‘On the cusp of something:’ local musicians, COVID-19, and a changing industry


Three local musicians shared their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, and where they think the industry might be headed next

Right about now, local songwriter and musician Megan Nash would be reminiscing on her trip to the Junos in March, working on recording a new album, and maybe even hitting the road for some shows — that is, of course, if COVID-19 didn’t exist. 

But, unfortunately for Nash and many other musicians across the province, the music industry was one of the first to cease operations when the pandemic reached Canada earlier this spring, dealing a blow to artists and venues alike. 

“Life changed the day the Junos were cancelled, for me. That’s when it hit home,” said Nash. “I remember sitting on the couch [after the message from her label], and I left my bags there for a week. I didn’t touch them because it was such a shock, the whole thing. We knew we wouldn’t be performing for a very long time.”

Nash and her band were absolutely correct. Venues large and small closed doors to abide by public health regulations, while tours and festivals have postponed and even cancelled as gathering in such large groups is most definitely out of the question for now. 

The situation is disappointing for music fans of course, but really it has been the artists left struggling the most — torn between disappointment and relief. 

“As much as it’s disappointing when things are cancelled, because you were looking forward to that performance and you wish there wasn’t a pandemic, it is absolutely the right decision,” said Nash. “I don’t want to be performing on a stage until I know that everybody in that audience is going to be in a safe environment.”

Navigating quarantine time

The pandemic has left the entire music scene in a state of upheaval, as artists look ahead to a future that is, for the most part, still pretty unclear.

“It’s open-ended, you know, it’s a matter of time. This is going to pass eventually, we just don’t know when, so you’re just like, ‘okay, well, not much to do besides wait,’” said local musician John Dale, better known as Johnny 2 Fingers of Johnny 2 Fingers & the Deformities. 

With shows tabled indefinitely, musicians like Nash and Dale have been left with an influx of spare time. 

Nash has been taking some time for herself amid the chaos, focusing more on spending time with her dog and newly established garden. 

“For my own mental health, I’ve had to find some personal silver linings because it is difficult to not be able to work,” said Nash. “I’m spending time with my old dog right now and that’s amazing, [and] I planted a garden, because that’s something I used to just admire through a moving window and think ‘oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a garden one day.’”

With recording on the new album put on hold, Nash has instead turned her attention to the occasional private Zoom concert and songwriting — not her own, but rather in a mentorship role.

“I have a complicated relationship with songwriting right now, because I’m not able to work on my record and just for me to go through my own feelings, I don’t want to do that right now. It’s just too intense,” said Nash. “But to be able to facilitate other people’s songwriting right now, that’s [a] great joy for me, to be able to help other people with their ideas and feelings and form them into songs.”

Nash is one of the guest artists working with Resonate Live, where she has done workshops via video with Saskatchewan youth songwriters. 

“[The students in the Resonate program] wanted to write a song about staying together but apart, and that was really cool,” said Nash. “It was really inspiring to hear how young people in Saskatchewan are dealing with this.”

She is also one of the mentors taking part in the virtual Songs 4 Nature youth songwriting camp this fall, and she is also looking ahead to releasing the recorded tracks from the spring version of the youth songwriting camp that happened earlier this year, thankfully finished before the pandemic hit. 

Dale shared similar sentiments as those expressed by Nash, admitting that while he misses the social aspects of touring, he’s also enjoying the time off to relax with family, despite it being mandated.

“I’m enjoying not having to go on tour, because there’s that invisible pressure to keep up some sort of status quo, ‘do it for the fans’ kind of thing,” said Dale. 

“[But] I do miss travelling and doing the whole thing, the excitement of it, there’s nothing like it,” he continued. “I miss jamming and playing music with groups of people instead of with, like, a loop pedal. That’s fun for some, but nothing beats playing with your buddies.”

He has been continually working on new music, as picking at his guitar is a daily norm for him, and thinking about how to evolve with the new expectations of COVID-19.

“I have to become more savvy at producing, like getting it online. We’re good at travelling the road and getting a few dozen people out or whatever, but it’s easier to do it online [right now],” said Dale. 

Johnny 2 Fingers & the Deformities took part in a live concert series on Sasktel On Demand several weeks ago, recording an acoustic version of their set that aired on the local channel, and Dale has been working out the details on releasing a new album — a collaboration with alt-rock legend Ian Blurton from a few years ago, called Time Child.

The album will likely drop sometime this summer, Dale decided, although he said it will feel strange not planning a release tour to accompany it.

