7 things emerging artists should work on this year: what we learned at CMW 2018

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By Sinejan Ozaydemir 

Last week, Toronto hosted Canadian Music Week 2018, consisting of live shows all over the city and a 4-day conference showcasing talent from Canada and from all over the world. The talent we are talking about is not only musicians performing on stage but industry people working their magic behind the scenes so that the music is heard and can be enjoyed by all. As always, it was a great week full of information, inspiration and connection. 

The music business can be a scary world, especially for new or emerging artists. Here are some of the things I learned that I would like to pass on to any artists/bands who missed the conference:

1) Build your team and learn how to connect with people in the industry

"As an artist, your job is more than being an artist. You have to be a master communicator. You have to connect and stay in touch in a meaningful way. Don’t solely focus on what you are getting out of the deal. This can be a competitive advantage.” - Amir Windom, TV and Music Supervisor, Grammy award winning Record Executive talking about what makes great artists stand out for him. 

One thing that has always been important in the industry but never more so than today is building a strong team around you. The day of record labels bringing in a whole team to manage acts is over and done. A large majority of musicians now must create a strong team around them on their way to the top. Often times, before even getting to a major label’s A&R person’s desk/email. To build a great team, you have to understand how to genuinely connect with people in the industry. The importance of surrounding yourself with quality individuals you trust was discussed in detail at the “DIY Team Building: Finding the Pros who know” panel. Micah Barnes, Vocal and performance coach, mentioned that: "Relationship building is no different in this industry than in any other industry. You are looking for people you can trust. If you need a job done, you can call them and it will happen. Artists have a reputation of just being like children, we don’t really have a good head on our shoulders about where we are in our careers. But what I am finding is that we are getting smarter. Artists are finally coming to a place where we have to be our own label. We are the person who does the merch, we are the person who does the socials, we are getting smarter.” 

If you are an artist that is in the process of creating a team around you, follow the advice of the panel and nurture your relationships properly and "Know that there is more to just showing up at your gig and trying to collect a cheque"-Denise Ross, Promoter, Sr. Director Talent, Live Nation Canada

Another great tip from this panel came from Claire Rosenbaum of Eggplant Entertainment: "The artist must bring their best and must not depend on your management or team to lead. You are the artist, if it doesn’t come from you, it is not going to work because it is not going to be authentic." 

"Your reputation starts at the beginning of your career" - Adam Countryman, Agent, Paradigm Agency talking about investing in getting to know people.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to always asking yourself: how can I add more value to this team ? They are there to work with you not just for you to achieve success.

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2) Work with intention

Has this ever happened to you? You meet an artist or an act that you think is so talented and that you believe is going to the top. Then, a few years later, they are nowhere to be seen and you are left wondering what happened? Well, this seems to be a very common occurrence and the reason why may be because that artist and/or artist’s team was not working with intention. A great lesson we learned throughout the conference was to work with intention and a goal in mind. Each time you are about to take a step, you should be asking yourself whether that step is going to get you closer to your goal. The world is full of people full of hopes and dreams, wanting to make it in the music business but sit in their bedrooms performing to themselves. If you have a talent you are proud of, you and your team must continually check in with yourselves to make sure that you are moving closer to your goal. A very straightforward idea and thought that tends to get overlooked by many artists hoping that the music will just speak for itself. Best to work with intention! Because we DON’T want this to be you! 

3) Pay attention to your live performance

After you have been to a Tom Jackson workshop, you can’t help but notice if bands or artists have rehearsed for their show with intention or whether they are just winging it. But even if you have never attended Tom’s workshop or anything similar to it, you can judge whether a performance was good or great: because you are left with a feeling. You are either captivated and experiencel a moment live with the artists or you don’t and you forget it ever happened. Allowing themselves to be forgettable is the deadly mistake many talented musicians make. 

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As Tom Jackson puts it: In a live show, "It’s about creating moments, not songs." People are looking to experience/feel things with you at the show and reminisce about how they felt after, by listening to your songs over and over again for that feeling." To create moments, you need vision. "Without vision, your shows are going to be mediocre at best.” Tom suggests artists sit down and listen to their songs and try to envision what that song could be like when performed live. How will the audience react to that song? Once you get the answers to this question, you can think about what you can do to get that reaction from your audience. 

"Communication from the stage is 15% Content, 30% tone or emotion, 55% is what the audience sees with their eyes. If your songs don’t sound the same, why do they all look the same?” Tom Jackson

Tom's workshop which we attended at CMW 2018, was 2 hours long and through this time, he worked with a band to change their stage performance of ONE of their songs from good to unforgettable. It takes time to analyze and strategize and each song an artist performs requires a new game plan. So if you are an artist wanting a kick-ass live show that no one will forget, make sure you allocate time to plan and practice. Tom Jackson spends an average of 6+ hours of rehearsal per song with his high profile clients, how much do you spend planning a performance of one of your songs? 

