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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
The advances in technology and software will never replace the value of an experienced and quality sound engineer or producer said Andy Horrocks, President of AME Studios in Canada. In this the third and final segment of our look at the Canadian Christian music industry Phantom Tollbooth discusses with Horrocks the changing face of the music industry, how it relates to Canadian artists and the opportunities that exist for Canadians on both sides of the 49th parallel.
Horrocks has been on both sides of this business having first been a member of Awakening in the 1980's which later morphed into One Hundred Days in the later part of the decade and early nineties and now operating his own studio in southern Ontario Canada. He knows what it is to be a signed artist as the band released two records with Reunion Records. He also knows what it is be involved at the beginning of a stellar career as he has worked as a producer with the rock band Thousand Foot Krutch.
Drawing from his own experience he talks about the benefits associated with being a Canadian artist that goes south in pursuit of success. "Sometimes it is a good idea to go down there because you can hookup with the right people immediately. All the business we did with our band was in Nashville. We lived up here but toured in the States as well as Canada. The U.S. was the world. That is where we could sell records," he says.
He talked about his experience with Thousand Foot Krutch, "I had done their first album and we were in the middle of doing their second album when they went to GMA (week in Nashville). The record company was happy to have them up here working with me because it was cheaper for them than to do it (the record) than in the States."
That all changed however when the band performed at GMA week. "A real buzz was created on the basis of their performance. They were looked at as one of the next big things. The record moved to Nashville. There were really well known and experienced producers that were interested in working with them. I told them, 'You need to do this because it could be great for you," he says.
Horrocks made the point that it isn't always just about the music. The artist who decides to map out a career in the United States will often benefit from the connections that they make.
Horrocks says the reality is, "There are no real record companies in Canada. There are no Christian record companies in Canada offering deals to bands (where they will pay) fifty thousand or one hundred thousand dollars to make a record. It is all independent. Anybody in Canada who is making records these days has got to have a solid financial plan. Most of the time they are just scraping together and trying to do records for as little as possible. It is going to be inferior. The production value and the artistic growth will be less than the great American records."
Horrocks speculated that Thousand Foot Krutch's success with their album Phenomenon (2003 Tooth and Nail) is probably due as much to having a big record label behind them as it is working with a quality producer like Seattle's Aaron Sprinkle.
In order for a Canadian artist or an artist of any nationality for that matter to be successful certain things need to take place says Horrocks. "(You have) to be good and willing to sacrifice. If you are not willing to sacrifice then it all comes to a grinding halt. When we were a band on Reunion and our second record came out they wanted to know, 'What are you going to do now touring wise?" The band was split on when to tour. The expectation of the record company was that they would tour immediately to support the project but only two of the members were willing to go along with that idea. The other two members wanted to wait.
"I told the record company that we weren't going to tour right away and there was silence on the other end of the phone. That was the key moment and they lost faith in us right then and there. It was because we weren't wiling as a band to sacrifice. Everything basically stopped. They stopped believing in us. We lost opportunities to play in places. We lost big time."
"It is the people who are really creative, clever and are business minded who succeed," he said.
The producer said an artist can work really hard but there is still another factor that must come into play for an artist to make a sustainable income. "You also need to be a part of the writing process in a band. Ultimately that is where the royalties are. If you are a kid and aren't one of the writers in the band you can go on the road for six months and come back with nothing. That is really easy to happen."
Horrocks says he has a sense that the artists coming up in Canada now are much more business savvy. He believes they are more willing to make sacrifices and meet the touring demands. He also says youth plays a big part. "I think the younger you are the easier it is," he said.
Horrocks said whereas in his day as a touring artist there were only three or four well-known Canadian artists in the United States that today the standard has been set by many bands including Hawk Nelson. He believes it has both served as an encouragement for the artists coming up and has made it easier for the industry to look to Canada for new talent.
While many artists today still pin their hopes on a contract with a record label the changing landscape means that a record deal may not turn out to be all that it is cracked up to be. He says, "It is harder for record companies today with downloading." He said in turn, "I think that it is harder to get signed, not just Canadians but anybody to get signed to the right deal and make a living. I don't think that is always the right decision for a band to get signed to a deal with a record company." He makes the point that some artists need more time to develop and if you happen to be one of those artists you may not sell a lot of records right out of the gate. They may find the record company drops them the next year and then the bottom falls out.
"I think there are a lot of artists out there who can make a decent living if they get creative with where they play and how they connect (their music) to worship, sharing and teaching," he says. He then poses the question, "If you have a gift for speaking why can't your ministry be a little broader than just playing and recording?"
"Some people are incredibly creative with merchandising. I have also seen people who are dismal at doing that," Horrocks says. He says the revenue that spins off merchandise sales allows groups to keep touring and make a living at what they love to do.
Finally, Horrocks has a word of warning for those that think advances in technology will allow them to make their own CDs and spark their careers to instant stardom. "Mixing will always be an art form. Even though you can go to your corner music store and buy a pro tool rig for a couple of thousand dollars it doesn't mean it (the finished product) is going to be any good. The new technology has created a lot of things but one of the things that it has created is a lot of bad records. People think they can do it by themselves. Technically you can record it but if you don't have the experience producing or mixing then it is just going to be an inferior project," he said.
Horrocks said, "It takes time to get to the stage where you can do something of radio quality. It takes maturity and experience to take it to that level. The reality of it is the artist has to feel comfortable working with that person (producer or engineer) whether they are from Canada or from the United States."
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.