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From Local Bluesman To Living In Track Pants: How The Pandemic Has Hit The Canadian Music Industry

KAWARTHA LAKES – Wylie Harold has been a passionate musician and vocalist since he was 15 years old, travelling Canada, hitting every patio, pub and bar in sight, entertaining fans, doing what he loved.

But like many other musicians, the pandemic has decimated Harold’s career. He has lost his identity, his friends and his passion for the one thing he loved most, music.

“It took most of it away, it took away my social life which was clubs, patios and my buddies, and the comradery and the foolishness musicians share together, everything came to a halt,” he said. “I’m without work and stuck at home, after two years, that passion just kind of died, it wouldn’t bother me if I never did it again but part of me can’t wait to get back out there.”

Harold noted that the pandemic has really taken its toll, changing his entire perspective on life.

“The Covid thing, it changed the whole world and the way we do everything, I’ve been wearing track pants for two years now, I live in a world of track pants,” he laughed. “I have my Sunday go to meeting track pants, my kick around track pants, my lounging track pants, I have a whole wardrobe now but it’s either black or grey.”

During Harold’s career, which began in the 1960s, he has performed almost every genre of music as a single act or with his four-piece blues band, Out On Bail. At the age of 16, he matured quickly, proudly sporting a full beard, enabling him to gain entry into countless bars and pubs across Canada, performing on the harmonica and the guitar.

“It was everything rock and roll was back in those days, sex, drugs and rock and roll was really what it was about,” said Harold. “I was learning the trade and learning to be a performer, you never stop learning.”

Through his early years, Harold would come back to his hometown of Bobcaygeon to work a day job and play on some local patios. By the time he was in his twenties, his band Half Ton released a record called World Famous Rockcliff Hotel.

“It was fun back then, I wouldn’t recommend it now but back in those days, back 46 years or so, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “A lot of stories, memories, good times, a lot of opening for big-name acts, I had my foot in the door to a lot of things.”

Harold resided in the small town of Bobcaygeon for 35 years, eventually, he moved to the city of Peterborough but noted that breaking into the Peterborough music scene initially was almost impossible.

Harold has lived in Bridgenorth for the last five years and prior to the pandemic, the local artist was keeping busy, performing locally at festivals and other events.

“It has been hard, I have lost contact with all my band guys, I haven’t seen them for two years, this has basically brought my income, my identity and my life to a halt,” he explained. “We were the first to go and last to come back, we are just hanging in there waiting for things to open back up so we can go back out and do what we do, music is so in demand it’s almost essential to have live music to listen to, all of us are waiting to start playing.”

Harold is currently semi-retired but settling into the new normal of being housebound for two years has been a major adjustment.

“I’ve been hanging around the house, writing songs, building rock gardens, doing little Covid projects and whatever it is to keep myself busy,” he said. “I miss my friends, I miss being able to make that musical magic on stage that musicians share between themselves, it’s almost like a drug, nowadays every day is Monday to me.”

Prior to Covid, Harold worked tirelessly for years on his latest CD titled, It Is What It Is. The CD was recently released and features 12 original blues and rhythm and blues tracks, written and produced by Harold.  His four-piece blues band, Out On Bail, and many other local artists are also included on the CD.

“It is what it is, that was a big saying about five years ago, then it kind of went away, it seems much more prevalent nowadays because everything is what it is,” said Harold. “The songs are about my life, what it’s like to live with the blues, I didn’t look for the blues the blues found me, musically and emotionally.”

Those who would like to purchase a CD can private message Wylie Harold on Facebook, or email [email protected].

According to the Canadian Independent Music Association, CIMA, a new report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Independent Music, conducted by Nordicity on behalf of CIMA, shines a light on the various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Canadian independent music sector.

The report details just how much the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Canadian independent musicians and revealed that the live music scene has experienced a decline in revenue of CAD $233 million in just six months and that the industry will likely not recover to pre-COVID levels until at least 2023.