4) Work with your online community

It is easier than ever for artists to showcase their talents to the masses. There are many reasons why you should pay attention to your online presence. One of them being exposure: the more you build your online presence, the more people get to hear your music and the more you get to make music! It’s a cycle that can not be ignored. Labels, agents and brands are looking for this online presence to be established before they get involved with an artist or band. Why? Because they want to see that you can put in the hours and you yourself believe in your own brand. They also want to see that others have at least started noticing what you do and want to take part in the experience online. This means follows and engagement. As Marcie Allen of MAC presents mentioned: "Brands wanting to partner with artists pay close attention to reach because that is how they measure their ROI. Engagement is even more important today than the number of followers, because we all know there is a ton of fake followers out there.” A band’s online presence is something that can be leveraged to get you access to bigger events and partnerships so it is best to start now if you haven’t and continue to build! This means not only creating great content that represents you but also engaging with other artists as well as fans to make sure everyone is involved. 

5) What’s your story? 

People want to identify with people. They want to engage with artists who are telling a story they can relate to. Finding who you are and building your story is what will cut through the clutter. You have to ask yourself, is this what I represent? Answering this question authentically will ensure that you have a solid foundation from which to continue building your brand. Remember you don’t need to fit the mold but you do need to mold yourself. The beauty of this big world full of individuals is that we are all individuals. The more real you are, the more it will resonate with people and this connection with others is what your music should be all about. Tell your story loud and proud! 

6) You should be proud to be Canadian

We are so lucky to live in Canada. Not only is there support for artists financially, there is acceptance and love for different sounds and visions. Being such a multicultural landscape, Canada is really a great cross section of the world. Therefore our music scene is too! You can really see that Canadian musicians who have experienced this multicultural land have a great ear that helps them create not only interesting sounds that pull from different cultures but also, they are writing the tunes that become globally successful! Panelists from the “Maple Leaf Forever: How Canadian stars stay atop evolving global Charts” panel discussed the benefits of being from Canada in great detail. They shared their experiences of working abroad and noticing how the culturally diverse landscape of Canada has influenced them. Samantha O’Connor, A&R Consultant, XL Recordings/New Gen described it saying: "Realizing how culturally diverse a city like Toronto is and how you pick up these influences from the one big tornado of sonics and cultures and influences in the city, that obviously gets reflected in the music.” I think this is one of the many advantages of being an artist in Canada. So, if you ever get writers block or feel uninspired, all you have to do is look around and listen! 

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7) Pay attention to your health

Many artists will tell you that in order to make it and remain on top, you will need many qualities. Two of these qualities you need for certain that we hear about a lot are: talent and work ethic. While some are blessed with a high level of talent from the start, work ethic is something only few have and can keep up. When we talk about work ethic we have to realize that this requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy and a lot of balance. 

As Teresa Cirillo, Vocal coach and author of the Vocal Compas put it: "Being able to take care of yourself, work on your craft, hang out with your family and friends and have that down time, that's all a balance and it really comes down to scheduling. Scheduling can remove a lot of stress from your days and weeks when you are busy. … Think about it, if you are actually where you want to be in 5 years and you can’t do it anymore, that’s a problem. Because that is where you are going to have to be at your optimal, touring the world and performing. So you better be preparing for that in advance.”

It is tremendously important for artists to pay special attention to their mental and physical health because a musician’s schedule can really get gruesome and without your body and mind  being in peak shape, you will find it hard to keep up! 

We chatted with panelist Mike Schwartz, Lifestyle technician of ShwartzFit and he explained the situation: "The artist that is in check with their finest instruments: their body and mind is the artist that will have the strength to take on the physical and mental anguish that this lifestyle throws at them. It starts with the mind. We create stories that then translate to our behaviours based on past experiences and the norm. In order to change behaviour, we must first change our thoughts. I like to take artists I work with through active meditation to start that process and down regulate their hyper active minds. Creatives tend to like to stay in control, so giving them control over their behaviour is more effective than a guided meditation where they have to just follow someone else’s lead.” 

Here is the great active meditation technique he shared with us during the “Holy Holistics: A health &wellness approach to performance and creativity” panel: 

"Start by squeezing your arms super tight... everything from your shoulders down to your fists for 30s, then relaxing it all. Repeat the process but just your shoulders and neck. Then relax. Then your face, again - Relax. Then your chest and abs. Relax. And finally just your legs everything from your hips to your toes. Squeeze em tight! 30s should do for each segment.

You contract your muscles and cause your body to move energy to those areas, you focus your mind on that specific area for an intense moment...then when you relax your physical body, you mind, your thoughts and your whole disposition also relaxes. Mind body connection at its finest"

Stress and anxiety affect us all, it is so important to check in with yourself, not to get caught up in the who’s doing what and make a conscious effort all day every day to stay healthy and thriving so that you can keep doing what you love! 


Above all, remember that we are all unique and that there is no typical way to turn your dreams into reality. You must forge down your own path and you must write your own rule book. Decide what you want to make happen, respect others in the industry and forge on! We are excited to see what new sounds will come out of Canada next!