The Business Of Music: A Conversation With Emerging And Established Artists In The Toronto Music Scene

By Jessa Evenden & Carey Roach

“This is the most we’ve ever had show up,” a volunteer for Hart House Stages Concert Series claimed as the crowd for November 6th Business in Music panel began to settle. The panel was comprised of Indie88 radio personality Raina Douris, Broken Social Scene member Brendan Canning and record label founder Mark Zubek. The accomplished panel was punctuated with a performance by Aukland, an emerging Toronto alternative rock band.

The night began with a moderated discussion on the Canadian music world. Raina, Brendan and Mark provided valuable insight from the perspective of established music industry members.

The panel didn’t waste time glamorizing the music industry. More often than not, being a musician includes “eating a lot of macaroni and cheese and just being poor,” as it did for Mark in his twenties. And although Brendan joked that “it’s a scary world out there”, there is truth behind his words. Entering the music industry isn’t easy at first, and “if you want to do this for a living, [you have to be] too stupid to quit.”

Finding the medium between art and business can be a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. Music can certainly feel like a job sometimes, but being “barefoot backstage someplace at a festival with your buddies” demonstrates the magic of the music business, as it is for Canning. Zubek now thinks of commercial appeal while writing a song in a way he didn’t during his youth, but he still writes principally for himself.

During the question and answer period, many budding musicians tried to ask how they could flourish, but the answers they got were all the same; there is no exact formula for success as a band, especially in the indie community. “It’s all situation- based,” Canning stressed to us in a candid moment after the panel. “It all depends on what your goals are.” What’s most important is perfecting your craft, playing as many shows as possible, and being apart of a local music scene.

Mississauga-based alternative rock group Aukland knows that all too well. The band closed off the evening with a 45 minute set featuring tracks off of their EP The Orange Above, and their unreleased and upcoming full-length album. The crowd was a homogenous mixture of seasoned Aukland fans and U of T students, making for a lively show where the band frequently prompted the audience to sing along to their upbeat, danceable tunes. We caught up with Sean, Jeff, Dave and Andrew after their set to get the opinions of up-and-coming Toronto musicians on the subjects discussed during the panel prior.

During the evening, one point stood out across the board – something about Toronto is special. “Being a Toronto musician is about being involved in the music community. We just support each other.” The band stated, “We’re all in it together.” Each member of Aukland reiterated the importance of attending local gigs, as Reina Douris brought up during the panel. “Our rule of thumb is ‘if you’re not playing a show, be at a show.’”

It appears that the advice of established musicians and industry experts is being heard, as local bands that begin to gain notoriety reference tips and tricks shared by old pros. The main premise holds strong, “If you’re a good band you’ll get heard,” as Canning stated, particularly in Toronto. Aukland, however, jokes “90% is just Instagram.” After listening to their set, it’s obvious that Aukland is producing amazing content, the rest of the leg work is a combination of networking, involvement in the scene and luck.

Without a solid recipe, making waves in the music industry can be a daunting and overwhelming project. But there are feelings that can be shared between successful musicians and budding talent alike: “ You write music just for yourself, and when other people like it, it’s a really odd feeling but it’s really cool.”

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