“Navigate the Industry or Die Trying.”
That’s the name of the talk Lido Pimienta gave at the Whitehorse Public Library July 18, where the boundary-pushing electronic pop musician and visual artist advised Yukon musicians on how to get by as a musician in Canada.
As the title of her talk suggests, Pimienta — who’s also performing at the Dawson City Music Festival — knows it’s not an easy ride as a musician in Canada. She released her first album in 2010, but her breakthrough moment came when her 2016 album La Papessa was a surprise winner of the prestigious Polaris Prize for Canadian musicians.
As someone with years of experience in the industry, she’s figured out some of the pitfalls that artists find themselves in, as well as a few ways to grin and bear through it.
In a phone interview from Yellowknife, two days before her talk, Pimienta discussed how Canadian musicians face their own unique set of challenges.
She said the powerful gatekeepers within the Canadian music industry suffer from an inferiority complex of being “just from Canada,” meaning artists don’t get the same opportunities as artists from elsewhere.
“They’re not really taking significant steps to push their artists as much as they could,” she said. “We recently were in Los Angeles, and it felt so good. We have all these meetings, we’re going to people, and it’s just a real industry. You can really feel that things are happening. You feel like your work is validated.”
For artists to push past this, Pimienta advised they need to be professional and organized. This involves treating people with respect, learning about how the music business works and using your time responsibly.
“If you want to have success — and if success means money or being able to at least pay your rent with what you’re doing — then you have to treat it as such, as a job. You can’t just expect things to happen for you because you’re a great, undiscovered artist. That’s not how it works.”
Moving through this industry is a different experience for everyone, and one’s identity plays a large role in that.
Pimienta describes identity as a “double-edged sword.”
“It can play to your favour, but it also might not be a good idea if you only focus on your identity as A, B, C, D, whatever,” she said.
As much as she recognizes the importance of representation, she wants people to focus on her work first and foremost.
“I’m very proud to be from South America. I’m very proud to be black, very proud to be Indigenous, very proud to be Latin — all the things that I’m proud of, but that’s just who I am,” she said. “The first thing that I want is for people to listen to my work and I want to be proud of the work that I’m putting forth because it’s good.”
An unfortunate consequence of identity can be tokenization by venues and festival organizers, who might hire some diverse acts but only to fill a quota. Pimienta says she experienced this first hand when performing as a solo artist in Toronto.
“I started noticing that, wait a minute, I brought way more people to this venue, but I’m being asked to be the opener. I’m getting paid less than everyone else. That’s when you start noticing and you start to demand more.
“So that’s when I had to say, ‘ok, I have to re-frame how I present myself and I just have to be the best.’ And I just have to work towards that and I say, ‘whoever has to play after me, I feel sorry for them because I am going to leave the stage completely destroyed with my love (and) with my energy.”
Another aspect that’s shaped Pimienta’s experience within the music industry is her role as a mother — she brought her son on stage when she won the Polaris Prize, and she’s currently on tour with an 11-month-old baby.
She’s used to juggling her duties as a mother and a musician, but she wants to see venues and festivals step it up when it comes to accommodating her and her children.
“I’ve been noticing a lot of signs that say like, ‘this is a feminist space, this is a safe space for women, we won’t tolerate this kind of behaviour,’ but there’s no decent green room (a room in a venue for musicians when they’re not performing) or I can’t bring my kids in this space,” she said.
“You have to sacrifice so many years until your kids can be a little more independent so that you can focus on yourself. I don’t think that’s fair… so I just bring my baby with me and I expect that they will accommodate me because you are inviting me. I don’t invite myself. If I’m inviting myself to these festivals and I bring my kids, then that’s on me.
“But if you’re inviting me, you need to know that I’m coming with the full package. I need a changing room and I need a place where I can know that there’s not gonna be artists around me like smoking their cigarettes while I’m trying to breastfeed.”
For anyone else trying to move through its challenges, be it low pay or racial tokenization, her advice is simple and direct.
“You need to be sure of yourself and love yourself. That’s the only way that you can navigate the industry, because if you don’t value and love yourself immensely, you’re going to fall into the little traps that some of those gatekeepers that I was talking about earlier will present to you: a lot of favours, a lot of doing stuff for free, a lot of labour, a lot of inviting you to do these things and they’ll make it seem like you’re such a guest of honour but really you’re just filling this little gap and they’re getting paid but you’re not.”
The Dawson City Music Festival festival isn’t the only northern venue she’s appearing at this month: she just finished performing at Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife.
It’s in Dawson City and Yellowknife that Pimienta is debuting new songs from her upcoming album, which she’s currently in the middle of mixing right now.
When asked what challenges Canadian musicians in the North might be facing and how they can push through those challenges, Pimienta thought back to her time living in a remote small town in Colombia. For musicians in remote areas, she said the best way to get yourself out there is through the internet.
“That is your window to the world, and that is the window for the world to see you.
“Develop what it is that you are really good at, develop what it is that you want to show to the world, and start with this small window, which is the internet. And learn the best way that you can, through social media, how you can put yourself out there. Because, really, that’s the cheapest way to make yourself known.”
Contact Joshua Azizi at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: This story has been updated to include that Pimienta is debuting new songs in Dawson City.