Date: June 1998
Author: Jennifer Bysterveld
Headline: Makin' it BIG (part two) : A Look at Youth in the Music Industry
Two short years ago, twin sisters Sara and Tegan, found a guitar in their basement. Five months of lessons and a great deal of good fortune later, the talented 17 year-olds find themselves gaining major accolades from an often fickle music industry.
Across town, after years of writing songs, practicing guitar and playing gigs wherever he could, Tariq has signed with a major record label. He is currently working on his follow-up CD to his acclaimed debut recording, "the basement songs."
For Tariq, this comes after years of working to make himself visible, by playing opening gigs at local clubs for $50 a night, and making contacts with other bands. In 1994, a Factor New Talent Grant allowed him to make a three song demo. In 1995, Tariq won a songwriting competition andproduced an Indie CD titled Splat which caught the attention of EMI and eventually led to the signing of a four album deal. His first album, the basement songs, gave birth to the hit single 'Chevrolet Way.' This year Tariq received a Juno nomination for Best New Solo Artist.
Sara and Tegan's big break came just last month when their mother dragged them to the University to fill out an application for Garage Warz (a music competition) only 20 minutes before the deadline. Thinking "no way - nobody wants to hear us," they entered and went on to win the entire competition. Everything since then has "snowballed" - calls from Toronto, T.V. and newspaper coverage, and an invitation to play at New Music West, a 150 band music festival being held May 28th-30th in Vancouver. The festival will be flooded with media and label representatives and there is a good possibility that these two will find some serious offers on their plate. Sara and Tegan feel that up until now "it's been too easy for us, we've just sat back and people have done stuff for us." They also know that success in the music industry is not found this easily.
So, what does it take, what advice do these three offer up from the throes of the music world? According to Tariq, devoting a great deal of time to working on your material and improving your craft is essential. Tariq says "it's easy to get impatient, to want everything to happen now," but all aspects of the business are about hard work and persistence. You have to make it happen. Demos are important in making yourself heard and that means investing money in yourself. Money is always a barrier, however, there are ways to get around it. If money is tight, check out all of your options before laying down the cash. Many musician and songwriting competitions offer studio time or cash as prizes. The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR) provides some grants and loans to new musicians, and development grants are offered by some record labels. When you do go in to make your demo, "do the best you can do without rushing in ... it's better to limit yourself to 3 or 4 well-done songs rather than trying to do 12 or 15," says Tariq. Managers? A good idea according to Tariq, who says "depending on where you're at when you feel you need one," they can be important "whether for getting you gigs, having someone on the same wavelength as you in what you want to do with your material or as a spokesperson (someone with some savvy to represent you) because it's kind of hard to do all of that stuff and write and play."
Sara and Tegan's advice? For two young musicians in their beginnings, albeit moving upwards very rapidly, they had a lot of sound advice. A summer of busking on downtown streets served not only as a confidence booster, but helped them learn to accept criticism, while maintaining faith in their abilities. In their own words "It's not about who you know, it's about who see's you." The Garage Warz competition gave them visibility, started people talking and rewarded them with an invitation to New Music West and $1,200 of studio time. There was the cash to make a demo, which they did, producing 5 songs rather than a whole tape full. Now they are using the tapes to secure gigs around Calgary. They are also in the midst of working on some press kits (demo, pictures, media clips) to help market themselves. Tegan says, "don't be afraid to call newspapers and magazines - abuse your right to call these people." Already these two know that "everyone wants something - you have to be careful - if people are asking you to do something and your not comfortable with it, don't do it." They admit that being young, twins and female can be an asset in generating interest, but according to Tegan it can go the other way - "Some people go 'Young, girls, twins agh!" Sara and Tegan are excited about the possibilities that New Music West will bring, but won't be accepting the first offer they get. They are well aware of the signing game - "the more offers you get, the more leeway you have 'cause people will want to, you know, compete for you."
When asked for their advice to other young musicians, Sara and Tegan started to give me a top 3 list which actually turned into a top 8, but here are the original top 3.
Keep your integrity at all costs.
Expect respect from people and give it back, (Tegan: "I feel I owe the audience as much as they owe me.").
Work really hard (weekends and lots of nights are spent at home writing and practicing or at vocal lessons which they have just started).
With Tariq's success and the apparent ease of Sara and Tegan's climb up the industry ladder, it is hard to believe anything could go wrong. All three understand however, that things can change at any time and appreciate each moment for what it is. Tariq says, "People think it's easy for me now, that I'm making all this money - well, I'm barely scraping by, I could be back at that coffee shop in a minute." Sara and Tegan stressed how vital it is to have something to fall back on and rely on one another to keep their feet on the ground. With all of their good fortune they have already exceeded their goal of playing coffee shops this summer. Their next steps will evolve from what happens in Vancouver, but they are willing to be patient and take each step as it comes.
Reality check. For every musician who makes it, there are hundreds who don't. Why? It's about the perfect combination of true talent, hard work, time, money, luck and being in the right place. Strong effort on your part can improve the combination immensely, but as a friend of mine puts it: 'Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.' What exactly does this mean? It means be smart. Be fully aware that it just might not happen and have something to fall back on, a Plan B. Set your goals high, but remember that hit records and a big name aren't the only signs of success. Success comes in many forms. If you play house parties forever, but you are doing it because you love playing music, then you too have succeeded. In the words of Sara and Tegan: " It doesn't matter if we play for 1 or 100 people if we feel like we did a good thing."