Don’t bust the buskers – exhibiting talent is not a crime

I can’t even begin to fathom the thought of musicians getting arrested for doing what they love to do. When I got wind that a singer in my area was arrested for performing outside a department store, I felt very unsettled.

On March 11, 2015, 19-year-old Olivia Gains (who goes by “Liv”) sung and played guitar outside a Giant Tiger department store in Cambridge, Ontario, where she was ordered to leave by a police officer. When she refused to reveal her identity, she was handcuffed and fined $65.

19-year-old Olivia “Liv” Gains of Cambridge, Ontario.

According to Miss Gains, a member of city council informed her that busking is acceptable as long as store owners are O.K. with it and no complaints are lodged. A spokesperson for Giant Tiger said that the police weren’t contacted to complain about a woman busking outside the store.

Street performing – otherwise known as “busking” – is the practice of performing in public places for voluntary donations. Street musicians, in particular, have a rich history.

The term “busk” derives from the Spanish root word “to seek” – buskers are seeking recognition for their talents. Before the 20th century, it was common for buskers to use a trained monkey as a bottler. With time, that practice has diminished, but sometimes a “monkey stick” device acts as a tribute to the monkey’s original purpose. Essentially, it’s a long stick with bottle caps or small cymbals attached such that they make an attention-getting noise when shaken.

The art-form is alive and well: up and coming artists perform on streets and in subways in Ireland and Great Britain.

By no means should it be deemed an illegal nor harmful act; it’s how several well-known singers and entertainers – including Canadian singer/songwriter and painter Joni Mitchell – launched their careers. It’s an uncomplicated way to get noticed in all facets of arts and culture, and shouldn’t be greeted with measures used to punish suspected criminals.

If street musicians are to be arrested, then we might as well do the same to photographers and painters we see in the streets. After all, they’re “performing” and displaying their own artistic flairs, too.

Once in a really scary, red-eyed moon!

Video Game Review

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Developer: Nintendo EAD

Publisher: Nintendo

Release date: Feb. 13, 2015

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

9.2

Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever. Whether a parting be forever or for a short time, that is up to you.

Just one of many stimulating quotes spoken by Majora’s Mask 3DS’s multidimensional characters.

This prepossessing game maintains the same charm and allurement the Nintendo 64 classic did. When I first played the game Christmas of 2000, I was entranced immediately by the story and the gorgeous land doomed by a falling moon.

Majora’s Mask 3DS, as well as the original game, follows the story of Link, the Hero of Time, searching for a invaluable friend who accompanied him during his tribulations in Hyrule. He ends up deep within the Lost Woods, where he’s attacked by Skull Kid – under the spell of Majora’s Mask, which houses a faceless entity – and his fairy companions. Upon stealing his fabled ocarina and horse, he’s lured into a world known as Termina – a land facing the Apocalypse from the Skull Kid’s newly-acquired powers.

The game isn’t a stereotypical “hero vs villain” scenario. The Skull Kid was a normal child combating with his friends because of his mischief, and ended up lonely because of it. When he steals Majora’s Mask, he’s letting out his anger against the world by wishing to destroy it. Even after 15 years, this disheartens me greatly.

In most games, non-playable characters (NPCs) serve as the beginning of a long quest, or the provider of hints as to what to do or where to go next.

Majora’s Mask 3DS takes this concept a few steps further. While NPCs tell of the land around you, or prompt you to procure an item or defeat an enemy, they each have their own demons to fight, as people do in real life.

Two star-crossed lovers, one of whom has vanished, try to find their way back to each other before the world around them faces destruction. A town postman wishes to flee before the impending ruination, but feels he cannot due to his dedication to the job. A dancer’s spirit haunts the land, still wishing to educate the next generation of entertainers.

The focal point of Link’s adventure is using masks to progress. Whether its transforming himself into a Deku Scrub, a Goron or a Zora – the species inhabiting Termina – or leading residents of Clock Town to react in different ways.

