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Tips for aspiring artists: Calgary Folk Music Festival artists on making it in the Canadian music industry and in life

By Miranda Krogstad, August 24 2017 —

At this year’s Calgary Folk Music Festival, we sat down with Sargeant and Comrade, Terra Lightfoot, and Peter Stone of 100 Mile House to talk about what life is like for folk musicians in Canada. Here are some tips from the artists for aspiring musicians.

Tip #1: Do what you enjoy, because you’ll end up being better at it

Unlike many of his peers, who chose traditionally high-paying areas of study, Peter Stone of 100 Mile House was grateful to have a family that supported his passion.

“I was lucky that my parents were like, ‘Just do what you enjoy, because you’ll end up being better at it,’ ” Stone says.

He explained that his passion for music motivated him to develop skills in the field. This interest made him choose music over math and other subjects he did well in.

Tip #2: Find a side-job in your field

All three artists had music-related side-gigs that gave them the opportunity to focus on music and develop their skills. Stone does sound technician work, Evgeniy “Comrade” Bykovets DJs at weddings and corporate events and Lightfoot has worked in a music store and taught music lessons.

“I was still able to learn about what I was passionate about,” Lightfoot recalls. “Even though it wasn’t the job I have now, which is much more free in following my passion in many ways, music teaching was still following the general tributary [of my career].”

Tip #3: Get your hands dirty

Stone’s personal experience taught him that the balance between technical skill and hands-on experience is key to success in any field.

“Being a sound engineer, you can learn all you want from books or practice and all that,” Stone says. “But it’s not until you have five bands playing in a venue in three hours and you have to deal with a bunch of people you’ve never met and people’s egos and timing that you learn how to do things.”

Applying technical knowledge in a practical way is vital, Stone says. From studios on campus to events around the city, he dove into the opportunities presented to him.

Tip #4: Make your passion a way of life

Yolanda Sargeant insists that “making it” in the business is not so much about the grind or the big breaks, but rather incorporating your craft into your lifestyle.

“Music and life are not two separate entities,” she says. “Either you’re there or you’re not. Either you’re practicing or you’re not.”

Tip #5: Art is a business

Bykovets and Stone both found that their experience outside of the performance realm furthered their career. The art is important, but without the business savvy to produce and share their work, they wouldn’t be where they are today.

Bykovets developed his business skills while doing door-to-door sales.

“It taught me a lot about the business side of things. When you’re doing the music it’s a whole different aspect. Those are two separate worlds,” he says.

All of the hand-shaking and promoting was something he practiced daily when selling lawn treatments.

Stone’s choice to pursue music technician studies came with the secondary motive of promoting his own music.

“The whole idea to begin with was that I felt like I’m going to have to learn to record so I can record myself, because I won’t be able to afford to pay someone,” Stone recalls.

The skills he gained while living in the United Kingdom. allowed him to record his own music as well as earn some extra money on the side to make his career sustainable.

Tip #6: Find a low cost of living

While the U.K. provided him with the love and foundation for music, Stone found the high cost of living in London prohibitive to a creative career. Moving to Canada freed up the funds to devote more time to his craft.

“I think it wasn’t a possibility to do [music full-time] in London,” he explains. “It’s really hard to get ahead, so we had to work jobs just to survive.”

The move to Canada allowed Stone and his wife Denise MacKay to take on more music and less financial stress.

“Gradually in Canada, as we played more and more, music became a bigger percentage of our time,” Stone says.

Now the couple is touring full-time and is hitting up an impressive lineup of summer festivals across the nation.

Tip #7: Be grateful

In university, Lightfoot had a life-changing internship in India with the Canadian International Development Agency. It was there that the young musician gained a deeper respect for the fellow human and a broader understanding of the world.

“I would speak to women who have children. They would be maybe 22 and would have five children and two of them died of the flu,” she says. “Just these crazy life stories, but they’d speak about it matter of factly and were grateful for what they had.”

Perhaps it’s this perspective that filled her with the humble gratitude for her own opportunities, seeing the star-studded list of bands she has played with, as well as the venues and festivals she has performed at.

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