“SONGS into DOLLARS! New songwriters, poets, composers may gain SUCCESS, FAME, WEALTH. Songs composed, PUBLISHED. Appraisals, details FREE.”

Classified-size ads like this were rampant in the backs of magazines for most of the 20th Century. Amateur lyricists were invited to send their work to “song poem” companies who claimed to vet all submissions and only select the material most likely to be a hit, i.e., anyone willing to pay the subsequent fee. These companies would then write the music, chart it out, and hire studio musicians to play it: often only once, sometimes recording 12 different new songs an hour. It was assembly-line music at its most efficient.

Songs Into Dollars It was also a scam. The songs were rarely ever heard outside the writer’s home, despite promises to market it to tastemakers. Years later, some surfaced on a series of compilations by Bar/None Records, very serious songs with unintentionally hilarious titles like “Human Breakdown of Absurdity.”

Song poems were/are easy to mock. But even though they were a scam, they were also a democratizing force during a time when home recording was far out of reach for most amateurs, or even most professionals, who often needed a major label to bankroll studio time.

Cut to the 21st Century, when everyone who buys a new computer gets pre-installed software, including a digital audio workstation (DAW), while other tools are available for free online. A boom in home recording democratizes music-making to infinite levels, which is inherently a good thing.

And yet, something’s missing. Working alone in your basement has obvious limitations. Unless you’re Stevie Wonder (which you’re not), you actually can’t play or sing all the parts yourself. You’re not that good a mixer, and you most likely know next to nothing about mastering. And it’s hard to find great players and producers if you don’t live in a major music centre – and what starving artist can afford to live in one of those anymore? (Okay, fine, Montréal is still possible… for now.)

Shachar Gilad of SoundBetter

Shachar Gilad of SoundBetter

Into that void come new online services like SoundBetter, which enables pro and semi-pro musicians looking for a mixing engineer with Top 40 credits, as well as people who need everything done for them. (“I have this rough song idea I think you can write and sing to and make it a hit,” reads one post on SoundBetter.)

SoundBetter is the progenitor, founded in 2012 by Shachar Gilad, a former employee of Logic, Apple, and the plug-in developer Waves. Gilad was hearing from both musicians who needed professional help, and professional producers and engineers who were having difficulty connecting with new clients. SoundBetter was inspired in part by Yelp, AirBnB, and Etsy: part directory, part marketplace, and connecting supply with demand across all global borders.

Anyone can post an ad: Are you looking for an EDM producer that can give your track the kind of bottom end you’re looking for? Or an incredible R&B singer to handle your hook? Maybe something super-specialized, like an oboe player? In the age of infinite synth patches, AutoTune and plug-ins, there is still high demand for the human touch – even if, as Gilad points out, his clients could be in Russia or rural Manitoba. Two of his most successful vocalists live in Vietnam and Lisbon. And having live instrumentation sets your demo far apart from the same synth patches used by everyone else with whom your demo is competing. For those who are providing the service, they can work out of their home and at their leisure, connecting with clients around the world they’d never have access to otherwise.

Initially, SoundBetter accepted all providers. In 2014, they added a premium level for more experienced players and engineers who are vetted and charged a monthly fee for greater visibility on the site; less than three per cent of applicants are accepted. “If we let everyone into premium, we’d be making a lot more money, but we don’t do that,” says Gilad. “That wouldn’t be sustainable, or a good experience for the client.”

Premium clients often have Grammys, or Top 40 credits to their name, but that’s not necessarily the best benchmark for who’ll do the best on SoundBetter. Old-fashioned customer service is. “What does a credit actually mean?” asks Gilad rhetorically. “It means someone in your city gave you a break to get you in that room on that day [a hit was made] and you didn’t blow it. A lot of people never had that lucky break, but they’re super-talented, and SoundBetter allows them to develop. If they get 100 reviews that are positive, they get hired again and again. And it’s really important when you’re working remotely to communicate well. You could be an amazing singer or mixing engineer, but we’ll kick you out if you don’t provide a good service.” Gilad boasts that some songs produced by SoundBetter now have hundreds of millions of plays on Spotify.|

Chris Erhardt, Mylène Besançon, Tiunedly

Chris Erhardt and Mylène Besançon of Tunedly.

