by Tabassum Siddiqui
CMRRA is examining the future in 2022. With change as a constant in our world right now, we examine the future opportunities in music publishing. We’re asking leaders in the music publishing space what is next. What changes are happening at their companies right now? What are their predictions? Is there a song that soundtracks the future? Can we keep up?
With its distinct language, regional star system, and diverse talent pool, the francophone music market holds a unique place in the Canadian music industry. The Montreal-based Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM) serves as the voice of music publishers in Quebec and francophone music publishers across Canada, representing 830 catalogs featuring 400,000 musical works.
Marking its 20th anniversary this year, APEM not only deals with music publishers’ rights and interests, but also advocates for fair compensation for publishers and the songwriters and composers they represent, as well as stronger support for music and culture at large.
This makes the organization well-placed to gauge emerging trends in the music publishing sector and cast its eye to the future as new platforms, changes to copyright laws and challenges in ensuring songwriters’ work reaches new audiences are all impacting the industry.
Overseeing this critical work is APEM’s Executive Director Jérôme Payette, who’s led the organization since 2015. Originally from Joliette, Quebec – an hour’s drive from Montreal and a place he calls “a rich environment steeped in arts and culture” – Payette was drawn to music from an early age.
“I was fortunate that my parents made me study the piano when I was young. I didn’t like it that much – I remember playing with the metronome wasn’t much fun,” he recalls with a laugh. “But then I rediscovered music when I was 11 or 12 years old, and I started to play the bass in a band with friends. And then what really got me even more interested in music was when I understood that you can create your own music – that’s what started me becoming more serious about music.”
Long before landing at APEM, Payette was a musician himself, studying jazz performance at university and later playing on the live circuit in Montreal for several years.
“I think it’s always a plus, working in the music sector when you love music – it’s always been a driver for me,” he says. “Music is a great way to learn in general, because when you learn to play an instrument, you learn to rehearse and to work hard – and it also takes a lot of discipline. So those are things that are very useful in what I do now.”
Payette’s background in music lends itself naturally to his position at APEM, but his path to taking on an executive role in the sector was also influenced by his second degree: a masters in management with a thesis focusing on civil society’s influence on cultural development. Recognizing his aptitude for the practical aspects of music – he was the one always booking rehearsals and gigs for his bands and making sure everyone got paid – he decided to dive deeper into the industry side of the music business.
“Even when I started working, I was still playing music a few days a week, and so it was always there – and still is there – in my life,” Payette explains. “But I also wanted to do a master’s with a thesis – it was for me a way to dig up the more intellectual side and take on that kind of challenge. My thesis was about the influence of civil society on cultural development, which is pretty much what I’m doing now on a day-to-day basis.”
After graduation, Payette worked as an arts consultant, including evaluating cultural projects and developing arts initiatives in Montreal before joining the Laval Symphony Orchestra as their Director of Development, where he worked on educational and community programs as well as fundraising.
Prior to joining APEM, Payette was sent by the Quebec government to Paris for six months in 2014 to work with UNESCO’s Secretariat for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions – a formative experience he still draws on in his work today.
That emphasis on protecting and promoting culture continues to inspire Payette, who sees his role at APEM as one of oversight and building bridges.
“I oversee all aspects of our association – I’m in direct contact with our members; I’m involved in discussions with CMRRA and other organizations, with any music-industry-related issues,” he says. “It’s all about advocacy and listening to our members’ needs to help them succeed.”
That success lies squarely in the breadth and diversity of songwriters represented by APEM’s members (which currently include around 60 different music publishers), Payette says, noting that making sure artists are supported and compensated fairly for their work is the bedrock of APEM’s efforts.
“Copyright is the bread and butter of our industry. It’s fundamental to have good licensing agreements and collective management is so important,” he says. “And we need to nurture our talent – we have an incredible richness in Canada. Being strong locally definitely helps us succeed internationally. The larger the pool of talent we’re able to maintain, the more success we’re going to have as an industry.”
As a bilingual francophone musician himself, Payette is passionate about ensuring Quebecois and francophone creators are well represented amid the majority anglophone market in North America. He’s also the Treasurer for the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expression, which is active in advocating for regional cultural industries and how culture is treated in international trade agreements.
“In Quebec, it’s definitely a different market, with different factors – language is one. We have tremendous, diverse talent. We have music publishers who work in French, some in English; some have Indigenous content, some have links with different communities from all over the world. We have lots of artists of all kinds, but also many people who work in the cultural sector and ensure our music reaches audiences.”
Payette says online algorithms still aren’t geared towards non-English material. “We’re having a hard time reaching the public through those platforms, so that’s something that needs to be worked on. Those platforms tend not to recommend our content enough – and this is very important, because a publishers’ catalogue has value only if its songs are known to the public or are able to reach them,” he says.
Payette points out that the discoverability issue is linked to potential revenues not just from streaming, but also from synchronization and live shows.
“Success in the francophone music sector in North America is not the same numbers as success in the English-speaking North American market – and this tends to be lost in the mix. And the parameters of the recommendation tools are not set to take the different markets into account,” he explains.
“There are certainly opportunities – we need to work with the platforms – but there are challenges. And I think for smaller companies, niche cultures and genres, it’s a more challenging environment to succeed. But technology is great, and could generate good potential value.”
Despite the impacts of the global pandemic and ongoing digital disruption, Payette says he’s encouraged by the trends he’s seen in the francophone music publishing sector of late.
With just three staff, including Payette (who hopes to expand the team in the coming years), APEM is punching far above its weight in the sector. Payette acknowledges his musical background impacts his approach to the close collaboration required in the music-publishing space.
“I purposely always try to connect the dots and use my experience and my strengths – being a musician, it’s all about discipline: hard work is the philosophy, but so is listening to others,” he says. “You have to listen to others to play jazz – you have to learn the language and try to find the best way to help the song and fit in with what everyone else is doing. It’s not just about yourself – it’s about being useful to the whole. And that’s how I approach my work also.”
To learn more about APEM, visit their website at apem.ca/en.
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