Monthly Archives: July 2019

The things we do to make a record

Published 07/29/2019

By Lisa Patterson

Ever do something radical to fund an album? I did. And I’m sharing the story publicly for the first time.

I was offered a three-month contract playing saxophone with a band in Dubai. As a singer-songwriter playing original material, I wouldn’t normally consider this, but I needed funds to make an album of my own. It was also attractive that it would be in a desert climate during the Canadian winter, all expenses paid, playing soul classics with stellar musicians. Sounds ideal, right? It was, until distressing realities set in, culminating with the Canadian consul rescuing the band from jail.

Our venue  – one of dozens in Dubai – was in the Ramada Continental Hotel. Patrons were a mix of ex-pat businesspeople, nationals, tourists, and female sex workers. Each musician had a large private room in the hotel – our homes for the next three months. There was an in-room safe where I stashed my passport, plane ticket home, and American cash wages.

After a month, difficulties had emerged. The hotel started placing limits on food, charging for soda pop during performances, disrupting in-room phone service. I received regular offers of cars and jewelry in exchange for sex. Among show patrons, there were open displays of racism and wealth bias. And our sets were long and unchanging, six nights a week.

With rising hotel/band tension, we asked the booking agent to negotiate a new venue for the last month of our contract, and a new club was arranged. But contractually, we were still entitled to live at the hotel. The new club was a 20-minute drive away, so every evening passenger vans whisked us to our new venue, then back again later.

One night the hotel called the new venue, as our show was ending at 2:00 a.m., saying we should wait at the venue, that all our belongings from our rooms would be brought to us, and we’d be escorted to an apartment. What a shock! How could they dismantle our rooms so quickly? And without us present? We were worried about our safe-locked valuables, so we took taxis back to the hotel.

Security was positioned in the lobby, but we were peaceful. After a long wait the hotel owner appeared, and said they’d over-booked the hotel for the Dubai Shopping Festival (which draws hordes of wealthy tourists to, um, shop), so they needed our rooms for other guests.

When the bandleader demanded our valuables and was dismissed, their exchange became heated. A couple of us snuck off to see if our room key cards still worked. Mine didn’t but the drummer walked in on a man asleep in his bed. Now I was really worried: What happened to all the cash I was saving for my album? My plane ticket home? My passport?

Back in the lobby, while the arguing continued, I approached the front desk, and asked if they had the phone numbers of local consulates. They did. It was about 3:00 a.m. when I dialed the number. A live voice answered – in Ottawa, where it was eight hours later than Dubai. It turned out this was an emergency direct line to our capital, for Canadians abroad. I summarized the situation, and the official said he’d alert the Canadian Consul in Dubai in the morning. I wrote the phone number on a piece of paper and hid it in my shoe.

The hotel announced that the dispute would be resolved at the police station. Vans zoomed up in front of the hotel. At first, we refused to get in, but it became clear there was no choice. That van ride was a weird mixture of outrage, fear, and jokes about Alcatraz.

My five male bandmates were put in a holding cell together, and I was taken to a women’s holding cell. It was about 10 feet square, cement floor, bench along one side, a large bucket in the middle to pee in. There were about five sex workers there.

I was sweaty, exhausted, hungry, and freaked out, but I had that phone number. As if in a vintage film noir, there was an old-school telephone hooked on the wall. I dialed the number, it was again picked up in Ottawa. The same official was startled by this escalation, and told me to hold tight, that he was going to wake up the Dubai consul and get us out.

Around 6:00 a.m., I saw our consular saviour pass by. Voices bounced down the hall in both English and Arabic.  Around 8:00 a.m., we were led to a waiting room, disheveled, and stressed. The Canadian Consul presented us each with a sheet of paper that we had to sign. We were told it said in Arabic that we “agree to not misbehave in Dubai ever again.” We hesitated briefly, then signed. All we wanted was to get out of there – and bathe, eat, sleep. We still had to perform that night.

The consul chaperoned us to the hotel’s underground parking garage. A hotel official handed us each a garbage bag that contained our personal belongings from our rooms, and one envelope each with our documents and cash. We had to count it, verify documents, then sign a release.

The six of us were driven to a run-down apartment complex and given keys to a dirty two-bedroom suite with one bathroom. As the guys argued about the beds, I passed out on the couch. When we arrived at the venue that evening, I went to its accommodations people and feigned gender modesty requirements that I knew would get me sympathy, based on cultural traditions. I pleaded that a woman in an apartment with men “who are not my husband” put my reputation in jeopardy. Of course, I’d toured in original bands with guys for years. Survival makes you do odd things. They arranged a private room for me.

After the final month of the gig, back in Canada, I was eager to work on my album. Doing pre-production on my songs was soul medicine. But it took three months of vocal coaching to locate my natural singing voice again.

And I filed the experience under: Things not to do to fund an album.

Music venues need to provide non-alcoholic drink options

Published 07/11/2019

By Damhnait Doyle

A shorter, abridged version of this SOCAN blog post, written by SOCAN Board of Directors member Damhnait Doyle, was uploaded to The Toronto Star website on July 10, 2019, and printed in the newspaper on July 11, 2019. Following is the original, full-length version.

