Canadian Musician - March-April 2022 - Page 28

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How I Launched a Music Career from a Remote Community

By Adrian Sutherland

Ihave been living in a remote community called Attawapiskat since I was born , a place you can only reach by air , or by iceroad in winter . For as long as I can remember , music has always been a big part of my life . My mom , who is my biggest musical inspiration , played guitar and keys , and my uncles all played in rock bands . So , I fell naturally into music at a young age .

We only had three channels at home when I was a kid , so it ’ s kind of a coincidence that one happened to air MTV . One day the music video for Bryan Adams ’“ Run to You ” came on and I was hooked . I knew then that I wanted to be like that and play guitar .
You could say my behaviour was something out of the ordinary for a young native kid . I was considered eccentric by many in my community . When I eventually got my first guitar and started rocking that , at times I was told to put it down because I was making too much racket with it . That it wouldn ’ t get me anywhere in life . But I kept making racket , teaching myself to play guitar and harmonica , too . I also started writing my own songs .
Eventually I got busy with life , getting an education and having a family . The dream of having a music career was put on hold . But all through this time , I kept writing songs and learning to play . Fast forward to 2011 , it was finally time to think about recording my first album . That summer , I landed a performance spot opening for Trooper in Timmons , ON – my first big gig ! I was pretty excited about it , but I needed a band .
I called George Gillies , a drummer I met playing in the James Bay region over the years . He pulled in Stan Louttit ( bass ) and Zach Tomatuk ( guitar ). From that first gig on we played together as Midnight Shine . In 2013 we released nine of my original songs on a self-titled debut – I finally got to record my first album ! We then release Northern Man in 2014 , followed by High Road in 2018 , and James Bay in 2020 ( a remastered version of our debut ).
The pandemic gave me time to finally work on my first solo album , When the Magic Hits , which was released in September of 2021 . Since there are no recording studios in Attawapiskat , I first had to make my own inside a shipping container . I was then able to work remotely with producer Colin Linden in Nashville and Tim Vesely in Toronto .
People have asked how I launched a music career from such a remote community , and my response has always been that I had to get creative . I have to be resourceful , and do a lot of things myself . I have to be my own carpenter , IT guy , studio engineer , even my own videographer .
It also takes a good team to help make things happen . Early on , I learned a lot about the industry and discovered that it was mostly built on relationships . Knowing the right people and making the right connections is critical for an independent artist .
There were a lot of challenges in those early days , including some bad business deals that quite frankly almost ended the band . Eventually we found a publicist , RoseAnna Schick , who naturally evolved into our manager . It ’ s important to have a publicist and manager who understands who you are as an artist , and who gets the type of music you want to put out . She understood what it took to work for an all- Indigenous rock band and also had connections in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities .
I also learned that it ’ s important to have someone in your corner talking you up in the media and industry . The people you surround yourself with have to be excited about what you have going on . You want your whole team to believe in your music and story . Build a solid team that will work hard for you and help you get to the places you want to be . Don ’ t waste time chasing people who you think can help advance your career , especially those that don ’ t believe in or support and the kind of music you make .
As an artist , you must give as much to your team as they do to you . Not to deter anyone from pursuing a music career , but it does take a ton of work and a lot is expected from an artist . At times it feels like everyone is pulling on you from every direction all at once . Be prepared to grind it out for at least a decade before things really start to take shape , and don ’ t lose yourself in the process .
Take time for wellness activities and schedule them into your daily activities . Try not to get down on yourself when things don ’ t go a certain way . Don ’ t let social media and streaming platforms discourage you when you see few likes or low streaming numbers .
All music is beautiful and the listener will decide for themselves whether they like a song or not . So , stay engaged with fans along the way . Do something every day to keep your career moving forward . Keep making music you love .
Adrian Sutherland is a roots-rock recording artist from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay . He ’ s a singer , songwriter , musician , writer , speaker , advocate , and entrepreneur . He leads the band Midnight Shine and his first solo LP , When the Magic Hits , is now out . www . adriansutherlandmusic . com .
PHOTO : JUDY SUTHERLAND
28 CANADIAN MUSICIAN