Then & Now: A Look Back At 10 Years Ago

I don’t hop onto Facebook too often these days unless it’s to answer a message from a friend there, but every once in a while when I do these throwback memories pop up and sometimes they’re worth taking a second to reflect on, like this one from November 17th 2011:

Admittedly, I had to laugh a little when I read this one. For one, I almost never speak this way even though I know it’s important to be your own hype-person as much as possible.

For another, it’s been 10 years now since I said this and I find myself in many ways feeling further behind than ever before, while also being marginally ahead in others.

So what was going on in 2011?

Well, I would’ve been 21 years old then, working at Rattlebox Studios with Brian Moncarz and David Bottrill still as their Assistant Engineer, and working at Metalworks Studios here and there having reduced myself from my regular schedule to account for more work at Rattlebox.

I may have even still also been working at Metalworks Institute on Saturdays running the SSL study group at the time, but it was likely on its way out. I remember they had been cutting the Study Group hours gradually over the course of many months and eventually it was down from a full 8-hour day to only 2 hours, and I couldn’t justify the gas cost to get from Vaughan to Mississauga for it (the drive negated the entire pay check, less a coffee). Plus, their finance department had a habit of being really late with our pay checks, for months this went on before one day I walked in expecting my check and when they said mine wasn’t ready (already a few days after payroll), I told them I refused to work my shift that day until I had my pay check in hand and spent the next half hour or so pacing the parking lot, annoyed as hell.

Craig Titus (who employees of MWS/MWI will know well) caught me outside and asked me what was going on, and when I told him he said, “stay right here,” went inside the studio and emerged not long after with my pay check. I continued my shift but within a couple weeks had quit the MWI side of things for good.

This was one of the only occasions where I can recall any staff member of Metalworks Studios/Institute standing up for their colleagues and to this day when I hear Craig’s name, this is specifically what I remember about him. (Thanks Craig).

When I wasn’t working for those places I just mentioned, I was in the throws of Your Way Records, my independent record label I had started up while producing and recording local indie bands.

One of the main bands I was working with then was Seam – later, Aukland – who I had met while working at Metalworks Studios one day and thought they had a great sound, and lead singer Sean (now Ten Kills The Pack), a unique voice with a great talent for songwriting at only 17 or so at the time we met sometime in 2009.

YourWayRecordsTV predated CF TV Live by like, a lot of years. This was shot at the Mississauga Waterfront Festival.

The idea behind Your Way Records was simple: I was already working with some local indie bands, mostly younger players who were in their own right as new to the music scene as I felt I was still, and I had an invested interest in ensuring the work I produced was making it to shelves and speakers, so building a record label to accompany the work I was doing made sense; It’d help both me as an emerging record producer and the bands.

The story behind the name is that given my experience in both pro and indie environments, I knew how much I could get away with as far as producing records went. I had tiered the service offerings into 3: one for beginner demos, for those with absolute minimal cash on hand who just needed to be able to show others their songs in a clear, easy way without entering a pro studio; a second for emerging bands who maybe were already working part-time jobs and could muster up the cash for a day of live-off-the-floor tracking or similar; and finally the “pro” package, like taking them into Metalworks Studios or Mushroom Studios and really honing in on the sound of the record. In any situation, I was able to adapt myself and my skills to the bands needs and interests – “Let’s do it your way“.

Having come from playing in my own band where I did most of the heavy lifting in all facets (booking shows, maintaining an online presence, writing the songs), I knew that one thing bands really benefit from is having someone else handle some of that workload (it’s exhausting), and especially in the case of those who didn’t have any experience doing any of those things, it helped them to have someone they could ask questions to, even if I myself was still learning the ropes.

As a result of these decisions, I wound up managing Seam/Aukland for a time, too. I’d find myself driving from Vaughan to Mississauga regularly with my entire recording rig in the car so that Sean and I could work on pre-production before entering the studio with the others. We’d also have regularly full-band meetings where we’d collectively input decisions on things like graphic design and artwork, or shows we were trying to land, even at one point mapping out a full East Coast tour and beginning the outreach for it. Sean was always very hands-on with the band and these types of decisions, so working with him was great for me; we were very like-minded in that way. It wasn’t uncommon for me to leave the table I sat at with my friends at the bar to take a call from Sean that would wind up being 1-2 hours long – I knew they had a good thing going musically and we were all working towards the same goal, so ensuring I was available to talk when he needed to was important to me to keep the projects all moving forwards.

