Turn and Face the Strange: Canadian Musicians Embrace Change Amid Industry Upheaval

With the pandemic waning but its impact lingering, a panel of musicians weighs in on an industry in flux
Turn and Face the Strange: Canadian Musicians Embrace Change Amid Industry Upheaval
Photos (clockwise from top-left): Tush by Darnell Reddick and Joshua Rille, Vanille by Dominic Berthiaume, Anthony OKS by Graham Wiebe, Snotty Nose Rez Kids by Sterling Larose, Kylie V by Lauren Ray, Chromeo by Tim Saccenti, New Chance by Yuula Benivolski

What parts of the Canadian music industry do we need to preserve?

Apong: We need to preserve small, intimate performance venues and deem them as cultural heritage sites. If we get rid of these, we are discarding the very nuclei of a rich, thriving, diverse arts scene, creative cultures and economy. We need to keep spots that are community-led and -focused, where creatives can experiment. We need to keep/reinstate universal basic income (CERB). I would say we need to keep diversity and inclusion going, but I don't trust D&I as a concept without doing actual anti-racism work — corporations were too quick to hop on that bandwagon without true self-analysis.

Leblanc: Canada and Quebec are great for the funding opportunities, and that is a thing that should stay. It is imperative for the survival of artists, and for new ones to emerge also. The fact that there are special funds for Indigenous artists and people from different backgrounds is fundamental and should be preserved. However, the media coverage should be more diverse regarding these artists.

OKS: I think we need to preserve music from our First Nations groups and Canada needs to make sure more First Nations people have the opportunity to explore the arts. I think Canada also has a great opportunity to continue to embrace sounds from around the world, and the Black diaspora. All of this music tells a story — a story of where we are going as a country.

Cheong: I guess the first thing I think of is local independent venues. The DIY spaces that nurture artists and musical culture need(ed) to be preserved. We've mostly lost our DIY spaces in Toronto. They didn't directly prioritize driving capitalism and there was nothing to protect them from rising rents. So, we need to preserve the idea that these spaces matter, that they are integral to artists being able to grow and produce work that is vital and innovative and diverse and complex. 

Dave 1: By all means, funding and grants.

Kylie V: I hope that we can preserve the DIY part of the industry — DIY venues, projects and media are the backbone of the industry and if places like Vancouver's local DIY venues Red Gate and Black Lab close, I don't know where people would be playing their first shows. I wouldn't be anywhere without the DIY scene.

SNRK: We need to preserve and uplift the voices that continue to be silenced or, for systemic reasons, are not equally amplified. It's increasingly important to continue to fund the arts and music especially, providing grant and funding opportunities for new, emerging and more-established artists. With so much music being released, it takes increasingly more resources to stand out amongst all the noise. We hope to see more media championing independent and emerging artists as we begin to return to a fully functioning music industry. 

What do you see as the future of the live music industry?

Apong: Please, please start paying musicians proper rates for shows. I'm already afraid that won't happen because people will think musicians are "desperate to play post-pandemic" and will accept shoestrings and popcorn as payment. I hope that people realize how much they miss live music, art and creation, and honour the fact that such artists deserve stable, living wages for their work. I also hope audience members won't feel the need to record live shows on their cell phones as we are finally starting to leave the virtual simulation. That being said, I do hope virtual performances and events can continue for accessibility purposes — it was nice to be able to see an artist play without having to leave my home, and so perhaps for people who cannot attend live music due to inaccessible venues, this could be a good thing.

Leblanc: I believe that everything will be back to normal. The public, from what I see, is thrilled to go back to shows, and want to encourage us whether it's by buying concert tickets, merch and, of course, our music. That's really encouraging for me and for the musicians I know.

OKS: Personally, I definitely want to bounce back, but only when it makes sense. Sometimes, forcing something at the wrong time ends up making a situation worse. If we can start to control this virus, and introduce live music in the safest possible way, I'm all for it. I definitely miss it, but I just want everything to be right before artists go back out there and play live shows.

Cheong: It feels pretty clear that, in the future, there will be shows that have a combination of live audience and people tuning in via livestream. This model might allow for smaller live shows to monetize virtual audiences. I could imagine this being good for artists and local venues and promoters assuming that we have access to the means to stream and it isn't made totally exclusive by gatekeepers of any kind.

Dave 1: I'd love to say that we need a keener awareness of safety precautions, hygiene, ventilation and all of that, but honestly, after a crippling year off the road, I just want things to bounce back to the way they were — and then some!

Kylie V: I think I've been hoping that the old live music industry will just come back as soon as possible but, thinking more about it now, I don't see that entirely as the future. I really hope there is more effort put into the safety of shows, not just COVID-wise but protecting everyone in the audience from weirdos, etc. I also hope that we can bounce back to some approximation of the way things were eventually, but I know there are definitely some irreversible changes.
SNRK: There's definitely going to be a 'new normal' from here on out. I don't think the livestream shows are going away anytime soon, but there is definitely a hunger from fans to return to the experience of a live show — we feel that with our fans. I can see situations where, if you can't buy a ticket to physically be at the venue, there'll still be the option to see it on a stream, which could help to democratize live music and make it more accessible.

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