Interviewing Musicians in the Midst of the pandemic; Phillip Rodda of Medical Pilot

Phillip Rodda of Medical Pilot, brings forth his experiences as a musician during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Medical pilot is an alternative rock band from right here in Alberta. Members include Dexter Twardzik (Guitar/Vocals), Jon Rembowski (Guitar/Vocals), Jesse Rubuliak (Guitar/Vocals), Daniel Blade (Bass/Vocals), and Phil Rodda (Drums).

“With stellar riffs, brilliant melodies, and an engaging stage presence, Medical Pilot exemplifies the exact kind of band that you want to go out and see,” reads their self-description.

Their music is described as alternative pop-punk alt-rock and nu-metal. Their discography includes Painting Pictures & Telling Stories (2018), Caramel Wednesday (2018), Grace, Too (2017), Medical Pilot EP (2017), and The Same EP (2016). Currently, the band is focusing its efforts on a new debut album planned to be released this upcoming September.

“Focused almost equally on both riffs and melodies, never afraid to experiment, their journey finds four members singing at one point. Their songs sometimes somber, sometimes pleading, and then other times soaring and reaching” describes the band.

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, they’ve seen the fluctuations firsthand. Below is an interview with Rodda and Dylanna Fisher of Switching Styles.

What is your connection to the music industry?

Currently, I spend most of my time playing for artists in and around Edmonton such as Jenesia, Steven Sware and Tea G. I also spend a lot of time producing for EMARRA and recording other bands out of my home studio, and my main bread and butter is my band, Medical Pilot.

How long have you been in the music industry?

Roughly 4 years now, I started playing shows as soon as I turned 18 and since then have been trying to find more and more ways to involve myself.

Why is the music industry important?

The music and entertainment industry, in general, have a lot more importance in people’s day-to-day lives than one might think.

The easiest comparison is sports. You see a lot of people tuning in every night or two to watch their favourite team play. They’ve also dedicated a large portion of their free time to keeping up with trades, lineup changes and the general day-to-day of their teams. For a lot of people that consume music, that same amount of time can be spent easily especially with how active most groups are on social media.

I know for me personally when I really get into a band, I can spend a couple hours a day digging up past interviews on YouTube or trying to find fun facts on Wikipedia. People really do care about their favourite musicians and the art that they create. With Covid-19, I believe this rings even more true based off the fact that a lot more people are stuck at home with not a whole lot to do.

With everything being locked down, how are artists making money if not from live venues?

I think that it varies quite a lot depending on the artist or group. I’ve seen a lot of people set up live-stream shows with either the option to donate or virtual tickets that grant you viewing access. Drive-in concerts are a really great option for smaller groups or solo artists.

From what I’ve seen with my peers, they’re either doing the shows on a by donation basis or charging a flat fee. Based off of the demand that I’ve been seeing for these they definitely seem like a lucrative opportunity. A lot of bands have been getting quite casual with the way they’re presenting themselves online too. Some of the funniest streams I’ve seen during quarantine have been musicians just playing video games together or reviewing weird and funny YouTube videos.

Do you think live music bounce back after Covid?

I think it definitely will but not as quick as people think. For one, live shows are usually in the area of 200-400 people at a local level, or thousands if it’s a major label artist touring arena. Even with the current plan from the Alberta government it could be all the way until the end of summer, if not longer, until we see gatherings of that side being allowed.

The demand, however, will always be there. So, no matter how long it takes to come back there’s going to be a lot of antsy people sitting at home waiting for the first opportunity to see a show. I know I’m one of them!

What, if anything, will be different?

This question actually excites me quite a bit. Live music and touring has always been a great way to make money for musicians but with the whole advent of Covid-19 I think people are really opening their eyes to alternative ways to both consume and create music. 

Livestreams were always something that was just kind of “there” with not a lot of people paying attention to them. Now though, I think a lot of people are seeing how fun and engaging a livestream can be, and I can definitely see them carving their own little niche in the market once everything’s over. The drive-in shows could be another great thing that I would not mind sticking around at all.

How does music and merchandise sales benefit musicians during Covid-19?

Even before Covid-19, the music merchandise industry was worth multiple billions of dollars worldwide, and I would not be surprised if that remained the same this year. For a lot of local and regional sized bands, merch like t-shirts and CDs are the key to a band’s financial health. For Medical Pilot we actually got denied on all of our grant applications for our newest album, so our solution was to raise as much money as possible through merch. That venture ended paying for an extremely large chunk of the cost, with the rest coming from live show profits.

One of my favourite things I’ve seen during quarantine is a venue called 9910 partnering with local artists and offering beer and merchandise packages on their website. A lot of bands still have yearly running costs like rent for a rehearsal space, website and e-commerce hosting fees and distributor fees to keep their music on Apple Music and Spotify.  Even if the live shows have stopped, these bills still need to be paid and merch gives fans a way to help out as much as possible.

Does Covid-19 impact the conversation of pirated music?

Unfortunately, with streaming becoming as mainstream as it, is the actual sales of albums have dropped a huge amount with piracy or without.

I know for me personally, I’ve never really cared if people have ripped my band’s songs off of YouTube to keep on their phone. I’ve just been happy that they’re taking the time to listen!

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about this big shift where your music is now serving as an advertisement for your brand and image rather than the other way around. With the big piracy craze in the early 2000s and now Spotify’s extremely small margins on streams, a lot of artists I know have accepted that as life and have just adopted new ways to have their music be heard as much as possible while still making money.

What financial supports are there for musicians? Are they enough?

Canada’s National Art’s Centre themselves have been producing grants for artists that live stream shows, which I think is a great help! There’s also the obvious CERB for people who are doing music full-time and fall under the qualifications. In terms of operating money for groups, I haven’t seen a lot pop up, but I might be totally wrong on that, as I haven’t exactly done a lot of research on the subject.

What can fans do to support their favourite artists?

If everyone has a much free time as the memes on Facebook are saying, looping songs on Spotify is always a great way to boost those streaming numbers!

In all seriousness, just engaging on social media goes a long way. Seeing comments from people showing support is one of my biggest mood boosters, especially when I’m stuck awake late at night thinking about how much it sucks not being able to play a show.

What advice do you have for musicians during Covid-19?

If you’re an artist, now is the time to create some amazing content. Quarantine style playthroughs where you sync up a video of each member playing a song in their homes are a great way to engage with fans during such a weird time. Everyone always talks about that one song that never got finished or that one side-project EP that never took off.

We now have all this free time to really delve into things that might have taken a back seat in the past! If you’re a freelancer or session musician, just keep in touch with your clients and co-workers. I got into this industry because I knew the people were great, and the way everyone is checking in on each other and offering support has reinforced that fact in my mind tenfold.

Check out more from Phillip Rodda and from Medical Pilot.

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