Sound studio

The signature sound of some of music’s greatest hits is made in Canada

You know what they say: Behind every chart-topping hitmaker – Drake, The Weeknd, Rihanna or Ariana Grande – is a Canadian record producer.

At least that’s how it feels ahead of the 2022 Juno Awards, where Canadian talents like Scarborough’s WondaGurl are up for Producer of the Year, and Toronto’s Mustafa is nominated twice for his album. When the smoke rises. At last year’s awards, Fort Erie, Ont.-born Murda Beatz was nominated in the producer category.

These three producers alone have had an outsized impact on pop music around the world. But they are not yet household names in Canada.

“I feel like I’m from a different country in an American industry, you go back a few steps,” Murda Beatz, also known as Shane Lindstrom, told CBC News.

Juno-nominated producer Murda Beatz is one of Canada’s most sought-after producers. He has worked with Drake, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Chance The Rapper and Lil Wayne. (2017 Getty Images)

“So you have to work twice as hard as everyone else just to break into this industry.”

For many Canadian producers, the fruits of that hard work come in the form of vast catalogs of music, which they can then sell to publishers – a potentially lucrative gain compared to the slow trickle of streaming service royalties over the wire. years.

Publishers are eager to secure the rights to some of the most popular songs of the past 10 years, betting we’ll keep listening to them for a long time to come.

Prosperous era of Canadian production, according to a music director

Murda Beatz started working with the ultra-popular rap group Migos. But before that, he was making beats in his bedroom around the age of 16, inspired by his late father’s passion for music.

“It’s funny because every time someone talks about Canadian producers, everyone thinks there’s something different about the water we drink,” the 28-year-old producer said.

WATCH | Murda Beatz on his career as a Canadian music producer:

“I’m just grateful to come from a place like Canada,” says Murda Beatz

Canadian producer Murda Beatz discusses Canadian producing talent, how to break into an American industry and why he sold his catalog. 0:50

Lindstrom’s production credits are like a Rolodex filled with the biggest names in pop, R&B, hip-hop and rap. He produced Ariana Grande’s titular track Positions; Drake is hugely popular Pleasant for what; and songs from Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Chance The Rapper and Lil Wayne.

The producer’s 285-song music catalog, including songs written through 2020, was picked up by Toronto-based music publishing house Kilometer Music Group (KMG) in January.

“I built my catalog up to a point where I was very comfortable with it and made a partial sale,” Lindstrom said, adding that he kept a lot of his music and was working on a second catalog.

I think we’re really known for that soulful sound…we just have a little edge on our records.– Dom Dias, Toronto music producer

Canada is in its most prosperous era when it comes to producing popular music, says Rodney Murphy, president of artists and repertoire/acquisition at KMG.

He names Drake, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber and Alessia Cara as five successful prolific artists who have a full subset of Canadian producers, songwriters and creators working with them.

“Other artists around the world say, ‘Hey, I want that Toronto sound. I want that Drake sound, that Weeknd sound,'” Murphy explains. “So they come here to work with the Boi-1das, the WondaGurls, you know, the Frank Dukes, the Murda Beatzs.”

“Other artists around the world say, ‘Hey, I want that Toronto sound. I want that Drake sound, that Weeknd sound,” said Rodney Murphy, president of A&R/acquisitions at Kilometer Music Group. The firm purchased a 285-song catalog from producer Murda Beatz in January. (Jeff Knights/SOCAN)

KMG’s intention is to buy catalogs of music from top Canadian producers and then reinvest the profits back into the Canadian music community, said Murphy, who is an alumnus of SOCAN, Canada’s music management organization. .

In addition to Murda Beatz, the group acquired complete or partial catalogs of successful Canadian songwriters like Belly, including the hits he co-wrote for The Weeknd, such as save your tears and blinding lights. They also have Dua Lipa Levitation in their repertoire, which was co-written by Yukon producer Stephen Kozmeniuk.

Other producers, like Mustafa, have worked with Camila Cabello, Usher, and The Weeknd; and Calgary-born Illangelo is a Grammy winner who has produced songs for Alicia Keys, Majid Jordan, The Weeknd and Grimes.

Dom Dias, an up-and-coming music producer from Toronto whose work has received support from Calvin Harris, Major Lazer and Steve Aoki, said it was essential to the health of the industry.

“Labels and management agencies should really use Toronto producers,” Dias said.

He notes that Warner Music Canada and Sony Canada, as Canadian subsidiaries of major US record labels, can facilitate meetings between local producers and international talent who are in Canada for a tour.

Dom Dias is one of Toronto’s up-and-coming producers bringing the city’s distinct sound to an international audience. (Dom Dias)

“Put them in a band, put them in a writing camp, get these artists in the studio, whether they’re here for two or three days and really try to put out a bunch of records.”

“There is something timeless in a lot of our music”

WondaGurl, née Ebony Oshunrinde, has been making beats since her teens for some of the most successful artists working today. She is one of Rihanna’s producers Bitch you better have my moneyTravis Scott’s Antidoteand Big Sean no favors.

At this year’s Junos, she’s nominated for Producer of the Year for her work on songs like Drake’s Fair trade and Faze Kaysan make a way. It’s the same award she won in 2021, becoming the first black woman to do so.

WondaGurl is nominated for Jack Richardson Producer of the Year at the 2022 Juno Awards, an honor she won last year. (Getty Images for BET)

A year earlier, at age 24, she signed a global publishing deal with Sony/ATV and Cactus Jack, Travis Scott’s publishing house.

Alongside her work with international artists, the producer is known in the local music scene for making beats with Toronto talents like Nav, Jahkoy and Sean Leon. The city’s producers offer a distinct sound that attracts artists from around the world, according to Dias.

“I honestly think the best producers in the world come from Toronto,” Dias said, pointing to 40, Illangelo, WondaGurl and his mentor Boi-1da as producers who brought a Toronto brand to the world stage – attracting big names. to “le 6ix” for studio sessions.

“It just shows you that they’re massive movers taking our sound, our melodies. And I think we’re really known for that soulful sound that you could say we just have a little edge on our records,” Dias explained.

“There is something timeless about a lot of our music. For example, if you listen [The Weeknd’s] balloon house In 20 years, you will still have goosebumps.”

Enjoying that nostalgia is part of KMG’s business model, Murphy said. According to the band’s website, they own the rights to 10 of the 100 most-streamed songs of all time — and over 6% of Spotify’s “Billions Club,” which are songs that have over a billion streams. on the music service.

Their Spotify playlist is a remarkable testament to the Canadian forces behind some of the most popular songs of the past decade, including hits from Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd and Drake.

Toronto’s WondaGurl wins producer of the year award | Juno Awards 2021

Toronto’s WondaGurl wins the Jack Richardson Award for Producer of the Year for her work with Quavo, Pop Smoke and more. 0:38

“We at Kilometer are pretty optimistic about investing in modern hip hop and R&B classics, because we believe they’ll be enduring and the classic hits of the future, because at the end of the day, we’re in the nostalgia business,” Murphy said. mentioned.

“The music you’re listening to now, or that you listened to in high school, or that you’re getting married and walking down the aisle, is the soundtrack to your life.”