The only complaint I’ve ever had about Majora’s Mask is the rather concise excursion in Termina. There are only four temples in total, and the rest of the game is filled with side quests. It would have been better if there were two or three more dungeons, because it would have made it that much more challenging.

The game will always be special to me. As cliche as this sounds, it’s truly one-of-a-kind. I recommend it to any casual or midcore gamer seeking profoundness in entertainment.

Music artists must establish a brand

Published on FAME Canada: March 1, 2015

We see thousands of music industry hopefuls covering top 40 hits on popular video and social media websites, and performing on streets and in our local pubs. They endeavour to create a reputable name for themselves and be recognized for their talents. 

It’s by no means an easy feat. Music – and entertainment, in general – is a rigorous business requiring tenacity, confidence and determination. It can take people years to even get discovered by a record label or artist manager, with no guarantee of a successful career.

Those who stand out from the crowd possess raw talent, an unforgettable aura, and most importantly, something by which people remember them.

Technical ability is half the battle. To truly shine in the music world and encourage ongoing discussions among consumers, an artist must think about their “personal brand.” They must ask themselves, “When I finish performing a song, what would a fan associate with me? What is my secret sauce?”

A personal brand is similar to that of a corporation’s. It’s the way someone markets themselves and their careers. It’s a way of conveying your “secret sauce” or a special quality that pokes through thick competition.

Let’s take a look at a couple influential artists who have established a strong brand.

Taylor Swift has taken the industry by storm this past year. Her transformation from country star to pop sensation has been well-received by music consumers. She’s known for being communicative to her fans, appreciating their support, and giving back to them. She’s positive, quirky, and an inspiration to people, especially since the release of “Shake It Off” from her 2014 album “1989.”

When Lady Gaga performs, you never what’s going to happen. What colour makeup or wig will she wear? What outlandish outfit will she sport (her “faux-meat dress” has its own Wikipedia page, and there are written chronologies of her Video Music Award outfits)? When she releases her next single, what’s its theme going to be? When people watch her on television or listen to her music, they discuss her fashion choices and musical style. Her popularity goes beyond her vocal ability.

For an artist to create a brand, they should conduct some self-reflection by writing a list of their inner core values and beliefs, and deciding how you want your fans to think of you. A personal brand is built on the thoughts and opinions of others, so how you present yourself to the public is paramount.

Once you’ve outlined these things, you should integrate your core values and style of music, which essentially creates your public image. In Taylor Swift’s case, her core values include giving back to people, so she makes a point of doing so at certain times of the year. It’s not necessarily related to her music. 

You might be someone who wants to be noticed in music, and who wants to be favourably discussed by people who will become your fans.

When you’re writing a song or performing at a venue, think about your “secret sauce” or “ingredient.” What sets you apart from the crowd and the competition? Of what quality will someone think when they hear your name?

Music as a catalyst for change

Rufus John is a musician on a mission. By creating music acting as a catalyst for change and the voice of positivity, he has a genuine desire to bridge the gap between the youth and elders of today.

Rufus began to sing with his church at six-years-old. Born in Toronto and raised in a West Indian Caribbean household, he was exposed to and highly influenced by many music legends of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Singer/songwriter Rufus John

While attending high school, Rufus was determined to sculpt his vocal and performance talents as the lead singer of a cover band. It was during that time that he started to experiment with song writing, eventually creating a library of life chronicles.

Rufus’s first full-length album, entitled “Growing Pains,” debuted in February 2014. It is an autobiographical journey that takes the listener through Rufus’s growth, as an individual, a role model, a songwriter, and an artist.

“This album was in the works for a very long time,” he said. “I would say the first song was recorded in 2009. It took a long time because I didn’t want to rush the process and was okay with releasing the project at the right time.”

Suitably named, “Growing Pains” is a collection of songs taking listeners through an intimate life journey of the experiences from being a young boy to becoming a man. From love gained to love lost, drug addiction to being free of demons, depression to happiness.

