Steven Lee Olsen is clearly a glass-half-full type. Rather than wallowing in disappointment over the coronavirus cancellations of Canadian summer festival dates that would have helped promote his new material (four songs released in March, on his own SLO Circus imprint), he’s donned his other hat, that of a much in-demand songwriter for major country acts.

On the phone from Nashville, Olsen says self-isolation has been a real boost for his songwriting. “All my co-writing of late has been over Zoom, and I’ve been working towards more writing by myself,” he says. “With most of the cuts I’ve been getting recently, I’ve gone further than before, writing full choruses, and basically building the track in my studio. So instead of just presenting a title, or an idea, I can present the whole chorus, or a skeleton of it – ‘Here’s a demonstration of what it could be.’ Artists appreciate that.”

Olsen moved to Music City from Newmarket, Ontario, in 2004, but 2017 was the year he finally broke into the top echelon of Nashville songwriters. He co-wrote Kip Moore’s No. 1 hit “More Girls Like You,” but the tune that most accelerated Olsen’s career trajectory was Keith Urban’s double-platinum hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” In 2017, it was named the NSAI Song of the Year, crowned Single of the Year at the CMAs, and earned two Grammy nominations. Not to mention 274 million YouTube views for Urban’s video of the song.

“The title of ‘Blue’ came to me in the middle of the night,” Olsen recalls. “I woke up for about 30 seconds, it popped into my head, and I wrote it down. When creativity calls you have to answer it. I feel I have a 20-minute window with an idea, a concept, a drum-beat, a guitar riff, or a lyric idea to really grab it. If you don’t ride the wave, you’re gonna miss it.”

That life-changing song was scheduled to be on Olsen’s major label album debut. Columbia Nashville signed him in 2014, but label changes nixed the album he worked on for a year. “‘Blue’ was probably going to be my next single,” says Olsen. “That was a heartbreaking time, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, as I ended up pitching that song to Keith. Everyone knew it was so strong, but it was a hard decision to let it go.”

“If you don’t ride the wave, you’re gonna miss it”

The resulting NSAI award means a great deal to Olsen. “As a songwriter, to get that one from your peers is as good as it gets,” he says.

As well as those two U.S. chart-toppers, Olsen has co-written Dallas Smith’s platinum hit “Drop,” and cuts for Garth Brooks, Billy Currington, Rascal Flatts, The Judds, Emerson Drive, Craig Morgan, Melissa Lawson, and more.

Olsen’s naturally optimistic outlook encouraged him to move to Nashville to pursue his musical dreams at just 19. “All my friends were off to college but I had my heart set on this,” he remembers. “I was so young, I didn’t know I couldn’t do it, and it seemed like an exciting adventure. I never had a plan B.”

Steven and SOCAN

SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards
* “Drop” – performed by Dallas Smith – Nielsen BDS Country chart – Aug. 8, 2019
* “Blue Ain’t Your Colour” – performed by Keith Urban – Nielsen BDS Country & Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – Nov. 28, 2016 & Nov. 19, 2016
* “Raised by a Good Time” – performed by Steven Lee Olsen – CMT Canada Countdown chart – April 3, 2015

2020 SOCAN/CCMAs Song Camp, Jan 19-24, 2020
Says Olsen: “I was there as an artist. We’d all write a song in the day, then get together at night in this one big log cabin, play these songs, and have drinks. I was great to see everybody in their zone, and I formed some great friendships.”

SOCAN Country Music Awards
* “Raised by a Good Time” – 2016
* “Make Hay While The Sun Shines” – 2011

He secured a publishing deal right away, a co-venture with then-manager Ron Kitchener (of RGK Entertainment Group), and ole, but he wasn’t living on easy street. “I wasn’t even making enough money to pay my car insurance, and I’d sneak into ole after hours to grab toilet paper and snacks,” Olsen admits. “I didn’t have any success for years and years but I genuinely loved doing it. I wrote 1,000 crappy songs before writing a good one,” he laughs.

