As part of the Francofolies’s industry workshops series, one particularly stood out on the subject of Beatmaking.

The workshop was lead by an impressive panel including Poirier, Pierre-Luc Rioux, Lunice and Sonny Black. Philippe Aubert-Messier from Apollo Studios was well prepared and able to structure the talk while still encouraging a humorous complicity with the creators. With a lot of questions left unanswered because of it needing to fit within a short hour, the creators lent themselves openly to answering pertinent questions.

Poirier has released 10 albums over a span of 15 years. He released music on labels like Nice Up! Records, Ninja Tune, Mixpak, Man Recordings, and Chocolate Industries.  Played at UK’s Boomtown Festival, London’s Notting Hill Carnival, Barcelona’s Sonar Festival, Australia’s Big Day Out, SXSW, the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreal’s Mutek, Mexico’s Cervantino Festival, India’s NH7 Weekender. In Montréal, Poirier have a strong presence hosting legendary parties: Bounce Le Gros, Karnival, Sud-West and Qualité de Luxe.

 

Pierre-Luc Rioux is an award-nominated guitar player, songwriter, score composer, and music producer. He has worked with huge artists such as Sean Paul, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Sia, and many more. His work appears on songs that, combined, have received over one billion hits on YouTube, sold millions of copies worldwide, and reached number-one spots in the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, and many other countries.

pierre luc rioux

Lunice participated in the London installment of the Red Bull Music Academy in 2010. That same year, Lunice performed at the Sonar Music Festival. He has collaborated with numerous artists and producers, including Azaelia Banks, Diplo,Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, and has done work with such labels as XL Recordings, Warner Bros. Records as well.

 

Sonny Black has been anchored in the Montreal music scene for a while now, having started in his own recording studio in 1998. He will go on to produce award-winning tracks for Quebecer rapper Yvon Krevé, as well as the band Dubmatique. Following this, Sonny works on Corneille’s first solo album, K’maro, Marc-Antoine, and so many more.

sonny black

What does a beat maker do?

Sonny: Someone who makes the whole instrumental track on top of which a singer can do his thing. It’s the vibe you can hear.
Pierre Luc: It started in the 70’s in the south Bronx when people couldn’t have access to instruments so they used turntables to sample. At first, it was about sampling jazz, and they would rap on top of that. Then the sampler appeared and they started sampling actual instruments. It gave access to everyone to make music.

What’s a week in your life?

Sonny: I write every day for at least a couple hours if not more. Then I have sessions with artists. I make sure things sound good. I also teach at musitechnic, so my schedule is full.

sonny black in studio

Sonny Black in studio (2014)

Poirier: I don’t make music every day, right now I finished my last album so I’m in logistics mode, and I organize events. The creative side will probably come back in the fall, when I go back on tour. But I need my bubble to compose.

Pierre Luc: I work with a production house in Los Angeles, so I skype a lot right now. I work 7 days a week. These guys give me a schedule to work with artists. In the morning when I get up I do a quick thing like a chord progressions then I send it to them. At that point, they work with the top liner (someone who does the lyrics and melody on top), the producers and the artists.

Lunice: For me it’s sort of recent. I’ve only worked on music for the past 5 or 6 years. Now, I live in Lachine, I wake up and I go fish. While doing that, I think about my day. I used to make music every day as I woke up but it ended up being the same sound, the same vibe. So now, since my first album just got done, I conceptualize 80% of the time. I work on the stage design, because when I perform its hype, it’s a whole show, and I like it to be somewhat theatrical. So I’m working on that now. I start calm and if I have an idea, it’s spontaneous and I jot it down. So I never really have writers block. It’s very peaceful.

Collaborations? Where do they come from?

Poirier: It’s organic. There is a difference between working for yourself and working for someone. It’s more of a challenge to work by yourself. Working for someone, there is a set mood and you don’t think too much about the global concept of the album. You work on the track itself.

Poirier - live Club Soda (Feb 2016)

Poirier – live Club Soda (Feb 2016)

For my own music, I start an idea, then I see if it can be developed instrumentally and if it requires vocals, what kind I want like rapped or sung etc… And then I look for who can do that part. For other people’s music, we brainstorm together. And we work on the track itself.

Sonny: Artists come to see me or the label does. We agree on a direction, dates, moods. If it works, we start to create. I am generally asked to work on a whole album, so I go with the global concept of the album. The artists I worked with do the topline generally.

Pierre Luc: It’s very personal. For me, music in general goes through collaboration only. Like the last writing camp I did, I noticed a method emerging there. As soon as someone thought they had a hit, it was the song that had the most collaboration, What was most passed around. Sometimes, it takes just a short guitar line to make a song, something ultra simple. I always had the best results with collaboration even the smallest one.

Lunice: Collaborating with Kanye for example? Everybody has their own studio and we’re given a track to work with. Then we get together in the big studio with Kanye, and develop on our ideas. We then go back to our individual studios, come back together after having worked etc… The cycle goes on until the perfect track is done.

I research how to approach an artist. Like I was seated next to one of Rihanna’s writer and I played a beat for her. She loved it and started jamming on it. I observe and analyze everything. When there are 15 people working on a track that’s big leagues. Now when I have 3 people, I’m psyched!

Poirier: There is an illusion only one person is involved in making music. But it takes a lot of people to make the perfect track. On my last album I worked with someone who helped a lot! Even if it’s just another ear, another perspective. It enables to go into other zones.

How are you paid or compensated? What’s the structure?

