First Up with RBCxMusic is empowering BIPOC Canadian musicians with the skills, space, and resources to take their art to the next level.
First Up with RBCxMusic is a program dedicated to providing emerging Canadian artists with a platform for performance, funding, education and mentorship opportunities. With the intention of helping recording artists with their craft and to experience new opportunities––such as performing for different audiences and building their careers to the next level––their purpose is to envision that a career in the music industry should be accessible to every artist who is talented, passionate, and has the drive to succeed.
Since May 2020, the program has supported more than 150 artists from different genres and experiences that match the ideals of Canada’s robust cultural mosaic. With First Up building its reputation and impact within the Canadian music scene, RBC adds 19 new artists to its lineup in hopes to support them through 2022.
The artists in this year’s program will gain many opportunities to benefit, in terms of performance opportunities, financial grants, curated mentorships, networking opportunities with industry experts, media and promotional marketing support from RBCxMusic and its network of industry partners, including Live Nation Canada, AWAL, Conscious Economics, etc.
Our team at SHIFTER spoke with four of the participating artists from First Up as they discussed the idea of being an independent artist, major companies and platforms helping independent artists, the identity and creativity of an artist, and much more.
Meet Toronto’s own—R&B singer-songwriter JHYVE, JUNO-nominated singer-songwriter Zenesoul, who recently released her brand new 5-track EP, Nene, and Queer & multi-genre artist DESIIRE—and Manitoban indigenous hip-hop star, Stun.
SHIFTER: How important is it for major companies/corporations to invest in independent BIPOC artists, and what are some important steps that’s never really used that they should implement to invest?
JHYVE: With their reach, platform and connections, corporations have an ability to really make a difference in the lives of independent artists, including BIPOC artists. RBC does this really well and the First Up with RBCxMusic program has been exceptional for a few reasons. First and foremost, the mentorship is second to none – they’ve introduced me to everyone from lawyers to creative writers. The content they teach is well-rounded and covers all aspects of the industry, providing very valuable resources to the artists who participate. They’ve also gone above and beyond in establishing a strong sense of community – it’s all about bringing artists together. I know I’m going to keep doing work with the other artists I’ve met through the initiative.
Zenesoul: I feel inclusion in every aspect is important as it will only produce better outputs for more people to enjoy and benefit from. One way organizations can do this is through collaborations with BIPOC representing non profit organizations that are tapped into the communities they represent.
DESIIRE: As an Black and Queer independent artist, support means everything. Sharing your story through my story and art is always a difficult journey both in front and behind the scenes. Having partners to assist in the advancement of your trajectory makes it easier for artists like myself to focus on what is really important. The music. In the future, I am hoping more artists like myself will be able to benefit from this First Up with RBCxMusic program.
Stun: It’s very important to me, because I’ve enjoyed the possibilities of seeing a culture at its full potential. It really does inspire others in the long run and keeps the guns blazing. It would build structure to the foundations of who we are as human beings, and definitely spreads the message of, “I can do this too”. It’s inspiring to the youth. Without the youth, we have no future. Nonetheless, they’ve had many surveys done over the years asking musicians and artists what the best way is to feel more comfortable as a music maker. The end result was usually to be more represented, to actually have some back up when it comes to the support system. If anything, security. A lot of the time, I found myself wandering around the industry asking questions like what can I do to make my brand permanent? I would appreciate the support more if they just showed love, and didn’t stop showing love once the show was over.
SHIFTER: How do you bring your identity as an artist to the forefront of your music? Do you feel like you fully embrace all the elements of what makes you, you when you go into the studio or on stage?
JHYVE: Yes for sure, but it wasn’t always that way. I think artists are so in a rush to blow up that they don’t think about who they are and how they can offer their fullest self to culture. I know I was that way once. But time has shown me more and more that the only thing of real value that I have to offer to this world is my own unique identity and perspective. That’s the gift!
Zenesoul: Most people can sense when a person is being authentic. It’s easy to feel and understand music when the artist is being true to themselves through their music. My music is all about my expression and by limiting myself from being my full self I am not truly expressing. So I embrace all elements of me because that is what music is meant to do for me. It’s to help me learn more and more about me.
DESIIRE: Bringing my identity to my music and the stage is one of the main focuses of my career as an artist. Originating from Africa and being able to fully embrace my Queerness in all that i do is a privilege that i do not take lightly. Sharing African culture through art, sounds and dance is something I have always dreamed of doing and getting to do while infusing all facets of my personality has been a dream. From clothing to lyrics, stage production and philosophy, bringing all of the elements together is extremely important.
