For a Canadian in Ottawa, I realize that I’ve never talked about the Quebec music scene. For those of you from other places in the world, Quebec is the French-speaking province just across the river. Whereas the English Canadian music culture fights not to get swept up by its bigger neighbours down south (to the point where there are regulations stating that 30% of music on the radio must be Canadian), Quebec’s language difference means that they built themselves a formidable and distinct music culture.
Enter Marie Onile, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from the small town of Lac-Megantic, population 6000. Google “Lac-Megantic, Quebec” and the first result you’ll find is 2013 news reports of a crude-oil train that flew off its tracks downtown, the explosion destroying half the buildings in the city centre and killing 47. Among the victims was a close friend with dreams of being a singer. That year, Marie was chosen to sing the National Anthem at a Montreal Canadiens hockey match, to show support and express condolences for her town.
This cemented Marie Onile’s decision to compete on La Voix, the Quebec edition of The Voice. “I wanted to do what she couldn’t do. I decided to live and to do what I wanted to do, because life can be so short.” Her blind audition song was “La Petite Mort” by Coeur de Pirate, which translates to “The Little Dead Girl” in English. Marie made it onto the show, and describe her experience like so: “It gives a lot of adrenaline. It was like an awakened dream. Everything went too fast. But I appreciated every moment. It was big.”
La Voix is a Sunday night phenomenon, with the highest ratings for any TV show in Quebec. However, just like its American counterpart, “It’s not real that La Voix gives you a career. La Voix gives you a window to show to a public what you do. If you want to do something like [a televised singing competition] with a large audience, be ready to offer something to your new public. An album, a clip, concerts, covers… And people will stay in touch with you. Never think that it’ll be easy [when it’s over]. After that you must continue by yourself.”*
So she did. After being eliminated in the battle round, Marie came back home. “It was very difficult because one day you are a star, and the week after people do not really remember. So, it created a big hole inside of me after. It was like a rollercoaster.” However, she also sees the positives: “it also opened a lot of doors. It is very good for a resume for other competitions and when you tell people that you made La Voix, it’s impressive” and continues on.
These days, she wakes up at 8:30 every morning, makes herself a fruit and vegetable juice, and gets to it; “I have plenty of work to do to launch my first album!” Marie has learnt to play piano and guitar, and is currently throwing herself wholeheartedly into songwriting. “The work of the songwriter is twice the performer because he writes his own songs and interprets them. So, yeah, It’s very different. I’m more complete and others see it. I think that the more you do, the better it is, because in the music world, it’s very important to be multidisciplinary.”
Another thing to note about the Quebec music scene is that the rise of streaming is going to hit musicians hard, as Quebec artists can’t just go drive further to play more venues, on a pure geographic standpoint. Fortunately, the supportive music scene is still all about albums, with Marie Onile currently crowdfunding for the marketing aspect of her LP release, something musicians should never overlook. This includes “the photographer and the graphic designer, my musicians when we do the launches (we’re five), the album pressing, the PR, the radio tracking, the advertising, etc.”
When it comes to the donor rewards, “My idea was to produce something that has a guideline with the concept of the album. My album title is “Morceaux de Verre [“Pieces of Glass” in English], and it turned out that we had polished pieces of glass at home so I started to make necklaces with that. My father is a painter, so we sold one of his paintings. I also offer house shows. I can even sell a song that I will write from the life story of the one who buys it.”
Crowdfunding is still a relatively unknown concept to a lot of people, but Marie says her campaign is doing well, as it has reached 27% of the target as of writing this. “I think I will reach my goal, just not on the internet,” she muses.*
Her advice to musicians setting up their own crowdfunding campaign? “It is important to express what you want and what you give in return. People don’t all take the trouble to read so you must be concise and interesting. An explanatory video helps people to understand and trust you. People need to be [reached] on social media at various times of the day. Sometimes they are too busy the morning, sometimes the night.”