Rufus’s goal was to have a lyrical story everyone could relate to.

To date Rufus has released 5 singles off the album. “Hold On Me” was released as a tease in late 2013 followed by an official music video which gained outstanding buzz amongst online blogs and DJ’s around the world. “Confessions” was released in the UK and it hit #11 on the UK Independent Soul charts.

Throughout his career, Rufus has had the opportunity to perform with heavy-hitting Canadian producers Markus Shane (Shania Twain, Serena Ryder) and Slakah The Beat Child (Drake). He has also shared the stage with many Canadian musical icons such as Wade O. Brown, Jully Black, Divine Brown, the Classified and Glenn Lewis.

To complete “Growing Pains,” Rufus collaborated with industry respected producers Atilla Toth, Joel Joseph (Nelly Furtado, Ivana Santilli), Chris Rouse and Cyrus Hira.

Most recently, Rufus will be teaming up with two other music industry professionals to facilitate the “Music Is My Weapon” mentorship program at Idea Exchange in Cambridge, Ont.

The program is designed for young musicians who wish to learn song writing, how to record tracks and to run their own sessions.

“I believe we have a lot of homegrown talent in Waterloo Region [of which Cambridge is part],” said Rufus.

“I feel there are many hidden gems sprinkled throughout this city. Slowly, people understand that we need to band together to make more of an impact in this city. More and more collaborations are happening which is great. I am excited to see how things play out in the next few years.”

You can “like” Rufus John’s Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

The road to success is not without hardship

Film Review

The Theory of Everything

Director: James Marsh

Studio: Distributed by Universal Pictures (U.K.), Focus Features (U.S.)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson, Charlie Cox, David Thewlis

Release date: Sept. 7, 2014 (TIFF), Nov. 7, 2014 (U.S.)

8.1

I’ve always been curious about the life of Prof. Stephen Hawking. How did he became a world-famous physicist? What trails did he face throughout his post-secondary studies? How did he find his calling?

These are just a few questions I’ve pondered growing up. The Theory of Everything answered all of them, and provided a myriad of information I never thought about before. It taught me some very valuable lessons related to my career and to my life.

There is no such thing as a straight line to success; there will always be a road of trials. Find a passion and become inspired, and then run with it and become as victorious as you can.

The Theory of Everything will stick out in my mind as being the most alluring biopic I’ve ever seen. It showed Prof. Hawking’s life now (at 72-years-old), and then flashes back to England in the 1960s. From the time he was over-sleeping and arriving late to classes in university to the time he was offered a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, a clear representation of his joys and tribulations were displayed using proper narrative devices.

Luckily however, the movie wasn’t overly-dramatized to the point of disbelief. It also didn’t “minimize” important moments of Prof. Hawking’s life (such as his first marriage to Jane Wilde and their divorce) or suppress certain occurrences that may have haunted viewers (being informed that he would have two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease).

You might not feel like you’re watching a movie, but listening to Prof. Hawking sitting in front of you as he tells his story.

Superb acting is vital in a biopic, and Eddie Redmayne delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox and David Thewlis had natural chemistry with Mr. Redmayne, which were contributing factors to this film’s exemplary story.

When Prof. Hawking’s doctor informed him that he had motor neuron disease, time almost stopped for me in real life. The cinematography in that scene was planned strategically, and proved to work successfully. You were told from the perspective of Prof. Hawking, with a glimpse of the hospital corridor to the left of the scene. The doctor sat directly in front of you, and showed genuine sadness while giving the diagnosis.

Jane Wilde finding out about her boyfriend’s disease was not done well. Prof. Hawking’s friend is about to tell her, but dramatic music that drowns out their voices begins to play. This took away the opportunity for another heart-rending moment.

The Theory of Everything should be seen by film lovers who look up to Prof. Hawking and/or question their own triumphs. It shows that life isn’t always easy, and that all obstacles can be eliminated.