A relatively recent competitor to SoundBetter is Tunedly, which was started as SongCat, in Prince Edward Island in 2015, by a German and French couple, Chris Erhardt and Mylène Besançon. The pair met in Ireland; the couple are still in Charlottetown, though the company’s office is in St. Louis, Missouri. They know a thing or two about working remotely in an interconnected world.

Tunedly is decidedly smaller than SoundBetter, offering only several dozen heavily vetted providers, to whom they can guarantee steady work. But they’ve also attracted some top names to their advisory board, including Matthew Knowles, father of Beyoncé and Solange, and Harvey Mason Jr., a Grammy-winner who’s worked with Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and other heavy hitters.

SoundBetter allows providers, who are charged a monthly fee, to set their own pricing with clients. Tunedly doesn’t charge its providers to be on the platform but takes a small percentage of revenue. It sets standard rates, to avoid undercutting. “We want songwriters to put together their team for each project based on who’s the best choice, instead of who’s the cheapest choice,” says Tunedly’s Erhardt.

SoundBetter’s clients and providers are global; Tunedly’s providers are largely L.A. and Nashville pros. Perhaps not coincidentally, Tunedly is focused more on singer-songwriters in folk, acoustic pop and country, primarily in North America, while SoundBetter attracts a lot of chart pop, hip-hop and EDM clients from around the world. Tunedly started out as a demo-development site, where songwriters would submit a rough version of their song that would then be produced by a project manager at Tunedly, who would arrange the song and hire the players (which is not terribly dissimilar to the song-poem model). As of May 2017, Tunedly moved away from just pre-made packages, and allowed songwriters to pick session players for specific needs, closer to the SoundBetter model.

For the lonely songwriter trying to flesh out rough demos, it’s a far cry from placing your trust in sketchy classified ads for song-poems. You control the final product. And this time, you might actually have a hit on your hands.

It may not seem like a high priority at the outset of your career, but if you’re recording music, putting it online, and taking it on the road for people to hear and, hopefully, buy, then it’s wise to make the early investment in (at least) a band name search. And then trademark it before any headaches and legal bills start to pile up. It’s a nuisance best met head-on. Don’t confuse this with copyrighting – you can’t copyright a name in Canada, but there are several ways to gain the protection of a trademark, including doing nothing at all.

A name is your brand, the foundation upon which you build the image of your band. It’s your flag, and you want to fly it high and make it undeniably, legally, and perpetually yours. The last thing in the world you want to see when your group gets its first smattering of recognition is a Cease and Desist order from a bunch of guys in another town (or worse, another country in which you’ve just booked a tour) who cooked up the same name three weeks before you did. Just ask the boys in the bands Bush X, Charlatans UK, Blink 182, and Dinosaur Jr. how much fun they had having to retro-fit their names after a legal challenge.

Or the 2015 Polaris Music Prize long-listed band Viet Cong, who had to change their name to Preoccupations after protesters strenuously objected to the band naming themselves after a brutal insurgent group that terrorized citizens during the Vietnam War. It even impinged on their ability to tour, as the band lost bookings in Australia.

There are several musician-advice websites that offer wise guidance on how to proceed with protecting your band/performance name, including a page at SaskMusic and one at DIY Musician. They all start by suggesting a name search. Just Googling the name is insufficient. There are websites, like Band Vault and Band Name that will look for similar names for about $15. If you’re planning to register a trademark you can’t just search for a duplicate of the name, you must search for similarly spelled or similar-sounding names, too – as those bands could make a serious claim against you, should they choose.  You’ll want to finalize your search by checking in on the Canadian Trademarks Database at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and – if you’re smart and have cross-border ambitions – the US Patent Office website as well. You’ll need to check in with other countries’ trademark rules if you’re planning to go worldwide.

