Aspiring musicians need to 'work hard,' says Bob Hallett

A founding member of Newfoundland and Labrador-based band Great Big Sea has some advice for burgeoning bands and solo artists in the province: work hard.
Bob Hallett, with Great Big Sea, says musicians in Newfoundland and Labrador have to work really hard to make it in the modern music industry. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

A founding member of Newfoundland and Labrador-based band Great Big Sea has some advice for burgeoning bands and solo artists in the province: work hard.    

Bob Hallett had some harsh criticism for local musicians after the province's lacklustre showing at the 2014 East Coast Music Awards, held recently in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Of the total awards given out, only two went to artists from Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The more skills a musician has, the better off they are- Ellen Waterman, dean of Memorial University School of Music 

Hallett said some musicians have the talent — but many lack the drive that's necessary to make it big in the music industry.  

"The business side of it is definitely neglected. A lot of artists are just kind of waiting for something to happen, or they sort of operate in fits and starts," said Hallett.

"They fail to recognize that the biggest part of their job right now is not to be writing a great song — it's going to be making sure that somebody hears it."

According to Hallett, the music industry is facing big changes, and artists need to learn to keep up.

"The days of the industry being able to create rock stars out of nothing are over. An artist really needs to be in a position to do it themselves as much as possible, so you need to find every marketing opportunity you can," he said.

"Rather than have one of the songs go mad, if you have 10 of these things all bubbling along, well then, you have a fair chance at it."

Marketing critically important

Hallett said musicians who put in the time are going to see results. 

"You need to tour, you need to find retail opportunities, you need to find opportunities to get on any radio station or show that will play you," he said. "You need to cultivate blogs, you need to create an online presence and you need to have something to go on You Tube. That's a lot of work."

Katie Baggs, left, a singer-songwriter from St. John's, looks on as P.E.I.'s Catherine MacLellan hosts a showcase at an East Coast Music Awards event in Charlottetown, P.E.I. in April. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Dr. Ellen Waterman, Dean of the Memorial University School of Music, agrees with Hallett. Though the music genres vary in Hallett's and Waterman's worlds, Waterman said all musicians need to know the business side.

"Career is more and more common, so the more skills a musician has, the better off they are," Waterman said.

Waterman said the music school has offered a course in career skills for the last decade, and new curriculum was rolled out in 2012. 

"It significantly enhanced that course, so it's more credit hours for both undergraduate and graduate students. We make every single student who chooses the performance stream take that course. We noticed the buy into the course really got a whole lot bigger, it went from 10 people a couple of years ago — to 30 second-year students taking it this past year."

The course is a credit within the Bachelor of Music degree.

The days of the industry being able to create rock stars out of nothing are over- Bob Hallett, Great Big Sea 

Waterman said students write a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council grant, create a curriculum vitae and put together a press pack.

"And they have presentations from all kinds of independent musicians in the city who make their living doing all of these business things."

Few releases means few nominations

Meanwhile, the president of Music NL, the organization that represents musicians in the province, said it was a slow year for musical releases in this province. 

Peter Daniel Newman said in a statement that the low number of releases would have had a direct impact on Newfoundland and Labrador representation at the ECMAs. 

"That said, we have numerous MusicNL recordings currently under production, and I am very confident that we will have a very strong showing at the ECMAs in 2015," said Newman.

"I am also proud to say that the MusicNL 2014 board is very active, and we look forward (to) bringing new initiatives and to serving our members in the upcoming year."

Erin Best, a St. John's lawyer who is also the singer in the band Rasa, is with the East Coast Music Association. She said there were a number of other factors affected why nominations for N.L. acts were so low. 

"Very few Newfoundlanders or Labradorians applied this year," Best said.

"We only had 24 Newfoundland artists who applied for awards out of 480 artists who submitted in the whole east coast region."

Best added the requirement to release a record during the qualifying time period of June 1 to Oct. 1 was another contributing factor for the low nomination numbers.

2014 winners

Two ECMAs were given to Newfoundland and Labrador artists this year. Guitarists Duane Andrews and Craig Young won Traditional Instrumental Recording of the Year, and Memorial University music professor Clark Winslow Ross won the award for Classical Composition of the Year. Choral conductor and director Kellie Walsh was given the Stompin' Tom Volunteer of the Year Award.

The 2015 East Coast Music Awards will be held in St. John's next spring.