There’s no denying that Windsor has one of the most dynamic music scenes in Canada, with artists across all genres carving out their own unique niche while building towards a bigger picture. So, why is Windsor’s music scene so under-appreciated on a provincial and national scale? In recent years, there seems to be a trend in the local music community that focuses on staying closer to home – and while that’s a decision every artist has to make for themselves, it’s important for young musicians to know that it’s not the only option.
Over my past few years working in the music industry, I’ve lost track of the number of young, hungry artists that have talked about breaking out of their local scene but lack the tools and information to do it. They’re dreaming of packing up the van, bringing their music across the country and coming back heroes – and are willing to drop everything to do it. They just need a nudge in the right direction.
With that in mind, I decided to talk to the people who’ve been there – a small sampling of some of Windsor’s successful breakout acts, both new and old, who have generously offered to lend a hand with some advice that has served them well on the road to their own success. The featured artists range from your local weekend warriors to internationally acclaimed artists, but they all share one thing in common: they’re Windsor boys who’ve managed to make an impact beyond the city limits, and they’re here to help you do the same. Take their advice seriously – or don’t. That’s your call.
“Our connection to the local scene was huge for us. Your local scene will nurture your music, challenge your music, break your heart and lift you up – all the stuff you need to grow as a musician”
The Blue Stones:
“Windsor has been a blessing for us – everything you could ever need is in close proximity, and everyone’s pretty tight-knight. The scene here is supportive and caring – promoters aren’t all about the bottom line and how much beer you can sell. They give you the time to build your dreams, and will remain your biggest fans even when you’re out on the road. So, play shows in Windsor and rock your home town – because if your home crowd doesn’t like you, nobody else will and that’s a fact”.
The Unquiet Dead:
“This scene, if treated with respect and honesty, will carry you to your dreams. They can smell a phoney a mile away. If they feel you honestly want this musical dream of doing this full time, they will support you until the bitter end. But if you’re just doing it for the posturing, they will chew you up and leave you on the stage by yourself – which makes it one hell of a training ground. Our local scene is a great source of mentors and suitors, detractors and enablers, critics and naysayers. And you can learn from all of them. There is no greater feeling than coming home from a few days on the road to a show in Windsor. We just sweat better here”.
WHEN SHOULD BANDS START LOOKING BEYOND WINDSOR CITY LIMITS?
“If you’re in a band and you want to make a big splash, and you aren’t immediately thinking of how to tour out and push your music further – then you’ve already dug your own grave. No matter how good your album is, how active your social media is, or how much radio play or press coverage you get, the best way to get your name out there is playing well for people and making them fans”.
The Unquiet Dead:
“You should always be looking to move beyond your local scene. Getting music out to other cities and audiences is a key ingredient for evolving as a musician. People forget that sometimes a large percentage of your early audiences are friends who are curious and friends who are loyal – there’s no guarantee how often they will continue to come see you. The curious may discover that they’re not fond of the music and the loyal will eventually feel that they’ve paid their mandatory friendship loyalty debt and suddenly find something else to do on the night you’re playing”.
Gypsy Chief Goliath:
“The best advice I could give is to network and trade shows. So you want to play a show in Montreal? Hop on the internet and find like-minded bands in the same boat as you in that area. Email them and tell them where you’re from, offer to hook them up with a Windsor show if they can get you a Montreal one. If you can make this happen for cities along the way, you can build yourself a tour with guaranteed draw”.
“All media attention is important – you have to capitalize on every outlet that will bother to listen to you for more than ten seconds. Your first step should be to write great songs, and then perfect them. If you’re not writing good songs, all the media hype in the world won’t change that fact, and you’re not going to do well. My suggestion? Go to shows that you’re not playing at and talk to people. Introduce yourself. Buy someone a beer and get to know them, and always ask for input. It will pay huge dividends in the long run. You might get blown off, but don’t get discouraged – eventually, someone is going to listen, and you need to make sure that what you have to offer is good. In this business, sitting behind a computer isn’t enough – you need to connect with people”
The Unquiet Dead:
“Building a healthy relationship with local media is crucial. When you start seeing faces you don’t know getting into your music, it’s a drug – and it’s one that keeps you excited about your own music, which propels you to evolve. It’s all cyclical. Getting your name out there, starting with college radio and independent media is a great start – but getting attention in mainstream doesn’t hurt either. The more buzz you have in your local community, the more the uninformed will consider you a viable entertainment option, and there’s more chance people will come see you that you’ve never met before. Don’t censor yourself or assume you know who will or won’t play your music – get it out there, because you never know who may pay attention or get behind you”
“The best recommendation to any band is to keep doing your thing and focus on doing it really well. If the music is great, media will seek you out. I’ve never had tremendous success spending days in front of the computer trying to convince someone to write about my band”
HOW CAN YOU LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA TO BUILD AN ONLINE PRESENCE?
“The more of these sites you can be on, the better – but you have to make sure that the content is different across all platforms. If someone’s following you on five separate sites because they’re a huge fan, and they see the exact same post five times, they’re going to be turned off. Play to your strengths. If someone in your band does great photography work, let them focus on making your Instagram great. Is someone in your band really into Twitter? Let them manage that account. There’s no sense in having a social media presence just for the sake of having it – you have to leverage your social media presence to build awareness, but not at the expense of putting on a great show”.
“I used to have a management team to run my social media; now a single person runs it and does an incredible job. Finding people who really believe in what you’re doing and are pushing your music because they believe in you, not because they’re paid to – you can’t buy that kind of publicity or connection. All the money, radio play and label contracts in the world can’t do that”
Neverending White Lights:
“The joy of networking comes with touring and playing shows. To get a good online buzz going, you need followers – but it’s incredibly hard to get followers without content first. Some bands find an interesting loophole in online buzz – if you can get a respected blog or publication to share your music, you can cut out years of work because that word spreads like wildfire. And suddenly everyone knows your song, and you’ve got the best stepping stone of your life to build off of. But it rarely happens like that. Be prepared to work for it.”
