The Gravel Road: A True Tale of Survival in Toronto’s Music Scene

My experience in breaking out as a musician in Toronto?

In the 1980s, in a poem comparing his generation of writers to those of the 1920s, Charles Bukowski wrote, “now there are so many of us… who is to survive out of all this mulch? It’s almost improper to ask. …but we should be grateful, for in a hundred years, if the world is not destroyed, think how much there will be left of all of this: nobody really able to fail or to succeed – just relative merit, diminished further by our numerical superiority.”

MakeItMusicEditor’s note: We asked singer-songwriter Mark Martyre to write about his experiences breaking out as a musician in Toronto. Here’s what he had to say.

My experience in breaking out as a musician in Toronto?

In the 1980s, in a poem comparing his generation of writers to those of the 1920s, Charles Bukowski wrote, “now there are so many of us… who is to survive out of all this mulch? It’s almost improper to ask. …but we should be grateful, for in a hundred years, if the world is not destroyed, think how much there will be left of all of this: nobody really able to fail or to succeed – just relative merit, diminished further by our numerical superiority.”

I don’t really feel as though I have broken out. But I guess it’s all relative. The idea of relative merit, and nobody really being able to fail or succeed, probably extends to any enterprise that has been drastically affected by the Internet. This magazine, for example – now, there are so many of you.

Breaking out as a musician in Toronto (or anywhere for that matter), is a difficult concept to sort out. Most days its probably best to not even acknowledge the idea, because it can be very frustrating. Especially when our concept of “breaking out” is often rooted in a time, and era, that no longer exists.

Perhaps now (as it’s probably always been), the road is bit more paved if you’re able to align yourself with a scene, or community, of musicians that help you promote, and exchange high-fives. Though I’ve never had much interest in being a part of something like that. And I’ve never enjoyed giving out the obligatory high-five. Or perhaps, if you’re able to stomach all the schmoozing and networking in this awful business of music, your road can get a little smoother. You can move further, quicker. Because it’s often an industry of who you know, and who knows you – which rarely has anything to do with the music you make. But I’ve

never felt agreeable to that sort of thing either.

I disagree with most of the things that we use to gauge what’s good or bad – our numerical superiority, for instance. As for me, though, I keep moving forward with music and writing because I’m compelled to. If I could stop, I would. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way. Just as I’m sure there are many people who operate within all this mulch who could stop, and maybe one day will stop.

My experience? It’s been tough. It’s been a grind. It’s been a long, gravel road with many more miles to go.

Mark Martyre

Mark Martyre

It’s been hearing, seeing, and encountering things that I wish I didn’t have to, while understanding that I always will. It’s been an ongoing process of trying to separate myself from all this mulch, and have my words and music survive somehow (or at least be worthy of survival). It’s been an ongoing process of moving through dark corridors, trying to avoid the rooms, and traps, that line the walls. It’s been an ongoing process of trying to navigate, and steer myself through this modern world, while being anchored to the past. And maybe I’ve been able to, or maybe I haven’t. Who knows? I guess it’s all relative. …but [I] should be grateful, for in a hundred years, if the world is not destroyed, think how much there will be left of all of this.

And along the way I’ve met listeners who have become concert-goers, concert-goers who have become fans, and fans who have become friends. While my words and music probably haven’t reached many people, they have reached a few in a meaningful way (or so I’m told). I don’t often write these kinds of articles, make these public statements, or post things online, so in this rare instance, let me use this forum to formally thank those who’ve been supporting me along these gravel roads. Who’ve held up a light somewhere along those corridors. Who’ve helped tie down the mainsail as I continue to push through these stormy seas.

Anything more than that… it’s almost improper to say.

 

For more on Mark Martyre, visit his website.

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