About that ‘music career’ you’ve been working on

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a Rose Garden

Something is happening in the Roots Music Scene.

Things are changing. A whole bunch of things.

Things are imploding, exploding and corroding!

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Toronto-based singer-songwriter Jory Nash, recently posted the following letter on facebook.

Confession time: I’m not playing any gigs this summer and it’s bumming me out a bit. The nature of this music thing can lead to times when you are so busy with work/gigs that you blink and a season has gone by but other times you don’t hired to play and you wonder if you ever will again. I’m in one of those downtimes right now. I don’t have a gig booked until October. Summer is music festival season and I’m so proud of and happy for my many musical friends who are playing so many great festivals and stages right now across this country. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of fun festival pics from friends doing their thing and spreading musical joy. But amongst the feelings of happiness for my friends is a little bit of professional jealousy. Festivals are wonderful experiences for artists and fans alike, a musical culture of camarderie and personal and professional growth, and I’m missing that, big time.

This is the second summer in a row I haven’t been hired to play any folk fests (and the first ever where I couldn’t land any gigs at all) and it’s a worrying trend, especially after I released a new album this year that was well received. I’m hopeful that 2016 will be a better year for summer festival bookngs. I know I have a lot to offer festival ADs in terms of workshop versatility, mainstage performances and general positive vibes. Here’s to hoping.

I know Jory isn’t the only one having this experience. I think this is happening to many great artists for a number of reasons, in no particular order:

 

  • there are legions of more artists applying for the same few spots at Festivals than used to be.
  • many of the Festivals seem to be caught up in booking ‘this weeks flavour’ of artist more than they ever were. If you were ‘last weeks flavour’ you can no longer be this weeks flavour ~ you have had your chance and that’s it.
  • it used to be if you were popular at a Festival, you could pretty well count on returning once every 3-4 years. That is no longer true. There are simply too many choices now and peoples attention spans (or fan loyalties) simply don’t last as long.
  • Numerous Festival Artistic Directors will really only deal with booking agents at this point in time, aside from the local acts they hire. It used to be that ADs would go out into the field and spend time curating their events, proudly presenting artists no one had ever presented before. I’m not so sure this is  the case anymore. People now do their booking more around industry events exclusively.
  • What was once the ‘commercial’ music scene has resorted to an invasion of the folk and roots world because there is no longer a place in the commercial world for many of the artists and perhaps even more so,  music business people who used to make their living in that world. They have discovered and manipulated the non-profit Festival scene into being their new domain.
  • Funders are interested in seeing ‘deliverables’ which often relate to more ‘corporate model’ demands not really making  quality art the main objective.
  • Each Festival has it’s quota of artists it will book in every genre of music. This also has to include a diverse selection of performers based on ethnicity, age, sexual preferences, geographic location, etc.

I think it’s fair to say that 90% of the time you don’t get booked to play at a festival, it has NOTHING TO DO with you! 

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This is so hard to remember as an artist.

But so important to acknowledge. 

Those of us who play music for a living are blessed to have a pursuit and a profession we love. It used to be, you could make a decent living as well. I’m not so sure that you still can.

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Perhaps the 70’s set us all up for unrealistic expectations.

We remain blessed to be in this community and to have something we love to do. We also get beat up lots if we put ourselves out there.

The point of this article is to start a conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about all this mess called the music business.

Thanks Jory,  for your truthful message in a bottle. Here’s a response, thrown back out into the Ocean.

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “About that ‘music career’ you’ve been working on

  1. It’s significant for me that on the same day we are thinking about Jordy’s post, we are also seeing the demise of the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
    I think that the closing of the OFC was due, in some part, to the commercialization of Ottawa’s blues and folk festivals into the non community oriented juggernauts that they are.
    Doug, I think that a lot of what you say is right, but there is another dimension.
    Jory is living in the time of the great singer songwriter glut. The term singer songwriter, to me, is largely meaningless. Singer-songwriter? is that Feist or is that Lucinda Williams? Is it Phil Collins or Woody Guthrie. Some AD’s, not having the inclination to sort the wheat from the chaff, just abandon the singer songwriter slot to the tried and true and the established.
    I had a conversation with a couple of younger singer songwriters a couple of years ago about the business and specifically how to break into th festivals.. I suggested that to make themselves attractive to festivals they were going to have to become bands. Not a band of “songwriters in the round”, but an actual band, with a sound. They might have to do some material in the band that is not by them. Having scored gigs as a band at a festival, you are then more likely to get the nod and a slot as a songwriter at a later date.
    As independant artists we have to have fingers in different pies, and we have to try and anticipate our market.

    • well said James. this may be true for other types of musicians as well, it can be a curse to call yourself a bluesman or a jazz musician, or celtic… but at the same time, it can sometimes get you a gig! That being said, wasn’t Willie Dixon one of the great singer-songwriters of all times? Yet he’s never thought of that way.

  2. Very insightful and helpful, Doug. As someone who has worked as a folk musician, on and off, and largely “under the radar”over the past 30 years, I concur. I empathize with Jory, who is an extremely talented musician. It is often difficult, yet so very important to remember that we musicians do this for the love of the music, and not necessarily the adulation or compensation we receive.

  3. This response came from David Woodhead on Facebook:
    I read Jory’s post too, and didn’t comment then but certainly share the sentiment. I’m a little older than him and feel very fortunate to have experienced an amazing variety of musical experiences and made a humble living doing it. These experiences are continuing, as music is a bottomless well of inspiration, but I’ll agree with your comments on the commercialization and competition prevalent in today’s booking scene. I stayed with the folk-festival scene because of the lack of this attitude, plus the crazy joyful stuff that took place behind the scenes. I’m not sure I can invest the huge effort to it would take to understand and participate in this new reality.

    To which I responded :
    Nor should you have to David. People in Canada (at least) who book Festivals should take pride in knowing something about who you and others with significant history in our Nations music scene are !! They should be as serious about that as they are about the up and comers . I feel , it comes with the job and always have felt that. But sadly, it doesn’t seem to be a priority so much anymore . I think you still have to be relevant as an artist and continue to grow and do interesting things , as you do, but still, every festival ad should be able to name at least 5 bass players and 5 drummers who played a significant role in building our legacy , no ?