Neal Busby & Huguette Arsenault a.k.a. Twirl hail from Toronto and have a growing legion of fans around the world – mostly by having their songs licensed in film & television shows in 75 countries (see credits at end of interview).
Writer, producer Neal Busby has a long history in the Canadian rock scene. In the early 90’s he was drummer for Canadian hard rockers SLIK TOXIK. As a contributing songwriter Neal and Slik Toxik went on to achieve GOLD selling status and win a JUNO award for “Hard Rock” album of the year in 1991.
JR: Thank you so much for uploading your music, it’s fantastic! I’m really thrilled we were able to place “The Things We Do For Fashion” by Twirl in an upcoming fashion show scene in ABC/Family’s ‘Pretty Little Liars.”
NB: Well thanks to you guys for getting it out there and heard by all the right people!
JR: Right off the bat, can you tell me where this song came from? What inspired it?
NB: When writing songs, we tend to start with a title. So the title came from my wife, Huguette Arsenault, who is the singer in Twirl. She was watching a TV show called, “Fashion Television” up here in Canada. The host was talking about fashion as usual, and I guess somebody had to wear something that wasn’t quite comfortable — and the host said, “Oh, the things we do for fashion!” The title just stuck, and it was kicking around for a while. I started thinking of a track to go with it, sort of a dance and Lady Gaga type vibe, and it rolled together right there.
JR: I see by your list of placements that Twirl has had a lot of success placing music on TV. I don’t know if you want to call this a band or studio creation, but how do you characterize what it is, and why do you think it’s been so successful getting placements?
NB: We like to think of ourselves and present ourselves as a band. Originally that was the intention — to create a band and write some songs to play live. But as we started writing and getting songs out there, making connections with music libraries and music supervisors — and getting more placements – so that became the focus. For TV shows, the placements tended to be subject matters like partying, going out, having fun — pretty much positive music and imagery-related lyrics. People, places, things — specific subject matters were getting placed.
JR: That’s brilliant. One of the things we emphasize with our members is to learn the marketplace a little bit. It’s not for everyone — some people are just what they are and produce the music they do. But then there are a few very talented producers, songwriters, and bands like you guys who can really shape things a bit to address the licensing marketplace – and still maintain artistic credibility.
NB: Yes. So that’s what we started focusing on — creating Twirl songs with more specific imagery that related to typical scenes that you always see in TV shows; party scenes, fashion show scenes, etc., so we get a lot of those.
JB: Can you give me another example of a Twirl song and the placement it got?
NB: Well, our song “It Girl” was placed in the first season of “Pretty Little Liars” in the pilot episode, a scene where one of the girls goes to a mall and shoplifts. It’s a good fit, because the song is about a girl with attitude. We’ve had a lot of success with that song. It was also used in a show called “Make It Or Break It” in a scene where one of the girls does a semi-risqué balance beam act. Once again “attitude” was needed and the scene worked well with the lyrics and the music. It’s a little bit more electro-rock, with drum machines and more up-to-date with the music today.
JR: Much the way getting a hit song takes talent, hard work and a few breaks, having a catalog that consistently gets placed is quite an accomplishment. So what’s your secret?
NB: I think it’s because we dabble in a few different styles that we have found to work over and over — the electro-pop dance style, like the songs “It Girl” and “The Things We Do For Fashion” — as well as straight up pop-punk, and more alternative. Usually I’ve found that the more up-tempo material is what they’re looking for. In our case, all of our songs are mid-tempo to fast which works for high-energy type scenes. We like a lot of different styles of rock, so we like to change it up, but we do find that electro-pop/dance with a rock vibe is pretty cutting edge. It fits in with the Lady Gaga style, the Katy Perry style, but it’s still heavy enough to have a lot of energy for different types of scenes.
JR: By the way, does Twirl have fans that buy records and downloads?
NB: Yeah, our songs “It Girl” and “Out On The Town” are available on iTunes and CD Baby. Every time there is an episode of a fairly popular show with our songs, we see a spike in the MP3’s being bought — we get quite a few downloads. And probably we’ll see a lot more now with “The Things We Do For Fashion.” We just released it for purchase because we found out about this placement, so it will be out on iTunes probably in time for the episode.
JR: Do you have anything else you’re currently working on, or is Twirl the main thing?
NB: I’m a full time drum instructor. I also write drum books. But Twirl musically is the main focus. We don’t write with anyone else, my wife and I do it all together. It’s a lot of fun and it never seems like work. We love what we do.
JR: Isn’t that what life is all about, if you’re having a great time doing something and making a couple bucks? That’s the greatest.
NB: Yeah totally, we can spend a whole weekend writing songs and it never seems like a chore, it’s just great fun. And now making a bit of money from it doesn’t hurt, ha! But we would do it regardless. That’s how we started, we never thought of doing music licensing. One thing led to another and now that’s our focus.
JR: Ok, let’s go back in the time machine! Tell me about your career early on, about your band Slick Toxic.
