By AARON PETERS
There are no grassroots trailblazers in Toronto when it comes to the music industry.
When I was growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as a young singer songwriter I did the regular same old stuff that every musician does. I tried to start a band, I wrote songs, and I recorded demos. This is all pre-internet, pre-ProTools. I was renting analogue equipment from Long and McQuade to record my demos on cassette tape, because that’s how the technology was back then. But I did it, and I would always think to myself, “If I had a chance to do this, or this, or this, or this…’ I would dream. That’s what musician’s are, they’re dreamers. That’s what creative people are, they are dreamers. So I would dream. I would dream big. I would dream stuff like I wish I could make a music video for every song that I’ve ever written. And I’d dream up story lines to each song; each song’s video. Stuff like that. I’d dream a lot of things; I’d dream up movies about me. Y’know because of course I was gonna be the biggest thing since sliced bread, so they had to make a movie about me. And I dreamed about what that movie would be like. So there was a lot of dreaming going on when I first started writing songs in Winnipeg. And starting bands and getting fired from bands and kicking guys out of my bands, and getting ripped off by various bars and getting backstabbed by supposedly my friends. So a lot of stuff happens when you’re in a band, a lot of things happen in life. But when you’re in a band, it’s more of a drama magnet than anything else.
As time went on, and technology advanced to the point where we are now, where you can record a whole album in your own living room, you can make a music video all on your own, everything’s at your fingertips. All those dreams that I had, basically came true…Now that I’m 42.
One of the things that happened was I got my own recording equipment and I started recording my own demos. And I, like everyone else, wanted to start a ‘recording studio’. And it wasn’t a very original idea, because one look at the industry anywhere and there’s bound to be 100s if not 1000s of recording studios set up. And in Winnipeg, at the time that I wanted to start my recording studio, there was about 50-60 recording studios just in Winnipeg. So it wasn’t a very original idea, but I decided I wanted to do it, because I wanted to be Daniel Lanois, I wanted to be Bob Rock, I wanted to be Rick Rubin. These great producers that made massively successful records – and so I switched my focus a bit.
It wasn’t long before that got boring as hell because there were no takers. I offered my recording services to many musicians and they either just flat out told me no, or they’d say yeah I’ll be there this afternoon, and never show up. This happened quite a few times actually, and I began to notice that musicians just weren’t into making recordings for whatever reason, I don’t know. Especially free recordings. So it wasn’t long before I got totally bored as hell with recording other bands; just got fed up with it. I was recording tons of my demos but I wanted to get out there and really do some decent recordings for other musicians. I recorded a few things here and there, but it wasn’t a steady stream of ‘oh yeah, lets go record with Aaron Peters.
Made a Movie
So I got bored and I decided I wanted to make a movie, because as I was recording, I was documenting my recording sessions. I didn’t keep every bit of footage, but it was nice to have fun with these cameras. And I started to notice that these cameras are cheap and they’re really good. So it wasn’t long before I decided I was going to get hold of five of these cameras; these Canon FS 100s, FS 200s, and begin to expand my horizons into film-making. So now I was a recording engineer/producer/film-maker – all indie.
Knowing what I know about musicians, having worked with tons of them; and being a musician myself, and knowing the inner workings of the mind of a musician, (somewhat, as much as anyone could I suppose), I took that working knowledge that I had of the musician and of their wants and needs and what they’re trying to do and I began to plan my first film. I wanted to make it a documentary about Winnipeg bands. It wasn’t long before I put an ad up on Kijiji stating that I wanted to make a movie and I was looking for bands. I got tons of interest. Long story short, I rented the Ellice Theater, set up my cameras, set up my recording studio, set up a PA system, invited bands to come in, play one song, and talk to me on camera. I did this with 12 bands.
In the end, I had a multi-track recording of one song, 5 camera angles of that same song, of ten bands worth. I had enough footage and music to make 1 hour of film. I edited everything myself, I shot everything myself, I recorded everything myself, I lugged all the gear in and out of the Ellice Theatre up and down the stairs, in and out of cars… I had two screenings for this movie. And my idea was to have each band sell tickets to the screening of the movie. That was all they had to do; they didn’t have to pay me a dime. I did all this work, all they had to do was sell tickets. We had 225 seats to the first screening and 270 seats to the second screening.
The first screening was at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg. Y’know how many tickets we sold? We had 225 seats; I believe there were 100 people that showed up. If we didn’t sell out the Park Theatre with this idea, we showed the movie, people brought some friends and they did buy tickets and they did try. But there were some bands that didn’t even show up; there were some bands that were giving me back tickets because they didn’t really sell any tickets. And then we had the second screening and it was even worse; it was less that 100 people that showed up and it was at the IMAX Theatre.
I didn’t really have a plan. But I knew I was onto something because I had 12 bands mobilized selling tickets. There was cash flow for me. I didn’t make a lot of money but I didn’t lose any money. Winnipeg Rock Part 1 has 12 complete band performances in it; 5 angles, various degrees of finesse, various degrees of talent, but tons of heart because these musicians really cared about their music.
