A PROBLEM OF POPULARITY: HOW CANADA’S NORTHERN MUSICIANS ARE HURT BY LACK OF ACCESS

In the North, artists are both aided and injured by the music industry's changing model

The Jerry Cans' Andrew Morrison, left, performs at the 2018 Juno Awards. Despite their success, Morrison says the resources northern musicians need to succeed are often lacking. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Andrew Morrison of The Jerry Cans is setting up to play what would be — for most bands with their popularity — a standard-sized gig at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern. Instead, the concert has become something much bigger: a showcase of northern Canadian musicians that he and his bandmates hope makes the money they spent on the trip worthwhile by maximizing the participating bands’ exposure.

It took more than $10,000 to get the five-piece band from Iqaluit, where they’re based, to Toronto — and that’s only counting the plane tickets. It’s a significant amount of money for the band, which performs largely in the Inuktitut language.

“Touring is super-challenging,” Morrison said a few hours before the group’s show, part of the Curator Series during Toronto’s North by Northeast (NXNE) music and arts festival.

“Even for this show, we’re paying for it,” he said, since they’ve already used up all the grant money they’re eligible for and have received.

Northern Canadian musicians are ballooning in popularity, thanks in large part to streaming, which has given these artists the ability to reach audiences as never before. But it’s also forcing them to rely more heavily on live shows and touring to generate an income. In the past, they would have benefited from album sales.

Artists from Canada’s remote communities face a particularly difficult, expensive and emotionally draining reality of struggling to simply get to the same venues that musicians from the South can easily access, said Morrison and Jerry Cans bandmate Nancy Mike.

Morrison says it cost more than $10,000 to get his band to Ottawa for a single tour. ‘We’ve struggled a lot to get out of Nunavut sometimes to play music.’ (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

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“[Flying] from Iqaluit to Ottawa is, like, $2,200 return for one person,” said Mike.

And because they took every opportunity to play as many dates as possible while touring in the south, “we’d be exhausted by the end of it,” she said.

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