Stun: With this recent project, I’ve thrown in what I come with as an Indigenous person. My challenges and creativity show when you hear the stuff I’ve made. When I was younger, I always wanted to be what I am right now, a music maker or entertainer. I grew up around people that made me laugh and sang songs on the traditional powwow drum. I tried to involve my culture into this project with my traditional language, stories and emotions. With intergenerational trauma being the leading cause to a lot of our troubles as Indigenous people, I wanted to showcase that you can overcome that. By being proud of who you are, no matter the circumstances. When it comes to making music or performing it, I take on my love for myself and others who are in my life. I want to make them proud. I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove because of the voice I was given. To speak strength into my music and love into those hearts that felt pain. If anything, there’s so much going on that I cannot even explain it sometimes. But, I know over time, it will all come spilling out.
SHIFTER: As an artist, how do you present your own version of “creativity” to a brand or audience that may not be aware of that version and what are some ways that you present it?
JHYVE: Simple—openly, honestly, and fearlessly. Those traits are the DNA to everything I do. I tend not to care too much about how I’ll be received as long as I present myself as myself.
Zenesoul: Some ways to present it is through colours that I use, visuals, fonts, and even poses.
DESIIRE: Presenting my own version of ” reality ” means being my true authentic self at all turns. In 2019, I debuted a music video and short film alongside my single ” Light Down Low ” – The visual was written, directed and produced by an African Queer and Trans director, starred a Queer and Trans lead actor and featured an entire cast of Black Queer performers. Putting this clip together was my way of presenting my authentic reality through music, art and sound and I hope to continue to do so.
Stun: I use a lot of relatable experiences, by sticking to something simple that I do. I toss in my life and the stuff I’ve conquered with my passion incorporated into it. Whether it’s standing up on stage with an explanation, or through a photography session I had the week before, and showcasing it. For the most part, I bring my life into the picture. I keep it one hundred percent when I can. And I’ll keep it real when mishaps occur. I’m all about flexibility when it comes down to it.
SHIFTER: How did you stick to the vision and push past the external (and perhaps internal) noise and negativity when you wanted to pursue a certain endeavour as an independent artist?
JHYVE: To be honest, you don’t. The difference between the start and end vision is sometimes very different. This is because as artists we ebb and flow so much! Not to mention the fact that we are collaborating with so many different unique perspectives. I never expect my vision to survive the world unscathed. I actually like watching my mind bounce off other people, life, pressure, time, growth, encouragement, rejection, joy, pain and turn into something I never would’ve imagined. That’s the essence of art—to allow for change and know it’s still honest.
Zenesoul: By letting the love for it lead you rather than the validation and opinions of others.
DESIIRE: Mindset has been an important facet of maintaining my grounds during the course of my career. Remembering that time is precious and the privileges I have been granted throughout my life keeps me centered and grounded in reality. Self care has always played an important role in keeping me consistent through the ups and downs and I remember that my passion for music is the reason I got and will stay in the industry.
Stun: I’ve honestly just continued on making it about music. I enjoy creating whatever inspires me. But, usually it was about funding. Not having enough to get to a festival that only covered your performance fee, or the fact that I did not know how to apply for a grant that would help with travel to that festival. At times I would treat my investments as generous pieces to my production. Others, it was hard to come across a release with the lack of support all around. You really do go through a lot of highs and lows, but once you hit those great shows, or great sessions, you feel like it’ll be alright. In the end, it’s all about your attitude toward your craft.
SHIFTER: How do you define what an “independent artist” is in 2022?
JHYVE: We are everything. The creator, manager, marketing director, investor, everything. Being independent means wearing a million hats. But there’s also such a rewarding feeling when you grow into all of these roles and execute.
Zenesoul: To me an independent artist is someone who doesn’t have backing from a label.
DESIIRE: Being an independent artist in 2022 means first and foremost believing in yourself and your abilities as a musician. It means finding creative ways to find opportunities in all facets of the industry. It means taking the time to learn about the behind the scenes workings of music and always staying focused in sharing your story with those that accept and support you.
