Personalities in the music industry are inevitably ambiguous. At best the calculations of market analysts stamp out the creative perspectives of artists. At worst, they produce talentless, derivative acts.
Progress in technology has had a massive impact on the music industry. Production software and the reduced cost of hardware has made authentic artistry tremendously more accessible to musicians. Artists have a better chance to produce something genuine without the necessary trade-off of excessive management for studio time and gear. The availability of software however, creates space for anyone with the money to create music — even if they lack talent or originality.
Working within the industry, artists face the constraints of an emphasis on marketability and sales that can prevent creativity. Producing music independently has its own pitfalls, allowing access to technology to those who can afford it, whether or not they are producing anything truly new. The Varsity sat down with creators from both ends of the spectrum to discuss the costs and benefits of making music within and without the industry.
Evan Stewart is an alumnus of Metalworks Institute. After graduating from the audio production and engineering stream, he was “told to expect a phone call by one of his teachers.”
Two days later, Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shebib, reached out to him. Working for OVO Sound as an intern, Stewart is consistently watching sound leave the studio to an international audience of listeners.
The Varsity: Do you think people get into the industry for the wrong reasons?
Evan Stewart: Music has become more accessible, but you’ve got to know this is something that you really want. In my graduating class, there were only eight of us, even though 50 had started at the beginning of the first semester.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the lust for fame, but keep your head on straight. 40 is one of the most down-to-earth people I know — Drake as well. He introduced himself to me before I got a chance to introduce myself to him.
TV: Why do music leaks happen?
ES: It’s all planned and strategic. The “We Made It” freestyle [by Drake] was dropped without warning and had 300,000 listens before I even knew it was out, and I worked on that track. There is far more thought put into everything than people realize. Every release of every song — someone calculated that decision, independent artist or not.
It builds hype. An album leaked four days before it’s release date is usually a lot less aggressive and cleaned up. People want better quality, and they’re encouraged to buy it after having “tested” it. That being said, don’t expect to make any money that way. We have this “throw-away” commodity with music. You put it up on a blog — three days later no one cares.
TV: Working so close to Drake and 40, what’s your impression on the best route into the industry?
ES: If you’re going to do it, be your own recorder. Learn everything. Don’t focus on solely being the artist… You sell a million records at $15, you’re only getting back $24K. You don’t want to be signed to a label, so working towards it seems to be the new standard. It’s like any other job. You can’t make it in any industry if you’re not focused. You need to try to control everything.
TV: Is talent still relevant to a musician’s success?
ES: Talent still matters. Drake isn’t a terrible rapper. I mean, in the studio, two takes and he’s done. He’s really good at what he does. We’re at a turning point in the industry, and it’s going back to the music.
It was bad in the ’90s, where the industry was pumping out fabricated groups because that’s when the image was selling more than the sound. Music is a lot more visual now with Pro Tools and Ableton, so the recording process is not as hard as it used to be. The artist has a lot more control over what’s put out.
On the other end of the spectrum are members of the indie community whose production process allows for a more detached view of the industry. Paradise Animals, a Toronto band, fuses both electronic and acoustic elements into their music. As a tightly knit trio, Mark Andrade, Gary Pereira, and Kerri Silva feel that while the industry is perhaps not catering to indie musicians just yet, it is certainly shifting its margins in the community’s favour.
TV: Are there any musicians on the radio that you enjoy?
Mark Andrade: We don’t listen to the radio to get our indie dose of music. This is partly because we listen to radio during working hours. When it comes time to engage with the radio, we’re often driving. We’ll listen to hits, Drake mainly. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is a smooth jam we always crank. There is a string of solid young artists, even more so on mainstream radio lately. A good song is a good song.
TV: Do you think the radio is gaining more respect for indie musicians?
MA: The radio has always been a place for radio-friendly music. Indie musicians today are challenging this, but in reality, [we’re] still marginalized. However, indie songs are influencing the sound of mainstream music. It adds a sense of indie credibility to their sound. It isn’t such a bad thing. This is the kind of respect indie musicians are garnering.
TV: How do you think that’s going to affect what gets airplay?
MA: Listeners are accustomed to the immediacy of pop music structure. The radio will always inhabit that dominant mainstream perspective in pop. Even listening to certain indie radio stations, there is still a formula present, which conforms to this mainstream ideology. Bands like Arcade Fire who have indie roots and sensibility are safe to play, though, at this point, with their added Grammy recognition.
Maybe one day, indie musicians will change the landscape of radio so much that a four-minute saxophone solo will be acceptable and appreciated by the masses. More than ever, artists are starting from the bottom and making themselves into a business rather than relying on specialists to string them into success.