The CMAO and the Ontario Country Music scene are stronger than ever. I can’t wait to see what 2017 holds for our established acts as well as the new voices ready to make their mark. It is my great pleasure to host my online radio show In The Country and to contribute monthly columns to the CMAO Newsletter. I hope you enjoy the following highlights from columns that were published in 2016.
Brian Vain of Kansas Stone:
What advice do you have for artists who are just beginning their journey?
I always like to tell artists to “stick to your guns” if you want it bad enough. Some musicians treat music as a hobby. I have made music my life. I eat, breathe and sleep my songs, the graphic design, the photography and the complete branding of Kansas Stone. You have to believe in what you’re trying to create – no matter who tells you it can’t be done, I never gave up and never gave in. They say you need to ‘hit rock bottom’ in order to get to the top. Well, I can tell you that I hit bottom and made a comfortable bed there, and have never stopped pushing my music. So, I say, never give up.
What do you believe Country music does better than other genres?
Country music makes people feel better than any other genre of music – and by “feel”, I mean relate. From Dolly’s “Coat of Many Colours” to Dierks’ “Like My Dog”, fans can probably put themselves into most country songs in one way or another. Shortly after finishing a set at an event, where I performed my original song “Working on Something”, two women came up to me in tears, saying that song could easily have been written about them! In my opinion, that is what country music should do.
The songs on your EP “Hold Onto The Light” are ones listeners will be able to really ‘feel.’ How important is it to you to connect with your listeners that way – and possibly have your music get them through a tough time?
I think we live in an age right now where so many brilliantly honest songs get lost in the shuffle. I try really hard to stick to my guns and make sure that what I’m putting out into the world is a piece of myself for others to hear. I keep some of it for myself, but what you’re hearing is essentially some form of a biography that relates very deeply to myself or people close to me. Music is such a perfect thing, and we take for granted sometimes what it truly can mean to someone. I’ve never been shy to speak out on that, and I’ve also never been shy to say no to things that don’t make me feel the way I feel when I listen to my favourite artists and songwriters. That being said, what might not make sense to you when you write something, will almost definitely make sense to someone else. Billions of people on the planet, not one of us is like the other. Dave Brainard brought those four songs to life in a way I didn’t know was even possible. It was a collaborative effort on the entire team’s part.
Songwriting is a big part of your career. What are some tips for having a successful co-writing experience?
Always be open minded. No matter who you are, you can always stand to learn something from another writer. Sometimes the best songs can come from crazy ideas that are off the beaten path. Don’t get too caught up trying to write a particular kind of song in a session if it’s naturally going another way. As they say, “write what’s in the room”. And lastly, have confidence in your own ideas. Don’t be afraid to speak up even if you are intimidated by another writer. All the people you mentioned are incredibly talented writers so it can definitely be intimidating to get in a room with them, because of course you want to impress them and help write a great song. But clamming up because you’re scared they might think an idea is stupid won’t get you anywhere. We all start somewhere. At some point they were new to songwriting too, and I’ve yet to work with a great writer who wasn’t also incredibly kind and respectful of my ideas whether they liked them or not. So just take a chance! It could turn into something great. You’ve got nothing to lose, never stop learning.
Tia McGraff & Tommy Parham:
Music has the power to heal, comfort and inspire us. What are your thoughts on using music to make a difference in people’s lives?
Tia: One of the most life changing moments I’ve encountered, was at a festival in Colorado. I stepped off stage, and a young man approached, crying. He said he had put a gun to his head the day before, and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off, and he was given a second chance at life. He came to the festival, and was so moved by my song “Hope Is Everything” that he knew it was meant to give him a message of hope and life. From that moment on, I decided that every note of every song I perform is a gift to someone and has the power to heal. I carefully choose my songs and lyrics now with that as my focus.
Tommy: We could write a book on the stories we get from fans and how our songs changed there lives in small or huge ways. That keeps us going. Music has changed my life in many ways, it led me to my soul mate. Music has given Tia and I bridges to cross to new and exciting places, internationally. To meet new music lovers and making great extended family connections world wide. That’s a beautiful thing.
Congratulations on the wins for CCMA Recording Studio of the Year for the last two years and the wins for CMAO Producer of the Year the last three years! What kind of environment do you like to create for artists in your studio?
I like to create a non-intimidating space that feels like an extension of their living room. I keep my personal milestones and awards out of the studio, but fill the walls with other people’s signed albums as a reminder why we’re here. I remind my artist to enjoy the experience, create, don’t hold an idea inside because you think it’s “not good enough”, Those ideas are your artistry and what make you “YOU”. I think when people first come they’re taken back by the relaxed atmosphere, but soon realize when the musicians come that Barrytone is much like a Nashville setup, quick to get great sounds and tracking within 30 mins, not the exhausting repetition of drum hits for 2 hours before something creative happens. I think the musicians (who I say are artists too) enjoy the space because its technically built for them. I spent years in other studios yelling into amp mics, looking for a pencil or a sharpener, a place to put my stuff, waiting on engineers to solve an issue of some sort. I sat at each possible station in my studio and imagined everything each player would want at any given time and made it happen, right down to building my own talk back system (no more yelling into amps), to magnets on the music stands. Yes “magnets” and the musicians know why.
Mike Denney of MDM Recordings:
When we’ve spoken before, you’ve expressed that you have long-term plans for your artists to build their career. You aren’t going to give up on them if their first few singles don’t go number one. Explain that approach.
With passion for the music, comes a commitment to the artists and our collective vision for the future. Our approach to artist development is a slow and steady ride, step by step. We focus on great songs and slowly building the artist brand at radio, which these days takes longer because there is so much amazing Canadian talent in the marketplace. When we sign an artist, we make a commitment to each other. And when we are in the courtship phase of signing an act, I give them the “3 to 5 year plan speech” every time, because it takes that long to develop the brand. It can be stressful and frustrating in the early days, but our goal is to foster a career in music, not a couple of hot singles and then that’s it. We execute our plans strategically, over a longer period of time. I guess that is the “business” side of our music business, but the true heart is always the music. And if I can add, I think our method seems to be working out, so far so good!
How important is the CMAO for Country artists in Ontario?
The CMAO is your family. Every province has their own association/music family and it’s the kind of family you CAN stand to be around and want to spend more time with lol. I suggest you get involved and love, share and learn as much as you can from your music family. We’re all in the same boat, some boats are bigger, some are smaller but we all have a boat.
How would you pitch the CMAO to an artist who hasn’t joined yet?
Well, most people know that I’m a hardcore member of the CMAO and I have the T-shirt to prove it. I strongly urge artists if they are not a CMAO member, they need to be! The CMAO is here in our province and it’s our association. The benefits I get every year from them have given me the opportunity to network with people in the Country music world. The volunteer members and Board members do an outstanding job on behalf of its membership. I have performed with members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and have met amazing talented artists, musicians and songwriters because of the existence of the CMAO. The best and first thing an artist should do to get started on the right foot is to join the CMAO.