I really began drinking when I started in the music industry.

I was a blisteringly shy and introverted girl from Newfoundland, not long out of Catholic high school, finding my feet in downtown Toronto. I was young, scared, and surrounded by people I had admired and idolized my whole life. I felt like a fraud, an imposter.

Straightaway, I had a hit with my first single; suddenly, my video was on MuchMusic several times a day. Anxiety was coursing through my veins at lightning speed. This happens when your greatest fear is people looking at you, and you have to go on stage for a living. I was so nervous, I threw up in a bucket, stage side, before my first headlining gig (no booze was involved). Shortly afterward, someone bought me a shot of tequila before I went onstage, and boom! I had my liquid courage. I could go out there, and the fear turned into adrenalin. It felt like the answer.

Musicians don’t drink like normal people. You drink before gigs, during gigs, after gigs, on your day off, on a travel day, at the airport bar, the hotel bar, in the bus, the back of the van, when the show sucks, when the show is off the hook, when your song is on the radio, when no one’s playing your single, when you can’t get arrested, when you get arrested. In music circles, alcohol is both the journey and the destination.

When you’re doing it, you don’t realize that alcohol is putting a blanket over your intuition. Your body could be screaming out, “What the hell are you doing? Stop drinking!” and you’d be all, “Wow, my blanket is really loving this Rioja.” It creates a lack of communication between your brain and your physical body and spirit. When you suffer from depression and anxiety, as so many creative people do, the alcohol that you think is taking the edge off of anxiety, is actually building a fire around your body, stacking it with kindling, paper, and logs, and setting it ablaze. Add on the logs of a 4:00 a.m. lobby call, a nine-hour drive to the gig, and nothing but Tim Hortons for three weeks, and you have an issue.

I woke up almost a year ago and realized alcohol wasn’t serving me anymore. I was done. I hadn’t even considered it as an option before that. On paper, I didn’t have a problem. People asked , “Why would you stop drinking, I drink way more than you.” It’s as if society says the only legitimate reason to quit drinking is if you get thrown in jail, or you get a DUI. Now, sobriety is catching on. People are having a collective awakening, that they don’t have to drink just because they always did, and because everybody still does.

I’m writing this because I didn’t see many stories of people in my sphere talking about it, and when I did, I rejoiced. Listen, there are some cool-ass sober musicians. I know this because I’ve Googled that exact phrase 100 times since last August. That really helps – knowing you’re not alone is an incredible gift, so I’m adding my voice, and passing it on.

Next to having my family, quitting drinking was, hands down, the single best thing I’ve ever done. This includes getting up to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Willie Nelson, every night for two weeks, with my band Shaye, on tour. Not drinking is the bomb.

I won’t lie, it was hard to stop.

I had to re-wire all the neural/social pathways in my brain. The first gig not drinking, the first conference (CCMAs), the first writing trip, the first time in the studio, etc. It takes a lot of work and determination to counteract the mindless habit of drinking. I can’t even begin to fathom the struggle that musicians who are in hard-core recovery from hardcore drug and alcohol use have to go through every day. They have to go to work surrounded by the very thing that threatens their lives.

I don’t know of many other careers where you’re not only allowed to drink all the (free, Free, FREE!) booze you want, but you’re expected to do so, to some degree. Still, I was shocked, when I stopped drinking, by the lack of non-alcoholic beverage options (and, no, water and colas don’t count) at bars and venues in Canada. I believe everywhere a musician goes to work (and yes, even though it’s nighttime, and it’s fun, and it’s your favourite band, it’s still work for the musicians and crew), there should be a proper non-alcoholic option. Sometimes, you just want to have something in your hand, something that lets you blend in, without having to explain why you’re not drinking. Not to mention, non-alcoholic (NA) beers are delicious, taste just like regular beer, have only 30 calories, and won’t give you a hangover or a gut.

For bars and concert venues, the profit margin for NA beer could be just as high as their alcoholic counterparts, or higher. They just need to stock one row, one measly row. I’m not saying they should charge as much as they do for real beer, but I’m gonna be so happy for the option, I’m not gonna complain.

So we’ve got the mental health/addiction component, but we’ve also got the #metoo component. #Metoo demonstrated that silently sitting with something awful causes rot – and if you don’t catch it in time, you disintegrate. Thankfully, our industry is having the necessary conversations: How do we fix, how do we prevent, how does this never happen again? We have to look at the facts, which tell the story, with a running theme throughout: Alcohol. Almost 50 percent of all sexual assaults involve excessive amounts of alcohol. You can’t make up someone’s mind about how much to drink, or how to behave; but if you don’t at least offer up non-alcoholic options, sexual assault statistics will stay the same.

I want to thank Allan Reid at CARAS and the team at SOCAN for making sure that non-alcoholic beverage options were available at this year’s JUNO awards, and at the SOCAN Awards Gala. It may seem like a small thing, but it creates a ripple effect. I’d like to see us band together as an industry and make sure that every festival, every club, every bar, everywhere that musicians go to work, has a non-alcoholic option. Until then, I’ll keep on sneaking my NA beer into bars, and having way more fun than I ever did.