Photograph of a group of musicians sitting, talking and jamming together inside the Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo, Ontario.
DANIELLE DEVEAU PHOTO

MIDTOWN STORIES: MIDTOWN RADIO BRINGS MUSICIANS TOGETHER

Local musicians see a huge need for more collaboration opportunities in their community. Just ask them.  

On Monday, May 27, 2024, Midtown Radio hosted an event where musicians from across the region gathered in the Hearth Room at Emmanuel United Church to connect, collaborate and create.  

Twenty-five local musicians shared songs, stories and advice, and discussed life as independent musicians.  

The event kicked off with a two-song performance from Alyssa DVM who returned home to the region in 2022 after completing a postsecondary degree.  

At first, finding her community was a challenge, despite her growing up here.  

“The post [COVID-19] vibes here were a bit strange because a lot of things closed down,” DVM said.  

Overall, however, her experience was a positive one. It did not take her long to find her footing by attending open mic nights throughout the region.  

“I love this scene, I love the open mics…I love how everyone just supports each other,” she said.  

DVM’s positivity was echoed in other responses that the event’s facilitators heard throughout the evening.   

While performers struggle with many issues, the session participants focused on smaller, closer to home issues such as where to play, how to book a show and how to counteract writer’s block.  

These questions were broached in small groups where musicians shared some of their personal experiences in the industry.  

Folk singer Liv MacQueen suggested hopping on a less familiar instrument to combat writer’s block. Putting down your go-to guitar and tapping on some keys might just get you out of that rut.  

Local guitarist Caleb Khuu warned against putting too much focus on getting that viral reel. Social media followers and likes do not always translate into album and ticket sales. Direct engagement with your supporters is a better bet for knowing ensuring that people will attend your show.  

Matt Rappolt from local folk group I, the Mountain noted that having a clear streaming platform strategy can be more important than social media like Instagram. His band has worked hard over the past year to ensure that their songs are showing up on the right playlists and have been seeing some good results.  

Of course, there are some universal challenges that do not present any clear solutions.   

“One challenge is balancing music with the day job and staying excited about the music even when you are exhausted at the end of the day” Esther Wheaton, member of Onion Honey, said.  

Her admission received a collective response of agreement from the other musicians in the breakout session. Despite having a lot of musicians in this community, very few of them manage to live by music alone.   

Of course, sometimes a group breaks into a bigger scene. Prior to the pandemic, The MacQueen’s song “Ordinary Man” was picked up for play nationally by CBC Radio. That year, the husband-and-wife duo received three separate SOCAN payments that were each enough to cover one -month’s mortgage payment. The story thrilled the other musicians at the session for whom a song earnings a SOCAN cheque worth cashing is part of the professional dream.  

Much of the conversation focused on professional development hurdles: better access to session musicians, help with songwriting and more guidance on how to leverage social media.  

Musicians in the community are leveraging what resources they have to support a music scene that they know is punching above its weight, but often feels invisible, sidelined, and underappreciated.  

Overall, the musicians at the event were in agreement about what would benefit them right now: more opportunities for conversation and collaboration with others in their industry, better access to mentorship and more development spaces such as small venues that exist for music, not just with music.   

Danielle Deveau is the co-founder of Midtown Radio