Starting Over with John Maksym
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
John Maksym has been a familiar face in the Canadian music industry for well over a decade, and now he is making a name for himself—again. The former frontman of the alternative rock band, Breaching Vista (BV) is carving out a new path as a solo artist:
“To be honest, it was very uncomfortable starting over as a solo artist,” John explained. “I've been the frontman of a number of bands over the years, so I was familiar with starting over and I was familiar with being the frontman, but there were always other people involved in forming the identity of a band. There's an exciting camaraderie between bandmates-- especially in the early stages of a new band-- but it suddenly felt as if I was alone on an island. What I learned pretty quickly though was that I was far from being alone and that my camaraderie would be found in the development of my team. I got started with recording in October 2019, and had a plan laid out that would carry me through the first half of 2020, recording and releasing new music. Just as I was finding my rhythm, everything shut down due to the pandemic. My studio time was postponed. My auditioning process of assembling musicians to support me came to a screeching halt, and that plan of mine completely fell apart. Having studied a lot of personal development over the past year and half, I was mentally and emotionally prepared to handle it. Rather than look at it as a major obstacle, I made the decision to see it as a unique opportunity. I started adapting to the changes by building a home studio and connecting with some incredible musicians online who also had home studios and could help record tracks for my songs. I now have an even wider global network of musician friends who have contributed to a number of songs that will be released next year, and I'll consider touring plans when it's safe to do so.”
Luckily, Breaching Vista was able to have a proper send-off prior to the pandemic. Their final show was on December 27, 2019 with three of the band’s original members on stage. They had been honing their craft since January 2007. From day one, they intended to sell out a venue in their hometown of Kitchener, ON “and play the most epic concert ever”. According to John, in the end, they accomplished what they set out to do:
“…[We] played together for 13 full years. We grew up through our twenties and into our thirties together, going through many ups and downs within the band and our personal lives. BV was a family and we were all extensions of each other's personal families. At certain points through life, people's interests evolve and they branch out from their family to explore new experiences on their own -- much like a student leaving home for college or university … and creating new bonds with people who come into their lives at that time. Then when the term is up, they part ways and begin down a new path in life following new aspirations. We collectively felt like the term for Breaching Vista was up and we were all looking in different directions with personal interests. It was important to all of us to close that exciting chapter of our lives with a bang, and the farewell show did exactly that….”
Currently, Maksym said that he is “auditioning new fans” for his music which may lead to new friendships down the road: “I would be happy to have them engage with me on all of my socials for a chance to be considered a super-fan. I'm also known for having terrible jokes, but truthfully I try not to take things too seriously. I look for the good in all situations and I like connecting with my fans on a personal level. I'm just as interested in getting to know them and I appreciate their interest in my music because it's what I'm passionate about. I've become friends with a lot of people who started out as fans of my music. I genuinely care about everyone's wellbeing, and love seeing people grow and succeed at achieving their goals.”
With new fans and new music comes a new sound that Maksym has dubbed “Punktry”, (where punk meets country) especially in his new song, “Drinkin’ and Thinkin’”. When asked if country music would continue to influence his work he replied,
“Absolutely it will. I've become a fan of modern country over the past few years and have noticed hints of it starting to organically show up in my songwriting. I actually started writing ‘Drinkin' & Thinkin'’ just before really getting exposed to a lot of the country artists that I currently listen to, but I knew from the start that it had the potential to crossover. I kept that song in my back pocket for years, looking for the right time to record it. It happened to be the song I had just started recording in the studio when the pandemic shut everything down. This was the moment where I saw a unique opportunity. With all touring getting cancelled, I knew there would be artists like myself at home looking for ways to continue playing music, and I needed to figure out how to finish that song. Knowing that I wanted the song to have a country feel to it, I enlisted the help of some players from the Canadian country world and connected with Travis Switzer on bass (Dallas Smith/Meghan Patrick) and Dimitri LeBel on lead guitar, lap steel, and banjo (Tebey), who both gladly recorded parts in their home studios for me. I had also befriended a great country and pop producer in the UK, named Adam Fiasco, who helped sing some high harmonies on the song, as well as Canadian pop/metal singer, Harley Olivia. I would never call myself a country artist but you'll definitely continue hear hints of it in a few new songs, like "Bones I'm In" which features the incredibly talented Kirby Barber on backing vocals and bass guitar. Kirby is better known as the backing singer and guitarist in Aaron Pritchett's band. "Bones" will be my first single of 2021, releasing in January.”