Recording a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” in a bathroom with Seam – February 2013.

Generally speaking, Your Way Records was still just me, though. I had involved my friend and former bandmate Mike in on it when he expressed an interest in it, which again made total sense to me because he was a drummer and that was something I knew would be even more beneficial in the studio, because he could help with ensuring the drums were tuned properly, with set-up, and so on. Plus, he wanted to learn how to record, too.

At one point I’d also tried to enlist the help of my friend Anthony who played in another local band, but although the 3 of us had a few meetings, I don’t think we really knew what else to do other than what I was already doing. And half the time, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just kept trying to learn, get more involved in different areas of the industry and come up with new ideas that I thought would benefit us.

So I think this is who I’m referring to when I talk about the team in this post: mainly bands I was working with, like Seam/Aukland, Tails, You Lose! and others that never quite made an impact, and Mike and Anthony.

I really felt like I had a great idea and was going about things the right way, I was certainly working for all the “right people” as far as the Canadian music industry was concerned, and I was getting a little better all the time even though I didn’t always notice it.

So what happened between then and now?

Sometime between 2013 and 2014 is when things really took a turn for the worst for me and I knew things weren’t actually going the way I thought they were supposed to back in 2011.

I had reduced the amount of work I was doing for Rattlebox here, needing to focus on employment that actually paid me, and I had left MWS for the same reason, but I was still working with local indie bands on their records (this, largely still for free, but now the focus was on building my own brand and success instead of working for others – I bought in heavily to the story of the entrepreneurial spirit, grinding away for years until something stuck).

Fortunately Aukland was seeing a fair bit of success now, having gotten some prominent media placements (imagine hearing your song play just ahead of the Saturday night Leaf game that you spent your childhood watching!), bigger, better shows (opening for Toyko Police Club and Hollerado on a short run college tour), and lots of interest in their work; new faces who wanted to join their team – new faces that offered what I couldn’t.

By all accounts I was a little relieved when they told me they had someone new to “act as Manager” even though I’m still a little perturbed by the notion that anything I was doing was in anyway “acting”. I was still producing, recording and mixing their records and that’s where I truly wanted to be.

The record label was suppose to be in support of that for me, remember, not the other way around.

But I was also noticing myself getting less calls from Sean and less messages overall from the guys as new things broke. I’d find out about those exciting new tours and placements well after the fact, whereas before it was me that was not only driving the band to consultations with PR companies, but sitting at the table, too.

Recording Aukland’s “The Orange Above” debut full length record at Jukasa – May 2013.

And then I got the call I’d been dreading in the pit of my stomach.

An engineer I had introduced the band too and took them to their studio to work out of wanted to mix the debut record we had been working so hard towards for years.

They wanted him to do it, too.

He knew people I didn’t. He had a big pro studio, I didn’t.

And they didn’t have any time to waste. I was still in the middle of editing tracks when the bands drummer showed up at my basement apartment in the Junction area of Toronto for the files. I hadn’t been able to focus on them the way I wanted to because my dad had suffered a heart attack shortly after I moved out and I was feeling guilty for not having spent enough time visiting him in the hospital (I’d stop in on my way into work since it was not far from OsgoodePD), plus, everything else that I had been noticing about the band and our relationship, its not-so-gradual deterioration, made it hard for me to even want to work on it at all anymore.

So I handed over the files knowing full well it was likely the last time I’d hear from the guys. And a little annoyed that Sean himself had put this awkward exchange onto his drummer when he should have had the decency to do it himself given how much time we’d spent working on his music together. I felt like he did it to avoid the conflict, like he was running away from it because he knew I’d be pissed about it (I was a little, but mostly hurt by the whole thing), and would rather ignore me entirely than deal with the conversation about it.

That to me is one of the worst things people do – ignore things because they’re too busy, too important, or too scared to address the issue. They clearly have no idea how it feels to be on the other end of that.

Plus, the other irritating part of that whole situation was that the band kept assuring me we actually would still be working together, just with some changes. But we never did after this, all choosing to forget about it instead.

From 2014 until about 2018, I was now reframing my entire life and my goals. I had moved into a full-time position at OsgoodePD in early 2014, around April, as well, as all of that other stuff was going on, and for a couple months kept freelance working as a stage-hand for Guvernment/Kool Haus whenever I could make it work with my existing schedule.