NB: That’s taking me back! In the early 90’s I was just a drummer. I didn’t play anything else but drums back then. Slick Toxic played in Canada and in the states quite bit; we had an album that was released in North America by Capitol/EMI. In Canada it was pretty successful. We got a Juno Award, which is basically equivalent to a Grammy. We sold a Canadian Gold Album, which is 50,000 units. Of course our population is much smaller than the states. Gold in the US is 500,000. We toured around a lot and put out three CDs. Eventually it ran its course. We were like Guns N’ Roses-style hard rock and of course all that stuff got whipped in about six months by Nirvana. But the funniest thing is, Nirvana, all these years later, is my favorite band.
JR: That was a great time in music.
NB: My wife and I think of the early to mid 90s as being such a great period for rock. Some of that early 90’s stuff occasionally creeps into the music. I’m a big guy for melody so I really love Nirvana and all those bands because they definitely had a great handle on the melodic part. After Slick Toxic broke up, there was a period of time where I was doing a death metal band. This was just for me to have some fun and play crazy drums. After that I did a stint as the touring drummer for April Wine, which is a classic rock band in Canada. I was on the road filling in for their drummer who was ill for about a year. My wife and I, although we weren’t married back then, formed a top 40 band and then one thing led to another.
JR: Is that when you started writing songs together?
NB: When I met her initially I was still just a drummer; I didn’t even play guitar or bass. I had never written a song in my life! But she encouraged me because she needed someone to co-write with. So she is the one that got me going on writing, guitar playing, recording and mixing.
JR: So early on in your career you were just a drummer and you just picked up a guitar and learned it much later?
NB: Yeah, through sheer determination. Huguette bought an acoustic guitar. She loves to buy good stuff, so she bought a Taylor. I didn’t even play it, I just knew one chord a D major, and from there one thing led to another and I just started thinking, “I can do this.” I just played and played. I started writing, learned other people’s songs — and the next thing you know I had to learn how to do the digital recording. It took a good 10 years, but it happened!
JR: That’s amazing — you went from zero to all the way to the level you’re at now. May I ask how old you were when you picked up a guitar and really learned?
NB: Oh you’ll laugh; I didn’t start playing until I was about 32.
JR: Wow, and obviously you played drums since you were a kid?
NB: Yeah, started at 14. I was just driven to play drums and be in bands. I obviously learned hundreds of songs and learned a lot about arranging, but I had never written a song ever until I met Huguette and we started collaborating.
JR: That’s fascinating. Are there any other key people that are involved in what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis or is it just you and your wife?
NB: It’s just Huguette and me — we do everything. If there’s a guitar part that I find that’s extremely difficult for me to play but I can hear in my head, I have a great guitar player who has done tons of our tracks. His name is Russell Gray and has been doing stuff for us for a long time. I can’t thank him enough, he’s been a big part of a lot of tracks that are out there.
JR: That’s great, is there any advice you’d like to give our members about writing songs that getting placed in film and TV?
NB: There are a lot of people who offer up opinions about your songs, and you can spend time listening to their opinions and keep changing your songs. We did a bit of that and found it was mostly counterproductive. If you’re good, you know what is good — and if stuff is being placed and working, then your opinions are probably better than most. Don’t over-think things, that’s the main point. Just go with what you feel sounds good — if somebody doesn’t like it, somebody else might. Don’t read too much into the critiques. There’s a lot of critiquing out there and you can keep changing, but you won’t please everybody… so you have to please yourself first.
JR: That is very wise, thank you so much Neal!
Twirl Recent Credits include:
Film and TV: Pretty Little Liars (ABC), 10 Things I Hate About You (ABC), Fly Girls (CW) (Multiple episodes), The Beautiful Life (CW), Legally Blonde 3 Trailer, Scrappers (Spike), Life Unexpected (CW) (Multiple episodes), Friday Night Lights (ABC), Let’s Make A Deal, Family Jewels, The Osbournes Reloaded (FOX), The Academy Awards, Nintendo, Sand Blasters 3, The Little Couple, Wedded To Perfection (NBC), Making The Band, Renovation Nation, Ski Patrol, Toddlers and Tiaras, First Home, Clean Home Comes Clean, The City (MTV), Notes From The Underbelly (ABC), Life Is Wild (CWTV, CBS), Life With Derek, The Latest Buzz, South Of Nowhere (The N), Bad Girls Club (multiple episodes) (Oxygen), Dr. 90210 (E Network), America’s Got Talent, Regis & Kelly, MTV (various shows), Pimp My Ride, Rock The Cradle (MTV), Fashion Television – Multiple episodes, Fashion Television – 25th Anniversary Special
Television Commercials, Becel Margarine, Budweiser Superbowl commercial, Eastcoast American College, Bison Meats, Texas Government campaign TV Ad (Poison Is Bad), Sasktel Instinct Mobile phone, Mitsubishi Motors multi media usage, Johnny Delgado Is Dead Comic book soundtrack advertising campaign, Mitsubishi auto- U.S. regional, Alesse – Birth Control pill advertising campaign.