“Before any royalty cheques were coming in,” he continues, “SOCAN was crucial with its advance program to keep me afloat here. It’s a wonderful lifeline for artists and writers, and I’m proud for SOCAN to be my performing rights organization.” (See sidebar)

As a solo artist, Olsen debuted with his 2009 EP Introducing Steven Lee Olsen. Two singles, “Now” and “Make Hay While the Sun Shines,” charted in Canada, with the latter earning a 2011 SOCAN Award. Further success eluded him until his 2014 single, “Raised by a Good Time,” went gold in Canada. In 2018, he inked a new publishing deal, with Rhythm House. “That company is a co-venture of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Warner/Chappell Music,” he explains. “That appealed to me because of the diversity of my writing. I love writing Top 40, pop, and rap.”

After one close miss, Olsen has yet to meet Jay-Z, but he laughingly says, “I figure if you make anybody enough money, that’ll happen!”

Olsen can’t go on the record with names yet, but some major country stars have already cut or put holds on many more of his co-writes.  Expect the money-making to continue, with a Jay-Z meeting in Olsen’s future.


“I can only manage artists who truly touch my soul,” says the website of Comme C’est Beau, the small cultural business that Emmanuelle Girard started in March of 2019.

Shortly after showing up for our interview, at her favourite café in Montreal’s Little Italy, Emmanuelle Girard makes one thing clear. “I know my limitations as a human being,” she says. “And right now, with these three women, I’m maxed out. I believe in the art of polishing gemstones.”

She adds, “I know I’m an intense person, and I give everything my best shot, like I did back in the days when I was still an athlete. I’m not a music lover, I’m not that keen on going to see shows. I listen to Chilly Gonzales over and over, to some jazz and blues music in the evening, that’s it.”

Emmanuelle Girard, Alexandra StreliskiThat was before the pandemic. She was planning her trip to Saskatoon, where Alexandra Stréliski was to take part in the 2020 JUNO Awards, thanks to her Secret City Records Inscape release. Three nominations, a live duo with Dallas Green (City and Color) – things were really looking up for this neo-classical pianist, who’s already won three Felix Awards.

“We recently reviewed our situation,” says Girard. “The more creative people are the ones who are going to make it through, [but] you have to be flexible. I haven’t had any dates cancelled so far, but I’m working as hard as ever, and you always have to take the artist’s well-being into account. But I freaked out at first. We’d been in town [Saskatoon] for a few days already, to set up Alex’s performance. We’d chosen her red carpet outfit together, her stage outfit… The greatest asset of someone working in music is the ability to adapt.

“Once the artist becomes successful, you then have to manage demand. In Alex’s case, we’re getting a lot of requests for free music licences from foundations, schools, or young people who are making YouTube videos, and want to use her music. We’re giving out a lot of those.

“As for Beyries, we were planning to release her second album this spring, but she wasn’t ready, and we postponed the whole thing.” But international development is well underway with both Stréliski and Beyries.

Emmanuelle Girard, Maude Audet“Beyries’ song The Pursuit of Happiness [licensed online by Montreal’s Bonsound] reached more than 12 million views on Spotify, and was a hit in Turkey, where it was played in Istanbul in front of an audience of 150 people who knew the lyrics by heart and sang along,” says Girard. And what about the synch rights, that are so essential to music publishers? “That’s what put her on the map!” she says. “Her 2016 cover of Paul Daraîche’s “Je pars à l’autre bout du monde” ended up on the Unité 9 TV series!”

According to Girard, Maude Audet, who released her Tu ne mourras pas album on Grosse Boîte in February, has a very “1970s France, Françoise Hardy-like” musical sound. “My work is very different with her, it’s an all-Francophone project. We have meetings, and afterwards she sends me recaps of our conversations!”

Before launching Beyries’ career in 2015, Girard had been working for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, among others, before landing a job with the prestigious Cossette advertising agency. “Serving as a management consultant between the client and the creative staff is precisely what I’m doing right now,” she says.

Emmanuelle Girard, BeyriesA former professional handball player with the Canadian team, Girard, now 40, ended her elite athletic career at the age of 28. Taken under her wing by Sonia Cesaratto (who was handling press relations for Universal France at the time) and later by Anacrouse’s Brigitte Matte (who was managing musicians Yann Perrau, Michel Rivard, and Catherine Major), she learned her trade at two excellent schools if life, with two experienced women.

