We speak to award-winning singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk about her life in music and experience with sync licensing and songwriting.
Thanks for joining us today Chantal, can you explain how you became a singer-songwriter in the first place?
I was playing the piano and writing songs since just after I could talk and touch the piano keys. I’m really not someone who had this idea, like I’m going to learn how to do that, I was just doing that. I had a very strong ear, and I became this weirdo jukebox – I would play everything, whether it was Sesame Street or the movie we went to, or the songs on the radio. I think that it was incredibly natural, I don’t even think there was a conscious moment of like, well I should write my own music, I just did.
In Manitoba, Canada where I grew up, there wasn’t much distraction – it was more like it’s nature, it’s cold, it’s rivers and streams, and forests and farmland. It was very peaceful in its nature and I would reflect on that and incorporate my emotions into these similes and parallels about nature. As I got a little bit older I began to observe others and their plights. So if I saw a homeless people I would write a song on the school bus and make the whole bus sing it. I think slowly, as I became an adolescent and really became introspective, that’s when I really began to write about my own personal experiences with loss and struggle and strife and love and pain and sorrow and all that good stuff. I think I had a lot of influences and I sort of set a standard for myself as a writer, as an artist, and it was that you had to feel something, you had to feel like you were kicked in the gut every time you wrote something or said something – you had to feel a connection to that universal concept of life and struggle.
When did you realize that being an artist was a viable career option?
There was a really awful moment in my life when the boy I loved committed suicide. Being present around the family and the community that it affected, and immersed in it in my way, really was a shock and trauma to my system, and it took a little while but I wrote this song called “Surrounded”, that was a reflection on that experience. I actually really wanted to record it properly and did so, and then it was sent to Sony in Canada, and I got a phone call the moment the guy put it in the player and he said he wanted to come and see me in Winnipeg from Toronto the next day. I played him all my songs and the next thing I knew I had a record deal and a publishing deal and that was the beginning of my new life.
It’s interesting, once you sign a record deal and once your life depends on your music, there are so many things that come up, and it’s like all of a sudden the thing you love doing is your struggle, it’s your day to day creating opportunities and experiences that are fulfilling but that still pay for your life. That’s who I am, that’s what I do, I’m a performer and a writer and I’m a singer. And so there’s this journey that begins that really has nothing to do with that moment of ignition, that fire that came as a kid for me. I find that really hard, but there’s this saving grace – I call it my baseline, when I go to truly write a song I can still anchor myself in that place of ok, kick me in the gut, make me feel. My healthy way of feeling is that I always resort back to that thing, that point of ignition. I need to access that. I think what it does is that it reinforces every time who I am, why I’m in this world, and it really does mute the pain a bit of all the business around what I’ve become.
How did your first sync placement come about?
There was this wonderful man called Peter Asher, he was working at Sony Music International, and he noticed me because of my song “Surrounded” and he really was passionate about the song and who I was as an artist and a person, and he took me under his wing and he and Matt Wallis actually co-produced the first album. He really cared about my trajectory I think, and there was this opportunity at some point, maybe Fiona Apple or somebody couldn’t show up (laughs), for me to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” for the Armageddon soundtrack, and he made that happen. I’m forever indebted to him because I have all these songs I write and my audience connects to all these songs I write too and I know that, but I know what happened when I sang and delivered “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. Internationally I know what happened, all you have to do is Google it – it’s one of my top hits, and the same with “Feels Like Home”.
These things were like gifts. And it’s not to say I didn’t show up and I didn’t give it my all. I didn’t want to do “Feels Like Home”. I felt like it was so outside the album I was making (Colour Moving and Still) and I didn’t see how they connected but I do now because I’m a more mature artist. I think what happens – it doesn’t matter if someone else wrote the song, because if it’s a great song, and it’s a song that connects with people, I’m using my voice, and that’s the common theme. It may not to the artist feel like something I need to say, but it’s something the world needs to say and it’s being said in my voice. I don’t think you can be so precious about it.
So those went on to be massive opportunities for me and of course “Feels Like Home” went on to be a song for first Dawson’s Creek and then for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. I was very close to Kate Hudson for a long time and she was a real supporter of my music, and I know she loved “Feels Like Home”. I think it was her powerful little fingertips that made, for example, “Weight of the World” also in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. You can meet someone through their cover song and then discover all the music that they’ve written so it’s just this part and parcel thing. I honestly don’t think at this point that I would want to have just those songs, I feel so happy that there’s this whole other catalogue of my music that can stand on its own as well.
