PEI

Despite relaxed restrictions, touring still a challenge for P.E.I. musicians

With travel costs rising and the risk of COVID-19 cases cancelling shows, some P.E.I. musicians say touring is still proving to be a major challenge. 

'All of the risks keep going up, and the rewards keep shrinking'

Island singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan says before the pandemic, most of her income came from touring. With touring still a challenge, she's now spending more time closer to home on P.E.I. (Music PEI )

With the 2022 East Coast Music Awards week in full swing in Fredericton, it might appear as though life is finally returning to normal for touring musicians in the region after two years of pandemic restrictions crippling the industry. 

But with travel costs rising and the risk of COVID-19 cases cancelling shows, some P.E.I. artists say touring is still proving to be a major challenge. 

"Frankly, all of the risks keep going up, and the rewards keep shrinking," said Ariel Sharratt, a member of the P.E.I.-based band The Burning Hell, which toured regularly before the pandemic. 

"I don't see a future for touring the way we have."

Cancelled shows 

Sharratt and her band recently experienced those challenges first-hand. 

We've had tons of unexpected expenses trying to continue to tour through this.​​​​​— Ariel Sharratt

In the middle of a Canadian tour last month, Sharratt and the band's lead singer both caught COVID-19.  They had to cancel four shows. 

"It's totally devastating. It's months of preparation in terms of booking, planning, organizing, promotions that you lose," said Sharratt. 

"Then it's thousands of dollars in potential revenues you're losing, which is the bulk of your income. And then it's huge amounts of money going out to pay for PCR tests or new flights. We've had tons of unexpected expenses trying to continue to tour through this."

Ariel Sharratt, multi-instrumentalist with The Burning Hell, recently caught COVID-19 while on tour. That forced the band to cancel four shows. (Zoom)

Then there's the skyrocketing cost of gas and travel. 

Music P.E.I.'s executive director Rob Oakie says it's all made touring less lucrative for musicians and in some cases, just not worth it. 

"I think a lot of artists have reassessed, and I think you'll be seeing quite a few have decided to change the way they do business, and where they tour, and how often," said Oakie.

"One of the most important things for artists these days is to create as many revenue streams as possible, not just touring and live performance."

'More time at home' 

That's the strategy Island singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan is taking. 

"I've taken more time at home. I'm working on some different projects that hopefully can sustain me financially and creatively here at home," she said. 

Among those projects: a paid gig mentoring young musicians at Three Oaks Senior High School and a new online platform she's creating for songwriters. 

MacLellan says she's trying to generate more of her income closer to home, mentoring young high school students and booking more gigs in the region. (Rachel Beck)

MacLellan said she's also booking more performances close to home, to keep her travel costs down. 

"I love playing around the Maritimes, so I'm hoping I can do more of that," she said.

"It's walking a tightrope. How much can you play before people say 'Ah, I already saw her last month'? So it's challenging that way."

Calling it quits 

For some artists, Oakie said it's proving too challenging. 

"There are some people that have just decided the music business is just too difficult these days and have decided to go in different directions," he said. 

It hasn't come to that for Sharratt and The Burning Hell. However, she and her bandmates have all taken other jobs to supplement their band income. 

"We do have tours coming up, and we're going to keep trying that," she said. "Though personally, I'm not really certain I see small independent bands such as our own being able to continue to support ourselves in the future through music alone."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.

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