With many live music venues remaining closed, some NWT musicians are worried what the future of their industry holds.
Artists saw festivals like Yellowknife’s Old Town Ramble and Ride moved online, and Folk on the Rocks and many other live gigs cancelled. There have been some events that have offered performers a chance to perform outdoors, like Buskers in the Bush in Yellowknife, but many artists have had a large number of performances canceled.
With the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a threat, there is no clear timeline for when indoor performances or outdoor festivals will start up again.
Leela Gilday, a local Dene artist who lives in Yellowknife, says at the beginning of the pandemic she saw all of her performances canceled into 2021.
“My entire industry has been profoundly impacted,” said Gilday. “We have no real idea whether it will be revived or not.”
Just a few days ago Gilday finally got an offer to play at a live venue in the spring of 2021. She has been playing some local events since the pandemic struck, but not nearly the amount she was scheduled to.
“The venues we play in may not necessarily make it through this time. And if the festivals that were established can’t run this summer, in 2021, then I don’t think that a lot of them will make it to 2022,” she said.
Not only does this have a financial impact on artists, but it also has impacts on their mental health, according to Gilday.
“We are living in one of the most stressful times of our generation. Not only stressing about the virus and people that are dying from it and the collapse of my industry […] but I miss my bandmates,” she said.
Barriers with online performances
Gilday says online performances are a temporary measure, but she feels people no longer want to be tied to a computer to hear artists sing live.
Andrea Bettger, a violinist and vocalist based in Yellowknife, was happy to have the opportunity to still perform for fans when she did shows online earlier this summer, but she says the nuance was different.
Her band gave a virtual performance for Yellowknife’s Canada Day festival, where she said it was a little awkward being able to see people, but not being able to hear them.
“It definitely effects your energy and how you perform, and that energy from the audience always helps keep you going,” she said.
She says depending on how long the online trend continues, performers may have to get used to not having a crowd around them.
The quality of the music is also an issue, as some video sharing platforms do not have the capacity to handle the volume and quality of live music.
Carmen Braden, a performer and composer from Yellowknife, says music at its core is about vibrations in the air and the high quality associated with that. She says computers just do not cut it and affects how music is being heard.
“At some point I’d rather not do it then suffer that loss of quality,” she said.
Breaking into the industry
Braden said she is worried about what upcoming and emerging artists are going to face trying to break into the industry for a second time.
“It’s going to be a really difficult time for people on the edges, people on the fringes, people just starting out,” she said.
A big barrier for new musicians is booking shows to get exposure in the industry.
This means they will have a lot of competition once venues reopen, as there will be a surge in popular artists trying to book them.
“They’re not going to be able to take some of the same risks or have some of the same opportunities that were available before,” Braden said.
She says although grants are helping some artists through the pandemic, they are “band-aid” solutions and are not addressing the real issue.
“It would have been nice, say five to ten years ago, to have an organized arts body that would now be in a position to lobby and speak and hear the needs of artists and musicians in the NWT,” she said.
Braden says having universal basic income would be a major step in the right director to support artists, as well as increasing the amount of grants available.
“It’s going to take a long time for this industry to recover, globally, nationally, regionally, locally.”
Future of live performances
Gilday says the first artists that get to perform may be “canaries in the coal mines,” as there will be added risks when venues reopen.
She says she is worried that as things begin to open up, people may forget social distancing at events. Venues may have difficulties controlling fans to ensure proper safety measures are being followed, she added.
Another barrier Gilday is concerned about is that it’s unknown how long the 14-day self-isolation period following travel will last. Self-isolation could restrict artists to only being able to play in certain cities within the approved travel bubble until rules are changed.
Gilday says it is a “time of awakening” right now, and people, including herself, are trying to figure out how to move forward in the future.
For Braden, she says music is important to connecting people and keeping a sense of community during these uncertain times.
“Let’s adapt and keep the joy that is music at the core of that.”