Sync licensing must be an important stream of revenue for your career
Yeah it is, that’s where you have to really keep pushing yourself as an artist, because people who want songs are maybe going to try and look for something that’s free because the studio doesn’t want to pay, no one wants to pay. And I get it – why would you not want the free lipstick if you can get the free lipstick? But do you want the Yves Saint Laurent or Mac lipstick, or do you want the drugstore lipstick no name brand? That’s where I think we need to hold ourselves in this light of incredible positivity and also a standard of excellence. I keep really really pushing it so that I can afford to live as an artist
Yeah – we’re big supporters of maintaining the value of music and encouraging artists to stand up for themselves. We recently interviewed Lindsay-Bea Davis of VICE Canada who has actually created a minimum licensing fee for all their projects.
Thank you Lindsay for setting that standard. A couple of years back, congress had a whole shit-storm of talks about the song and publishing and rights to songs and how much songs were worth, and one congressman stood up and said, “songs are not worth more than the bar of soap that you take at the hotel”. That’s so ignorant, but the reality is so are the Kardashians, but there are 40 million people following them on Twitter, the reality is it doesn’t matter what I think or a small group of people think, it has to be something put forth by the masses. People need to be educated about what music is and what quality of music lends to a film, for example.
Turn the music off in The Insider, my favourite movie of all time, and even though it’s my favourite movie, don’t think that by any stretch I’m devaluing what the music did to make that my favourite movie. I love the storyline, I love Russell Crowe in the film, I love everything about it, but turn the music off and it’s a different movie. Nevermind how music impacts people’s lives, their emotional and mental wellbeing – music is part of the narrative of our life from the moment we’re born. So I don’t think we can ever de-value music. I do believe in my heart that at some point it will figure itself out, and it may have to be because the quality becomes compromised. If the quality is not there I think that’s when people will start to turn around and say ok what just happened here!
How do you go about sourcing opportunities for sync? Do you have close relationships with your label/publisher and music supervisors?
It’s both. I’m a terrible self promoter but I’m talking to you today! I think the reason why I’m a little bit more excited to connect with music supervisors today is because of my two songs “I Will Be” and “Into Me”. I really believe that they’re important songs and “Into Me” is now a single at radio in Canada, and I’m signed to Warner and I’m making a full album right now which will be coming out in the Spring. But it is so exciting to be out there and I’m really excited to see without really any promotion what happens with “I Will Be”. People are really responding to that song – I just sort of dropped it I didn’t really have a label or anything at the time, I was between things. I think when I really believe in a song of mine, that’s when I really start poking around thinking well who can I send it to – I’ve become more proactive.
In the past I’ve been really lucky – there’s an amazing woman who was part of my management team years back when I was with Nettwerk, and her name was Maria Alonte, she was my biggest champion and fan. I was in so many trailers and films and lots of great stuff happened under her. So sometimes it can be just this one person that will devote a lot of their promotional hours in their day to a certain artist. I had that built into my relationship with her. But then sometimes it will be somebody at your publishers – it really does take a village and I’ve been so grateful to the people who’ve had their hand in my career in that way and believed in me and found awesome spots for my voice to be heard.
As the industry has changed and developed over the years, would you say you now have a closer relationship with your label and publisher?
There’s two styles of working right – in the older regime I was probably a bit more of a diva, I had a manager who did everything and I just communicated with them, and you’re very shielded from the public. But that’s not my personality at all, I’m an incredibly mouthy and opinionated and passionate and outgoing girl, and I just love people – I love hanging out with people, I’m so social and I really love connecting, so for me it’s been really interesting to get out of that bubble of being managed and to be able to connect with people. Of course you get it wrong – I get the reasons why sometimes it’s like yeah, keep the artist over there, and keep them away from the people (laughs). I’m 42 years old and I’m a mother of three, I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, I’m getting something right and I can’t be so bad that I can’t talk business on some level with people.
I would like to believe that I have my head on my shoulders and so I’ve just gained some confidence in that area. The difficult things, like the bulk of negotiating, I don’t like to do because I wouldn’t think of myself really as business minded as I am artist minded, but I do really like connecting with people. I’ve really enjoyed, for example, the aspect of the internet of being able to talk to fans and connect with your audience, for me it’s a privilege. So I’m not shy to try and connect with other people like yourself or other music supervisors, or call up my publisher and say, “hey, what’s happening with “Into Me” this week, who have we pitched to?”, and maybe even share some ideas.
