Tiagz, along with rappers 404Vincent and Night Lovell, are among a growing number of artists based in the Ottawa area who are reaching the world stage.
Lynn Saxberg, Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa artist Tiagz has an ear for viral sound clips, whether it’s Kylie Jenner’s melodic Rise and Shine greeting to her daughter, or the “Oops!” from the old jazz and blues standard by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
No matter how random the sound is, if it’s trending, he’ll make a rap song out of it.
Major labels snap up two Ottawa-based artists in shifting music industry
Born in Ottawa, Tiagz (real name: Tiago Garcia-Arenas) got the idea from studying the success of Old Town Road singer Lil Nas X, who launched his career by adding his songs to memes that featured music. Tiagz decided to take a similar approach, and started making songs sampling sounds from memes, then posting them to Instagram.
But after 200 or so posts, his Instagram was deleted by the Facebook overlords, likely for copyright infringement, and Tiagz was left without a way to promote his music.
That’s when he turned to TikTok, the social media platform used to make and share short-form videos.
Tiagz’s TikTok presence helped him establish a real music career. Just 14 months after he started posting on TikTok, the 23-year-old now has millions of monthly Spotify listeners and a major-label, worldwide deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. His first EP came out in May and a tour is booked for next year.
Tiagz, along with rappers 404Vincent and Night Lovell, is among a growing number of artists based in the Ottawa area who are reaching the world stage with a combination of talent, persistence, social-media savvy and a reliable internet connection. But although both Tiagz and 404Vincent have signed with major labels, experts say a big record company is no longer the only way to enter the music industry.
For Tiagz, the breakthrough was My Heart Went Oops, the song he made based on the old jazz standard.
“There was this trending sound, ‘oops’ from this old jazz and blues song. I saw it and was like, ‘Wait, the kids aren’t going to go to the club and hear this. Why don’t I make it trap?’
When he uploaded it as My Heart Went Oops, the verified creators of TikTok took notice and started using it in their videos, including Charli D’Amelio, the 16-year-old California girl who is TikTok’s biggest star, with 100 million followers as of this week.
“The next thing you know, I’m at work and my friend messaged me that Charli D’Amelio used my song. I was like, ‘Is this even real?’ My heart was pumping so hard. Then everyone started using it and it became so huge and labels started emailing me. That’s kinda how it happened.”
For the artist-producer 404Vincent, recently signed to Sony Music Canada, the focus is on the hook in his beat-heavy, low-slung anthemic tracks like F–k School and Booted Up. Born in Toronto, the 20-year-old 404Vincent (real name: Matt Vautour) grew up in Northern Ontario and moved to Ottawa with a friend to attend college and make music.
In a recent Fresh Pressed interview, Vautour said he’d been posting his tracks to the audio platform SoundCloud for years, a process that helped him develop his sound, which hovers somewhere between explicit rap and indie rock. He said he got serious about it last summer, adopting the stage name 404Vincent and posting professional-sounding tracks. He also got a boost from his music being added to playlists on Fortnite, the popular online video game.
“SoundCloud was the place I would go to listen to new music and experiment with s–t, and help find my own sound, and that had a huge impact on me,” he said in the interview. “If I didn’t have that, the music I was making wouldn’t have got any better.”
Dropping one song at a time is a smart strategy, notes Ottawa music producer Steve Foley, co-owner of Audio Valley Recording Studio, who’s worked with 404Vincent. The old model of taking a year or two to make a record and then releasing 12 songs at once doesn’t make sense anymore.
“The content needs to be really fresh,” Foley said. “The artists who are putting out a song a week or a song a month, they see what works and what doesn’t, and then get that level of engagement. It’s almost like every song is an occasion.”
The fact that two artists from an off-the-beaten track city like Ottawa have been discovered by major labels is an indicator of the music industry’s levelled playing field. Labels are always looking for new content and have the ability to zero in on what’s trending.
Toronto music industry observer Eric Alper says major labels have access to “astounding” amounts of data through streaming services and don’t need to have A&R (artists and repertoire) scouts in major cities. He said they’re spending less on A&R, but signing more artists to shorter deals.
“The majors are looking at those higher profile, underground artists that are connecting, that are making waves in the scene and signing them to deals,” Alper says. “But they’re not seven-album deals anymore. They’re one or two or three songs and let’s see what happens. If they work, then maybe you get to make an album.”
Still, it’s not easy. With 120,000 new songs released on Spotify each week, the competition is fierce and attention spans are short. Songs tend to be shorter, catchier and usually have a video (or several) to go with them. And if it’s more than a month old, it’s already outdated.
Artists like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan wouldn’t make it these days because they didn’t land a hit until their later albums, Alper notes.
“That’s the way things are working now. Nothing sticks anymore,” he said. “The news cycle is changing minute by minute, and that’s what happens with music, too.”
Ottawa music lawyer Byron Pascoe says the challenge for any artist who’s gone viral is translating the moment into a sustainable music career. “The reality of 2020 and beyond, pandemic aside, is you don’t need a major label in order to do what you want to do. There are no barriers to entry,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe and Jamie Kwong, executive director of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, have been presenting a series of free, online seminars to help independent artists find their way in the digital realm. The next one is slated for Dec. 2 and will explore managing an online presence and revenue streams. (Register by searching “IMB #38 – Managing Indie Artists” at eventbrite.ca.)
“You’re competing against the world,” Pascoe said. “But there are people demonstrating that you can, from your basement in Ottawa or Stittsville, Orléans or Barrhaven, actually have a spot on the world stage. It’s definitely possible to get to that level from here, and there are a lot of supports in town to help you get there.”