Stun: To me, I feel that to be independent means running your own brand, your way. Like I do everything alone. From the artwork, to the mixing, to the instrumentals and songwriting. I’ve taken enough education/workshops from industry folk and I’ve learned it’s a lot more beneficial to do it yourself. As for partnering, there’s no harm in getting some assistance with marketing, but even then, from what I understand, you can totally do it all. It’s not simple, but it does require consistency. You end up building a network for yourself by getting your name out there. A great network is the key to an artist’s success, is what I was told.
SHIFTER: How should other independent artists be making the most of their time, talents, and team?
JHYVE: That’s something I’m still figuring out. There’s a million ways to blow through a time/money budget and zero set path so there’s a lot of trial and error. The best thing to do is to find a killer team of people who believe in you, get as much grant money as you can, and focus on creating moments, rather than paying for playlists and such.
Zenesoul: I think the best way is by setting goals and working towards achieving them and repeat. That way you are able to assess what is needed for that goal and how to utilize your time, talent and team to reach that goal.
DESIIRE: Independent artists should make the most of their time by finding effective ways and strategies to scale their careers both locally and internationally. As well as connecting with other like minded individuals, creators, artists and teams. Mentorship has been one of the things that has provided me with lots of knowledge and insights on topics that were foreign to me, so building up a roster of mentors to seek advice from is one of the many ways to stay ahead of the curve.
Stun: By enjoying each moment and opportunity that arrives. Because a lot of the time it requires plenty of patience, and sometimes you hit that special key, or event, whatever it may be regarding what you do, it definitely shows you’ve put in the work. Why not enjoy the plane ride to your next opportunity, you’ve earned it. It’s really about the small milestones for me really. This is just how I’ve come to an understanding of my involvement. It’s really as chill as you want it to be.
SHIFTER: What are some ideal, strong qualities that a major company/corporation should have when representing and investing in an independent artist?
JHYVE: There needs to be a real willingness to get behind the artists and their stories, and not be afraid to “go there.” This was apparent with RBC – I think they’re really brave. They’re not searching for the most politically correct artists – they are searching for artists who are really telling unique stories.
Zenesoul: The major company/ corporation should honestly look at what they have to offer and see if it is in line with what the independent artist needs at the stage they are at. The resources provided should be relevant to the growth of that specific artist. Also does that artist’s value and brand compliment the values and brand of the company/corporation.
DESIIRE: Authenticity, Transparency, Vision, Patience and an all-inclusive mindset.
Stun: Well, Kindness goes a long way, especially if the artist has been working toward the dream for years. Any type of support you do acquire is well received and appreciated by independent artists. For me, I would love to get the rockstar treatment, but all that can be tossed in the mix with money. You can tell when someone really cares about your brand and qualities, by how they approach your needs. Whether it’s inquiring about your week, or family life, etc. More on a personal level is a great way to make a good connection. That should definitely create the idea implemented into the vastness of the industry.
SHIFTER: Why should more companies be thinking about supporting up and coming acts from Canada?
JHYVE: Canada is home to the best talent in the world, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that movement? Today’s up and comer can be tomorrow’s superstar, and collaborating and investing in that trajectory early can have huge returns in the long run.
Zenesoul: Collaboration is the best way to reach a larger audience. By supporting up and coming acts in Canada, companies are showing that they care about Canadians, the arts and the community. They are investing in the growth of Canada because every single artist that makes it brings attention back into Canada and the companies that helped them to get to where they are.
DESIIRE: Canada is the home of so many incredibly talented artists from the Black and Queer community. Unfortunately, while talent runs deep it is oftentimes impossible for folks from the community to find support to push their talents and projects forward. Having the support and backing from a company that believes in the advancement of the arts makes the journey so much easier. There is so much beautiful art that is slipping under the radar due to the lack of infrastructure behind the scenes. More companies taking a chance on investing in new talents means more visibility for artists from marginalized communities and a more balanced arts sector throughout Canada.
Stun: Because to me it’s about the foundation. To capture that first glance at what’s up and coming in Canada. We all share a wide variety of experiences and emotions, very similar in fact. But the realness behind what we face in Canada can sometimes be as real as it gets. From an Indigenous perspective, I have a story to tell. About my experiences and about my message to the world. We need new faces to represent what we have to offer. There’s a lot of talent hidden in this country, and they’re just waiting for the opportunity to shine the light upon themselves. That’s something I feel needs to be out there.
Learn more about First Up with RBCxMusic here.
TD MUSIC CONNECTED SERIES IS PUTTING BIPOC CANADIAN ARTISTS ON THE MAP