New Brunswick·Video

What does it mean to 'make it' as a musician in New Brunswick?

Four New Brunswick musicians who are making it on a professional scale reflect on what success looks and feels like for them.

4 musicians in a small province weigh in on what success means to them

'Don’t be lazy,' says Penelope Stevens of Motherhood. 'And don't think that it's hard because you live here. It's hard because it's hard.' (J.W Deveaux Photography)

Whenever Stephen Lewis looks at the photo his mom keeps in a memory box, he's reminded he was always meant to be an artist. 

The photo focuses on a one-year-old Lewis. He wears a floppy baseball hat, an oversized red-and-white T-shirt and sings into a microphone while pressing down on the plastic buttons of a toy guitar.

Stephen Lewis says he was always meant to be an artist. (Submitted by Stephen Lewis)

Almost 30 years later, the Fredericton musician, who fronts the band Stephen Lewis and the Big Band of Fun, is one of many New Brunswick musicians who are making it on a professional scale. 

For him, the key to making it as a musician in a small province is "directly correlated to not quitting."

'Everyone's got problems'

 "If you quit, then that's final," said Lewis. "I don't think that I personally have made it, and I don't think anyone really makes it because there's always more to the story.

"Everyone's got problems. And at the end of the day, if you're an artist and you have food in your fridge, then it's a good day."

Freelance journalist Jerry-Faye Flatt asks New Brunswick musicians how they define success. Video producer: Alex Vietinghoff 4:08

 
Greg Webber is a Fredericton High School music teacher who also fronts the band Kill Chicago. He echoed Lewis's sentiment. 
 
"I honestly think that to make it as a musician in New Brunswick, is probably to just make music in New Brunswick. And if you're able to get up every day and still create music and play it … then I think you've made it."
 
Webber, who's participated in multiple projects over the years, said the New Brunswick music scene is special because it's not competitive.
 
"It's very small, it's welcoming … and I think people work really hard to keep it that way." 

Lewis said the music scene in New Brunswick isn't as competitive as he's seen in other places, and musicians tend to help each other out, so they can develop and succeed.
 
He and Penelope Stevens from Fredericton band Motherhood have assisted each other with grant writing and booking over the years, which is ironic since Stevens is in an alt-rock "punk-country weird band" and Lewis is in a "high-energy-funk band." 

"In the normal music scene, like in the music scene in Chicago, those two worlds don't mix. But here they do, not only do they mix, but they thrive," Lewis said. 

'Don't be lazy'

Penelope Stevens said she doesn't think it's difficult to be a musician in New Brunswick, but it's hard to be a musician in general. If you want to be a musician, she said, you have to work hard for it.

Penelope Stevens is a visual artist, musician and arts administrator. (J.W Deveaux Photography)

"Don't be lazy," Stevens said. "And don't think that it's hard because you live here. It's hard because it's hard. And you can do it or not, but don't be lazy.
 
"There's no inherent value to art that can be exchanged for money easily. Like if you go into a trade and you become an electrician, then there's a pay grade that you just automatically achieve. That doesn't happen in art, but especially not in music."

'We have a supportive community'

Kelly Waterhouse plays in eight different projects in the Fredericton area. She said making it as a musician is relative, but if you want to make a career out of creating music you have to be versatile.
 
"You need to accept as many different kinds of projects as you can," said Waterhouse.
 
"And learn to read music because you can get paid a lot more."

Kelly Waterhouse says the music community is very supportive in Fredericton. (Alex Vietinghoff for CBC)

Lewis said the difficulties of being a musician are balanced out by the supportive music community in Fredericton.

"It's challenging. But on the big positive side of it, and this has been outlined so much by The Capital Project," said Lewis, referring to a music documentary that appears on CBC Gem about the music community in New Brunswick.

"We have a supportive community, like no other community, especially with music and arts."

 

About the Author

Jerry-Faye Flatt is a fourth-year journalism and communications student at St. Thomas University who adores all things art. She has been performing music publicly since she was five. Flatt is the managing editor of STU's campus paper, The Aquinian.

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