You don’t have to fall in love to write a great love song

Frazer Mac (BA’10) has a winning formula for songwriting. And last week, it nabbed the Popular Music Studies alumnus the Best Electronic artist title at the Toronto Independent Music Awards (TIMA).

Mac (or Fraser McGregor off-stage) had to beat hundreds of entries over a two-year period, survive three judging panels and score in the Top Five in his category to be considered by the grand jury, which included Canadian singer-songwriters Bif Naked and Jully Black. The TIMA awards showcase the best in independent music in 21 categories and 11 live performances.

Mac won the top category of the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and claims two of the top three nomination spots in the same competition this year. As part of the contest, his songs are on the playlist for some very big names – Yoko Ono, Bob Weir, Fergie of the Black-Eyed Peas and Natasha Beddingfield.

Two of his songs are charting the Hot AC (adult contemporary) charts in Canada: Walk of Shame and Addicted.

Mac set his demanding schedule while a student at Western, performing to sold-out crowds at the Sound Academy and Alumni Hall as lead singer of the Pink Floyd tribute band, PULSE. He also wrote and performed the brand song for Ovarian Cancer Canada, Let’s Walk for the Cure.

“I’ve been writing songs for almost 20 years,” he said. “Practice makes perfect and the more you write, the more you learn. I write songs better today than I did six years ago; I wrote better songs six years ago than I did 12 years ago.”

Winning contests and working with established artists helps spread the word. But it’s Mac’s work crafting the notes that really earns the accolades.

“When I began my studies at Western, my interest in the craft of songwriting underwent a metamorphosis from hobby to passion,” he said. “I finally realized there is an unmistakable anatomy of a hit. I’d grown up thinking songs had to come from an honest place, when the truth is, they don’t. You don’t need to fall in love to write a love song or have a crazy night out to write a dance song. You do, however, need to understand that there is a formula. My time at Western really taught me how to critically and analytically listen to a hit.”

He explained how after comparing all the top billboard songs on the Hot AC charts, for instance, he noticed they all have an ‘epic’ chorus – “and you better get to it within the first 30-45 seconds or else you’re going to lose the listener’s interest.”

Clearly, his method works.

He entered Green Light in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2011 because it has the anatomy of a hit. “The verse, pre-chorus, (epic) chorus, b hook and bridge,” he said. “I also feel Green Light has a particularly hooky chorus – something paramount in successful pop music.”

He won. Part of that win included more than $7,000 in project studio equipment and other prizes.

This year, he decided to submit two songs: a ballad called Goodbye, and Walk of Shame.

“Pop music is pop music because it gets stuck in the listener’s head,” he said, “which is why my only pop songwriting rule of thumb is: Keep it simple.”

In January, Mac met radio producer Bobby Gale at Songposium, an intensive seminar organized by S.A.C. Gale was one of three panelists who critiqued songs. “Bobby was the blunt Simon Cowell of the group. However, when it came to my song, Blackout, he gave me a glowing review and said he would 100 per cent take it to radio,” he said.

Mac followed up with Gale and began working with him in March.

“Radio stations receive hundreds of songs a week, and when you don’t have a label, manager, publicist or marketing team, it’s important to be aligned with somebody who knows what they’re doing,” Mac said. “You only get one chance at a first impression.”

With Gale’s guidance, Mac’s songs are making that chance count. As well as charting on the Hot AC, and the song competition nominations, two of his songs are being pitched to A-list artists.

“When you don’t have a label behind you or a publishing deal or a manager, you end up wearing a lot of hats yourself. It’s up to you to create your own buzz – to make it happen. It’s important to keep putting yourself out there,” he said. “So that’s what I’m going to keep doing. I’m going to keep working with different producers, collaborating with songwriters, networking with industry pros and write, write, write.”

Wearing many hats is not new to Mac.

He was a film and television actor, performing with Patrick Dempsey, Jason Priestly, Elizabeth Perkins and Burt Reynolds. He studied voice with Western alumna Elaine Overholt (BMus’75), who is known as vocal coach to the stars because of her work with Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, John Travolta, Renee Zellweger and more. By age 16, Mac ranked in the Top 100 of Canadian Idol.

“I’m chasing my dream and I’m dreaming big,” Mac said. “I know that getting there takes time, patience, rejection and drive, but I’m a hard worker and I’m not giving up. The day will soon come.”