7 Things Pete Seeger Taught Us About Music (…and, you know, life)

Once again, music has lost a great hero. Folk artist and activist Pete Seeger passed away at age 94, leaving many of us confused and heartbroken.  For some reason, Seeger just seemed like the type of guy who was going to live forever.

I’m guessing that’s because his legacy is so powerful that he kind of is going to live forever. At least, I hope so.


94 years is a lot of time to do and say awesome stuff.  Pete Seeger definitely used his time on this earth to teach us some important lessons, especially when it comes to the power of music.  Although it would take hours and hours to recount all the wonderful things Seeger passed on about how to do music (and life) right, here are 7 highlights:

– – –

1. Music is for everyone (Even that guy. And that guy.)

Seeger’s far left politics and activism made him a hero to many…and a political nemesis to others. But no matter who you were, no matter what the issue of the day, one thing always held true–Pete Seeger would play a song for you.

pete seeger1ed

Pete Seeger used his voice and music to speak out about important issues and pursue a better country and world for everyone. That’s admirable enough. But it’s important to remember that he didn’t just play battle cries for people who agreed with him.  He played music for everyone, about everyone, and (most importantly) with everyone. That’s how he instigated change. That’s how he became a folk hero. And that’s something we can all learn from.

2. Music is more than entertainment.

People make music for all kinds of reasons. For Pete Seeger, music was a powerful tool for communication and conversation. It was a way to reach people…and to have them reach right back.  Seeger shared this philosophy in an interview upon his induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

That’s been my main life’s work – to show that music is not mere entertainment…The only hope for the world is to realize the danger we’re in and start communicating with each other. Music is one of the most powerful means of communication.

Right on, Seeger. Right on.

3. Music, and life, are participatory sports.

No one was a spectator in Pete Seeger’s eyes.  When music played, you sang along. You stamped your feet. You cared about what you were saying.

In the 2007 documentary “The Power of Song,” Bob Dylan himself spoke to Seeger’s knack for getting people involved in the musical experience:

Pete Seeger, he had this amazing ability to look at a group of people and to make them all sing parts of a song. And he would make an orchestration out of the whole song, with everybody in the audience singing. Whether you wanted to or not, you would find yourself singing a part. It would be beautiful.

And that whole sing, move, care, participate thing? That applied to more than just Seeger’s concerts. It was a lifestyle…and a powerful one.

I’ve never sung anywhere without giving the people listening to me a chance to join in – as a kid, as a lefty, as a man touring the U.S.A. and the world, as an oldster. I guess it’s kind of a religion with me. Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race.

– Pete Seeger

pete seeger2

4. (Sound)check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Speaking of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger goes way back with the folk singer…back to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, to be exact. There’s an urban myth that during Dylan’s set, Seeger despised the electric folk sound so much that he threatened to cut Dylan’s chords with a hatchet. In reality, though, Seeger was a huge Dylan fan. He was just riled up that the bad speaker quality was distorting Dylan’s powerful lyrics.

I ran over to the sound man and said, “Fix the sound so you can understand him!” and they hollered back “No, this is the way they want it!” I don’t know who “they” was, but I was so mad I said “Damn, if I had an axe I would cut the cable right now.”

5. Music can change the world.

Earlier this year, Pete Seeger tweeted something that stuck with me big time:

seeger quote

I think this tweet is particularly meaningful because Seeger is a man who did play the right song at the right moment, and it did change history.

Three words: We Shall Overcome.

civil rights

Pete Seeger didn’t create change alone. He didn’t do anything alone. He did it in community with activists, artists, listeners, talkers, people. He used music as a tool to unite, comfort, and inform people from all walks of life. Seeger taught us the powerful impact of being in the right place, at the right time, with right people and the right song.

Also: Yes, Pete Seeger had Twitter at age 94.  Because he’s kinda the coolest, that’s why.

6. Harmonize.

Seeger was determined to have everybody, everybody sing along.  Watching Pete Seeger perform live was a community experience, a living example of how many small voices are just as powerful as one big voice. Seeger showed us that music is something that is most meaningful when we can create and share it together, a point he made even clearer by saying awesome things like this:

pete seeger3ed


Seriously. New desktop background right there.

