Noon: I started my morning at the Folk Music Ontario conference at the ambitious-sounding workshop called How to Make a Living as an Artist Without Destroying the World (or Yourself).
Spoiler alert: the answer is “get a job.”
But that advice, delivered by moderator Jorge Raquena Ramos of the West End Cultural Centre, was not delivered in a manner that was dismissive or judgmental. Jorge himself is an artist with a day job.
Instead, it was about dropping, for once, the pretense that careers as singer-songwriters or performers pay the bills these days as long as you’re “good enough” or “doing it right” and being real about what it takes to have a career in the arts.
Quite apart from relieving a lot of financial stress so that artists can focus on art-making, jobs give you skills that can help your career, Jorge said. Imaging being an artist with accounting skills!
Doing music-industry-adjacent work, such as working for bars or venues, gives a person a lot of opportunities to make connections. And skilled labour is hard to find right now, he said. He’d love to find a female sound person. Hint hint, women.
Tiiu Strutt talked candidly about how she used to feel that she couldn’t say she was making money as an artist unless she was making money directly from her art. She feels differently now.
Anna Ruddick, who does in fact make a living as a bassist for hire, said she worked at bartending gigs for 15 years or so before she had enough connections to pay her bills this way.
Luke Wallace still does the odd bit of construction, he said.
All in all, it was a session that offered a kind of loving, honest reality check about the state of the industry while also celebrating artists who do what they need to do to support their art.
And that’s not even all that happened during the session!
There were other great conversations too.
Tiiu, for example, talked about working to build appreciation for live music in her own community by trying to sell out 200 seats in her community hall for her album launch.
It’s not just about trying to promote herself, she said. It’s also about trying to get her community to embrace the live music opportunities that are right in front of them, so that they’ll support other artists that are coming through town too, instead of trying to get Taylor Swift tickets at all costs.
The participants all talked about the need for child care in musical spaces so that women don’t feel like they need to quit their artistic jobs to raise kids. That issue is especially pertinent to Latinas, Jorge said, because of a cultural value around procreating while young.
Finally, while Luke Wallace talked about the limits on artists’ abilities to affect change on huge issues like fossil fuel consumption and arms manufacturing, other participants talked about the need to not let that fact become an excuse for not doing anything.
“The calvary is not coming to save us,” Tiiu said (I least I think it was Tiiu). We need to do all that we can.
Honestly, a part of me would love to recap the entire workshop for you, because there were so many great discussions. And I even missed some because I was late and had to take a bathroom break.
But I’ll leave it at that for now because there’s so much good music I also need to tell you about.
12:30 p.m. – Not only do the members of Newfoundland’s Quote the Raven sing it exquisite harmony. It turns out they’re also funny, which I suppose is no surprise for East Coasters. Early in the set, they talk about heading to Nova Scotia in the middle of the hurricane to write and record their album in two weeks. “It turns out you can’t make a record without power,” Jordan says. Later on, they discus which addiction is better: alcohol or Lego. Jordan convincingly argues the Lego may be more expensive but it’s a better retirement plan. In a world where there are a LOT of extremely good acts offering beautiful harmony singing, putting on a show BETWEEN songs too definitely gives Quote the Raven an edge in the entertainment efficiency department (a measurement I just made up).
1:15 – Francesca Panetta has just finished her set in the developing artist suite to enthusiastic applause. She has a pure, plaintive voice and thoughtfully-crafted songs – one of which is about the transition from young love to mature love – and she accompanies herself by gently picking an electric guitar. At one point, she halts a song to deal with a mic stand issue but she handles the situation with confidence.
1:24 – Vivian Forte may be a developing artist but she’s not 21, judging by the life chronology she just shared with us. She works by day as an environmental scientist and spent several years recovering from a bad concussion that forced her to learn to play and sing all over again. She tells us this by way of an intro to a song about memory and letting go of the people we used to be – a song that she hauntingly performs by accompanying herself solo on accordion. Beautiful stuff.
Up next, Jessica Spurrell writes songs with clever, impressionistic lyrics and sings in that gentle, girly vocal style of modern French chanson innovators like Couer de Pirate and Chloe Saint-Marie. Jessica is the only artist so far to have her developing artist program mentor on stage with her as Janice Jo Lee plays percussion with her on two songs.
2:30 p.m. – Back in the Grand Ballroom, the main daytime showcase venue, it’s time for my most anticipated showcase of the weekend: The Snake Charmer. Indian bagpiper Archy Jay is already a bona fide star on YouTube with more than 750,000 subscribers falling in love with her infectious blends of Celtic, bhangra and electronic music and covers of favourite pop songs. Archy moved to Canada in January to study, and now here she is in OUR booking conference looking to fill up her concert calendar. Something tells me that won’t be a problem. Her set was everything I expected and more. The music is outrageously high-energy. She’s got confidence in spades on stage, and it turns out, she’s also a fantastic vocalist. Snap her up now folks before she’s priced out of the folk market.
3:50 – I’m in suite 100, where FMO executive director Rosalyn Dennett is interviewing the legendary Sylvia Tyson as part of a listening party for her forthcoming album, At the End of the Day.
Fun fact I never knew before: “Four Strong Winds” was the first song Ian Tyson ever wrote. “You Were On My Mind” was Sylvia’s.
They split in part because of Ian’s increasing interest in cowboy music. Sylvia was interested in lyrics, and she felt there were things she couldn’t say in the Ian and Sylvia material.
Rosalyn has opened things up to questions from the floor, and someone has just asked Sylvia about the changes she’s seen in the industry over the years.
“I don’t think I’d like to be starting out now,” she says. “I’m such a luddite.”
Since COVID, there are fewer and fewer places to develop your chops, she adds.
Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned morning workshop, Rachel Barecca asks Sylvia for her advice on sustainable careers. She replies coyly that people are interested in you when you’re young. Then in middle age, you become invisible. Then in your 70s and 89s, people think you know things.
Another person asks if Sylvia has seen the film A Mighty Wind.
She replies that she has, and then recounts an anecdote about actress Catherine O’Hara calling her and asking what it was like being in a married duo. Sylvia told her, she says, that if they had a new band member, she would tell them not to intervene if she and Ian had a fight about an arrangement because it wasn’t really about music.
Finally, someone asks Sylvia if she’ll be touring the new album.
She says her agent is currently looking into whether or not there is interest from next summer’s festivals.
You heard it here first, folks.