While many musicians and songwriters make their way from the garage to the stage without getting a sense of the work that people do behind the scenes – building that stage, putting up the infrastructure for festivals, even cooking for the bands and crew – there’s something to be said for having that experience.
That’s exactly what the Ontario College of Trade’s (OCT’s) “Tune In, Trade Up” campaign provides, by giving participants “a hammer, a wrench, and a backstage pass,” as well as an opportunity to earn while they learn one of a variety of skilled trades – including heavy equipment operator, general carpenter, electrician, truck/coach technician, cook, or hairstylist. These working people are “the stars behind the stars,” says Director of Communications and Marketing at OCT, Sherri Haigh, and without whom, as the Road Hammers’ Jason McCoy says in a video on the organization’s site, “we literally do not have a stage to stand on.”
The idea for the program came about during a conversation between Haigh and Music Canada President Graham Henderson. “I ran into Graham in 2014,” Haigh explains. “I approached him and said we’re trying to get kids interested in the trades, and we also see the important role that music plays in supporting the trades through hiring them to do all the things behind the scenes.” That led to OCT getting involved in the 2015 Boots and Hearts and Way Home festivals, and to shooting a video aimed at attracting potential participants.
First launched in the Fall of 2015, the program is expected to expand for the 2016 festival season. This year, OCT is also sponsoring Canadian Music Week. “We’ll have a booth there and we’ll talk about the trades behind the scenes,” says Haigh, adding that more segments of the music industry, labels among them, are expressing interest in the program.
Bluntly, for musicians to get a sense of how important the trades are to making anything from an indoor concert, to festivals, to club shows happen is a valuable experience, regardless of what segment of the industry they’d like to work in. The more a performer knows about the challenges the tradespeople behind a show face, the more they’re likely to recognize that you’re in it together – making for a unified effort to ensure that the audience has the best experience they possibly can.
There are benefits to anyone who might see a future for themselves in such trades – musicians or not – but also to the industry overall, Haigh says. She cites a prediction by The Conference Board of Canada that the country will experience a shortage of more than 360,000 skilled tradespeople by 2025, and in excess of half a million by 2030. Given that the Ontario music industry is a substantial economic engine – generating hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis – the program clearly provides benefits beyond those cited earlier by Jason McCoy. Frankly, without the tradespeople who do this work, festivals and large-scale concerts simply couldn’t happen.
“It’s not just about the music industry,” Haigh continues, “and not just for young people, but also for those looking at, perhaps, taking on a second career in life.” And Haigh also sees a direct correlation between what SOCAN and OCT do. “SOCAN is protecting the integrity and success of artists and their craft,” she says, “and for us, it’s protecting the integrity of people who go through apprenticeships and training and making sure the people working [in the industry] are legitimately certified, respected and protected. So we have common goals.”