Talent united with diversity

By the time she was 19, Marianne Farley knew that her career would take place under the lights. She recorded a song album in Quebec from which several songs made the top 10.

In the wake of this achievement, she recorded an adaptation of her CD, Histoire Sans Prénom, for the French market. But acting had always been her passion, so she decided to focus all of her energy on becoming a film actor. Her talent was quickly recognized.

Marianne was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec and has been an actress for over 16 years. She is bilingual, having worked in both English and French productions.  

Marianne Farley

She began with parts on shows for a young audience like Big Wolf on Campus, Vampire High and Seriously Weird. Then, being fully bilingual, she became a librarian in Macaroni Tout Garni, a very popular children’s show.

Following this, she had a starring role in the thriller La Peau Blanche (White Skin), which won the Best First Feature Film award at the Toronto Film Festival and the Claude Jutras award at the Genies.

Following this success she landed hefty parts in Les Invincibles, Nos Étés and in Les Rescapés, three first-rate prime time series in Quebec.

In the U.S. she played in The Dead Zone and had supporting roles in TV movies Christmas Choir (Hallmark network), Forbidden Secrets and No Brother of Mine. Marianne can be seen in the films Imaginaerum, a Finnish-Quebecois co-production directed by Stobe Harju and Uvanga, Marie-Helene Cousineau’s 2nd feature film.

A true lover of the seventh art, Marianne has also produced four short films, one of which, Mon Cher Robert, got a nomination at the 2010 Jutra awards, and she is currently developing 2 feature film scripts. In August of 2014, she directed her first short film entitled Saccage.

“My passion has always been to act,” said Marianne. “If I weren’t acting, I’d probably be a director.”

Even though she liked to sing, she became an actress a few years later. Ultimately, it’s where she wanted to be in entertainment.

In April 2014, Marianne had the opportunity to experience a different culture when she filmed the movie, Uvanga, which means “myself” or “self-discovery.” She loved being able to work with people from other countries, and getting the chance to communicate with them.

In 2012, Marianne played the role of Gem Whitman in Imaginaerum, a movie written by the Finnish band Nightwish. Gem was portrayed as a cold and distant girl who was indirectly hurt by her father (played by Tuomas Holopainen, founder and leader of Nightwish).

“I felt it was easy to get into her skin because I understand wanting to close yourself up in order to protect yourself,” she said. “It felt awesome to play her role, someone who was angry and would constantly lash out.”

Marianne has recently finished shooting Villeray, a short comedy film about Montreal neighbours confronted by the diversity of their respective lifestyles and ideals.

For more information about Marianne Farley, visit her website.  

Contemporary fingerstyle guitar with a modern edge

Published on FAME Canada, Oct. 17, 2014

Calum Graham just turned 23 at the end of October this year, and has already enjoyed a career that would be the envy of artists double his age.

Born in British Columbia and raised in High River, Alta., this guitarist and singer/songwriter has released four acclaimed albums, won major musical competitions, performed at the Olympic games in both Vancouver and London, and has racked up phenomenal views on YouTube.

Canadian singer/songwriter Calum Graham

This past year, Calum was named one of the top 30 guitarists under 30 by Acoustic Guitar Magazine.

“He’s the most promising young guitarist I’ve seen,” said Andy McKee, one of today’s most popular acoustic guitarists. “His command of the guitar is really impressive.”

Calum’s musical journey first took flight at age 13 when he started playing the guitar. Five years later in the summer of 2010, he attended the Canadian Guitar Festival and entered the prestigious Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar competition. The judges awarded Calum with a first place finish after being impressed with his original compositions.

“This was one of the best experiences of my entire life,” he said. “It really inspired me to keep going with my music.”

His winning performance has garnered almost 1 million views on YouTube.

As Calum Graham’s name continued to grow in Alberta and across Canada for his guitar work and musicianship, he proved that his talents weren’t limited to his extraordinary ability to play the guitar.

