Although growing up in mid-20th century schools of Toronto was challenging, Marc Jordan wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later in life. His attitude of “make it work” led to a career as an award-winning singer, songwriter and producer. Jordan has a lifetime of accomplishments, performing his own music and writing for superstars like Cher and Rod Stewart.
ABILITY’s resident opera singer, Lia Matirosyan, talked to Jordan about his career, how love of music framed his artful life and how the music business is evolving. Jordan shared great bits wisdom and glimpses of how his children are following their own dreams.
Martirosyan: Are you writing songs, or just recording what you come up with?
Jordan: I’m recording.
Martirosyan: And then someone else transcribes it.
Jordan: Someone will do a basic chord chart. You don’t really do that unless you’re doing music scores and things. They actually don’t even use chords, they use a number system.
Martirosyan: What do you mean?
Jordan: Well, if I write out a chart for my band, I’ll write F-7, bar G, bar D-minor. But in Nashville, they can go, 6, 4, 3+, 2, 1.
Martirosyan: That’s interesting.
Jordan: Yeah, they don’t have any musical scores. And those guys are incredible. They’re called number charts.
Martirosyan: They just came up with that years ago?
Jordan: I think they did, yeah.
Martirosyan: They got tired of learning the—
Jordan: Yeah, I think that’s probably it. But you know, some dyslexic people can see colors. I don’t, but I paint.
Martirosyan: That’s right, you do paint. Have you always done that, or did it recently surface?
Jordan: Well, I love art. I started doing it again about seven years ago. I started painting to take breaks—sort of a cleanse your power or something—I don’t know. I call it flat music, and it is for me.
It’s just—You know, songs have color and texture and architecture and all those things that paintings have.—It’s the same thing to me.
Actually, when I got diagnosed, I didn’t realize I had it until my daughter was diagnosed.
Jordan: I read her report and I went, “Uh-oh, that’s me.”
Martirosyan: At what age was she was diagnosed?
Jordan: She was in grade three, I believe.
Martirosyan: Where do you see the difference between when you were in school and put into that category and what they’re doing with her education?
Jordan: Big difference. First of all, she wasn’t stigmatized. They helped her. They suggested to us that we get her tested. So, we did. They helped like that. And so, we had the knowledge; and we got her help. We sent her to a different school, a small private school, and they worked with her.
She’s a much better reader than I, but she struggles a little bit on computers. The digital revolution is hard on people like me because everything has to be read. I was very happy to pick up the phone and make notes on what a conversation was. Texting, all that stuff is good for something, but I don’t get a lot of information from a text or anything I read.
Jordan: When email started, I would hear the tone of voice in my head. I would sometimes get the wrong intention because I was hearing an angry voice, not really getting it. The digital world is tough for me.
Martirosyan: You could use emojis.
Martirosyan: We just did an article on how certain people are using emojis, to the point of, they’re even being used now for people who have become nonverbal because of dementia. The emojis are allowing them to start communicating.
Martirosyan: It’s more than just a smiley face. It’s a form of communication.
Jordan: That’s interesting. My aunt, I guess, had dementia. She lost her speech. But she could sing. She would ask for stuff, but she’d have to sing it. Isn’t that wild?
Martirosyan: There are a lot of studies going on that involve bringing people’s memory back through music, with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Really cool stuff about how our brains take in these different waves and memory, music being switches to a core part of our soul or whatever. As humans, music is a language, too.
Jordan: And rhythm, and then I guess chanting. Melody is a language. It’s communicative. Because if you’re not saying the same thing with your words that the melody is saying, you’re losing the message. And the rhythm. You can only say certain things over certain rhythms. That makes sense. And you can only say certain things over a certain melody. You have to tap into those ancient languages, I suppose.
Martirosyan: Do you know Quincy Jones?
Martirosyan: Did you ever talk to him about this? He gets really deep in the frequency of the earth.
Jordan: No, I’ve never talked to him about that. Well, I’ve written for all the old dudes.
Martirosyan: (laughs) We want you to name-drop.
Jordan: My first cover was with Diana Ross and Cher, and Rod Stewart. I wrote lots of stuff for him.
Martirosyan: How did you get into the business?
Jordan: When I heard Bob Dylan, I knew I could do music. And he was successful. I wanted to be successful. So, I just started writing and started playing clubs in Toronto.
Martirosyan: Your original music?
