The New Normal: How Canadian Musicians Are Adapting During These Times

Ian Gormely Community

A Message from Lixar:

Shelley Fraser, Director, Communications and Community Engagement, Lixar IT

Shelley Fraser Director, Communications and Community Engagement Lixar IT

Music has played such an essential role during the Pandemic. It has been there for every emotion: happy, sad, reflective, hopeful, up, even or down. It has helped us get off the couch and dance or simply been a reliable companion when we needed a friend in the room. We can’t undervalue music and its worth, hope and healing during this time. To pay tribute, we’ve commissioned music industry experts and artists from across the country to write an article on why music is important, especially now. Music is part of our collective resiliency, our culture and our Canadian Spirit. Thank you for taking the time to pause and read the articles and reflect on how and why music is important to you and to our community.

The New Normal: How Canadian Musicians
Are Adapting During These Times

Music article by Ian Gormely

Like most Canadians, mid-March’s government issued stay-at-home orders sent Maddy Wilde on an emotional rollercoaster. “Every day there was something new we couldn’t do.” When the dust settled, Wilde had lost both her day job and her source of income: playing with her band, synth-driven Toronto indie trio Rapport.

After coming to accept that “everything is not happening, everyone has lost something” she and band- and roommate Kurt Marble had to figure out how to “stay motivated, keep writing and try to figure out ways to keep going.” 

Since the outset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, many have turned to music as both a balm and a distraction. Yet, without the ability to tour, the primary way most artists make money in the modern music business, musicians of all stripes are quickly adapting to a “new normal” as they try to make ends meet while staying creative.

“There is a resourcefulness that is inherent to DIY artists,” says Jonny Dovercourt, artistic director of long-running Toronto concert series Wavelength.

Many artists, including the uber-prolific indie-country star Daniel Romano, and Toronto punks F**ked Up, have released surprise albums, singles and live documents since the pandemic hit. Others, including former Hollerado drummer Jake Boyd and the Strumbellas’ Isabel Ritchie, have offered virtual music lessons for a variety of skill levels. Some of the projects donate their proceeds while others (hopefully) give a modest boost to an artist’s financial bottom line. 

“They’re all survivors who constantly figure out how to adapt to changing circumstances,” says Dovercourt.

In this hodge-podge of creative endeavors, livestreams have emerged as the go-to format for artists looking to connect with fans with everyone from superstars like Alicia Keys to amateur musicians broadcasting intimate performances and online chats from the comfort of their homes.

On May 2 Wavelength held its first live-streamed music festival, Wavestream, featuring a wide range of artists, from The Weather Station to former A Tribe Called Red member DJ Shub.

Broadcasting on platforms like Instagram Live and Facebook Live can scratch a creative itch while keeping your name top of mind with fans, but it offers few financial incentives for performers, making them a poor substitute for touring artists.

“Livestreams are really about direct engagement with fans rather than a replacement for live concerts,” says Dovercourt. Wavelength is throwing a “May Long Distance Party” with Rapport on May 16, with Wilde and Marble’s band- and non-roommate Mike Pereira performing on the porch in order to maintain social-distance. They’re already thinking beyond a typical live music presentation for the performance. “We’re really interested in visually setting a cool interesting space that ppl are viewing – trying to capture a mood.”

“[Livestreams] are their own unique medium,” confirms Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan who cites a recent Jill Barber livestream as “a more direct and vulnerable live performance” than any time he’s seen his West Coast peer in real life.

Dan Magan, Singer-Songwriter | Photo by Vanessa Heins

Mangan was quick to adapt to the livestream environment, holding regular events for his dedicated fanbase via the start-up he co-founded, Side Door. Originally billed as “AirBnB for venues,” connecting artists with atypical performance spaces like a house or coffee shop, the company has pivoted over the last two months to host performances from artists like Said The Whale, Danny Michel and former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page.

Unlike most platforms however, Side Door is already setup to monetize performances with artists charging fans a few bucks to get up close and virtually personal. Mangan says the average performance draws about 250 viewers and generates an average gross of $1,700.

“Nobody would have thought to pay to see an artist at home but now that’s happening,” he says. “But it’s creating an ecosystem where the audience is adapting as well.”

Ian Gormely is a music writer based in Toronto, Ontario.