Four years after La vie en mauve, singer-songwriter Simon Kearney goes tabula rasa, broadens his musical horizons, and embraces pop ’n’ roll. Say what? He’ll explain everything…

We first became acquainted with him as more of a rocker, slinging his six strings expertly through complex, virtuoso solos. “Now, it’s the instrument I like the least,” he says. “All the songs on Maison ouverte started with a bass line. I’d start with a drum loop and then come up with a bass riff. I tried using the guitar last, because I couldn’t help falling back into old habits with it, since I’ve always composed that way up to now. Whether I like it or not, I had old patterns. I really wanted to break them… I also wanted to do simpler stuff. If I played you the riff for “Hey Man,” you’d think it makes no sense!”

Stepping out of his comfort zone was Kearney’ leitmotif right from the inception, and all through this creative cycle. On this second album, which he himself considers to be his first, Kearney even raps during bridges (“Bad Girl Mama,” “Mes pants”) and forays into funk. It comes as no surprise, then, that his guitar playing is more reminiscent of Prince than Fred Fortin. His creative stance has completely changed.

“When I look at rap in the United States, I think we’re on more of a glam trajectory,” says Kearney. “It’s all about grillz, purple drinks, and showing off. We don’t have that here in Québec. We like being more solemn and minimalist in our musical approach, because of folk music and all that. I think we’re starting to lean towards glam a little more, and I wanted to exploit that on Maison ouverte. That’s also why I had a bit of a hard time writing lyrics, because I only listened to Anglo music.”

Almost paradoxically, his lyrics ended up being as Québécois as it gets, grammatically and thematically. Take for example “Câline,” where he sings with a powerful head voice we’ve never heard before. Or “Mes pants,” a song which – under the guise of being corny, yet subtle – delivers a vibrant message to his peers.

“I’ve noticed I always try to have different ways of reading the lyrics when I write them,” he says. “People can then choose for themselves what they take away from it, a bit like Richard Desjardins. If you don’t pay close attention, you might think it’s a Kaïn song, but if you pay close attention, you might notice what he’s saying is really big… The chorus in “Mes pants” is silly and simple, but it’s about being in control, and being oneself, and it’s really about the people of Québec. It’s like when I say, ‘It’s not always pretty when I speak my language,’ I’m addressing our weird inferiority complex…”

For the wheat to grow

Kearney’s career began precociously, and now has two very distinct but very complementary phases. On the one hand, there are his own concerts as a headliner and frontman. On the other hand? All the gigs he books as a session musician. On tour with Jérôme 50 and Pascal Picard, and he also played guitar on a few tracks of Hubert Lenoir’s Darlène. He uses teamwork and sharing as fuel, and feeds his ideas to others without keeping score Quite the contrary. “[That duality] is fine with me, because they’re projects in which I get really involved, personally,” says Kearney. “It’s like with Jérôme, it was implicit that if I was going to play guitar for him, I wouldn’t be held back to play strictly and exactly what he asked… In the end, I’m composing the guitar riffs with him. It’s my guitar style, and I think if he chose someone else, his project would be different.”

Such a double life allows Kearney to diversify his revenue streams. As a matter of fact, the songwriter in him is brutally honest about the financial pitfalls of his trade in songs like “Pop ’n’ roll” and “Mon chien est mort” (literally, “my dog is dead,” but also a Québécois colloquialism meaning “all hope is lost”). He sings about losing talent contests, and dreams that, at the end of the day, don’t pay his rent.

“Copyrights help a lot, but I didn’t want to make any compromises when it comes to my music,” he says. “I call it pop ’n’ roll and I fully assume there’s a pop element to it, I really don’t mind. Whether you like it or not, adding a touch of pop music makes the radio a lot more interested. I manage to make a few bucks with that.”

When Benita Prado was gifted a guitar as a young teenager, her mom wanted her to play classic rock. But rock took Prado to a whole other place: hip-hop. “The way the legends sampled those rock and funk records, that’s a big part of who I am and how I grew up,” she says.

From there, Prado, a B.C. native, started making music using GarageBand, and posting the results on a SoundCloud page – which drew the attention of high-profile acts, including artists on the Owsla record label.