“It’s all about expectations and building yourselves up at a manageable pace. Think about the world as a pond, and Windsor as the epicentre of that pond. Your album and your live show are your rocks – that’s what you’re basing yourself on. If you drop that rock in the centre of the pond, you’re going to get the biggest splash – but you can’t expect to ripple immediately to the edge of the pond. That takes time. You ripple out a small distance, and build success in places like Chatham, London and Sarnia. Then you let the ripple go a bit further, and hit Hamilton and Toronto, with your success on the first ripple already in motion. Keep extending yourselves slowly. I see so many bands that plan their first tour ever across the country, and set themselves up for failure. You don’t want every show you play on a tour to be in a city you’ve never played before, because you’re not going to do well. You need to get your legs in new cities slowly, and build a name for yourself as you move out. You’ll build a circuit of venues that know you and want to book you, instead of doing guesswork every time”
Gypsy Chief Goliath:
“Leverage your time on tour. Give yourself enough time in each city so that you can make an unannounced stop at local/college radio and TV stations. Almost always, someone will invite you into the studio and at the very least, they’ll do a pre-recorded interview to help support and promote your show that evening. If you bring acoustic guitars, you might even be able to perform in studio. Try and contact the local record stores as well for an impromptu performance before each gig – and suddenly, you’re doing press in the afternoons before each gig”
“Make sure that you cover your ass on the road. Be prepared for the fact that you are going to lose some money on the road – it’s inevitable as a young band building a name for yourself. I always recommend building a kitty of cash from great shows to help make up for the shows on the road where attendance might not be what you want.”
WHAT SHOULD MUSICIANS BE WILLING TO SACRIFICE TO MAKE THEIR DREAM A REALITY?
The Blue Stones:
“You’re going to have to bite the bullet on a few shows, especially at first – our first show in Toronto, we literally got paid $12.50 in change. The sooner you accept the fact that you might lose some money getting started, the better off you’ll be. Save money from your hometown shows and work forward from there – it all evens out eventually. You lose a lot of stability when you choose to make your music your career, because it becomes the biggest and most important thing in your life. It takes a big toll on your personal life, and you have to be willing to sacrifice your money and your time. But the best part is, you’re old enough to make those types of decisions and spend your own money. You’re also young enough that you can still fuck up and manage to pull your life back together”.
“If you want to be rich and famous, you have to be ready to sacrifice just about everything – and even then, there’s no guarantee. I know bands that have an international presence and have toured the world. They still come home and sleep on their parents couches. Other than the memories they have and the acclaim, they have very little to show for it. It all comes down to your expectations. The last thing you want is a rude awakening about how much time it’s going to take you to hit that goal, or what you’ll have to give up to get there. It might be years before you get paid properly for what you’re doing – if at all. If you’re starting a band, you’d better absolutely love it, because the odds are definitely against you”
Neverending White Lights:
“My concern in 2014 with young bands is this: it’s never been this difficult. I don’t want to discourage people – I remember being in high school, writing songs and being told I couldn’t make it happen. And I never let that stop me. But with how easy it is to record and spread music, the competition is unlike nothing we’ve ever seen before. You have to network yourself like crazy and pound down doors until people pay attention. But as long as you have undeniably good music, nothing will stop you for long”
The Blue Stones:
“Someone introduced me to a great metaphor for building a music career by relating it to a bricklayer building a wall. You place each small victory along the way – each brick, a great show or a song played on the radio, a great review, a new fan – and by the time you pause to look back on your progress, you’ll be amazed to find that you’re slowly building a wall!”
“The only worthy advice that I can give is to carry on from the heart out. Be who you are! Conviction is the biggest thing in the business. Never stop working at your craft – working on developing the weakest parts of your music and maintaining the strengths while creating your own style – and things will happen. Don’t be afraid to branch out and write with other people. You’d be amazed what other musicians can teach you”.
Neverending White Lights:
“You need to differentiate yourself. Come up with an angle, something that no one else is doing. If you’re going to go for that cookie-cutter sound, you can still make it – it’s just going to be much harder to make people pay attention. With so much competition, you need to find something that you can do to stand out. To do so, you need content to prove it, and to create content, you need money in your pocket. Beg, borrow and steal the gear you need to make it happen, but when you walk into a label or agency, you need to have tangible proof that you are serious and people are paying attention. At the end of the day, gimmicks and coverage can only get you so far – your songs have to be good. If you have terrible songs, it won’t work out for you no matter who you get to pay attention. You also have to make sure that your sound and style are relevant. Maybe you’ve been pounding the pavement for ten years and nobody’s paid attention – well, maybe that means you need to repackage yourself! Throw some shit against the wall and see what sticks. The bottom line is to just have fun with it, because this music industry game is a lot like a scratch and win ticket. Despite your hard work, only 1% of people make it. That’s just how it is. You need to do it because it feels good, and work hard at it because you want to make the best music possible. Everything else is a bonus.”
So, there you have it folks – expert advice from people who’ve been there before. Of course, the most important thing to take away from this article is an understanding that these are things that worked for the individual musicians who tried them. Every band is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide that will guarantee you fame and success. But with so much talent and support right in your backyard, choosing to overlook the expertise and advice of those who’ve travelled the road you’re about to start is like taking a road trip without a map and hoping you find your way. Keep your heads up and most importantly, keeping writing great songs that you love. Sooner or later, other people will fall in love with them too.
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