Although John might be seen as a “new” artist, he is no stranger to the music industry and its rapidly evolving environment: “The biggest change that I've seen has definitely been the crossover from the tangible product to the digital product, and the ripple effect that it has had on the recording industry as a whole. I was playing in my high school band when Napster came onto the scene and suddenly everyone got into this new trend of file sharing. I hadn't even recorded my first CD at that point in time but the economic impact was noticeable and definitely favoured the indie artists. When I started high school, there was one indie band at the school that I knew of who had recorded and manufactured a CD, and they were selling it out of their lockers in the hallways. I got my hands on one as quickly as I could because for me, it was a sense of validation that I could also create this thing for myself-- which at the time was only a dream. By the end of my high school days, I too was selling my CD out of my locker, and every indie band in the local scene was doing the same. So it became the norm….CDs aren't as popular of an item as they once were, but there are still fans that like to purchase CDs as a tangible product (even if only as a collector’s item) and then use streaming services to fulfill their listening experience. I'll be manufacturing a small run of CDs myself, and treat them as more of an exclusive limited edition item that I can personally sign at shows or online orders for fans who want to have that tangible item.” Next year, John’s album, Freedom on the Other Side of Fear will also be available on vinyl for those who are looking to expand their record collections.
“Some other major changes that I've experienced over the years all relate to the advancements in digital technology,” he continued. “Popular TV stations like MTV or Much Music (in Canada) lost their market share of hosting music videos to YouTube. Recording studios moved from analogue recording equipment (tape machines, mixing consoles, etc.) to Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) with software like ProTools, and then studios themselves lost their market share to advancements in home studio recording equipment with user friendly software that can produce good quality results. Major record labels lost millions of dollars when CD sales started to plummet as a result of the file sharing, then found their footing again through the sale of download files via stores like iTunes, then lost money again when streaming services started popping up, until the majors themselves became investors into companies like Spotify.” He added that record labels have pivoted in order to acquire indie labels and their rosters.
For anyone who is starting out as a musician for the first time, John cautioned that the music business really needs to be treated as such—a business. While playing for exposure is great at times, clear expectations or goals need to be set from both sides when it comes to an artist getting paid.
“First and foremost, each artist should determine if they are playing as a hobby or if they are operating as a business…. The hobbyist artist is often asked to perform for free and is also very likely to accept the opportunity in exchange for a currency called exposure. There's always a transaction to be made, and a form of currency exchanged, it's just not always money. There's absolutely nothing wrong with offering your entertainment service in exchange for exposure or something other than money (it could be alcohol, meals, promotional swag, anything really) as long as what you are receiving as the artist holds an equal amount of value to you, as you value your service. Even artists who operate as a business will consider performing for something other than money if the value they are receiving aligns with their personal and/or business goals, and aligns with their brand. If an artist is being asked to perform a charitable event, it may even be within the charity's budget to offer a certain dollar amount that doesn't quite reach the artist's asking price, but the artist and their team may be willing to perform at a reduced rate to have their name associated with helping out that charity. No matter what the case is, artists do have operating expenses just like any other business, even if it's as simple as travel expenses or putting new strings on a guitar, but there are so many intangibles that go into honing your craft that are overlooked and undervalued. So it's up to the artist to determine what their value is of themselves and then to express that value to anyone interested in booking that artist for their services and whether or not it is negotiable.”
As an “avid goal setter” himself, John said, “…. One of the most important things that I've learned is that we need to set goals that we've never achieved before, and don't yet know how to achieve, so that they push us to grow. The fun is in finding out how to achieve them. It's also important to write out your goals daily, so that you set your mind to it every day to maintain focus, and have them written as if you have already achieved them. I have both a goal setting journal and a gratitude journal that I start each day with by writing in them and setting my mind. That being said, I am so happy and grateful now that I am a world renowned songwriter and recording artist, touring and meeting fans all over the world.”
On a personal level, one of Maksym’s biggest goals is to make it down the aisle in 2021: “….My fiancé and I were supposed to get married this year but had to postpone our wedding because of the pandemic. So it's been rescheduled to next summer. We're completely at peace with it though. One of our favourite quotes is from Bob Proctor, who is like, 'the godfather of personal development'. It says, ‘the plan can change, the goal cannot.’ So we adopted that mindset very early into the pandemic knowing that we are going to get married, it just isn't going to happen this year.”
Finally, when asked about his advice for other artists, John Maksym created a special top ten list which covers a variety of topics below:
01. Be a good person. If there's one thing you can control it's who you are. People resonate with good people. Like attracts like. The music industry is small. Everyone knows everyone and you don't want to be on the outside looking in while they share stories about why they don't want to work with you. Not everyone will like you no matter how good of a person you are, but that's not your problem to worry about. Be the person that makes you feel proud about yourself.
02. Make others feel good about themselves. Networking is incredibly important in the music industry. Having the right conversation at the right time with one person can open up opportunities that you didn't even know existed, and sometimes that one person is the furthest one you'd ever expect to make an impact. Treat everyone with the same kind of respect that you'd love to receive yourself, and then some. If you make it a habit to make every person you come in contact with feel good about themselves, you will accelerate your career and make some incredible friends along the way.
