Despite Declining Live Attendance, N.B. Musicians More Prolific Than Ever

Lisa Leblanc released ‘Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen’ this past October

In most respects, 2016 proved to be another successful year for musicians in New Brunswick, with more than 100 projects – including albums, EPs, videos and singles – released during the course of the year across genres as diverse as rock, country, Celtic, Acadian, jazz, and classical music.

Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hay Babies, The Divorcees, Pony Rouge, Tomato Tomato, FWLR, Les Jeunes d’Asteure, Simon Daniel, Dischord, David In The Dark, Jaclyn Reinhart, Cédric Noel, Samantha Robichaud, Motherhood and Lionsault are just a handful of the acts that have released new projects in the last 12 months.

While there is no shortage of product going to market, the age of an on-demand culture, music streaming and declining live show attendance, among other factors that are admittedly not exclusive to New Brunswick have probably led to many musicians wondering what they have gotten themselves into.

“We’ve arrived at a point in history where people have gotten used to having a lot of content at their fingertips,” says Music New Brunswick Executive Director Jean Surette, referring to the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet in general. “A lot of people are choosing to forego the live concert experience in favour of watching clips on YouTube after the fact. In my opinion, there is no comparison between the two, but it is the way the tide has turned. Additionally however, money is also an issue for many people; a lot of people can’t go to every show they want, and there are a lot of good shows for people to choose from. So if they believe they will have the opportunity to see a particular artist again down the line, they might be willing to sit out a show.”

Although it is now arguably easier than ever for a band to share its music with the world, consumers have more listening choices than ever before, making for an uphill battle for those artists seeking to establish themselves.

“In terms of the number of albums released, I’m confident that 2016 was one of the busiest years that I can remember,” says Carol Doucet of Moncton-based company Le Grenier Musique. The firm handles a combination of live show bookings, management, record label and PR functions for artists including Menoncle Jason, Kevin McIntyre, An Acoustic Sin and approximately 16 other acts.

“Not only are we seeing a lot of releases, but the bar on the quality of those releases has been raised significantly, as well. It is very encouraging in some respects, but it certainly isn’t getting easier for artists.”

If disheartening figures released this past July by Billboard Magazine are any indication, Doucet has hit the nail on the head: The decline in popularity of the compact disc, combined with the increasing dominance of all-you-can-listen music subscription services like Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music, are serving to complicate matters in some ways.

While streaming services ideally offer artists the potential to gain an international audience, getting people to tune in is the challenge faced by virtually all musicians.

Doucet believes the decline in album sales is a primary reason why many legacy artists are returning to the road.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a number of classic artists returning to the concert stage, as album sales have dried up and they need to replace that income. It is those bigger names that get booked to play shows, which in turn constrains the funds available for younger, up-and-coming artists. It’s not easy making a go of music today,” she declares.

Fredericton native Ross Neilsen can attest to Doucet’s last statement. The guitarist spent the better part of nine years criss-crossing Canada both solo and with his band The Sufferin’ Bastards.

Ross Neilsen photo by Scott Doubt

While he had accumulated a more than respectable following in virtually all corners of the country, and will forever remain grateful for the experience of the time pursuing music as a full-time career, Neilsen admits he hit the wall at the end of 2014.

“I had to take a step back and just re-examine my priorities and what was important to me, mentally, physically and financially,” he says. “I discovered that I simply wasn’t finding satisfaction from playing music full-time anymore.”

Perhaps ironically, Neilsen says not focusing on music as a full-time venture has given him a greater appreciation for the art when he does have the opportunity perform. That rediscovered vitality can be heard in almost every note of Neilsen’s latest studio effort, Elemental, which was released earlier this year.

“My records have consistently been influenced by what’s happening in my life, and so naturally, the theme behind Elemental is change. The making of that album took place at a transitional time in my life. Ironically, the last time I lived through such a significant transition was when I decided to pursue music full time,” he says with a laugh.

“If anything, giving up the pursuit of music full-time has breathed fresh life back into the recording and writing process. I am no longer making decisions relating to my music career based on finances. I can’t tell you just how freeing that is.”

Contrary to what you may believe after reading this piece, it isn’t exactly end of days for the music business in New Brunswick. While almost any arts vocation is certainly going to prove to be a tough battle, nothing is impossible by any means.

The strong will survive. Some of New Brunswick’s best songs haven’t even been written yet.

Questions, comments or kick-ass recipe for Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies you’d like to share? Feel free to email me at ken@musicnerd.ca. Conversation is awesome.