Expert Music Career Advice For DIY Musicians

How to Break Your Band Into the Diverse Toronto Music Scene

NXNEBilly Talent performs at NXNE in Toronto. (Photo by Phil Brennan)

Unlike other cities’ music scenes, Toronto’s is made up of such a quirky history that it’s virtually impossible for anyone to define "the Toronto sound." When you consider that minorities nearly make up the majority, the diverse, multicultural influences on the music that comes out of Toronto actually make a whole lot of sense.

In recent years, so many musicians have become drawn to Toronto – and as a result, the competition has gotten incredibly fierce, with artists having to do more now than ever before to stand out in the crowd. So, what do you need to do to break into the Toronto market? We asked some of the most experienced promoters and talent buyers in the city to find out.

Find similar bands with a local following

"Try and find some like-minded bands to play with. Divide up the marketing and street promo. Make sure the room is full so the club owner will want you back the next time. Hand out free things. Take names and addresses." – Elliott Lefko, VP of Talent at Goldenvoice

Do your research and target key industry people

"Do your research before you get to Toronto. To coin (and change) an old phrase, there are three rules to breaking into the music industry: network, network, network. It is so true. It might be an assistant, an intern, or another band, but that person can be the connector you need. Target some key industry people (at all levels) that you’d like to meet. Ask for introductions. It’s a big business, but a small world – so generally speaking, you will get to know someone who knows someone. These connections can hopefully help you find shows. When you do make a connection, be respectful of that person’s time and ask if he or she could take 20 minutes to meet, or invite him or her to one of your shows. Thank him or her for taking the time. Be patient. It may take several attempts to get people to come see you perform." – Rob Lanni, co-founder of Coalition Music

"My best advice for anyone looking to break into the Toronto market would be to become an expert at networking. Once you’ve connected with the right people, that can make all the difference in your career. Whether it results in getting advice, recording, producing, booking shows, getting you press, or co-writing, the possibilities are endless. It doesn’t matter how great your music if it’s not accessible to the right people." – Pat Murphy, talent buyer at Union Events

Educate yourself about the scene 

"Learn as much as you can about the Toronto scene – the bands, venues, promoters, festivals, labels, etc. – and seek out the people you want to work with. Building relationships with Toronto bands is an especially great way to navigate the scene. Obviously, playing festivals like NXNE is a great way to get exposure. Take this opportunity to check out local bands and venues where you might like to play the next time you’re in town, and introduce yourself. Be respectful and leave a good impression when you play Toronto – promoters, festival bookers, and agents will take notice and are more likely to invite you back."  – Cheryl MacIver, music programming coordinator at NXNE

Figure out what makes your band different

"My top piece of advice for the breaking in the Toronto market would be to practice a lot and create something interesting. This may seem like clichéd advice, but we always look for innovative and interesting music. This doesn't mean you need to invent a new sound – just don’t replicate what has already been done. Doing that will just make you mediocre and easily forgettable. There are many, many people within the city all vying for the same things. Why should I go and see your band? What makes it exciting? These are questions that you should be asking." – Ryan Tonkin, music & comedy programming coordinator at NXNE


Fast-track your way into the Toronto music scene by applying to NXNE 2015. Over 250 Sonicbids artists will be booked for the annual multi-venue festival that attracts over 360,000 fans. Save $10 when you apply by October 31, 2014.

NXNE 2015