03. Nurture your relationships with everyone. Always be prepared to get to know people on a deeper level, whether that be industry people you meet, other artists, or even fans. Ask them thoughtful questions about themselves that will require thoughtful answers. People love when you ask them about themselves because it makes them feel important (see number 2 above), and chances are after they've given you a thoughtful answer, they will then follow up and ask you a similar question which then helps deepen their relationship with you. Be genuine about it. By taking a few extra minutes to spend time with a fan and nurture your relationship with them each time they see you, you will eventually build an army of super-fans who will do almost anything to support you because of your connection with them. The same goes for industry people. If you nurture your industry relationships to the point where they become both friends with you and fans of your music, you will be their first phone call when a unique opportunity lands on their desk.
04. Over deliver on value. Give the best value you can possibly give, all of the time, and then add a little bonus if possible. If you're meeting with an industry person for coffee or lunch, let them know that you'd love to meet at their favourite spot and then pay their bill when you're wrapping up. Or buy them a drink if you're meeting at a show. Offer your fans special discounts on merch if they subscribe to your email list. If you start to see a fan show up repeatedly at shows and they are always supporting you, casually bring them over to your merch table and tell them to pick something for free and let them know that you notice their support and are grateful for it. If a promoter books you to open for your favourite band and asks that you sell 25 tickets in order to play that show, make sure you hustle and sell 50 tickets. Then after you've had your incredible moment on stage, thank the promoter and give them one of your t-shirts for free. If they are one of the good ones, they'll be paying you at the end of the night anyway and may throw in a few extra dollars if they really like you.
05. Look for either a mentor or an artist who is doing the things that you want to be doing and try to connect with them to ask questions and learn from them. If you aren't able to connect with them, then model yourself after them and try to do exactly what they are doing. Success leaves clues. Do the things successful artists do.
06. Don't be afraid to take risks. Imagine yourself at 80 years old sitting in your rocking chair, looking back on your life and all of the things you did, as well as all of the things you didn't do because you were afraid to take the risk. You might find that you feel regret, emptiness, wishing that you had just given it a shot. Now imagine how you would feel looking back on your life if you did take those risks and the fulfillment and enjoyment that you'd have reflecting on those memories. We often shy away from taking risks because we fear uncertainty, we fear criticism, we fear failure. If you push yourself to take a leap of faith and break through those fears, you will find that the most fulfilling experiences are on the other side of fear.
07. Be wary of anything that seems too good to be true, because it is. There are a lot of scammers in the world-- especially in the entertainment business-- who thrive on taking advantage of ambitious creative types by offering some kind of service with guaranteed results at some dollar amount. Do your homework and screen these people. More often than not they will come to you, mysteriously appearing in your life and telling you everything you want to hear at what seems like exactly the time you want to hear it. There are no shortcuts in this business and anyone trying to sell you on one does not have your best interests in mind. If it feels weird or sounds sketchy, walk away.
08. Don't complain. Nobody wants to hear it. It's an immediate turn off when someone starts complaining about something. Depending on the scenario there are definitely times when a discussion should be had following an incident--maybe your mic cut out halfway through a song and it took the sound guy a minute to fix it. Do not single them out and embarrass them from the stage using that very same microphone. After your set, ask the sound guy if they have a minute for a quick chat and just ask them if they know what happened during your set. Sometimes there are technical problems, sometimes people make a mistake, but I promise you that everyone is trying to do a good job and if you embarrass someone they will not forget and may even try to return the favor someday. Even if you're talking to your friend's band a week after the show, you don't want to draw attention or energy to something that would leave someone else feeling bad about themselves because you never know if the people you are talking to are friends with that person, and it's just a wasteful use of energy (also see number 2).
09. Play the long game. Every overnight success has a story of a decade long journey to get there. Very few artists strike gold and become stars without first doing years of developmental work, and even the select few who do usually have an entire team working for them. In most of those cases, the fame is a trade-off for something else. Maybe they're in a terrible contract and are not making any money. There's no one way to get to the top. If you play the long game and work on developing and nurturing your fan base, you will attract the right attention to yourself and you will have a ton of leverage when it comes time to adding partners to your team, whether it be a manager, a booking agent, or a label.
10. Have fun. Enjoy the process. We only live once and we should really focus on the most fulfilling things in life, which are unique to each individual. Find what's fulfilling to you and do that. If you're in a band and not enjoying it, or you don't get along with the other members, move on. If you don't really like to play in front of an audience but you love writing songs, focus on your songwriting and collaborating with co-writers. If you find that you enjoy the recording process so much that you want to become a producer, start offering to record your friends' bands for fun. Whatever it is that gives you that fulfillment inside, do as much of that as you possibly can. We don't know when our time is up, so make the most of it now.
Photo courtesy of McCormick Photography.
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