Pat Blythe – Where do we go from here? ……and music

Throughout the past two years we’ve all tried to predict, guess, envisage, calculate, even hope what the future of music will be, once we are no longer struggling and fighting this global pandemic. We have been living in a world that seems surreal… a bad dream you wish you could wake up from, just by rubbing your eyes. That anything like this could happen in the 21st century seems rather absurd and unbelievable. Thing is… did. We are not impervious, but we are arrogant in thinking that we are. Lately, events have proven that we still have a long way to go. There remains, in all parts of the world, a whole level of uneducated obtuseness that exists even after we’ve heard from Archimedes, Aristotle, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Stephen Hawking and their ilk. Baby…..we have a looooong way to go.

…..back to the music. One of my questions for The Pandemic Interviews is, What do you think the live music scene will look like in the future as we come out of this pandemic situation?” Every answer, in all 62 interviews, has been different. With live music venues folding (22 in Toronto alone), limits on capacities, ticket prices escalating, musicians leaving the business, streaming services taking over, the uncertainty is palpable. We’ve been the yoyo. So…..what are the predictions, and how accurate will they be?

Then and now

Well, there’s the “old guard”, the “new guard” and the “up-and-coming guard”. The “old guard” has hundred of combined years in the music business. Before there were guitar and drum lessons, prior to “master classes” and Drumeo….they just did it! Graduating from church choirs, high school orchestras and an infinite number of basement practice sessions with the record player (and maybe a buddy or two), they were self-taught. The “old guard” performed in church basements, high school auditoriums and college campuses; grabbed their guitars and hit the road, knocking on the door of every little bar and club they could find, coast-to-coast.

With loads of trial and error, they forged ahead because no one told them they couldn’t.  They’ve seen it from all angles and experienced it from all aspects. They are the keepers of the stories and histories subsequent generations can listen to and learn from. With countless miles under their belts, and infinitesimal hours in recording studios, they supported each other and paved the way forward.

Concerts have become spectacles…’s not always about the music

The “new guard”, much of it through pure dumb luck, have surged forward and brought the entire business to ridiculous heights and incredible lows. They have been savvy enough to take advantage of the internet and social media. Their concerts have become entertainment spectacles, greedily scooping up billions in ticket and merch sales, outshining most who step in their path, and in the process, almost annihilating the “up-and-coming”.  Right behind them, hungrily feeding and leeching off these entertainers, and the masses who attend these spectacles, are the promoters, agents and record companies (of which there are now only three). The music has become secondary.

Clockwise from the left – Quincy Bullen, Secret Broadcast, The Reed Effect, Keegan Chambers, Drop Top Alibi, Sally Schaar (Monowhales)

Pay attention to the “up-and-coming”. They are “the way, the truth and the light”. (My deepest apologies to John 14:6). With little or no financial backing, loads of grit and determination, today’s independent artist (indie artist) is breaking ground, somewhat of a throwback to the 1960s, but with an edge. They are knowledgeable users of all that social media has to offer. They know every festival in North America, no matter how big or small, and are determined to perform at as many as possible.

They also do much of the “grunt” work themselves. Writing, recording, releasing, posting, arranging, selling, booking, promoting, driving, packing, setting up, tearing down, negotiating, designing….the list is endless. The creation of the indie labels is a byproduct of the DIY era of music and the move away from the anonymity and control of the large labels. Some of the indie labels include Dine Alone, Gold Child Records, Vinyl Recordings, Paper Bag Records, Six Shooter, New Damage and Pleasence Records. The “up-and-comers” have an intimate knowledge of what goes on with their music, the business of music, and their lives…..and they own it! Sure, as the “up-and-comers” grow, managers and publicists come on board, but they are also local, grass roots people. The up-and-comers keep their fingers on the pulse.

