An Exclusive Interview With Ted Simmons

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

My latest song is called Susanna, I wrote the words on a flight from Vancouver to Halifax and wrote some music for it later. The arrangement changed over time, it started out being more of a folky kind of thing with a picking guitar style, later I switched it to piano with a more mellow groove. I didn’t really write it about anything or anyone in particular, the basic story is some kind of relationship gone wrong, two lovers whose fate was to separate due to circumstances beyond their control. It was written as an experiment in minimalism, what are the fewest number of words I can use but still get the point across. The goal was to get the listener to use their imagination and create in their own mind the details.

How do you approach the process of songwriting, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

I don’t have a regular process per se I usually sit at the piano or pick up a guitar and see what happens. I like it to be quiet, like a peaceful day or late at night, that keeps my mind clear. When comes to the writing, I find if I hear something I like I might set out to make a something similar, or I might just decide I want to make a song that says something political or spiritual. Thematically I am all over the map. I write about injustice, the search for peace, politics, relationships, or sometimes things I just think are funny. I take inspiration from current events, or things that I see going on around me, or even things that are going on in my own life, but I try to avoid writing myself directly into the lyrics.

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

I don’t really approach anything with some idea of commercial appeal, I do sometimes use a lens of, if I played this in a bar, in front of strangers, would it grab their attention. Other times, I take the approach that I am just going to create, not worry about anything other than am I making something that I like. I don’t worry about all the other things, like will this make sense for radio, will this take off on some social media thing, that to me is being an artist.

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

The biggest challenge is that in the music business there are many sellers and few buyers so it’s tough getting a foot in the door. It’s always a challenge finding places to play/places that let you play, so the only answer is keep asking, it really comes down to a number game. You might send ten requests to venues and get one response, but at least that is a start. The other part of that is getting your music heard, there are very few barriers to entry so the public has a plethora of choice when it comes to what to listen to so it’s challenging to stand out.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

My whole new album, Dark and Dirty World, is one big collaboration, I designed it that way. I would come up with a song idea, think about who would work best playing on it, and send out a demo. Then, we would get together, and I would make a point of keeping it loose so that I could get input on what the song should or could be. The end result was always something greater than the sum of it’s parts, which is what I think a true collaboration should result in.

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

I use all the standard platforms, Instagram, Facebook etc. I find that, for me the work well as message boards, getting the word out about shows and new releases. The people that follow me are generally people around where I live and are generally the people who would show up if I was playing somewhere so in that way it works for me. I have tried reaching a broader audience using the marketing tools those platforms provide and so on, but I have had limited success with that, but on a more local level I find it works well for me.

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

There are a few, but the artists that have had to biggest influence on me are Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, that said, I listen to a broad spectrum of music. I guess you could categorize most of my available catalogue as being somewhere in the folk/americana genre, but I take something away from all the different types of music I listen to, contemporary, jazz, country, rhythm and blues, and even some popular music when I am in the mood.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

Just keep playing, I keep a full schedule of shows all over Nova Scotia, wherever and whenever I can get a show I am there. When I go back to the same place, and I see some familiar faces I know I am doing my job.

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting
impact on you and your music?

I have many but I like this one. Many years ago, before I had any real recordings available, I was a regular at an open mic in Charlottetown, PEI and I used to play a song I wrote but have long since forgotten how to play, called Lyin’ on The Basement Apartment Floor Blues and I always figured no one was paying attention, until one night before I even started to play, someone requested that song, they called it out from the room. It started me on the journey to the point where I am today because that gave me the boost of confidence to think, hey I can really do this if I keep at it.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music
consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

It sucks basically. In the days before streaming, physical unit sales were actually a good way to make money. It cost about five dollars to make a unit and you could sell them for let’s say fifteen dollars. That’s ten bucks per unit in profit, so if you sold one hundred you made one thousand dollars. People can now consume your music one hundred times for fractions of pennies. It makes it impossible to have a revenue stream from the actual recording product, it becomes a marketing expense basically.