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Class Work, Passions

Shunning the big city lights

By Greg Colgan
gcolgan@uwo.ca

The bright lights of big cities can entice people from all walks of life to relocate from their smaller town.

But London, better known for its junior hockey, university and factory jobs than its arts and music scene, seems to be keeping musicians from moving to larger cities.

On first thought, the decision for musicians to move to a large city such as Toronto or Vancouver would be an easy one, but small cities can offer musicians opportunities they might not get elsewhere, say local artists.

“I still think it rings true that London as a smaller market offers more opportunity. You’re a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In a city like Montreal or Toronto, you’re so much more likely to get lost in the crowd because there’s so many more bands,” said Olenka Krakus, a London musician.

“Since those cities are areas of activities, if you’re doing something interesting in a large population you tend to blend in or not get the same amount of press or publicity as you would in a city where you might not expect something to come out of it,” said Krakus.

Krakus is the lead singer and guitarist of Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, a London-based band that has been recognized across Canada as one of the top Canadian folk acts. Her band has done several cross-country tours and doesn’t see being based in London as a hindrance.

Olenka Krakus plays with her London-based band, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers.

She said staying in cities like London, Guelph or Kitchener allows bands to stand out more than they would in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, where there are more musicians trying to make it.

Krakus, who lived in Vancouver for almost 20 years, said the sense of community is greater and there’s more of an initiative to help musicians in London.

“What keeps me here is the unique community of artists, musicians and supporters in this city. A lot of smaller cities have this character, but particularly in Ontario, small arts organizations have sprung up in an effort to support and inspire the local arts scene. Coming out of Vancouver, I never had that sense of community with the exception of friends.”

It’s that tight-knit community that has allowed Lynne Craven, lead singer and guitarist with Lonnie in the Garden, and other musicians to succeed in London.

Lynne Craven
Courtesy of Lynne Craven
Lynne Craven says the London music scene has created its own buzz to keep musicians from leaving.

“It’s a lot about building relationships with different organizations and venues that are willing to have musicians play. It’s not just a venue you’re going to, but you know the owner, you know the promoter, you’re a lot more involved with the entire process,” said Craven. “The networking aspect is very easy here because everyone wants you to succeed.”

Chris Martin, a Londoner and lead singer and guitarist for the band More More, said some bands are content with staying in their city instead of moving to Toronto. More More was created in 2010 and has played in nearby cities close to London.

“For my band, I’m happy where we are,” said Martin. “I think if we got any bigger and made the move to Toronto, it would be too much for us.” It could lead to greater fan presence and media attention than the band would want.

London’s proximity to other cities in southwestern Ontario has allowed his band and many others from London to tour nearby cities. For Craven, London has allowed her band and others to remain in London, but travel to other cities in southwestern Ontario.

“This is a very nice core area,” said Craven. “London is located in a beneficial way for musicians so they can play bigger cities, but still have their home base in London.”

Martin also said that not every band is created to get famous, noting that the majority of bands are formed as way to express themselves artistically.

“It’s all a matter of what you want to do with your band. If you want to be huge, you’d probably have to battle it out in a bigger city,” said Martin. “But I haven’t noticed too many bands that are set on being famous.”

In reality, most musicians have other jobs that force them to stay in one city, he said. Although it’s easy to say a move to a large city will help, it isn’t always that way.

“Since being a musician, or any artist for that matter, doesn’t pay that well, most of us need to rely on day jobs,” said Martin. “It’s difficult to leave a steady paycheque behind, so in order to move your band, you must also move the day job.”

Chris Martin is staying in London
Courtesy of Chris Martin
Chris Martin believes in helping your home city’s music scene instead of moving to a larger one.

Despite any faults the city may have, there’s hope for London with emerging festivals and venues that will help local artists.

“I think festivals like OhFest and CarFree Fest are a step in the right direction – creating an event that’s unique and can draw attention to those amazing bands and artists who are from out of town as well as London,” Martin said.

Although those festivals are a step in the right direction, some improvements are needed to help musicians survive in London.

“A genuine (music) label for musicians is needed. That infrastructure is needed to help local bands who have worked the grind of touring,” said Krakus. “In a city like Saskatoon or Guelph with similar music scenes (to London), there are several labels that have helped keep people in the cities to further help bands distinguish themselves.”

Craven said that London has started the process of becoming known for its music scene and that there’s incentive to see it through.

“The motivation for me and for many other musicians is that we’ve put the effort in to making this scene worth staying here, so we want to see where it goes,” said Craven. “Our little scene that we’ve created here is generating a lot of buzz. It’s more staying with that instead of getting lost in the mess of a bigger city.”

In the end though, there’s a certain loyalty that many musicians have to London to help improve the music scene instead of going to another city.

“I feel a responsibility to my home town,” said Martin. “Rather than move away and abandon this city, I feel the desire to try and improve the music scene we already have.”

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About Western Journalism

We're members of the University of Western Ontario's master of arts in journalism program. Our blog represents a common theme in stories through our third term.

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