7. Be humble, and be inspired.

Pete Seeger was a constant advocate for learning by doing. He paid attention to the art and people around him. He learned from others, understood their music, and remained humble to the talent around him.

Seeger referred to Woody Guthrie as “the single biggest part of my education.” He even wrote this message on his banjo (a similar gesture to Guthrie’s famous guitar with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists)”:


In addition to being openly inspired by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger was always incredibly quick to list off his biggest inspirations and admirations. He often traveled around listening to rural musicians and folk sounds.  He even helped Alan Lomax organize the Archive of American Folk Song early in his career. He was an active student of music, art, and life just as much as he was a teacher.

Seeger was not a competitive musician, and he was not afraid to be inspired. He was constantly learning from the music around him, and forging relationships with artists of all kinds.  That’s something any musician should be proud to say.

– – –

Okay, let me get personal with you for a second:

Last year, I packed up and moved from Ottawa to Washington DC with nothing but a suitcase and a guitar (which is weird, because I didn’t even play the guitar.).  I was doing a semester-long internship at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a record label whose history and livelihood is deeply tied to Pete Seeger.

When I arrived in DC, there were a lot of things I was scared to try. Like the guitar. Like being vulnerable and accountable in a group of people I super-duper respected. Like following the legacy of a guy like Pete Seeger. Like this whole “learning by doing” thing.

But then I started listening. I started singing along. I started learning chords and learning names. I wrote posts and abstracts for Folkways; then I went home and wrote songs with those four chords I knew.  And it changed my life.

Doing music and doing life in a Pete Seeger way isn’t hard, really. Folkways still does it everyday.  Back in Ottawa, I was inspired to join the E.L.E Fest team because they work hard to do it, too.  To be radically participatory and collaborative. To care what other people have to say (and play, and sing).

Pete Seeger showed people around the world how to approach our sounds and our lives like a goofy, musical, meaningful jam session.

So let’s jam.

[Photo credits, from top down: wfuv, Jim Capaldi, Paul VanDerWerf]

International Women’s Day Special: Badass Ladies in the Ottawa Music Scene

It’s International Women’s Day–so yeah, probably a good time to call your mom. And your sister.

And, if you’re a fan of the Ottawa music scene, it’s also a good time to throw props to the female artists, promoters, DJs, and fans who keep the local scene afloat. While it would take hours and hours and hours to name them all, here are a few that we wanted to recognize on this glorious Saturday.

Amanda Putz

When I think of local music, I immediately think of Amanda Putz. This woman is legendary (seriously. She even has a Wikipedia page. I can only dream of such greatness). As host of Bandwidth CBC, she is dedicated to pointing music fans in the direction of solid Ontario sounds.

amanda putz

This whole “local music” thing isn’t just a day job for Amanda Putz–she lives it. As E.L.E gets more and more involved in the Twitterverse, the whole team is becoming increasingly aware of how much of a heroine Amanda Putz really is. She all over the internet and the airwaves, just being knowledgeable, engaged, supportive and funny.

And on a personal note…she’s also more-than-kinda my role model fangirl

Maria Hawkins

Maria Hawkins proves that making an impact as local musician is possible–and she works hard to make sure others feel empowered to achieve big, too. Using music as a tool, Maria Hawkins has made this city a better place in a major way.


Here are just a few of Maria Hawkins’ many community projects:

  • She co-developed Blues in the Schools with Bluesfest, and has seen it through personally for the last 14 years.
  • As a motivational speaker and a musician, she travels to schools with a program called Stop the Bullying with the Blues.
  • Oh, and she also hosts a jam for up-and-coming musicians at the Rainbow Bistro on the second Sunday of each month.

“At 57, I might be one of your oldest ‘mover and shaker’ around,” She told me. “But working with the community keeps me young.”