Common law has determined that prior (first) usage is viable proof of a trademark, and if you can establish that you used the name and were recognized for it (e.g., in a review) before anyone else did, it’s yours. Even if someone else registered the name after you made your debut. On his aptly named website, Lawyer/Drummer, Saskatchewan-based lawyer (and drummer in One Bad Son) Kurt Dahl points out that, “absent a federal trademark registration, your rights in a mark are limited geographically to the scope of your reputation.” Which means, in more drummer-friendly language, if you’re just playing gigs within driving distance of home, and have been recognized for it, you can claim your dominance in that territory, but only that territory. If someone else can establish that they are more well-known or successful than you (through ticket or record sales, press clippings, etc.), then you can lose your identity, snap – just like that. How lucky do you feel? If not too lucky, then it’s time to look for a lawyer.

Of course, deciding on a band name is a most painful procedure. This late in the game it seems as though all the good names have been taken. You’ll most likely have to settle on some unsatisfactory variation on your 45th choice, but once it’s done and you’ve invested in the trademark, it’s done. Wry writer Mike Blick, in an article titled “Naming Your Band – in 10 Easy Steps,” says that “trying to find the greatest band name ever is a fool’s errand. The best you can hope for (and what most bands settle for) is the least bad band name.” To save you some time, here’s a list of the most common band names, according to curiosity.com: Bliss, Mirage, One, Gemini, Legacy, Paradox, and Rain.

The benefits of trademarking your band name are far-reaching, and imperative if you have long-term plans for success. Your brand needs protection from inferior competitors who can tarnish or diminish your reputation. It can help you protect your own products from merchandise bootleggers, and ensure the assistance of legal authorities to enforce your rights. You also might want to consider establishing the ownership of the name itself – your bandmates will appreciate that.

The last word goes to drumming lawyer Dahl, who notes that it costs about $1,000 to file a Canadian trademark registration. “I’ve dealt with several band name disputes, and can confirm that they end up costing far more than the cost of a trademark,” he says. “I appreciate that paying rent, buying a new guitar, and maintaining your tour van might take precedence, but the cost of a trademark will be money well spent. When you look at the ongoing decline in music sales, it’s hard to deny the increasing importance of ancillary revenue streams like merchandise and the increasing value of your band’s brand.”

Attention SOCAN members! Need funding to help you get to a showcase performance at SXSW in Austin, Texas? Nominated for a JUNO Award but don’t have adequate resources to fly your 10-piece band to the distant host city?

The SOCAN Foundation can help, with a set of grants that cover these kinds of situations, and more.

Grants for music creators, music publishers, and individuals

Travel Assistance
Grants are provided to SOCAN composers, writers, and music publishers across all genres of music to assist with travel-related costs for career-building or career-defining activities in Canada or abroad. The Foundation gives priority for approval to applications demonstrating the importance of the activity to the applicant’s career. Activities that are eligible could include, but aren’t limited to, award presentations, collaborations, important performances, residencies, showcases, and workshops.

Professional Development Assistance
The Foundation provides grants to SOCAN composers, writers and music publishers across all genres of music, for upgrading their skills and knowledge, or acquiring new skills and knowledge, to advance their careers. Recipients can use these grants to pay for registration and/or incidental fees associated with activities such as conferences, courses, seminars, and workshops.

The SOCAN Foundation also provides grants to financially assist organizations who foster music creation ultimately benefitting the music creators themselves. These include SOCAN-licensed music presenters; educators; book/journal/digital media publishers; online music presenters; and those who want to commission music.

Grants for Organizations

Canadian Music Presentation, Education, Publication, and Dissemination
This multi-project program has four independent components. Each project must nurture an environment supportive of Canadian music creators, Canadian music publishers, and audiences. Music Presentation events can be, for example, a showcase, single concert, concert series, or festival. To be eligible, these events must include at least 50% of Canadian music. Education activities can range from presenting workshops for songwriters, composers, writers and publishers to the introduction of Canadian music in schools. Publication activities may include research and writing towards the publication of books or journals (printed or electronic), production of performance scores (printed or electronic), and digital dissemination of audio or audio-visual recordings. Dissemination activities should have a strong emphasis on digital content, and can include requests to support the recording of live concerts devoted to Canadian music, for online viewing and other initiatives.