The report states:

  • The CAD $233 million revenue loss has been most prevalent for emerging artists and their representatives:
  • The live sector has been the hardest hit, with a 79 per cent drop in income from 2019
  • Independent sound recording and publishing companies will see a 41 per cent decline in revenue from 2019
  • Almost 2,000 FTE (full-time equivalent) jobs lost in six months

“If real supports are not made available to music creators, Canadian music may not recover. Not only do we have an obligation to protect Canadian music as a voice for our country and as one of our proudest forms of cultural expression, but we also have a responsibility to support the hard-working Canadians who work in this industry,” said CIMA Board Chair and co-owner/president of Sonic Unyon Records, Tim Potocic. “This is their livelihood and it has been devastated.”

As part of the Nordicity report, CIMA included recommendations for additional supports that can back the independent music industry as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Extending and enhancing the Canada Music Fund’s Annual and Supplemental Funding.
  • Increasing flexibility in how funding is disbursed
  • Enhancing financial and technical support for audience development
  • Providing wage support for workers in the Canadian music sector
  • Creating tailored financing for underrepresented groups
  • Enhancing support for online training for new and emerging music professionals

For Jason Brain, a local DJ artist, his business, Brain Audio Visual, has collapsed. Along the way he has lost a piece of his identity and is now broke and residing in his mom’s basement.

“It’s humbling, I’ll admit, I am flat broke, I live in my mom’s basement now, it’s difficult, it’s sad,” he said. “I am so overwhelmed still, since I moved home, I have no space, new rules, a list of things to do, it’s hard. I have no identity; I’m living under someone else’s roof now, life has changed.”

Brain has been a DJ for his entire life but studied in college to become a computer programmer. Unable to find happiness in his day job he decided to launch is business as a DJ and was very successful.

Jason Brain, doing what he loves before the pandemic
Courtesy – Jason Brain

“It went really well until March, I was doing really well,” he said. They lied to us, a two-week shutdown to cut the curve, I was thinking that at most, maybe a month and then the whole summer was shut down, my whole business is in a holding pattern.”

During the last two years of lockdown, Brain has been establishing his own IT business, exploring every possible avenue. And while being a DJ will always be his true passion, Brain is uncertain that those opportunities will ever present themselves again.

“I’m sitting here in a holding pattern while it’s been wiped out and hoping to rebuild while we don’t know, the unknown is hard, we have to be optimistic in the future because as entertainers and with music, we deliver, we bring joy to people, that’s what we are offering, I want them to be full of joy and I can’t do that because of the pandemic,” he said. “There is division on the dance floor and there is now separation, something about being there, it’s a spiritual thing that’s been completely shut down, that celebration, it’s been destroyed and it’s going to be a long road to rebuild.”

Brain noted that while he has had to say goodbye to his passion, for now, he is focusing on his IT business and a plan for the future that will focus on multimedia, websites, photography and video.

“I have pivoted,” he said. “At my age, I have to figure out my retirement plan or an exit strategy, I had a plan with the DJ thing, but I feel that that plan can’t happen anymore, that plan can’t be depended on.”

Wylie Harold echo’s that feeling.

“Two years is a long time, one thing I never thought I’d lose, my passion for music, it’s one of those things, it’s in your blood, part of you, who you are, yet to lose that identity of who you are, it’s hard,” said Harold. “It’s almost like an identity crisis, you played all your life and suddenly you’re not a musician anymore, your career is stifled, people are really missing it, to experience that live music feeling, something about it is magic.”

To contact Brain for all of your IT needs or for more information visit jasonbrain.com.


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Jennifer Walker
Jennifer decided to study journalism after having a life long passion for writing. She began her career as a reporter for the Uxbridge Times Journal and moved on to freelance work for various publications after her and her husband welcomed their daughters. She has been published in various Durham Region newspapers, the Durham Parent Magazine as well as Equine Wellness. Jennifer continues to follow her dreams as a wife, mother and journalist and is so excited to join the team at Kawartha411.

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