Bands Are Drama
I soon found out certain bands broke up; of course almost every band had a personnel change. Either a guitar player left or a singer left. One band didn’t sell any tickets and I found out it was because their bass player left and they were busy looking for a new bass player. So they couldn’t sell any tickets to any screening and they definitely weren’t interested in promoting and outdated version of the band. We ran into those kinds of challenges. Two bands lost their singers, one band lost their bass player and I think one band completely broke up. A lot of things happened. Bands are drama.
That whole experience taught me a lot about music. It taught me a lot about being human. It taught me a lot about being a creative person in the world, and it taught me a lot about trailblazing. Trailblazing to me means going off the beaten path. If everybody’s walking in one direction, a trailblazer will go in a different direction and see where that leads. And if it leads anywhere that’s successful, other people will follow the trail that person took. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t like following a crowd. I just don’t like following the crowd. If everyone is crossing the street going north, I will wait for the light to go south, or west or any other direction but north because I have no desire to follow.
When I was making Winnipeg Rock, I was trying to do something different because the bands in Winnipeg weren’t doing anything. They weren’t doing anything special, they weren’t doing anything exciting, and they weren’t doing anything that was newsworthy. Everybody was recording records, doing shows, starting to make videos. And I didn’t see anything exciting going on, so I wanted to create something that was exciting for them. I was bored out of my head too so I needed some excitement. Making a movie with 10 bands and recording and all of that other stuff was not boring. It was exciting, it was beautiful, and I felt like I was a part of something. And so I thought this is Winnipeg. I wanted to do a Part 2 of Winnipeg Rock. I wanted to make another movie. It was then that I realized the truth about Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The truth about Winnipeg Manitoba is its small. I never looked at the city as small before. I thought it was a city. Truth is, Winnipeg is a town, it’s a big Town but it’s a town. It’s too small to be a city. I know this because when I tried to make Winnipeg Rock Part 2, I got a lot of interest from bands, but I found out a lot of people were playing in other bands. There was spillage from the first movie. So there was a band that had a same drummer from my first movie; different band, but they had a same drummer. This happened more than once. Different band but same guitar player, same band but different name, there was a lot of that. I noticed that, and I thought this town is way small. So I had an opportunity to come to Toronto and I thought I’d make a movie out here. I moved to Toronto and I found that there are so many bands here. I’m not going to say that there are too many bands, because that’s not possible. But there are a lot of bands. I counted over 500 rehearsal rooms in the Greater Toronto Area. Not buildings; rooms. About 90% of those rooms have a drum kit in them two guitar amps a PA and a bass amp. That’s like over 400 PA’s, over 400 sets of drums, over 800 guitar amps, over 400 bass amps. These rooms are all getting used. There’s no shortage of bands in Toronto. What there is a shortage of are trailblazers. There are differences in Winnipeg and Toronto for sure as far as musicians go. Everybody thinks that oh you’re gonna go to Toronto and you’re going to make it in the music business. The truth is this: a band in Winnipeg makes more money than a band in Toronto every day of the week. There are so many bands in Toronto that places to play don’t need to pay a band because if a band decides to walk on a date, there’s another band right in line to fill it. There are so many bands out here, they are a dime a dozen really.
So there are tons of places to play and there are tons of bands. And not one of these bars will pay these bands, so a band cannot get paid in Toronto. In Winnipeg, a band that plays the LA Roadhouse will get paid $300 a guy for three days. Maybe even two days, they make $300. You can make money in Winnipeg being in a band. That’ll never happen in Toronto. You’ll never get paid $300 to play a bar in Toronto. Never. The bands in Toronto all have day jobs. Not that the bands in Winnipeg don’t. The bands in Toronto don’t’ really need to make money off their music, they’ve given up making money off their music. It’s just a thing that they do, it’s just a hobby. So consequently, when somebody like me shows up and says lets’ do something, lets make a movie, lets do a music video, lets do a Vlog, lets do something… along the lines of a production where you can promote yourself, they don’t want to go for it. First of all, there’s no kind of prestige in working with Aaron Peters, because Aaron Peters doesn’t have any kind of track record in Toronto. The snobby attitude of the Torontonian won’t allow themselves to try something new. They need a brand name attached to anything they do so that they can say‘well I’m recording at Metal Works or I’m working with Mo Berg or I’m working with the drummer from The Tragically Hip on some demos. They’re so into the crowd mentality. I didn’t know this. I thought this was the place where things happen. It’s not that. It’s the place where things happen the same way they’ve always happened. And I’m not into that at all. I’ve decided that there are no trailblazers in Toronto.
And that’s too bad because the opportunities for the music industry lie in the trailblazer. The future of the music industry lies in the trailblazer. The trailblazer has the future of the music industry in their back pocket. And I’m not talking about me; I’m talking about anybody with a new idea, a new way of doing things. The trailblazer has the light that will get everybody through the darkness of this technological blab la bla. Right now everybody in Toronto is just doing what makes them look cool. Nobody is doing what’s gonna get them further, nobody is doing anything that’s gonna make them money. Music is just a thing. It’s the strangest thing to realize that Toronto is full of bands and none of them are making any money.