The Musettes

I have always been a big fan of the Musettes because–along with being musically amazing–those ladies are just so genuine. They love music. They are experts on their instruments, and they certainly know how to write a catchy tune and rock a stage. This group redefines “songstress.” musettes Pick apart the band, and it gets even more impressive. Meaghan LaGrandeur is currently on world tour with Rhythm of the Dance, Rachel Harrison has serious songwriting skills (also, that voice), and Lora Bidner has been a constant, multi-talented force in the local music scene for years. As an aside, Bidner’s solo career is definitely worth checking out:

Also, can we talk about this video LaGrandeur posted to YouTube after touring through Russia? This girl is all sass, in the best way.

Blue Angel

As if Ottawa Showbox posted about this new band just as I was researching this article.

Honestly, all three of the ladies in this outfit deserve their own mention (they are members of Roberta Bondar, Organ Eyes, and Boyhood respectively), but their new project looks promising for fans of heavier, garage-style rock music.

Jessica Lee and Chrissy: The Pop Princesses

Thanks to Jessica Lee and Chrissy, Ottawa is officially on the map for pop music. These women have serious talent, way-too-catchy music, and their quickly growing careers are making the capital city proud.

(Also, they both have singles that rep the “girl power” thing hard.)

The Côté Sisters

You know what’s awesome? A musical family.

Sisters Vee Nella and Carolyn Côté, are amazing frontwomen that constantly push their respective bands (The Cowards, Arms of the Girl) to new levels. Through their passion for music, they have gained a lot of admiration from the community, their bandmates…oh, and me. Because how can you not admire hard-working, dedicated, talented women who know how to jam?

Here’s Carolyn being awesome in an Arms of the Girl video:

And here’s a song Vee wrote which her bandmate Patrick Kuhn says “really shows her badassery.”


Other amazing frontwomen:

Sarah MurphyThe Brook

Danielle Allard Arrows & Anchors (formally Go Long (!))

JacquieThe Balconies

Angie NeatbyMuffler Crunch

Mackenzie di MilloMonday I Retire

Keep the props going! Let us know in the comment section who you’re thanking today, and who your favourite badasss ladies are in the Ottawa music scene. And to all the women who keep our music scene amazing: thank you, and happy International Women’s Day!

8 Websites Every Musician Should Be On

Working for E.L.E Festival,  I spend a lot of time combing through websites and band profiles, curating playlists, blogging, tweeting and helping to book our events.   The E.L.E goal is to spread the word about cool local music, so we are constantly looking for the best Ottawa jams.

In short: musicians, I want to find you.

I’m not alone, either. There are a lot of local and even national outlets which spend tons and tons of time trying to find you and help to share your work. The problem? You’re sometimes hard to find. Maybe your recordings are on iTunes, but not on Rdio.  Or they’re on Soundcloud, but not on Bandcamp. When I’m prepping a blog post, a playlist, even a lineup…these things all count.

music listeningFinally, I decided to make a list.  I have personally used almost all of these websites to find and connect with local talent…so if you want to build your fan base and be discovered/shared online, these are definitely worth checking out.


What is it: A social network-style site–create a profile, upload music for people to stream.  As someone who tries to discover local music, I spend an unhealthy amount of time listening to music on Soundcloud. It’s also one of my favourite places to curate playlists (I made this one as I was preparing my International Women’s Day article last week).   Major artists like City and Colour and Justin Timberlake upload teasers and even full songs to Soundcloud because it’s the perfect spot to reach other musicians and labels.

How to use it: A solid example of a good Soundcloud page is this one from A Tribe Called Red. Notice how they use Soundcloud to share their original music, as well as projects they have done with other artists.  Their profile is short, sweet, and pushes out their album download. Most importantly, all their social networks and contact info are right on the site. If someone discovers you on Soundcloud, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch.


What is it: A great way to stream and sell your music. Essentially, it is like a Soundcloud where people can buy your stuff. This is it the second most common place for me to find local musicians (the first is Facebook), and can be a source of both revenue and publicity for new artists.  While it’s a little less interactive than Soundcloud, it is incredibly useful for those who want to sell their mp3s and be discovered at the same time.

How to use it: Local band The Brook has a really solid Bandcamp page, as does Weird With Cats.  The website offers a pretty clean layout to start, so make sure you have some solid visuals set up and you’re pretty much good to go. The main recommendation I have is to link your Bandcamp page up to your Facebook page–it has an awesome app and is probably the best way to connect your social network to your music.


