Les Disques Audiogram: Today Québec, Tomorrow . . .

Dateline: 10/01/97

In the twelve years of the company's existence, Montreal's Les Disques Audiogram has carved an important niche in the Francophone music market -- and beyond. Besides being the home of many well-known Quebec-based singer/songwriters, the label is in the process of expanding its territory, to include other languages and countries.

Audiogram (as it is simply known by most people in the industry) was started out of an apartment in 1984 by Michel Bélanger, the current owner and president of the label. At that time, the company's main focus was nurturing an audience for Québecois Francophone acts. The label's first release was by Paul Piché, an influential and political singer/songwriter, who's career spans over twenty years. Nouvelles D'Europe marked a new direction for Piché, who emerged from a simple, folky style to a stronger pop influence with complex instrumentation, and established Audiogram as a label on the cutting edge.

The most successful release for Audiogram came from Beau Dommage, a band often referred to as the Beatles of Quebec. Although they only released a few albums in the early to mid Seventies, a generation of Quebecers grew up on the band's folk/cajun/rock stylings, which featured several major songwriters who continue to be a major force on the Quebec music scene, including Michel Rivard, a solo artist in his own right. Beau Dommage's self-titled reunion album from 1994 sold 225, 000 copies in Quebec. "It was the first time we had this really big comeback and reunion here of a band after twenty years. They had meant so much to everybody," says Denis Wolff, general manager of Audiogram for the past seven years.

Wolff, who got involved with Audiogram through a band he was managing at the time, says that outside of Canada, the label generally works the most with the European Francophone market. The album that has made the biggest splash beyond Canadian borders, with licenses in France, Holland, Belgium, and Japan, was Jean LeLoup's L'amour est sans pitié, and featured a song titled the year of its release -- "1990" -- which attracted attention not only because of LeLoup's charismatic delivery and funky sound, but because of the stir caused by his lyrics. Influenced by watching footage of the Gulf War on TV, LeLoup wrote the song as a tongue in cheek comparison between the high-tech antics of Desert Storm, and the bedroom mambo of he and his girlfriend. And the songs continues to make waves. "We just got a fax saying that the song is being covered by a popular band in Argentina," says Wolff.

Although it has been a more low-key aspect of their business, Audiogram also signs and licenses artists from outside of Canada. One of the first artists was Italy's Paolo Conte, who went gold in Quebec ten years ago, and currently the label has licenses for Acadian Cajun artist Zachary Richard, from Lousiana, and Yves Duteil, from France.

Helping Audiogram's reputation as the best-known North American label for Francophone music is their distributor, Sélect, with whom the label has had a relationship with since day one. Sélect will no doubt be supportive as Audiogram continues to move into the international arena. Audiogram already has four non-French releases: English albums by Ray Bonneville, Bran Van 3000, Go Van Gogh, and a Spanish release by Lhasa, a female vocalist about whom the label is very enthusiastic.

Wolff insists that Audiogram's move into the foray of other languages has been a natural progression for the label, and not a conscious decision to break through into other markets. "You meet or see and artist live, and something just registers -- it is much more that than looking to get shares of the Spanish market. We saw Lhasa, thought she was great, and decided to do a record and see what happens -- it doesn't go the other way around."

Audiogram is going to be very busy over the next few months, as plans in the immediate future include new releases this season by new band Basta, as well as veterans Laurence Jalbert, Michel Rivard, and Yves Duteil. Audiogram is also going to present Lhasa in a showcase at the MIDEM Latin-American music industry conference in Miami.

"Things grow organically in a way and it has always been in the plans to do wide things," says Wolff, "but before you can actually get to tackle them you have to wait for the right opportunity, and go step by step."

Selected Discography

Beau Dommage
Beau Dommage, 1994

La Llorona, 1997

Jean LeLoup
L'amour est sans pitié, 1990

Paul Piché
Nouvelles D'Europe, 1984

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