Girard even sought producer Jacques Primeau as a mentor. In spite of his myriad professional commitments (RBO group, the Tout le monde en parle talk show, Quartier des spectacles, artist manager, and now General Manager of L’Équipe Spectra), Primeau immediately saw Girard’s potential, and they began a partnership in the fall of 2019.

“Thanks to him,” Girard explains, “we can apply to SODEC together, since my business is still too young to be eligible for some grants. He helps me find money. But we’re not business partners – I’m my company’s sole shareholder. Les Productions Jacques K. Primeau are providing me with access to his assistant, with whom I speak regularly. Jacques is helping me structure and grow.

“My business model is this: travelling with my artists, seeing what’s happening on the ground, meeting people, getting a better understanding of the music business. I’m a St-Lambert-de-Lévis girl, I come from a modest family, and I’m a proud self-made woman.”

It hasn’t been easy.

Recording artists, musicians, entertainers, and songwriters alike have been blindsided by the sudden halt to live performances. And truth be told, it’s messing with our heads.

Despite future uncertainty, some have been trying to make the best of the time everyone unexpectedly has on their hands – and staying creative in less than ideal circumstances.


As for multiple Latin Grammy and JUNO Award winner Alex Cuba, he’s trying to remain buoyant

“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” he admits from his Smithers, B.C. digs. “Some days are more positive than others. When I’m feeling positive, that’s when I go to my craft, write songs, and record myself. My music is positive and uplifting, and we need  that now more than ever.”

However, Cuba, who releases his latest single “Concéntrica Canción” on June 12, admits that the pandemic has unearthed some surprising sentiments.

“This time is making me want to be the most upfront and vulnerable I’ve ever been with my music,” he says. “I never like leaving my audiences with a sad vibe: I always find a way to throw an optimistic spin into everything I do.  Now with the quarantine, I feel that creativity is more present, maybe because of this luxurious extended vacation,” he laughs.


East Coaster Rose Cousins had only completed two shows of her Bravado tour when governments shut down venues. “I spent the first couple months just trying to switch gears,” she says. Cousins’ adjustment from performer to writer hasn’t been as difficult, due to an annual June tradition.

“This is usually the time of year where I’ve gone on an island writing retreat in New Hampshire with friends from Boston,” Cousins explains. “This is the first time in 10 years we haven’t. I’ve also done six co-writes through Zoom, exercising those creative muscles. For me, June is very blossoming.”

Like Cuba, Cousins is continually acclimatizing to the current reality.

“It’s a constant adjustment,” Cousins admits.  “I wish I had clear answers on how I’m dealing with things and what it means. This isn’t like we’ve experienced the pandemic and now I can write about it. I’m connecting with myself in a different way. I spend a lot of time by myself – from where a lot of this last record was written – and as someone who proclaims to be well-adjusted on their own, it’s a different layer, because it’s not chosen isolation.”


Reached in Los Angeles, TR/ST’s Robert Alfons is embracing his isolation, in lieu of touring behind his band’s latest album Destroyer Part II. “I have much more time to be working on ideas, and find myself being more focused with less to do outside of my yard,” confesses Alfons.

He’s been busy collaborating, and is contemplating the release of several projects during this enforced hiatus. “I love albums, but I do feel there’s power in presenting an extended piece or a collab,” he says. “I have all sorts of things I want to release. An album is just an option.”

He’s coping by keeping life simple. “When I’m being told to stay at home and make stuff because you can’t tour, there’s a positivity and productivity that’s the upside for me.”



Nate Hilts of the Dead South said he took a wait-and-see attitude when the pandemic hit. “At the beginning, it was a big shock to the system,” says Hilts. “To be honest, I didn’t pick up the guitar, because I didn’t know what was happening. But the band and management talked on what we could do, and we filmed some isolation videos.“

At the moment, Hilts says creativity is far from his mindset. “We were geared to have a 2020 of touring, and then take winter off to start preparing a new album.”

Instead, he’s been catching his breath. “I’m not going to lie: it’s been years since I’ve been able to sit at home for a little bit,” says Hilts. “The schedule has been a couple months on, a few days off, for years. Eventually, that starts wearing on a guy. You don’t even realize how tired you are. I started implementing positive routines in my life and re-connected with family and friends, and now I’m just taking time to better myself.

“I know a lot of people who are doing that right now.”