I do think also that the way that the business is now, it feels like there’s a lot of traffic too, which is wonderful, but it’s congested out there – a bit like the wild west as they say, and so it’s really important to not believe that things are just going to fall in your lap. To realize that you do need to be in people’s faces a little bit more and remind them that you’re there because they’ve probably got a million songs and a million records on their desks or coming into their computers every day, and it’s better to remind them that you’re there.
And having a social profile is so important nowadays
It is, and it’s really enjoyable. For me, I don’t mind that. I’ve got three kids and right now they’re here and they’re shooting elastic bands at each other – I think ultimately my biggest skillsets are in travelling and juggling! I try to connect with my audience as much as I can, I love it – I love them, they’re good people, they’re a conscious type of fan base and I love how they think and react and share and give me ideas. It’s so cool, so for me it’s not painful, it’s just a matter of creating the time space. I don’t think you can be great at everything, so with whatever task I’m doing I try to just do it to the best of my ability, and try to continually stay on this consistent train if you will of acknowledging all the parts of me – the mother me, the wife me, the friend me, the artist me.
You’ve also written music for other artists including Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Drake
Yeah, I think lately what I’m realizing going back to write my 6th album after I think it’s been 6 years or something since I put out a single and made an album, going back to that drawing board as an artist, I’m able to implement a lot more skillset now. I have to really thank the day in day grind of going into writing sessions with all sorts of different writers, and artists and producers. That’s been an amazing education for me.
I think the first thing was, during what should have been the middle of an album cycle for me, I wrote for Avril Lavigne’s second album, and that was really the beginning of it. After that I was put in a room with the Kelly Clarkson’s of the world and I did Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”. There are some really great opportunities that came – I feel like I’m always in beta, I’m always building. I don’t feel like I’ve really hit the big time per say, even though some of the credits look like I have, I’ve never been a dominating writer or producer in the business or anything like that, I just get lucky sometimes. I feel like I got really lucky on the Drake song (“Over My Dead Body”), I got really lucky on the Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock song (“Pay For It”), and I got to sing the song too and I was even featured on the Kendrick Lamar / Jay Rock one. Those are really exciting experiences because I get to meld artist with writer with performer. I ended up getting to do Saturday Night Live with Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock.
And being a featured / lesser known artist probably makes you appear more credible and niche, when compared to huge acts such as Katy Perry, for example.
Yeah, there’s something about being able to fly under the radar a little bit. I mean I wouldn’t mind Katy Perry’s wallet – I saw her on Saturday Night Live and I was like man she’s just a talented singer-songwriter girl who used to show up at Hotel Café and now she’s got jungle animals as her musicians and it’s a different thing. People love the Madonna concert right now, it looks like Cirque du Soleil and its $400 a ticket and so on, but for me, that just sounds exhausting. That just sounds like such an orchestration and for me, I just love to just walk out on stage, give me a piano, give me anything a keyboard, whatever, and bam that’s it – that’s all of me, and that’s all I need and want. I think the more you add those layers on, do you get to go back to just sitting at a keyboard? I don’t know. So that’s a big layer to pile on yourself and kudos to them, but for me it sounds tiring.
What advice would you give to artists and songwriters trying to get themselves out there?
Lately I’m really obsessed with this idea of being aware of courage and comfort. You’ve got to be courageous, not just as an artist, but as a personality. We can think all the courage is in our music and then it can sit there. We have to push the boundaries of our own comfort always, in the way that we’re writing, so that we’re saying something unique and different, but also we have to brave with how we put ourselves out there in the business. And if it does mean more phone calls or more meetings, or airplane rides – that’s life, and it’s not going to get any easier. I was swept up by the industry, I did get that whole ride of “oh I’m signed to Sony” and this and that. But that only lasts so long and you’ve got to go further, you’ve got to push your own boundaries and continue to show up and show up some more.
