When Danko Jones first started touring with his band in 2001, the path to a professional music career seemed straightforward.
“My model is so old,” said the Juno-nominated Canadian rocker and lead singer of the band bearing his name. “My model would be: Get a band, get a space, get some gear, buy a ton of records, listen to them a whole bunch of times, let it seep into your blood and your bones, and roll the dice and see what comes out of it.”
While that was no guarantee of success, Mr. Jones, who declined to reveal his age, believed that the most talented groups would eventually get the recognition they deserved. But the music business has since become a lot more complicated.
“If you were to tell me tomorrow that I had to start from zero, I wouldn’t know how,” he said. “The Internet has exploded where it’s levelled the playing field in a way – bands who just got out of the garage are on sort of the same level as bands who have a $5-million marketing budget. On the other hand, it’s made it harder for really good bands to naturally shine. The cream doesn’t really rise to the top any more.”
Today, desktop studios, the Internet and social media have made it easier than ever to record and promote an album, but a new generation of Canadian musicians is looking for guidance on how to break through the noise.
Fortunately, a select group of Canadian musicians, songwriters, producers and DJs was given the chance earlier this year to hear from and be inspired by those who’ve already figured it out.
The Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp, a regional edition of an annual international music development program, admitted 20 aspiring Canadian musicians to a weekend-long mentorship and training program in Montreal earlier this year. Those selected had an opportunity to sit down with industry professionals to receive advice on breaking into the industry, while collaborating with established Canadian artists.
“There’s not many places where you can get that type of information directly from the people themselves,” said Montreal-based DJ and producer Richard (Shash’U) St-Aubin, who participated in the Montreal Bass Camp. “I’ve never been in that type of scenario, submerged in a world where you’re with other people who are into the same things that I am, and have one-on-one conversations with peers and people who are veterans in their own field. That’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”
The event not only gave musicians an opportunity to discuss their careers with industry professionals, but it also allowed them to collaborate with other Canadian artists, with access to high-end equipment they may not have had a chance to use otherwise.
“Being in a situation where I’m in a room and there’s a whole bunch of gear we can try, it’s like going back to a state of childhood, just exploring and messing around,” said Mr. St-Aubin, who honed his craft alongside Montreal DJ and producer Lunice Fermin Pierre – better known by his stage name, Lunice. Mr. Fermin Pierre has gone on to collaborate with Kanye West since participating in the London instalment of the Red Bull Music Academy in 2010.
“We’re both from the city, we’re both from Montreal, I’ve seen him at shows, but I’ve never had an opportunity to just chill and talk and turn some knobs,” Mr. St-Aubin said. “It’s engaging having that experience with someone who’s been in it and their career is growing.”
Mr. St-Aubin said that during the Montreal Bass Camp, Mr. Fermin Pierre advised him on a number of topics, including how to set up his drum pads so that he could produce simpler notes that have a greater impact.
“It’s the kind of environment where you can really ask any type of question and they will find the best person to explain it to you. That’s the whole idea of RBMA,” said Mr. Fermin Pierre, who returned to the program this year as a mentor. “The information that’s given at the academy is so serious. It’s completely different [than music production school].”
Mr. Fermin Pierre said that while Canadians have a variety of resources and government grants available to them, such as the Radio Starmaker Fund and the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings (FACTOR), no other program in Canada provides a mentorship environment to help aspiring musicians hone their craft and reach their intended audience.
“I recommend literally anybody, even the biggest artist – I would even sit down with [American rapper] Rick Ross and tell him to apply for the academy,” Mr. Fermin Pierre said. “There’s a use for anybody of any status to be at the academy, no joke.”
Special to The Globe and Mail