Cleaning house

Then there’s the streaming giants…..Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, et al, squeezing everything out of everyone, including the audience, continually wringing the cloth out to collect every drip, and going back for more. Damn near every piece of music that’s been recorded is streaming, audibly and visually. Podcasting is the new DJ/VJ/Charlie Rose, and video games are becoming a highly valued income for composers and songwriters, as many now require their own unique soundtracks.

So where ARE we headed? I relate it to sorting out my mother’s basement. After living in the same house for 65 years, it needs to be deconstructed, decluttered, organized, rearranged, tidied up and put in some semblance of working order everyone can take advantage of…..fairly and honestly. (okay, you cynics can stop sniggering now). It a HUGE nut to crack, and like my mother’s basement, (and mine for that matter) it’s an overwhelming and somewhat scary project.  It’s a tangled mess that needs to be unraveled.

The entire gig economy is beginning to work together, creating an undercurrent of restlessness that is growing more vocal by the day. A guaranteed income for all gig workers is becoming more and more imperative. There is an increasing interest in unionization.  For many musicians, the elephant in the room is “where is the Toronto Musicians Association in all this?” Maybe now is the time to work together? There are pros and cons on both sides but we need to make tips and the tip jar extinct! It’s time for an uber major cleanup and it’s everyone’s responsibility. The status quo can no longer remain the status quo.


Another issue that’s becoming critical is the rapidly disappearing rehearsal spaces. According NOW, “Many musicians are taking up the mantle and looking at some sort of cooperative or collective approach that can hopefully sidestep some of the hyper-capitalist hurdles that have been poisoning the local scene.”

I believe smaller, more intimate venues are becoming increasingly more important than stadiums, allowing a more personal contact with the audience, not to mention, far less expensive tickets. Bands and artists are able to book these smaller clubs themselves, creating their own relationships with venue owners and keeping more of the profits for themselves. Musicians are also, in growing numbers, heavily leaning towards the European and U.K. markets. Many have been touring overseas for years, building up trusted connections. The United States remains a popular market for Canadian musicians, but as everything opens up, the competition becomes that much greater. The popularity of tribute bands and theatre shows remains high, and many of these are performed by seasoned artists. But for the smaller, indie acts, the U.S. can be a much tougher nut to crack.

Carnac the who?

There are no crystal balls to read, no tarot cards to see into the future….it’s all guesswork. Unlike Johnny Carson’s alter ego, Carnac the Magnificent, the “mystic from the East”, we can’t “divine” the unknown answers and, quite frankly, I’m not sure we’ve asked all the right questions either. It is a constantly changing landscape and the gardeners are just waiting for the next weed to sprout. Personally, I think we’re headed back to our “grass roots”, cleaning up some major messes along the way.

Unlike Carnac, I don’t have a prediction. What I do have is hope, and optimism. We can’t go back. The only choice we have is moving forward. Well….we could stand still, but when have you ever seen a musician stand still? It’s going to be a tough, demanding and sometimes daunting struggle. It will test relationships, tempers and resolve. There will always be the Live Nations of the world, but the indie artists, those up-and-comers, that’s our future.

The Games People Play – Alan Parsons Project

I’d Love to Change the World – Ten Years After

All or Nothing – Monowhales

The Healer – Digging Roots

Not Waiting – Keegan Chambers

On Q – Quincy Bullen

Settle of the Dust – Suzi Kory

Hot Lips – Cry Wolf

Anymore – The Redhill Valleys

This week’s podcast is singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Doug Varty.From my home town of London, Ontario, Doug’s career path has seen him perform both as a solo act and in many bands, including the one he left home to join…..Sea Dog. A multi-instrumentalist, certified yoga instructor, singer/songwriter and teacher, Doug still lives in London with his family and continues to perform on both sides of the border. He was inducted into Forest City London Music Hall of Fame in 2018 and has won four Jack Richardson Music Awards.


Photographs of “Mariposa 2019” and “the up-and-coming” ©2019 Pat Blythe A Girl With A Camera


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.


“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto.


Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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