pianist with multiple personalities.

Turning the Page
Before flying solo, Alexandre Bernhari was the cornerstone of two bands. “I started L’Étranger as a solo project, but as time went by, nearly a dozen musician gravitated to the project. It was a live experience, I remember I would go on stage with my face covered in gold… What fond memories! Some of the members of L’Étranger left and what remained became L’Ours… Until everyone went their own way.” That’s when Alexandre turned the page, and Bernhari was born. “There was a click. It was more fragile before. But I got my act together and I felt that some things were falling into place. That feeling became very real when [record label] Audiogram expressed their interest.”

“Just be cool.”

That’s a phrase Rich Walters likes to repeat to himself. “When shit hits the fan, just be cool and take the punches, and you’ll get through this,” he says. “It’s worked so far.”

Indeed, for Walters, it’s worked very well so far. A burgeoning star composer in the film and TV industry, his music is heard in films, on radio and on television, including internationally syndicated Canadian TV shows such as Cold Squad, Falcon Beach and The L Word. He’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards and a Gemini, and he won a LEO in 2013 for his work on the TV mini-series Ring of Fire.

“You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice a lot in your life if this is what you want to do.”

In the early winter of 2014, he was working on music for a new series called Olympus (Greek mythology meets Game of Thrones) that airs in March on the Syfy network in the U.S. He was also jetting off to Los Angeles, after having been personally invited by Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, 12 Years a Slave) to co-write music for a new film by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) called Chappie, starring Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver.

With that kind of Hollywood cred, it’s no surprise that Walters, 46, divides his time mostly between L.A. and his home base in Vancouver, although he’s also worked a lot in London (at Abbey Road and Air studios, no less) and in Prague.

But his entrée into the film world came about rather indirectly. After studying music theory and composition at what is now Capilano University in North Vancouver, Walters spent several years playing percussion in electronica and rock bands. Then, about 15 years ago, he landed an easy gig as a dialogue assistant at a large post-production facility in Vancouver. Once in the door, he was able to parlay his proficiency with Pro Tools into a new career.

“I started to sell myself as a music editor first, and I had a direct line to all these people I knew already,” says Walters. “So this ‘nothing job’ ended up being a great jumping-off point for getting my career going.”

It’s a lot of work – typically 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week – but he’s not complaining. “I love it,” he says. “I’ve got a great studio, I work for myself and I get to write [music] all day!”

What’s the secret?

“You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice a lot in your life if this is what you want to do,” says Walters, “and you’ve got to be prepared to work harder than the next guy and just do whatever it takes,” he says. “Take care of your clients and bust your ass.”

And just be cool.

“It was when I was working at a post-production studio, and I kept seeing these composers roll in. That was my light bulb moment: I’m musically trained, I’m theoretically trained, I’m a multi-instrumentalist, I know the software. I thought, ‘If these guys can do this, I can do this. This is what I want to do with my life.’”

Selected Credits: Composer (Film/TV): Olympus (2015), Ring of Fire (2012 TV mini-series), The L Word (Seasons 1 & 2), Neverland (2011 TV mini-series), Falcon Beach (Season 2) Music Editor (Film): Chappie (2014), Elysium (2013), Capote (2005), Tin Man (2007), Riverworld (2010)
Music Editor (TV): Continuum (Season 1), Missing (Season 1), Cold Squad (Seasons 3 & 4), The Outer Limits (Season 5)
SOCAN member since 1997