I never wanted to fully leave the music scene because I knew how hard it is just get in the door, nevermind to remain in it, and I’d done too much work to let go of it.

Working at OsgoodePD was always supposed to be a means to an end – a stable job to keep the bills paid and a roof over my head while I figured out my next steps.

Of course it’s really challenging to work in the music industry when you’re already working a full-time job, and the hours that the live sector requires of you are often at odds with that.

And it’s really hard to find time to work with bands when you’re already juggling 2 jobs.

And then of course, I was attempting to maintain some semblance of “work-life balance” as they said, keeping up with friends, trying to get out to enjoy new bars and restaurants now that I finally lived downtown (again, so hard to do when you’re already so busy), and attempting to date a little.

Needless to say my living-downtown Toronto experience wasn’t in any way shaping out the way I’d always hoped it would. Somehow it seemed harder to get involved in the music scene since I’d made the switch, not easier.

I was feeling pretty rejected all across the board and although I’d still play a little here and there, by mid 2014 I’d pretty much stopped playing my own instruments, stopped working on any new music and succumbed to the 40-hour workweek.

I knew I hated my job but it wasn’t the worst one I’d ever had – at least I was inside meaning I didn’t have to battle the winter elements so much like some of my previous jobs. And I was trying to save up some money because I knew I didn’t want to keep living in an old basement apartment forever (learned that one real quick).

So I sort of told myself, I’ll focus on this stuff for now, and I’ll get back to it when it makes sense to.

I floated around the idea of getting involved in the industry in other ways. I was working for a time with other indie bands and helping them in a lot of the same ways I was initially helping Seam/Aukland, but I was more careful about it now – of course, that didn’t help when I’d pour my own money into efforts to get them shows or, pour myself into recording some demos for them for free, but I couldn’t let go of what I was trying to do with YWR.

Sometime between 2016-2018, after playing a little bit of bass in two bands for a short time, I put everything with music down again.

Playing bass with Chasing Jane in Stouffville, Ontario – April 2016.

I tried my hand at freelance writing instead.

Money was always a massive hurdle for me throughout my entire life. It didn’t seem to matter how much I worked, how much I saved, something would happen and my account would be depleted again.

And I’d get excited when I’d start to see some success with the writing stuff, landing regular clients who’d give me ample work to keep me busy. But that industry is pretty terrible, too, when it comes to paying writers and eventually again I found myself struggling to keep up with the workload that offered so little in return.

I always knew it’d be a struggle to “make it” in any arts industry, but wow, was it ever.

By 2018 I was making big strides in other areas of my life, though, or so I believed. I was finally coming to terms with the fact that I had often been entirely too naive when it came to people I was spending time supporting and I was starting to put myself first again. I stopped contributing to other bands the way I was, I got serious about my debt which meant selling a lot of my own audio and recording equipment, I stopped hanging out with people that I felt were in some way bringing me down or had problems too large for me to solve or help with, I started running, was trying to quit drinking again, and otherwise just focusing on the things that “mattered” – getting healthy first became my top priority and keeping up with all the demands that came along with now being someones fiance and the financial troubles that loomed over both an upcoming wedding and contributing to your spouse’s family’s needs (siblings events, the arrival of a niece, holidays, and so on).

Boy, that was a mouthful.

Felt like it then, too.

Of course I couldn’t help myself but still try and become my own boss while in the midst of all that other stuff, but I really wanted to make a difference of some sort in the world and so I found myself looking in other directions to fulfill that need. I started getting more involved in charitable causes, researching about issues that were important to me, and started a small business (yeah, again), trying to bring awareness to the dwindling population of Algonquin wolves.

Every time I did any one of these things, whether it was Your Way Records, Freelance writing, or Live Like Wolves (that’s the brand I started then), I’d find myself reaching a point where I knew if I kept with it, I could really make it into something, but I’d ultimately give up when money or time became too much of a constraint, reassessing my goals once again.

And there was something about them that just wasn’t fulfilling enough. I’d never fancied myself a business-woman so why was I continually trying to become one, albeit on my own terms?

And there were my instruments again, just sitting in the corner collecting dust.