For a while, Prado ghost-wrote for rappers under the name AlienKanye, but soon felt the urge to write her own music. “It felt a little oppressive to have men sing your words,” she says. That led her to shed her handle in favour of just using her surname: “It all happened on some caterpillar-to-butterfly shit.”

Prado’s music isn’t hip-hop or rock. Instead, it’s a collection of sounds and influences coalescing to make something sonically mesmerizing: woozy beats and hi-hats fuse together to create a launching pad for Prado’s R&B melodies, casting an intoxicating spell on listeners.

With Prado prepping a debut EP release in 2020, she has big goals for the coming year: “Uhh, world domination.” But as she sets her sights on the world at large, she wants her journey to inspire those most local to her.

“I don’t feel responsibility as much as I feel a sense of care for those kids and communities,” she says, of the young people of colour in her East Vancouver neighbourhood, in which she’s established a co-op space for them that includes a dance studio and recording studio. “I know what they’ve been through, and are going through, so I want all my future successes to reflect onto them, and create opportunities for them.”

Meet the lyricist’s new best friend: LyricMerch.

Established in late 2017 as a subsidiary of LyricFind, the Toronto-based global leader in online lyric licensing, LyricMerch offers a solution when someone’s looking for the right words to express themselves on a T-shirt, tote bag, coffee mug, or some other, more unique product.

LyricMerch, Drake, Mug

A sample mug, with lyrics by Drake.

“We’re opening up a new market here,” says Darryl Ballantyne, co-founder and CEO, touting the fact that both companies have agreements with more than 4,000 music publishers to reproduce lyrics from their respective catalogues, cumulatively totalling more than 1 million songs.

In an era where music publishing income is shrinking due to the continued prevalence of streaming services that have decimated physical and digital music sales, it’s a welcome opportunity for music publishers and songwriters to land some potentially lucrative compensation.

For example, the sale of a single $30 T-shirt with a lyrical snippet from a particular song can land a music publisher royalty of $4 to $5, with the songwriter’s share amounting to 50%, depending on the terms of their publishing agreement.

The secret to the success of LyricMerch is the growth and cost-effectiveness of on-demand printing. “We had the idea in the past, but that’s what changed everything,” Ballantyne explains, noting that the idea was revisited when chief revenue officer Will Mills came on-board with LyricFind three years ago.

“With a traditional merchandise license, it would be the publisher licensing the manufacturer to create 10,000, or 50,000, or 100,000 units of the same product,” says Ballantyne. “They’d have one or two designs that would be approved by the publisher,  get a lump sum payment, and that was that – they could then produce ‘X’ numbers of product.

“It opened up an opportunity to have – instead of 10,000 on one design – one each of 10,000 different designs.” –  Darryl Ballantyne of LyricMerch

“There wasn’t a way we would add value into that process.  It already worked fine. The publishers were happy to license it themselves, and when you look at a scale of a couple of songs, you don’t need a large-scale rights management solution, or the accounting systems to be the same, so it worked very well.”

Ballantyne says on-demand printing gave clients more options. “As on-demand printing became a viable option, the combination of that, our lyric database, and licensing management system opened up an opportunity to have – instead of 10,000 on one design – one each of 10,000 different designs.

“That’s where the breadth of licensing, and the license management platform, and on-demand printing really created a benefit. It really opened up an opportunity for us to help generate and capture that revenue for songwriters.”

Although LyricMerch is basically handling only North America so far, until it establishes itself in Europe and Australia in 2020, Ballantyne says the sky’s the limit in terms of a global market value for LyricMerch. “We’re still in the early stages of this, and we’ve got a long way to go for it to really be generating as much revenue for songwriters as  we would like,” he says, estimating the market to have “an eight- or nine-figure“ sales potential.

The only drawback – if you perceive it as one – is that LyricMerch doesn’t include images of the stars who’ve made the song famous. “Generally, we don’t have the name and likeness rights, or the rights to use the artist name,” says Ballantyne. “We stick to the lyrics, the song name, and the songwriter’s name and we basically keep the design generic.”

Best sellers include the Drake mega-hit “God’s Plan,” and lyrics by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Ballantyne says you can even get lyrics printed on your shower curtain. “It’s fun, entertaining, and ensures that everyone who loves singing in the shower gets the lyrics right,” he laughs.