Surviving As A Musician... With Jay Aymar

Jay Aymar is an independent touring Canadian singer-songwriter with six albums and one memoir to his credit. Until recently he was living on the road. What follows is his story.

Zen and The Art of Digital Dust Bowl Survival - Jay Aymar

It was just a few weeks ago when FYI Music asked me to contribute to their ongoing series about musicians' side-hustles in the current music industry. After finishing my mini-masterpiece, I read my final draft and pressed: 'submit'.

Two days later the world changed.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo was on CNN discussing a statewide lockdown to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Later that day, one of my closest friends called to explain to me exactly what the repercussions of a global pandemic are.

My friend is a scientist.

Suddenly, much like the rest of the world, I did my deep dive into the basics and discovered we all now had a serious role to play in the social contract. Free will cannot beat a deadly virus. Free will is now facing off against self-control. Can we abide by the notion of self-isolation for the greater good?

Dictatorships have an unfair advantage during these times. Democracies (judging by the crowded beaches in Florida and Vancouver) are going to have a much harder time with enforcement.

So when I awoke to this new reality, I realized my original ‘side-hustle’ story for FYI was grotesquely misaligned with the current state of affairs. Fortunately, I was able to have the story pulled just days before it was released, with the caveat that I would write a new story based on how this has and will affect the music community.

I’m not naïve enough to believe for one second that the music community will ever be the same again. I believe our world will never be the same again. This is a teachable moment. I remember mom and dad continuously referencing the Great Depression and WW2 as signposts for real hardships. My ninety-eight-year-old father, who served for the entirety of the war is currently living in a veterans home, cut off to visitors.

These are hard times for everyone.

This great equalizer knows not race, colour or creed.
It can only remind us that we are yet another species living on a planet that can shake us off like a bad cold whenever it wants to. So I guess it gets down to hope and faith. Those little superstitions we all cling to in times of need.

I was raised Catholic. My mother was a devout Catholic. My dad? His line is always the same “Who knows what’s up there? I have my doubts but I’m hopeful.”
As for my seven siblings, I think we all carry the guilt and little of the dogma. Some of us still hit church on occasion but most of us have moved on.

As for me, my beliefs can be found between the lines of great song lyrics and in literature. I find comfort in the truths of Swift, Twain, The Bronte sisters, Plath, Dylan, the Romantic Poets, Prine and million other philosophers and writers who have the ability to make sense of their ID via art. When I want to turn off my mind and just feel the power of the music, I blast a lot of funk music. It’s true. Deep down I have a super funky soul. Just ask Curtis Mayfield, he’ll vouch for me.

So wasn’t it an ironic moment when I awoke the other day to see musicians live streaming concerts in isolation to the masses? It occurred to me that the value of music is simply a perceived notion. In times like this, its stock value is priceless. It’s as required as oxygen. Even when my mom was passing from this mortal coil, her final days were spent smiling whenever we played her favourite music of the swing era. Amazing!

So for us musicians, our tours were cancelled and every source of potential revenue disappeared (No different from every other industry disruption). The only difference is that at least for most touring musicians, we are well versed in the art of dust bowl blues survival. We’re at the ready. We’re always in game shape for moments like this. We’ve been down in the gutter singing about the stars for so long, we’ve got you covered. We’ll be your north star. And you’ll be ours – just by listening.

Then the revolution happened. In one moment I saw every musician suddenly live streaming their music across the globe. All just isolated lo-fi captures into their phones. It offered intimate insight as to how the artist lives, works, and writes these songs. The spirit behind these live isolated concerts is life reaffirming. Live music is helping fight the fear. It’s breathing oxygen into our homes, safe from the dreaded pandemic gripping our species. It’s all so surreal – and yet so real.

I decided to toss my hat into the ring last Saturday night. I’d take over the Hockey Night in Canada time slot of 7-10 pm. I decided we’d collectively make a donation to the Sault Ste. Marie soup kitchen for this one. It certainly was the strangest feeling, singing into a rectangular inanimate object, but it was also the best feeling I’d had all week. It normalized things for all of us. My Saturday nights have always been about performing live and for many, it’s about going out for dinner and socializing and catching some live music. We raised $1500 for the food bank and I’ve decided to do it again every Saturday from 7-10 pm until we beat this.

So it’s the new reality for all of us. Things will never be the same. I can’t possibly comprehend the real pain that is happening to the victims of this dreaded virus or the family and loved ones of those affected. It’s unimaginable. I know it will eventually hit my inner circle and when it does it will be all hands on deck. I now feel the obligation to stay healthy and fit and ready for action. It’s getting Darwinian very fast.

I woke up yesterday to a video link sent to me by a friend which restored my faith in the power of music and art. A woman in my hometown had caught the live stream and decided to sing an a cappella rendition of my song entitled What a Dream. It was simple. It was heartfelt. It was her way of sending out hope. It took hearing my own words back to me to realize I already inherently know what to do in times like this.



Play music.

Share it all.

We’re truly all in this together and just maybe we will come out of this with greater empathy toward each other and mother earth. But for now, I’ll sing you my songs. Maybe you can teach me how to cook?

What a Dream
You can save it all till Sunday, then spend it as you please
Hold some for the piper who plays all night for free
Then walk your blind ambition into the morning rain
Wash away your loneliness learn to feel the pain
That’s what she said to me last night inside my dream
She gave me this creed a poet in need out on the echoing green
Oh what a dream

We met in an open-air market fully aware of the price
We did our waltzing on water till one blade cracked through the ice
Don’t try to save me I’m already saved just save yourself and move on
Walk into the wilderness give the world it’s song
That’s what she said to me last night inside my dream
She gave me this creed a poet in need out on the echoing green
Oh what a dream

When I awoke I collected my thoughts memorized every line
I’d be remiss for a moment like this to ever escape my mind
Oh what a dream

She said take the stance of a soldier prepare yourself for a fight
When the battle commences, sing with all your might
Sing for the innocent victims crying alone in the night
Sing them from their hopelessness sing them into the light

That’s what she said to me last night inside my dream
She gave me this creed a poet in need out on the echoing green
Oh what a dream
Boy what a dream
Oh what a dream
It was only a dream

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