CANADIAN ARTISTS EMBRACE CHANGE
After Major Industry Upheaval, Canadian Musicians Are Embracing Change
SINCE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HIT CANADA IN EARLY 2020, IT’S FAR EASIER to list what’s changed than what’s stayed the same, and the music industry is no different. With live music having been on pause for well over a year, it feels like the very soul of the music industry (or at least what’s left of it) has been taken away.
Eight musicians from across Canada answered a series of questions about the country’s music industry and their dreams for the future: Kamilah Apong, vocalist for Toronto-based disco revivalists Tush; Montreal-based dream popster Rachel Leblanc, who records as Vanille; Winnipeg-based rapper Anthony OKS of the Lytics; Toronto-based electronic producer and vocalist Victoria Cheong, also known as New Chance; David “Dave 1” Macklovitch of Montreal electro-funk duo Chromeo; Vancouver-based folk-rocker Kylie V; and Young D and Yung Trybez of Vancouver-based rap duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Here is what they shared with us.
What needs to change in the Canadian music industry?
ANTHONY OKS: Canadian music has historically leaned rock and pop, but now, the landscape is changing, and I can feel that. Labels, radio, playlists are introducing different genres into their repertoire now. I think this is deeper than music — Canada is seeing more and more immigrants everyday, and those immigrants are introducing new styles of music to the country. I feel like music platforms are also celebrating music from First Nations groups a lot more now. BIPOC identity has been interwoven into the DNA of Canadian music for a long time, but now we’re starting to see that transformation firsthand. It’s an amazing thing.
VICTORIA CHEONG: The most urgent thing that comes to mind is that artists need to be paid more for streaming. The way that people listen to music now is primarily via streaming services that don’t pay artists or rights holders nearly enough to sustain the art form. The current situation is not equitable for creators. It’s become clear to me during the pandemic that we can’t just rely on touring and performance to make a living. It was never particularly environmentally or energetically sustainable for artists anyway.
KYLIE V: I think there needs to be a huge shift in the diversity of Canadian music, and the industry needs to support that financially. What I mean by that is that I think there are more than enough cishet white men in Canadian music, and while, yes, a lot of them are great, the focus needs to be shifted even more off of them, and instead toward artists who are Indigenous, Black, LGBTQIA2+, artists of colour, disabled artists — really everyone who isn’t a cishet white man.
What parts of the Canadian music industry do we need to preserve?
KAMILAH 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 the 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.
RACHEL 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.
SNOTTY NOSE REZ KIDS: 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 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 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.
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.
When it comes to playing shows again, what’s on your mind?
OKS: COVID kinda changed everything for me. I really had to pivot my day-to-day. I have a routine now, and I’m at home a lot with my fam (partner and dog). It’s all just so different now. There will be some hurdles in trying to fit touring back into my life. I’m also not that into staying up late anymore. I guess you can say, COVID made me into a little baby again! But, I’m sure once things pop off again, I’ll be ready. I’ll have to be ready.
DAVE 1: Generally speaking, the feeling of community and communion with fans. The human warmth, the contact. Making up for lost time and finally being able to let go. Hopefully we can see some support come in for venues that were the most hurt during this past year. They need it. That’s why we’re donating proceeds from our new live album [ Date Night: Chromeo Live!] to the Touring Professionals Alliance. Venues, venue staff, agents, crew members — they need all the help they can get to get back on their feet after what just happened. That’s top of mind for us.
At the same time, apparently there’s never been so many shows and tours announced in such a short period. It really feels like it went from 0 to 100 in, like, five weeks. For us, it can be triggering or anxiety- and FOMO-inducing because we don’t have new music out and won’t properly tour until next year. But when we do tour, we want to pick up where we left off in 2019 and keep building what we started with our live band.
What have you learned about yourself as an artist in the past 16 months, and how are you looking to carry that with you as things open up again?
APONG: Tush put on an amazing and intimate live show that thrives on a stage with an audience. I was reminded through its absence: live performance is truly my calling, and I am at my best when I am on stage. This is my truth, inimitably. I feel like that has lit a fire under my ass and I am going to evolve into a new form when we start playing shows again. If you’re reading this, book me.
LEBLANC: In the past year, I learned that I’m very capable of doing what I do. I began, like a lot of women, with imposter syndrome and not really knowing if I fit in this “bro music scene,” but I realized that this is my place also! What helps me with this feeling is watching all my women and non-binary colleagues taking their places with a strong hand. When we see ourselves represented, we believe in us and it will empower young people to do the same, and that really makes me happy!
SNRK: If you can make it through this pandemic, you can make it through anything! Stay humble, dream big and follow through bigger!