2019 & 2020 to Now

As I mentioned I’d find myself drifting back into playing here and there over the years, sometimes just because a band would need a quick bass line recorded or something similar, and I enjoyed playing even if it just meant noodling around by myself trying to figure it out, so I’d do exactly that when I’d find myself bored at home with just the dog and I.

I’d regularly catch myself having conversations with friends I’d meet up with periodically who’d ask things like, “Still doing the music thing?” or, “How come you haven’t been playing guitar?” and I’d fumble my way through a response, but in 2019 I’d settled into a thought of, “Ah, it’s just not for me anymore,” to end the conversation quicker, because I’d really felt at that time that if I hadn’t progressed to some arbitrary point beyond where I was standing then, I wasn’t meant to be doing it at all, and, if we’re being honest, I was so bummed about all my failures that even thinking about it for half a second was enough to drive myself back into a depressive hole.

It wasn’t until the tail end of 2019 that I’d find myself thinking more about it again, if for no other reason than I had things on my mind and no great support system to let them out on.

And then in February 2020, which I’ve written about in some capacity, my first new original song poured out in a matter of minutes while sitting on the floor of my rented King City home. I grabbed an acoustic guitar the same day and tried to sing it.

My singing capabilities were awful then, but better than they’d ever been all at the same time.

And by the time the pandemic really took hold, by March 2020 I was back in planning mode – lets take a stab at this music thing again, with everything we’ve learned and with the most unstable industry before us to step into.

The pathway that was laid before us looked nothing like the one we’d come from. This made me feel like somehow I’d found myself on more of a level playing field than I’d ever had before as a musician. There were different obstacles, sure, but I had a weird varied skillset that combined made me feel like I could tackle those obstacles, even if it just meant slowly picking away at the boulders as they surfaced.

I wrote my first lead guitar lines during this time. I wrote my first solo’s. I got my voice to a place of, “I know it’s not great yet, but things are starting to come together.” I wrote more songs in a couple short months than I had my whole life.

That first song. That first solo. That first riff.

I cared about something again.

I’d often said something to people when talking about any sort of creative work, like just as an example, if a friend came to me saying something like, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel but I don’t have an original idea. I have an idea, but it’s been done before,” that I wish I had spent more time telling myself all those years ago when things were getting me down.

“Yeah, your idea might have been done already, yeah, it might not seem original, but absolutely no one in this world will write that story the way you will, with the words you’ll choose, with your lived experiences driving them – write the book.”

I say this to myself often now. “Does this lyric sound too similar to —” Probably, yeah. Do you know how many songs are been written? How many stories? It’s almost impossible to write something that someone else hasn’t already in some capacity written.

In music, “this guitar line sounds too much like —” Yeah, probably! There are 7 notes on the guitar, no matter which way you swing it, someone has written that line you’ve just created, they’ve just presented it a little differently.

It’s the same with any creative medium. Someone has painted that apple. Someone has drawn that comic. Someone has used the same flowery language to talk about that sun.

But nobody has your lived experience. You are a unique individual and that’s what shines through in art, love, and life.

I said at the top of this post that in many ways I find myself now a lot further ahead than my 2011 self in some regards, like, I’m a much more confident player, musician, writer, engineer – but with all those things I know I’ll never stop learning and trying to improve myself.

And in many ways I find myself a bit further behind than my 2011 self, like, I don’t have a job to help me with that financial stability I crave, I don’t have a team that I’m managing – I manage me, I don’t work with other bands or for big-name producers, and I don’t have my own place anymore, now back at home.

But I also don’t weigh everything the same way I did then. I’m not basing my self worth on my credit roll or my name on a letterhead, I’m basing it on if I’m proud of my work, my actions, the relationships I am trying to build going forward.

And that rocky road full of boulders I was confident I could navigate back in March 2020 is still there in front of me, and I know I might be wrong about what’s on the other end of it, but the only way to find out for sure is to keep pushing through it, picking away at it until the pathway’s clear.

So where are we going from here?

This question probably merits its own post entirely, but for now, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.

Because for all the things that keep stepping in front of this pathway I see in front of me, I know I can’t just let go of this music thing this time, not like I have before, and at this point in my life I’m not entirely sure I ever can. It’s the only thing I ever catch myself coming back to, time and time again.

Am I confident in my approach now? Not really. I’m probably the least confident I’ve been in a long time given how many things haven’t played out the way I expected over the years.

Will I become successful in the music industry after all? I suppose that depends on how I continue to define success.

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