By Kenny Kerner

Those of you who think that music is for the very young, think again. This month's profile is on Jean Custeau who has been writing, playing, and composing music for, well, longer than most of you have been alive! With a great sense of humor and total perseverance, Jean is still out there today getting songs placed and recording. Check this guy out:

Do you play a musical instrument? If so, which one and when did you start playing?

I play guitar and I started when I was 13 years old. I soon was doing gigs playing covers for teenage dances in the '60s. A couple of years later, I switched to French songs. There was a strong movement towards that repertoire in Québec at that time, with many important artists, somewhat the equivalent of the folk genre in the United States at the same period.

Are you self-taught or did you go to school to learn?

I'm mostly self-taught, but I spent one year at the Québec Conservatory of Music. (Too classical for my young taste!)

Do you remember the very first song you wrote? What was it called and was it good?

Coincidentally, the first song I ever wrote was the one I got my first placement with in "Monk" last February: "Deux millions d'étoiles" (meaning "Two Million Stars"). Of course, the song was written 35 years ago and has undergone major re-arrangements. It was my first try at applying the advice of a legend of French song and poetry in Québec, a wise man named Félix Leclerc, who had told me: "My boy, a song is a 350-page novel brought down to 25 lines." Was it good? I guess some folks still think it's OK!

At what point did you discover that music could actually be a career?

You mean it can be? Seriously, I have always dreamed of making a career out of my music, and it has been a looooong work in progress. I kept trying, sometimes against all odds, and just never let go. I'm still persevering, and I'm still learning new lessons every day through trial and error, and, thankfully, through contacts with exceptionally gifted and generous musicians and songwriters that I've been lucky to meet.

How has the art of songwriting changed since the '50s?

I think the changes mostly come from the evolution of music and musicians who are so much better trained than they were when they only knew three chords and made do with those. As far as lyrics go, I don't feel much has changed. Good songs, songs that live on have always had universal themes, emotions that all humans go through in the course of their day-to-day lives: love, life, friendship, children, things that all humankind shares in any language or culture.

What major changes in the music industry can you point out over the years?

The music industry still acts just like its name suggests: like an industry, where by nature, profit is the top, middle, and bottom line. What has changed is that, thanks to an organization like TAXI, independent pig-headed unknowns like me can at last cross the forbidding barrier of the "unsolicited material."

What was your biggest musical thrill so far?

Back in 1975, when my first album came out, I was either ignored or considered crazy by "the industry" and "the critics" in Québec. A few years later, I was reading a book published in France, an encyclopedia about artisans of French songs from 1945 on. I was stunned to see my own name in there alongside Aznavour, Piaf, and the likes. That was quite a thrill! But then, having one of my songs featured in a U.S. TV series is a close second...

When did you first begin composing for performance/concerts and why?

My songs were always meant to be performed. I did most of the performing myself because it was the only way I found for those songs to reach the public's ears and heart, to attain a life of their own. Some of them have, I'm glad to say.

Is there a basic difference between composing for film and composing for TV?

My experience here is somewhat short. The music I've composed for film was mostly documentaries or corporate productions, and was limited to instrumental pieces to set moods or mark turning points. My placement in TV was for a song, and the song actually played a part in the scene, but I doubt that these examples represent the norm...

You have decades of successes as an international writer, composer and performer. You have been honored with prestigious awards. What made you join TAXI?

What successes and awards I have known often seemed few and far between! What I mean is, yes, I have sometimes been recognized for my work, but I remain a marginal figure in the music world. The only real honor that I have been blessed with continually for some decades is when people were standing and applauding at the end of my show.

Has TAXI helped you? How?

TAXI has opened up the door to the U.S. market, with 15 pieces signed so far in music libraries and, of course, the placement in "Monk," which was very gratifying. It has also boosted my spirits and helped me get back on track after major apathy had set in following the release of my last album in Québec in 2003. It's done wonders for my self-esteem. Finally, it has also put me in contact with some very interesting people (like Matto) through the forum. I'm ever-grateful thanks to my friend and partner Mike Goudreau for telling me about TAXI.

What are your plans for the remainder of 2008?

What I'm doing now: Compose, record, submit as much as I can with quality products, both with libraries I'm currently dealing with (thanks to TAXI) and for listings where my stuff fits the bill. And keep on learning.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jean. And thanks for proving that TAXI works for you regardless of age! Give us a shot and let us help get your music heard.

See How TAXI Works

"I talk TAXI up to my songwriting musician friends."
— Roger Yeardley,
TAXI Member

"TAXI provided real access to a nearly inaccessible industry."
— John Mendoza,
TAXI Member

"With help from you guys, the music is pouring out and I'm having such fun! Thanks!"
— Willie McCulloch,
TAXI Member

"Your dedication and hard work never ceases to amaze me."
— Jimmy Clark,
TAXI Member

"I've known most of TAXI's A&R people for years. These are real industry pros. I'd be happy to listen to anything they send me."
— John Carter,
Vice President of A&R,
Island Records

"I am enclosing a check for my third year of membership in TAXI. You've got a great thing going, and it's fun being a member."
— Thomas Hipps,
TAXI Member