There’s just too much traffic out there, so I think the weed separates itself from the chaff, not only in the quality of your music, but also in the quality of your confidence in yourself, your competence, your bravery. That’s a skill set that I think I have enough inside of me innately, but I’ve had to build upon it lately, because no one’s going to do it for you. You can think your manager is doing it for you, but no one does it like you do it. No one will die for your music the way you’ll die for your music. I always tell my children that every time I go out on that stage, no matter how I feel, I sit down and the second I touch those keys, I play the piano as if it’s going to save my life. I always have played like that and I always will. But I have to also recognize the importance of putting myself out there so that my music can be heard, as though that’s going to save my life as well.
I think if you are honoring yourself in what you say, then that push to get your thing out there will be authentic too, because it’s like this divine thing. You have a responsibility to put it out there, and that’s how I feel about songs like “Into Me”. “Into Me” is this proclamation that I’ve finally arrived in myself, this is a big thing for me to say at my age. And I know that a lot of women feel like that. A lot of people feel like that – like I can finally put my money on me, and that’s huge. It’s about saying I’m not so insecure anymore and I believe in myself, and I think that’s a message that we all need to hear.
It’s about being your biggest supporter and not just relying on your label or publisher
Yeah, they didn’t write it, and they have other people to represent too. I’m not mad at that, it’s awesome they’re there it’s an important part of the village, whether you’re on an indie or major or whatever, there’s still traffic. I still at the core of me believe that there is room for everything, it’s just everything finding its place, and it’s our responsibility to find that home for our songs. Film and TV are kind of my radio in a lot of ways, because film and TV really invite the authentic music.
What have you been up to since your last album? What are your plans for the future?
I do a lot of performing in Canada, I’m also developing my new project with my husband called Moon vs Sun and it’s really beautiful and fulfilling. We spent some time writing and recording and trying to figure out how to create a platform for that so it doesn’t come out in a vacuum because it’s very special. So I’m between two projects – that and my solo career, and all the things that go along with that. And now we’ve started travelling and performing a lot as Moon vs Sun, so it’s very busy. But I’m trying to focus on my solo album into the new year, and get that out, and then I’ll focus on the vehicle for Moon vs Sun. I’m hoping that the next 10 years of my life are really dedicated to Moon vs Sun and my solo career, performing live, just being out there, getting exposed to great things, doing great things. It’s a real new lease on music for me because the live is where it’s at and I love live and I take a lot of pride in my live performance, so it’s a very exciting time.
How has your work evolved creatively? Has your involvement in charity, for example, had an impact?
What’s interesting is that putting myself out there as a humanitarian and somebody who’s compassionate, I think that’s really fed into the kind of music I can write, because it makes me feel reassured that people want and need that. At the same time I think that anything you say in a song – it helps with mental wellness (laughs), music is medicine from the onset, so it just invites itself and you can explore and build as much as you want in that theme and in that tone. I think that growing where I grew up in Manitoba, it’s a cold and very remote type of life, and you don’t know it when you’re there because it’s all you know, but we’re really trained for life in a harsh environment where people and connection are boss, and so I think I came into the greater world with that kind of hard wiring. So I was really susceptible to people’s pain and needs and curious about it.
Once you become a celebrated artist, you are sent all sorts of invitations to participate in people’s recoveries and people’s wellness and in people’s plights and struggles. I’ve been super lucky to be blessed with this really profound life through music, music gave me that, and I’ve just been exposed to all sorts of causes and campaigns and programs highlighting people and their struggles. So there’s no way it doesn’t turn up in your music, there’s no way.
Do you have any upcoming syncs?
I really am hoping that “Into Me” does find its home in something really special. I’m putting it out there to the universe and I know my publisher is too, but there’s only so much I can do. I think as the song gains momentum it will have more opportunities of course, but there’s nothing like giving a song a good kick start by finding a home for it. I don’t doubt that it’ll find its place, and I’m very curious to see what that will be.
What would be your dream sync placement?
I covered a Beatles song “In My Life” for Providence and and I loved having that as the opening title. I think opening title is the real jackpot because people sort of identify the show with your song and there’s a great synergy – the song kind of ends up framing the show. I think it’s a cool, long term but not too in your face way. Like for example my friends in the Barenaked Ladies have had their song in the opening credits of The Big Bang Theory and it’s awesome for them. At the end what it does, people on a business level would say oh it’s profile. It’s just being there with your audience you know, and another way for your audience to connect with you consistently. My dream would be to have “Into Me” as an opening title and I think it’s got a great euphoric feel to it that would be great for an opening title.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us Chantal!