And here I want to help them make money. I have so many ideas with my film-making promotional videos, creating movies for bands, creating a story for each band. Every band needs a story. A movie is a story. If there’s a band out there and someone is making a movie about that band, like a full movie, that’s a story. I have offered to make movies for bands and they just don’t want to do it. But yet they’ll invite me to their show to videotape a song and post that on YouTube. A 3 minute clip, unedited, just put it up. They’re interested in that; the easy stuff. They’re not interested in doing a full movie about them, about their fans, talking to their friends and family, and their fans about their music, talking about the producer or their demos, the guy at the corner store that they buy their guitar strings from, intimate performances produced just for the movie, interviews with radio DJs that will be set up by me of the DJ listening to their song and having candid conversations about the song that they just heard, about this band; interviews with television personalities where I will take a the song to them and say to them what do you think of their song… A full movie of this and nobody is interested in Toronto.
I’ve come up with different ideas to help bands just the same way I did in Winnipeg. Making a movie like Winnipeg Rock was something that was different. It was something that was needed, it was something that was exciting for the bands and they all responded to it. I’ve done similar outreach out here. I’ve had meetings with bands, I’ve had meetings with studios, meetings with rehearsal companies, emailed, made ads, and nobody in Toronto is interested in trailblazing.
Consumer Musician vs Business Musician
This is problem, not for me, because I don’t care anymore. It’s a problem for music because there are two types of musicians. There is the consumer musician, and there’s the business musician. This is called the music business so let’s not forget the word business. In business there is the consumer, called the buyer, and there is the business. When you’re a consumer, you buy things. That’s all you do, you just buy. You consume a product. You consume products that exist. The consumer musician will buy guitar strings, rent PAs, buy recording equipment, and buy cameras. They’ll start a ReverbNation profile, start a Facebook page, create a website, they’ll enjoy Twitter, Tumbler, all the things that exist for them to consume. And they’ll think that they’re being a business. They’re not, they’re just consumers. They’re taking what’s existing and consuming it. That’s all they are doing. A business musician will create, innovate, trail blaze to reach out to their audience. They’ll come up with new ways to get people to come to their shows. They’ll think up new ways to present their music that’s exciting to people and create that buzz that they need to grow their reach and grow their fan base. A business musician will look at it as a business and they’ll innovate like businesses do. And my problem is that I thought that I was walking into a situation where Toronto would be full of these business musicians that were into innovation and trailblazing and leading the way. Because Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, it’s really close to New York so you’d think that there’s going to be innovation there, there’s going to be people like Aaron Peters there. But there isn’t. All there are is a bunch of consumers.
That’s where music is heading. Musicians are just going to be a bunch of consumers. Musicians are no longer going to be the people creating the product. We’re just going to be consuming product. Sure you can write a song, you can make a video and you can say well that’s a product. No it’s not, it’s not a product, it’s free. You can’t make money off of a music video anymore; you can’t make money off a song anymore. All you have done is used your need to create, and been a consumer of things that helped you create. You paid more money than you brought in. You’re a consumer.
What I want to do is help musicians bring in more money than they pay out and become business. I want the bands to become their own business. I want their story to grow. I want to help give them a buzz so that everybody’s talking about them. Everybody’s wondering why there is a movie being made about them; people are wondering why there are these trailers popping up about their movie on the internet. People are wondering why there’s a sound track available to a movie about this band. People at the radio stations in and around Toronto are wondering why there’s a movie about this band and why they haven’t heard about this band before, and why they don’t have this band on their playlist when they’ve just heard their song, they’ve just been interviewed on camera about this one song that this band that they’ve never heard of before and they’re not playing the song on the radio and maybe they should. The buzz is growing. That’s what I want to do for these bands. And nobody wants it because they’re too busy consuming what already exists. And so I’m including a link in this article to my movie, Winnipeg Rock Part 1. It’s standard definition because I didn’t have an HD camera at the time; like I do now. And I hope that when you watch it you can appreciate the fact that one man did it. There wasn’t a camera crew, there wasn’t a production crew, and this was all done by one person. One person shot every camera angle, one person recorded every band multi-track, one person mixed every band multi-track, one person edited every band performance together, and one person did it all. This is what I bring to the table and nobody in Toronto wants it.
Be a Trailblazer
The moral of the story… Musicians all have a responsibility to the industry to move it forward. I urge musicians to become trailblazers with their music, with their brand, with their ideas. Go in a different direction and see where it leads. If every musician does that, somewhere somebody will come across something that works for everyone and move the industry in that direction. Do something that makes you stand apart from everyone else. Go in a direction that makes you stand apart from everyone else because Toronto’s full of musicians; they’re a dime a dozen. Move in a different direction in any way. I’m not talking about just your music; I’m talking about the way you present your music, the way you promote your music, the way that you get your music out there. Think of a different way to do it. Because that’s the only way that this industry is gonna grow. Don’t be a consumer, be a trailblazer, and be an innovator.
I am Aaron Peters, I am a trailblazer, a videographer, producer, singer/song writer, and this has been a recording.