Jordan: Well, at first, no. And then I’d sneak it in. And people liked it. People came to hear it. And then people lined up to see it. And that’s when the record companies, you know—and their guys would go and look for where there was a line-up. That’s how they used to make decisions.
Martirosyan: Yeah, those were the good old days!
Jordan: So, I got a record deal.
Martirosyan: That must have been exciting!
Jordan: Yeah, luck. It’s the best. Make shit up and people pay you! (laughter) So I did that, and I got a Canadian record deal. I didn’t realize that that’s nothing. That’s a very small market. I knew I would have to go to the States if I wanted to take it to the next level.
So again, I got a publishing deal out here with Warner. For various reasons, my records did OK, but they weren’t big hit records. I had hits in Canada, in Spain or something, but I didn’t have a big American hit. But other artists heard my songs, and they started recording them. And then they would have a hit.
Martirosyan: Did you get royalties from that?
Jordan: Yes. In those days you got royalties.
Martirosyan: Meaning now we don’t?
Jordan: No. Everybody gets music for free now. I’ll give you an example. Do the math.
Martirosyan: I don’t like math.
Jordan: (laughs) I don’t either. I had a song on that big Cher record “Believe,” her big comeback—one of them—that sold 20 million records. And because royalties were a thing that they sold, a disk—they were plastic salesmen, in a way. That’s what the model was.—So they would pay us eight cents a song for every record that was sold. You would split that with your publisher, so four cents times 20 million. That’s good—800,000.
So now, instead of eight cents for a stream on Spotify, which is how people hear music a lot of the time, it’s .00004 cents.
Martirosyan: Stop it!
Jordan: So, you have to have, like, 100 million streams—not easy to get—in order to make 20 grand or so. So the math is crazy now.
Martirosyan: So, where do musicians make their money?
Martirosyan: I prefer that. I don’t like recordings. I like being out among people.
Jordan: Oh, yeah. It’s fantastic. It’s very hard to do that for your whole life. And it’s expensive. The artist pays for everything. So, you’ve got to pay everybody. If you go out and concerts don’t sell out—it’s a big financial risk. But if you’re a huge star, you can do it. Rod Stewart, when he comes to Toronto, sells 35,000 tickets. They put him in a hockey rink that sells booze.
Martirosyan: Is it better to be a songwriter these days than a musician?
Jordan: Well, that’s a good question.
Martirosyan: They’re more appreciated now, I think, and there isn’t any risk, right?
Jordan: There isn’t risk. But if you rent a hall and you rehearse your band, and you go and play, it’s very linear. That’s what you’re doing. And you advertise it; and people will either come or they won’t. As a songwriter, you can sit in your room and write songs for 20 years before anybody will pay attention.
They’re both difficult. They both have risks. They’re just different risks. I do maybe 20 or 25 concerts a year, but they’re not big money-makers. They don’t make me a lot of money at all. But I think of it as being part of a songwriter. To play—this is getting a little bit arcane—but you have to write. You’re writing for someone. You have to write for where they play as well. That’s a hard thing to understand.
Just like when you play a concert. You have to play the concert hall. You have to fill the space, and you mustn’t overfill or underfill it. This is why you’ll rarely see a funk band play an arena. It just sounds like mud. It doesn’t work in the space. It’s more club music, so they play smaller venues. Because by the time it bounces back off the wall, in a big theater, there’s too much incrimination.
I wrote “Rhythm of My Heart” for Rod Stewart. It’s basically a folk song. It’s got about six chords. It’s a folk song, very primary. You can play it in an arena, and it works. But intricate stuff that has a lot of pop to it, that’s different. When you write it for somebody, you have to write it for where they play as well as the radio.
Martirosyan: If someone writes a song and somebody picks it up to play, do you, the songwriter, get money every time that song is sung?
Jordan: Theoretically you get a royalty when they do it. It’s very small.
Martirosyan: Let’s say I went out and sang a cover song in a café, how does that work? Would I owe money to someone?
Jordan: You would—the venue pays it.
Martirosyan: Oh, really!
Jordan: You don’t pay it. It’s a blanket license that venues that hire live musicians pay per year. It’s a lump sum. And then there’s a log of what song it is.
Martirosyan: Oh, I didn’t look it up.
Jordan: It’s sort of complicated. It’s not really that efficient, but that’s how it works. (laughter)
Martirosyan: Twenty-five concerts a year, is that here or also in Canada?
Jordan: Mostly in Canada. When I was here for 17 years, I didn’t really play live much, hardly at all. I was just in the studio, basically writing songs. But I love to play. I didn’t used to love to play, but now I do.
