I was born and raised at the southernmost tip of the country. To me, to go anywhere meant to go north.

It’s about that time of year now to get out of the city and see some of this country of ours. In honour of that I’ve released a new “single” (whatever that means for an independent musician) from my first album, for which I’m trying to raise funds to help me cover the manufacturing costs.

This song wasn’t originally supposed to go on the album, and even after we started working on it I thought it would probably be cut. But it went on to become one of my favourites.

It came together differently than most of the album. I had a specific idea in mind for the drums, unlike the way the drummer, Rob de Koninck, usually plays. That plus the meter and tempo change 2/3rds of the way through made it a bitch to record. We were planning to record the first and second sections separately with two different metronomes, but during the very first take we were caught up in the moment and we just plowed through to the second section. It’s that first take of the drums that you’re hearing.

At the time I still thought it was one of the weakest tracks, and because of the tempo change I decided I should record the acoustic guitar in the comfort of my own cozy little basement studio. In the live room I was just strumming the chords, but somehow that wasn’t working. I tried a few different things and I just couldn’t get the feel – until I was listening to a Kinks record one day and heard their double-tracked acoustic guitar. That’s the sound that North needed.

Spurred on by that breakthrough I went on to do almost everything right then in my basement. I recorded the piano, accordion, the lead vocals and the harmonies, only going back into the studio to add the string section by Kate Maloney and Erika Christou.

If you like the tune, it’s for sale and you can name your own price. Any money I make will go toward ensuring that this album gets manufactured in time for my tour with Max Marshall in August.

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New Album

Hi folks.

A week from today I’m finally collecting the master of my first proper album.

I’ve been sitting on the pre-master for almost a year and completely failing to save up money for the costs of mastering and manufacturing.

The bottom line is that I’m really happy with what Jack Kelly and Dave Kunstatter have helped me to produce here, and I’m not prepared to start cutting corners now, so close to the finish line. I’m planning to get this album released before August, so I’m trying to raise money by selling this little teaser in a pay-what-you-can kind of way:

Wood is a b-side, but the other three tracks will be showing up (newly mastered) on the final product.

So please have a listen and let me know what you think. If you enjoy it go ahead and download it, and if you’re in a position to help me finally get this thing printed, please do.


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CBC Radio and the Joy of Pragmatism

or, Johnny West is Not the Western Hero his Name Implies

Hi, my name is Derek Harrison. I am a musician. I recently created a piece of music called Empty Heart.

When I was finished, I listened to it, and I thought “Wow, I’m really proud of this. Wouldn’t it be swell if other people would listen to it?”

So I put the song up on Bandcamp, did a whole round of online promotion, and submitted it to the CBC Searchlight competition. Edit: I didn’t make it to the next round, but thanks for voting!

Now some people may take issue with this. There’s a taboo about creating art for others. The prevailing attitude is that it’s not “real” art if you care if other people like it.

Just read this excerpt from a recent blog post by Johnny West:

i don’t like competition in art. i don’t like contests. frankly, i think they’re stupid, and altogether pointless. i think a real artist is someone who is too busy creating art to care much about getting involved in these kinds of things.

There’s that “real artist” idea again. What the hell is a real artist? I don’t think there’s an answer to that question.

Someone once challenged me when I told them I am a musician. They said “Are you really a musician or do you just make music? Do you play shows and get paid?” I’m not necessarily condoning their viewpoint, but rather presenting an opposite to the above definition of “a real artist.” And I think it’s a valid position. After all, I cook most of the food I eat, and I think I’m pretty good at it. Does that make me a cook?

Making a Living

I am a musician. It’s a hard thing to be. I, like most of us, need to have a second job. I’m lucky enough to have a good one, but most musicians are forced to take minimum wage jobs outside of their field. The music industry is in depression. Bars don’t want to pay us. Half of the venues exist in some bizarro world where they expect the hired entertainment to pay them.

Most musicians are entrepreneurs, building a business from the ground up. Transferable skills are a major part of building that business. In my case, I am a songwriter. That is my specialty. But I do session work and tour with bands. Like in all industries, it takes a lot of investment, both monetary and personal, to start a business.

CBC Searchlight

Music is both an art and a craft. I take pride in what I create and I think it has real value for others. CBC Searchlight is one way to share it. I am not going to win, but hopefully my song will reach more ears than I otherwise could have reached.

The artistry is vibrant in this competition. Competing in the same market as me are SwampWolf, who’s wildness rivals Johnny West’s, and Half Moon Run, probably the best new band I’ve heard in years, who’s birth I had the honour of witnessing, since my brother used to play drums for the founder of the band before he moved to Montreal and I unsuccessfully auditioned as their bassist shortly before they began touring the world (they still don’t have a bassist, so I don’t feel so bad). Half Moon Run has a solid chance of winning, and they really deserve it. Edit: neither of these artists made it to the next round either, unfortunately.

I first heard about the CBC Searchlight competition when they were searching for the “best indie music venue in Canada.” Say what you will about Phog Lounge in Windsor winning the competition, but all the top 20 became household names among independent touring musicians because of that contest.

It has its flaws, but it does some good and it does no harm. At a time when aspiring musicians are expected to PAY for exposure, we should be thankful when organizations offer a free promotional service like this.

The Tweet Version

Contrary to Johnny West, I think that a real artist is someone who does everything they can to turn their art into their job, so that they can spend their life doing what they love.

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