“I feel like whatever the next tour is going to be, it’ll be called ‘COVID-free and flying,’ something like that,” he joked, adding that now might be the time for the band to get back into filming music videos.

For both Dale and Nash, although they are taking somewhat different approaches to the pandemic-enforced time off, shared the same question: where does it go from here?

john and brodieMoose Jaw musician John Dale, of Johnny 2 Fingers & the Deformities (L) and Saskatoon-based Brodie Moniker (R). (supplied)

So, what does the future hold?

“I think a lot of us in the music industry are curious what our industry will look like on the other side of COVID-19,” said Nash.

For someone like Nash who does a lot of international touring with her music, there are plenty of questions about things like travel, venue sizes, and even whether people will feel comfortable coming out to shows. 

“It’s a very human instinct to want to go to these festivals, to want to be with people, and it’s not in our nature necessarily to be isolated, so will we want to gather afterwards, or will we be too afraid?” questioned Nash. “I think it’s going to be really hard for venues and especially for emerging bands to regain their foothold on their careers after this.”

Smaller venues will likely be at a disadvantage as people consider what acceptable capacity looks like, especially with “social distancing” as the catchphrase of 2020. Larger venues and annual festivals will have to completely reimagine things like sanitation practices, said Nash, as people are almost certainly going to have more anxiety following this situation.  

And even as public spaces continue to reopen and return to normal, there’s a large chance that the way the music industry operates may just remain changed forever. 

Artists of all types have had to change gears and utilize social media more than ever before, just to stay connected with fans and even with each other, and one local artist feels like that’s going to leave a huge imprint moving forward.

“We’re on the cusp of really connecting the world in a lot of ways,” said Brodie Mohninger, stage name Brodie Moniker, formerly a Regina-based musician who now resides in Saskatoon. 

In addition to his music, Mohninger works part-time in retail at a local music store, and he has found that the pandemic has already caused an industry shift in that companies are now looking at musicians as sound tech experts as well as artists.

As well, the sudden move to almost exclusively online content has prompted more collaboration between artists than ever before. Industry veterans are sharing files, soundbites, and expertise with each other, and the Internet is making it easier than ever.

Live stream concerts are now a staple for musicians and new music releases are keeping streaming platforms like Spotify, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud busy. It’s no longer enough to be an artist and a musician — now, it’s a role combined with social media marketing guru and live stream sound technician.

Even music instructors, like Mohninger, have turned to video chat services to keep the live component of teaching music to students.

“It’s been inspiring really to watch people bounce back and figure out how to do it, how to manage everything that’s going on,” said Mohninger.

The shift has really emphasized the gradual path to digital content the industry was already on, but now the route seems to be a much shorter road.

Mohninger was luckily on a natural break with his fellow bandmates and had to cancel an upcoming tour when the pandemic settled in, and although he misses the camaraderie of playing alongside other musicians in person, he’s also seeing a ton of potential for the future.

He feels as though the rising trend of digital content is a great advancement in terms of accessibility. Live stream concerts eliminate any geographical limitations, and releasing new music online is changing the way artists and fans consider new content.

“Right now it’s very difficult to do the typical model of build-up for an album, with a single promoted across formats,” said Mohninger. “But I’m noticing that [music listeners] are getting more into this vibe that artists are just putting out stuff and you latch onto it when it gets out there, and there isn’t this big build-up to it.” 

He’s found that the open-ended schedule has changed the way he thinks about his own creative process, as he continues to write music and collaborate with other local artists.

“[This way] it just doesn’t become a product. The music can go online and produce revenue just by existing because people will stream and download it. I like that model. It just takes the weird stress out of things,” he said. “It’s a lot more relaxed this way and it doesn’t seem to take music out of my life. I’m doing much more of it, to be honest.”

Streaming could be a whole new revenue source for some artists, he continued, and a huge change for the entire music industry.

“I think for the music industry, streaming is awesome,” said Mohninger. “And there is a possibility on the horizon where we could be streaming shows on a service that pays you for your set that night, and people watch it from the comfort of their home.”

Like most artists, Mohninger will just have to wait and see what happens next — whether live streaming proves to be here to stay, and how venues will fare once they begin rebooking shows. 

Nash, Dale, and Mohninger are hoping to be able to return to Moose Jaw stages soon but for now, fans will have to continue to keep up with these artists through social media. 

Megan Nash has been posting on her Facebook page, including updates about what she’s up to next.

Johnny 2 Fingers & the Deformities are promising that any new music and merchandise they release this summer will be available on their Facebook page and website.

Brodie Mohninger is also promising new music this summer, to be released on his Facebook page as well.


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