Pierre Luc: In my case there are two sides. If I work with an artist who is signed, the label owns the master so your price is equivalent to the worth of the album sold. In pop music sometimes people will hire you as a director and you are paid a one time shot.
Generally, you are paid for songs that are accepted. So I build a catalog. If I submit ideas that are not taken, I can keep the sounds and reuse them.

I have a friend who wrote a song for Aerosmith. The band plays the song, everybody loved it. Then the producer said it wasn’t the right sound for the band. So the writer reused it on the film Titanic and it I think it worked well for him! 😉
Poirier: Nothing is lost. It can be reused. You can even place the same beat on several songs.

What do you think about publishing?

Sonny: Right now I don’t have any but if I’m on a project that is, I share publishing rights with them and everybody wins.

Poirier: They can be a matchmaker or just managing the different rights for tv, film, or others and make sure everybody pays your rights. Where they can go find them etc.

Pierre Luc: I have an agreement with the people I work with in Los Angeles, and with the people here where I do a lot of tv and film (mostly Dazmo). It gives me opportunities.
In Los Angeles, they organize events, they manage my schedule. It’s very proactive not reactive. They call all the time. The industry there is very symbiotic between all the players. You talk to everyone all the time. There are so many artists and so many opportunities that you could work there all the time. Constant communication.

Lunice: I work with Maddison, which is Diplo’s publishing house in Los Angeles. There are opportunities for games and tv placements. I knew them before we started working together. They know exactly what I envision and what I want. They work around my ideas. It’s a good exchange.

Lunice at NTS Radio (Dec 2015)

Lunice at NTS Radio (Dec 2015)

How do you know you have a good beat?

Lunice: Often, it starts with an idea and it’s a specific sound. Until the end, I don’t know yet if it’s gonna be a song. I go in a sound bank and I find a sound that speaks to me (Fruity loops mostly).

Pierre Luc: Right!? Would there be a Grimes without Fruity loops!? 😉

Lunice: I find a sound and at that point, it’s like a meditation. I’m in the zone and I don’t finish the song until I snap back into it and something excites me or not. It’s hard to explain.

Pierre Luc: I create everyday, and then when something makes me get up from the chair and move around its cool. But then others can be like “ugh it’s horrible”. I don’t really know. I do feel it though. I can work 8 hours without a break and it’s ok. My partner can find something in 15 minutes! It makes for a good collaboration. We find the middle ground. I’m not always sure when it’s a good idea though. For me in studio it takes time.

Poirier: When I work with vocalists, I sometimes make a beat and feel if it’s good. I often work as DJ so I can test these before I do anything with them. Then I can add vocals to drive it even more. I can also do changes etc. It’s all about testing for me.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop working on a sound and sometimes it’s the one you don’t care about, the one that stays super minimal, that works successfully.

Sonny: I’m a big fan of Prince, and his work is somewhat minimal. Simple arrangements are often better for me. Especially if there are vocals. I want there to be room for the vocals and I can add after they are recorded if it needs. I usually work for a couple hours, and I listen to it the next day for perspective.

How long do you spend on a beat?

Poirier: I work on things randomly here and there and then decide to add to this or that when I feel it. It takes me time but minimalism is definitely key. Sometimes an instrumental track without vocals is unrecognizable. Vocals are super important. Sometimes it changes the mood even from something dark to something pop for example.

 

Pierre Luc: All my idols make minimal music. That’s my goal too. I am a guitarist so it often starts there. Generally, as opposed to a fast writer, I put on about 10 (already popular) songs (like Coldplay for example), and then I play on top of each of them. I record it all and listen to it all. It takes forever. But then I remove it from that context and sometimes I send it to someone else because I have the original song bias.
For me, the melody is fundamental. Take the example of Canadian producer, Scott George, people make fun of him because he’s funny, but he’s a genius. He always has a musical transition. He has a beat and the transitions are all melodic. I’m very attracted to it. And keeping it minimal. It takes him 15 minutes to make a Beyoncé track that has huge impact! It’s all recognizable!

Lunice: I work on an idea. I try not to put too much on an idea I start. I cherish minimalism too. I force myself not to change too much or add too much on an idea.

How many tracks do you complete in a year?

Sonny: 250?
Poirier: 12-15 finished songs
Pierre-Luc: 150 started? 20% of that is finished?
Lunice: 12 finished (my album). I guess between 12 and 20 if I work for others too.

Gear or plugin you can’t live without?

Pierre-Luc: The last one I got. Always! I’m a hoarder and I have gear lust! The last plugin I bought is called Movement. It’s brilliant.
Lunice: Fruity loops 😉

Dream collaboration?

Poirier: DJ rascal in the 2000’s
Pierre-Luc: Arcade fire. But to create something else than their sound, which they already do to perfection.
Lunice: Cirque du soleil

Inspirations:

Neptunes, timbaland, machinedrum, danger, billboard who brought back Britney from his basement in Laval, Mike slot…

How do you get to work with high profiles when you live in lachine?

Pierre-Luc: Twitter.
Lunice: The industry is watching. Always watching, so keep working and put out music, play out etc.
Pierre-Luc: There are the same opportunities in Los Angeles as there are in Lachine, or Tumbunctu! Use social media!

RVpro2

From left to right: Sonny Black, Poirier, Pierre-Luc Rioux

 

Recent works from these artists can be found on Google Play (click on the album covers below)

Poirier Migration

POIRIER – Migration

lunice

LUNICE – 180

 

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About The Author

Séverine Baron
Collaborator - RREVERB

Classical pianist in the great times of wearing braces, insomniac sound engineer with a headphone imprint on my skull, and also (mostly?) electro acoustic music composer during my existential self-questioning evenings. Mother to two garden gnomes, community manager and freelancer scribbler.