Taking a Piece from Rural Musicians

by SPARC Youth Blogger Alexis Kuper

Growing up in rural Canada as an aspiring musician can feel like an isolating uphill challenge. Then the world throws the COVID-curveball at you and you feel 10 times lonelier than before. Fortunately, there are other musicians in the same shoes as you and they’ve curated some advice: 

Meet Luca Martin, a culinary student and aspiring musician from Drayton, Ontario. He started his journey six years ago when he was gifted a guitar. He’s inspired by classic rock musicians like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin, and is currently working on an EP of covers – called Garage Days – with hope to release it on streaming services this summer. 

Guitar and laptop on a brown table

 

Martin acknowledges the good and bad aspects that come from being a musician in a rural community. In his experience, small towns seem to “breed honesty,” and he’s not surrounded by “scuzzy” people trying to scam him out of a gig, take advantage of his skills, or tell him something sounds really good when it’s not. On the flip side, his contact with larger musicians and industry professionals is limited to a less lucrative, online approach. This can feel significantly more isolating than pitching yourself in a music-mecca city. 

Fortunately, there are other resources he has found for the young, and possibly broke, musician. He feels that the app and IOS software Garage Band has a large arsenal of basic recording and creation tools for a beginner. He also recommends taking advantage of the online landscape: there are thousands of other musicians and teachers creating content on social media sites like YouTube for you to learn from and interact with. But his most important piece of advice to an aspiring musician is to not give up. It might sound cliché, but it rings true. “The first few months is when your self-doubt is the highest,” he says. “You see other musicians who have been working with their instrument for years and you think ‘I’m not cut out for this.’” 

 

a young man wearing a black parka and mask stands in from of the brick building. sign on building reads skyline studios.

Dustin Skysmith in front of his business, Skyline Studios

 

Another rural musician with similar experiences to Martin is Dustin Skysmith. From Mitchell, Ontario, Skysmith is a working musician as well as a small business owner. He’s the owner and operator of Skyline Studios, a music studio that offers DJing services for events and music lessons for a variety of ages, instruments, and skill levels (currently online for the safety of all his students). Believe it or not, his dad was a Garth Brooks impersonator, so music has always been a part of his life and he started playing guitar at the age of ten, 18 years ago. 

Skysmith has also had difficulties connecting with other musicians and finding opportunities away from big cities. However, he is grateful for the connections and networks he can take part in; there is little in the way of competition and due to the close-knit nature of small communities, lots of support. There are other ways to make your career as small town musician fulfilling, as well. A few years ago, Skysmith started The Shelter Project, an annual online charity event each May. 

The Shelter Project is a proud supporter of the Tanner Steffler Foundation – a non-profit aimed to increase mental health and addiction resources/supports in Huron County, created by John and Heather Teffler after the tragic passing of their son. Each May, Skysmith and his students create and preform art online to gather donations for this foundation. 

This year, Skysmith is also working with Blue Waters Music in St. Mary’s, Ontario, and is encouraging artists of all types to get involved – whether it’d be through music, art, or photography, to name a few. This year’s original song for the project is called Beneath and can be listened to on Youtube and other streaming services, and more information can be found here. 

 

Two men hold an oversized cheque. They are outside

Dustin Skysmith Presenting John Steffler with the Shelter Project’s 2020 Donation

 

What else can aspiring, rural musicians do? Be willing to play anywhere when opportunities come to you. Playing the intermission at your local high schools’ talent show or softly strumming during the horticulture society’s silent auction may sound boring, but it builds up your network and notoriety where you are. Take advantage of the fact you may find it easier to travel to different small communities and the closest urban centres than an artist operating directly somewhere like Toronto. Furthermore, having versatility in the instruments you play can help you a lot as well as its easier for you to perform in different situations or have more interesting sets – Luca Martin can play bass, guitar, drums, and a little trumpet! Finally, commit to being an integrated part of your community as a musician and it will encourage your community to be committed to music as well. 

And as for our featured musicians? Right now, Luca Martin is finishing up his culinary degree and you can find his first few singles on all major streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music under “Luca Martin.” As for Dustin Skysmith, he’s working hard right now on 2021’s Shelter Project, his music is also available on all major streaming services, and you can find him on Instagram at @dustin_skysmith. 

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