Work Commissioning Assistance
Grants are provided to assist individuals, corporations, performers, ensembles, and presenters in the commissioning of SOCAN members to create new works in all genres of music. The overall intent of this program is to reach beyond local, regional, provincial, and federal arts council funding bodies, and encourage other members of our society (individuals, organizations, or companies) to commission new musical works. The Foundation gives priority for approval to applications demonstrating that the commissioned work will have a public performance.


Do SOCAN Foundation grants help? Here’s what just a few recipients have to say…

“The SOCAN Foundation was instrumental in making this trip a success for me. In fact, if they had not made their contribution, it’s unlikely that I would have been able to afford to attend the conference in the first place. Because of their generosity, I was able to connect with artists and industry representatives from all over the world, and build relationships with key individuals from territories to which I plan to market my music someday soon. SOCAN Foundation allowed me the opportunity to take my music career to the next level.”
Josh Sahunta, who received a Travel Assistance Grant to attend the Folk Alliance Conference in 2018

“There was a great review of Madison Violet in the Kansas City Star, we solidified future gigs, and started several new, potentially very helpful relationships with industry in several major markets. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of SOCAN Foundation.”
– Lisa MacIsaac, of Madison Violet, who received travel assistance to get to the Folk Alliance Conference in Kansas City in 2017

“As a West Coast artist, making trips to Toronto is invaluable to building a career. It can get very expensive, and would be much more financially draining without SOCAN Foundation’s support. By being in Toronto ahead of my album release, I was able to participate in media coverage, including performing live on Global News Toronto to promote my Toronto show.”
Jasper Sloan Yip – Travel assistance to get to the Folk Music Ontario Conference

“We feel really fortunate in Canada to be able to count on an organization that supports not only arts in general, but individual artists such as myself. I’m newly Canadian, and I feel supported as an artist having organizations like SOCAN Foundation, giving financial help that allows me to be part of important events — not only in Canada, but worldwide.”
Magdelys Savigne, of Toronto-based, JUNO-nominated band Battle of Santiago, who received a Travel Assistance Grant to attend the 2018 JUNOs in Vancouver

“It was such a privilege to be at the Maison Symphonique of Montreal for the world premiere of “whirly”. Working with the conductor and the musicians of the Orchestre Symphonique of Montreal was amazing, and has already led to some new connections for future performances… I ardently believe in the importance of being there in person for educational concerts, so students have a chance to meet living composers. Without funding from SOCAN Foundation, it would have been difficult to be there in person.”
– Travel Assistance grantee Monica Pearce

“Playing at SXSW was a long-time dream of ours. It was somewhat out of reach, because it’s such a huge festival, but we managed to make it. Thanks to the SOCAN Foundation, we were able to focus our collective energy on our showcases and not worry about the budget. All our energy was devoted to the music.”
– Travel Assistance grantee Laurence Giroux-Do of Le Couleur

“When we went to perform at Morongo School, the youth were all involved in the performances, they were very engaged, and they all participated. The value that SOCAN Foundation has given, is that we got to share our languages together. Jeremy Dutcher sang in Maliseet, and I sang in Cree.  Dreezus performed hip-hop and Kristi Lane performed rock.  It was great to share our music and language with the Southern tribes of California.”
Rhonda Head, who received travel assistance for a Trade Mission to Southern California

“One of the success stories of the trip was working with Colin Munroe on a new song we wrote together, called ‘Explicit,’ which has become part of my shop package to labels, publishers, etc…. The SOCAN Foundation has had immense value, because without this opportunity I wouldn’t be able to work with such great creatives, and refine my pitch for 2018.”|
Briannah Donolo – Travel assistance to get to Los Angeles for co-writing

“Thank you, SOCAN Foundation. Thank you for allowing me to catch my breath. Money sometimes takes up too much space in our minds. I like to go on tour with a rested, free, and open mind, so that I can present my art in a fully dedicated way, and give the best show possible.”
Sarah Toussaint-Léveillé, who received travel assistance for a showcase at Chainon manquant and L’Estival, in France

“This was our first, exploratory incursion into Mexico… Following our trip, a radio station in Mexico City started playing our song ‘Paloma’!”
– Vincent Lévesque of We Are Wolves, funded for a series of concerts in Mexico