A veteran musician’s view on today’s music scene
PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN GREENWAY
Saint-Lazare musician of April Wine and Mashmakan fame Brian Greenway, who’ll be performing July 11 at the 17th edition of the West Island Blues festival, reflects on the challenges that face both veteran and up-and-coming musical artists in a virtual streaming world that’s been additionally complicated with a global pandemic.
Almost all of us are familiar with local musician Brian Greenway whose music career has spanned decades from his early days with Mashmakan through his long successful career with the iconic Canadian group April Wine. He has also forged out a fantastic solo act as well which I have had the pleasure of catching several times. He was kind enough to sit down (virtually of course) with me for an exclusive interview for The Journal to discuss this brave new world that musicians are facing.
TJ: Hey Brian, thanks for taking the time to discuss today’s music scene. How have the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic affected yourself or other working musicians you know?
BG: COVID-19 stopped the music industry dead in its tracks overnight. No warning, no indication. World-wide. Every band, every musician, crew, agent, venue big or small in the world. It’s unprecedented. There are no words to describe it. Total stoppage. Your livelihood has vanished overnight. Your brain really can’t conceive it. You hope that it will come back soon but the more you see of the pandemic you know it’s going to be a long time before you can resume touring. It will never be the same when you do. It’s an unparalleled event. You can practice and play on the internet but not in front of a live audience. You can’t travel, can’t go on the road or tour. A big part of you has just stopped and you don’t know what to do about it. It makes you sad & frustrated. It’s a feeling you really can’t understand unless you’re a musician. Imagine a runner not being allowed to run.
TJ: What are the ways you think you and others can stay ‘current’ in this new environment?
BG: Obviously the internet, Facebook Live, YouTube are the only resources available for mass viewing. Most everyone has done some kind of presentation online during the pandemic. Keep your name in the fans’ minds. Reinvent how you perform. You can’t reinvent being a musician but you can reinvent your presence. Make your online show as good as possible. Spend some time designing where you will do it. Beware of the background, lighting, sound, and what you’re wearing. Is it messy? Clean it up. Do it like you were on stage. Presentation always counts.
TJ: Are you anxious to get back out in front of a ‘live’ crowd and how do you think that will be different moving forward? Do you think the opportunities to play in small venues/bars etc. will come back or have they reduced permanently?
BG: It’s anybody’s guess how it will return. This large live industry was the first to close and will be the last to reopen. Reduction in room capacity will only reduce the musicians’ fee. The bar scene has always devalued the money a musician or band playing in the bars or local nightclubs makes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. I’m sure the bars, nightclubs and restaurants will still charge full amounts for their drinks and food but pay the talent a reduced wage because of reduced capacity. But some places are more fair than others.
TJ: What are your musical plans for the summer (other than this weekend’s virtual West Island Blues Festival) or are you taking a well-deserved rest?
BG: My summer and all this time off will be spent rehearsing alone, writing, recording demos, working in the garden. We have a large vegetable garden this year for the first time. My wife and I are lucky to have a good-sized private yard so we spend most of our time there when we do go outdoors. We have a year-old chocolate Lab who loves to play so I spend time every day with him playing fetch and taking him for car rides. Rest? There is no rest. I’ll take a break, but there is no rest. I’m always thinking of what’s next.
TJ: What’s the plan for the longer term?
BG: Wait and see. It’s a week-by-week life at this point. You can’t make plans. We are all living by the COVID -19’s plans.
TJ: What would be your advice to independent musicians who are trying to be seen/heard in today’s market? Do you find the new situation an advantage or disadvantage to upcoming musicians? Where do you see the future of music (live and recorded) going?
BG: For young aspiring musicians, it is tougher than ever. Work on your talent and online presence experience. Learn to record at home and get good at it. Remember, you’re competing against the world. Live music was dying too before the pandemic. The music industry has to reinvent itself or it risks going way. It has been in trouble before and it always came back in some form. But, technology has stolen the money from it because of free downloads. Why do some people expect music to be free? Would they work for free? I doubt it. Why should a musician spend countless hours perfecting his craft to have his results downloaded for free or get ridiculously low royalties from streaming services?
As a side note, I have always held this same opinion. For over a decade I have seen the amount of revenue from my recorded music decrease. Platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, etc. pay fractions of a penny for the streaming of a song. For my 2019 release ‘GFT’ the album was already on several free torrent sites even before appearing on iTunes, etc.). There are many spam sites offering ‘promotion and exposure’ for indie music but few of them are legitimate or have any real clout to provide any value. It’s a new reality that takes advantage of the aspiring inexperienced musician. Brian has it spot-on – it hardly seems right that today’s indie or professional musician spends a multitude of hours and hard-earned money to create their art, then has to pay a service to distribute it only so people can grab it for free or almost nothing. Even getting fans to pay $5 for a CD, USB or download card is becoming obsolete.
TJ: Sincere thanks for taking the time to chat Brian. I am sure you are enlightening many local young aspiring musicians in the area that have looked up to you over the years. All the best this summer and moving forward. Any closing remarks?
BG: I hope everyone stays safe, has a great summer and wear a mask. Respect each other. Look out for each other. This virus is not going away anytime soon.
You can get a chance to see Brian in action playing his solo show (virtually of course) this Saturday, July 11 at 7 p.m. for the 17th edition of the West Island Blues festival. He will be joined that evening (virtually of course) by a lineup of other great Montreal musicians. To attend the show (virtually of course), simply access the West Island Blues Festival YouTube channel on July 11, at 7 p.m.
Go to www.westislandbluesfestival.com/home and scroll down to access the YouTube channel.