Martirosyan: That’s good.
Jordan: Yeah, I love it.
Martirosyan: What are you doing in LA now? Other than seeing us?
Jordan: I have people I write with here. I’ll do some writing. And I like to see my old friends.
Martirosyan: Thank you, even though we just met.
Jordan: (laughs) Now we’re doing a record together.
Martirosyan: Do you have all the songs ready?
Jordan: We’re doing it by half and half. Some original, some a different take on songs that are already written.
Martirosyan: When you say you’re working with some of your writing partners, how do you choose your partners?
Jordan: That’s a good question. I don’t really work with new people much. I guess because it’s easier to work with people you know. When things get produced, I work with different musicians and different producers who bring a different aesthetic, maybe, to the party. But, essentially for the writing aspect, I usually work with people I have a history with. I’ve got to say it’s just easier.
Martirosyan: If you worked with some new people, then you’re possibly opening the doors to people who have not been able to break into the industry and who may be really creative? I always feel like inspiring journalists, and to do what we can to get them published.
Jordan: I would say it’s a little different in music because young people probably don’t want to work with me.
Martirosyan: Well, that’s true. That was the first thing I thought. (laughter)
Jordan: Yeah, I know. I could see it in your eyes. Because the aesthetic is different. And it’s hard for me to communicate in a way (that) young songwriters need to communicate.
Martirosyan: You would need an old soul to work with, no matter what their age?
Jordan: Yeah. And there are those people, but it’s more difficult. And then the production is different, too. I would rather write a song the way I know how to write a song. And then, if someone wants to take it and produce it in a more modern way, that’s easier. Rather than to try to put my head in that space, because it would have to be something I’ve learned and not feel. I don’t feel modern the way rhythm is worked into a song now.
Martirosyan: Is there rhythm? (laughs)
Jordan: Yeah, lots of it. Let me think how to put this. I think of rhythm organically. It comes from what we do organically with our limbs. It’s hard to explain. But rhythm in modern pop is more manufactured because rather than get it from the human ergonomic thing that we do with our bodies. They are also employing technology in a different way. We did, too, but we were just recording what was happening. They are manipulating it.
Jordan: So, they’re doing things that don’t feel organic to me. I find it hard to write that. But if you take something that is a fully formed song, you can take it—and then manipulate it—and make it more modern in context than maybe I felt it. I’d rather go at it that way. I’m always taking the easy road.
Martirosyan: Are your kids approaching music in that more fluid way that you’re into, or more techie?
Jordan: A little bit of both. My daughter’s more. My son’s more a techie, but very organic in his way. You can hear him on Spotify, Ezra Jordan. He’s wonderful.
Martirosyan: And what’s our daughter’s name?
Jordan: Zoe Sky Jordan. She’s a little more out there. Her last single was “I Don’t Give a F***.” (laughter)
Martirosyan: It’s a classic.
Jordan: (laughs) It was huge on radio.
Martirosyan: How do they write out “f***”? I don’t think you can publicly just play that, can you?
Jordan: You can—you might not be able to in America, but you can on Spotify. That’s their world. Spotify.
Martirosyan: F*** yeah.
Jordan: F*** yeah! (laughter) F***in’ Aye. She’s an interesting girl.
Martirosyan: Sounds like a firecracker. And she plays instruments, too?
Jordan: Guitar and a little piano.
Martirosyan: Have you produced music together as a family?
Jordan: We’ve done a couple of shows together, radio shows.
Martirosyan: Will you take it on the road? Have you thought about it?
Jordan: My wife’s thought about it.
Martirosyan: And she said, “F***, no!” (laughter)
Jordan: Yeah. My kids don’t want to. They—you know.
Martirosyan: They want to explore their solo careers. They’ll come back to it.
Jordan: They will when they have kids. They’ll get it. But I don’t want to—If my dad ever said, “Why don’t you come and sing with me?” I’d go, “What the?”— I regret it now.
Jordan: But I never would have done it. He never asked, but I wouldn’t have done it.
Martirosyan: Did he collaborate with any of the folks from that era?
Jordan: My dad? He wasn’t a writer.
Martirosyan: I mean with singers.
Jordan: Oh, yeah. He did some opera collaborations. He would do Christmas specials that were broadcast.
Martirosyan: Would you ever collaborate with classical singers?
Jordan: Sure, I would. (to be continued?)