What is it: Um…I just going to assume you know this one.

How to use it: 1. Have a frequently updated fan page. 2.  Make sure to “like” other groups or musicians you have worked with through that page, and ask that they do the same for you. This helps fans of those groups find you and become your fans, too. 3. Post Facebook events for every show you play 4. Stay informed about opportunities by joining groups related to the music scene in your area. In Ottawa, the best ones I have found are: Ottawa BandsOttawa Music Community, and Ottawa Showbox

Streaming Music Sites: Rdio, Spotify, Rhapsody, Songza

What is it: In short, these sites are like Netflix for music.  People pay a monthly fee (or just put up with a few ads) in return for access to a massive music library. Rdio members like myself can sync their favourite music to their mobile devices and listen offline, and artists get royalties based on individual song playcounts.  For the people who use these sites, this is their primary music library (I haven’t used iTunes in over a year, guys. ALL my offline music listening happens through Rdio).

How to use it: For your music to show up on these sites, you need to go through an “aggregator” like CD Baby which has a licencing agreement with the sites. You pay to upload your music/metadata to the aggregator, and they then see that it is posted to streaming sites like Spotify and Rdio, along with iTunes and Amazon.  If you get enough plays through the streaming, you will receive royalties through the aggregator as well.


What it is: Reverb Nation is like a high-end Bandcamp. You can create a profile and sell music through the site, while connecting with fans and artists. This website makes it very easy to find nearby music (just click the “local” tab), and provides a good ranking system to help artists trace their stats. You also have the option of giving some or all of your Reverb Nation sales to charity.

How to use it: One thing that is unique about Reverb Nation is that it can function as an aggregator. This is worth looking into if you really like the platform, though $20 a month is pretty steep (for comparison, CD Baby charges a flat $49.00 per album).  Even if you go with the free account, however, it’s worth it to keep up a solid profile.  Local Jazz musician Milana Zilnik is a great example: http://www.reverbnation.com/milanazilnik.


What it is: This is a streaming radio style tool that music fans use to find new music that matches their tastes.  Which means your music should be on it if you think it would match someone’s tastes.

How to use it: As an example, The Lumineers have a really solid Last.fm page. There is lots of multimedia content, options to purchase music, and event information.  Make sure you use tags to make yourself findable to listeners in the Last.fm system…for example, I search the tag “Ottawa” or “Canadian” fairly frequently looking for local music through this site.


What it is: One of the most popular streaming, “smart” online radio sites.  It’s sadly not available in Canada, but if you want to reach the international community it is worth submitting your music.

How to use it: Canadian artists can submit their music for Pandora’s consideration by contacting the website directly. They will make an account on your behalf, which will allow you access submit.pandora.com. The rest is straight-forward!


What it is: Twitter is an incredibly popular social networking site where you send messages out into the universe in 140 characters or less…and sometimes, if you send those messages right, people will catch them. #music

How to use it: I am on Twitter ALL. THE. TIME. I love the conversational, community feel of the platform. So when artists reach out to E.L.E Fest on Twitter, especially if they’re genuine, I always take the time to listen to a couple of their songs, follow them, and respond to their tweets. Take this conversation I had with Alex Ryder (another ReverbNation superstar) yesterday:

alex ryder

I also keep a Twitter List of Ottawa musicians and venues so I know exactly what is happening (and exactly what to help you promote!). This is the fastest way for musicians to send out updates and news, and the best way we at E.L.E are able to keep up-to-date. As a musician, the best way you can use Twitter is to follow and engage with your community: people who give you props, or people who you think might dig your sound. Let fans, future fans, other bands and blogs/festivals like ours know you care what they’re all about and you appreciate their support. Stay engaged. Stay authentic. (Oh, and if you use the hashtags #Ottawa #music in your tweet…guarantee I will read it.)

These are the main sites that I use to find, share, and connect with musicians in my capacity at E.L.E Fest (and in writing for other music sites. And when I worked at a record label. And just as a fan in general.).  Hopefully this helps you spread your awesomeness across the internauts! If there are any websites I missed that you think should be on this list, let us know.