"KEEP IT PURE AND TRUE," A Conversation with Joseph Shabason
What things do you do to care for yourself at home while not touring, to ensure you
fill your creative well?
My kids get up real early….like 5:15 am early. So I drop them off at school at 7:30 on
the nose and go straight to the YMCA to exercise and then have a steam. I feel like
having a daily sauna is almost as good as a seeing therapist regularly. I also see a
therapist though so the combo is a real 1,2 punch and keeps me feeling good all year
How does touring affect your relationships, both platonic and romantic?
Oh god, this one is a doozie. Before we had kids tour was a strain only in that when I
came back from a long stint on the road I was usually out of sorts and pretty run down.
It would always take a week or two before I started to feel like my normal self again.
Since having children tour is basically impossible. We have two young boys who never
stop moving so to get my wife to look after them solo while working as a reporter is too
much to ask. Now I do smaller runs (ideally one week max) and try and give her breaks
when I’m around so that she can recharge as well. It’s getting better and soon I’ll do
longer runs…but for the time being we are staying sane by limiting the time I am away
to more manageable chunks.
What does daily life look like for you currently? Do you have a day job - or some sort
of side hustle to supplement money for being a musician?
Currently work is a hodgepodge of scoring, making records, recording sax for people’s
albums, recording other people and producing their records, mixing, gigging and
touring. I could not make a living unless I did all of those things. That being said, before
I was able to get a studio space I taught sax and clarinet lessons to kids while I wasn’t
touring in order to make ends meet. I made jack shit tho…I don’t think I cleared
$27K/year (gross) until I was like 35 years old. Lol. Slowly over the years I leveled up. I
made the decision to quit teaching after 17 years and then transitioned into advertising.
From there I quit my ad job and started scoring and doing what I do now. It took me until
I was 39 years old to be fully self-sufficient and make a wage over the poverty line.
Are there any misconceptions about music finances that you wish other people
outside of the music industry understood? Or financial advice you would give to your
Don’t count on original music to make money. Keep it pure and true and make your
money from other revenue sources i.e. touring, mixing, recording, scoring etc. I don’t
count on my solo music to make me money and because of that, every decision I make
is 100% true to the art of what I am doing vs being for financial reasons. I wish I learned
that lesson when I was younger but hey, sometimes you gotta step in it in order to
understand why something’s bad.
What is your stance on streaming and the “future” of how people consume music?
Streaming companies need to pay musicians more, but also musicians need to accept
the fact that streamers are here to stay and can be a valuable resource in terms of
getting your music out into the world. I am eternally grateful for streamers….so many
people have reached out to get me to score their movies based on “the algorithm”
feeding them my music. I’m not saying that streamers can’t do better...but if you are
relying on it for your income I would give your head a shake.
Have you thought about quitting music? What prompted it and what ultimately caused
you to want to continue?
100%. When I graduated university my band was flailing and all my band mates were
on tour with other acts and I felt completely and utterly stuck….like my own future
wasn’t in my control. I applied to take auxiliary university courses so that I could become
a guidance counsellor. I truly could not see a way forward in music. Thank god I never
went that route…but I was very very close.
What is road life like? Describe it how you see it.
50% boredom, 10% existential hell, 30% bliss, 10% finding a dignified place to shit.
What’s the weirdest place you have slept on tour?
On the granite floor under a stairwell and beside the men’s room of the Reykjavik
airport. It was hell and I was freezing.
Why do you create?
Because it brings me peace and joy and challenges me and can’t seem to stop. There
is truly nothing I want to do more.
What is your recording process like?
Write skeletal demos and get your friends in to flesh them out. I would be nowhere if not
for my musical community. The way that they elevate my compositions is out of this
world. I love them.