Music in Durham, is it possible?

Festivals, concerts, initiatives galore, but is success in music really possible if a musician stays within Durham Region?

Opinion seems to sway in either direction as to whether it is possible but one thing is for sure, there have been major success stories coming out of the region.

Producer Boi-1da from Ajax made his footprint in the industry by producing Eminem’s hit song “Not Afraid” in 2010.

Sum 41 is a band also from Ajax that had massive international success, releasing their album All Killer No Filler and receiving certified platinum in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States in 2001.

More recently, Shawn Mendez, a teenager from Pickering that was discovered on Vine, signed to Island Records.

Peter Jackson (no relation to the film director), also from Ajax, is a rap artist currently in the middle of touring with critically acclaimed duo, Mobb Deep. Jackson and his company 9-0 Nickel Entertainment helped the duo get across the border for the first time in eight years.

“People are coming out of Oshawa, Pickering, Ajax. A lot of people in the mid-2000s especially came out of the Durham Region. You’ve got Bedouin Soundclash, Sum 41, Boi-1da, T-Minus,” said Dean Visser, multi-instrumentalist with over a decade of experience and a Music Business Management student at Durham College.

Although these artists have found outside success, is it possible to find career success inside Durham Region?

Oshawa claims to have 14 venues that offer paid gigs for musicians although some local musicians do not necessarily consider them ‘paid’.

“If you wanted to rent the gear that I use to go, it would cost you more than $100. That would be to rent that gear for one night. I don’t consider taking a cut at the door to be getting paid,” said Abel Renton, musician and Music Business Management professor.

Musicians and bands in Durham say they are typically paid anywhere from $100 to


The pay for shows around the region may be minimal but in 2014 two music-aimed venues opened up.

The Oshawa Music Hall, located downtown, can host up to 600 people and is creating opportunities for bigger shows and concerts.

Mid-2000s Reggae star Shaggy performed a concert at the venue this summer and Theory of a Deadman, a Canadian rock band with seven top 10 hits on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, played in late November.

Barney’s Bar and Billiards opened up in Whitby at the end of May last year and hosts live bands weekly, sometimes twice a week. Every Friday night a live band plays and periodically the bar holds shows during the week, providing a stage for local bands to be heard and opportunities for tribute and cover bands to play live.

With the population of Durham Region growing, the music scene is growing with it – despite the controversial pay at some venues.

Music retail is also running at an all time high, not just in Durham but across the country. Music retailer Long and McQuade opened a second shop in Durham Region in 2011 on the border of Pickering-Ajax. Two years later the company has more than 60 stores.

There is also no shortage of eager musicians in the region.

Durham College’s Music Business Management program has had a full program for the past few years, resulting in a waiting list for some students.

The program does a lot of work in the region but also encourages students to network thoroughly.

“You’re not going to get discovered in Oshawa,” joked Renton. Networking in Durham only reaches so far, he says.

“Toronto. Go to the venues, talk to the people, talk to the people you like,” he said.

Nerves and hesitation will do a young musician no good.

“The bottom line is you have to kind of lose some of your manners, some of that’s holding you back. Don’t be afraid to just contact people,” he said.

On top of networking, Renton teaches a class that gives students the opportunity to get real world hands-on experience in the industry.

“They’re called initiatives, where you’re supposed to emulate the music industry. You have record labels, events, artist management, stuff like that,” said Henry Lam, Music Business Management student and bassist of five years.

Lam helps put on a weekly open mic in the community for his initiative and other students do things such as promotion, and putting together a magazine called Volume 11.

“It’s definitely real music industry simulation,” said Vaughn Lott, a designer for Volume 11. “It’s all run by us.”

Durham’s young musicians are hopeful for the music scene in the region although one thing remains true, mainstream success does not yet live here.