In 2011, Graham won the Canada’s Walk of Fame nationwide “A Song For Canada” contest based on his poetic acuteness. His winning poem was used in the song “I’m Here, (A Song For Canada)”.

The song was performed by Chantal Kreviazuk and co-written by Graham, Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace) and Stephen Moccio (“I Believe”, 2010 Vancouver Olympics theme song/”Wrecking Ball”, Miley Cyrus).”

“Calum’s entry resonated strongly among the judges. His poem celebrates the cultural mosaic that is Canada,” said Moccio. “He has captured the diversity of this country – something that we as a nation are renowned for and proud of.”

In the late winter of 2012, and with two albums already under his belt (Sunny Side Up (2009), Indivisibility (2012), Graham teamed up with iconic Fingerstyle Guitarist Don Ross. The result was the instrumental acoustic duet album titled 12:34.

Recorded at famed “Metalworks Studios” (Prince, Tina Turner, RUSH, Drake), and released through CandyRat Records (world’s biggest acoustic guitar label), the album featured six originals by Graham, three by Ross, and a cover of OutKast’s hit song, “Hey Ya”.

Not long after the release of 12:34, Graham saw a loyal following begin to grow and it wasn’t long before his unique sound started to find a wide and appreciative audience.

In November of 2013, Graham released a solo instrumental album titled Phoenix Rising (CandyRat Records). The title song has already generated over 830,000 hits, with other songs also notching impressive numbers. The success of the album enabled Graham to expand his global fan base and he soon began touring internationally, both on his own and with the likes of Don Ross and Andy McKee.

Graham is currently preparing to record his fifth studio album. Adding an extra dimension to his compositions, the album will introduce Graham’s soulful vocals to his audience for the first time. The album is set to be released in April 2015 and will feature a combination of his exemplary guitar work and smooth vocals punctuated throughout with elements of funk, motown, pop and blues.

With Graham bringing an innovative sound to the industry, it wasn’t long before Canada’s top booking agency, The Feldman Agency, also counted themselves a fan of Graham’s music. So much in fact, that in July 2014, they decided to partner Graham with renowned Canadian producer Gavin Brown (Billy Talent, Metric, The Tragically Hip) on his “Sessions X” series. The series was recorded at Toronto’s Five-Star “Noble Street Studios” and features Graham alongside a number of acclaimed musicians including; Tears For Fears, Feist, Three Days Grace, Metric, and Ron Sexsmith.

The series is expected to be released in the Fall of 2014, along with two singles “Burning Up” and “Tabula Rasa” (CandyRat Records).

If you want to hear Calum’s exemplary guitar playing skills, visit his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter. You can also like his Facebook page.

1. How would you describe your personal brand?

Contemporary fingerstyle guitar with a modern edge (using effects, vocals, & loops) bringing a niche genre of music to a mainstream audience.

2. What sets you apart from other artists?

My extensive training in classical and fingerstyle guitar gives my original music the advantage of having a very strong melodic and harmonic foundation. This has allowed me to open up shows, tour, and record albums with some of the best artists/guitarists in my field (ex. Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee, Don Ross).

3. Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I see myself taking my music to a world stage by touring internationally, continuing to collaborating with a plethora of top-tier artists, continuing to develop my craft as a musician/songwriter/guitarist, and ultimately, continuing to release great music for my fans.

4. What made you interested in the music industry?

To be honest, it was never about the music industry. I was first interested in the music. When I was 13 years old, I picked up my first guitar, and haven’t been able to put it down ever since. 10 years later I’m still a guitar nerd at heart, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t play my guitar. My love for music overtime eventually developed into a career in the music industry.

5. What is success to you? What does it feel like?

Success to me is always about connecting with my fans. It’s my fans that are pushing me to write the best music I’m capable of.  Because of my fans, I’m able to do what I love and see the world through sharing music – and to me that feels pretty amazing.