The music industry is a cut-throat business; there are new artists and bands trying to jump into it every day, but does anyone starting up truly know what it’s like to try and enter the music world? I decided that in order for anyone who is interested in trying, they should see what it’s currently like to be a musician battling to find your following. That’s when I came across Rob Watts.
Rob is the front man of his self-titled band “The Rob Watts Band”. The band is based out of Barrie, Ontario, and as such, they play many shows in the surrounding area. A combination of one released single circulating on country radio, more music on the way, and a performance on the main stage at Boots and Hearts (Canada’s largest country music festival) this past summer, the Rob Watts Band is slowly making a name for themselves.
While they are primarily a country band, you can find them playing anything from Guns N’ Roses, to Niall Horan, to Blink 182 on any given night. While the band consistently brings all kinds of energy, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows when Rob performs. “Some nights you’re basically pushing people off your microphone […] and some nights there’s only six or seven people in the bar and they’re not paying attention. You might as well turn on the radio” said the lead singer.
You can sense the frustration from Rob, whose night begins long before he strums his first chord and sings his first word. I stopped by his house over an hour before he was scheduled to start, where he had already spent most of his night packing everything he needed into his Ford F-150. “I gotta start early, so I know everything is there and ready to go when I need it.” After a brief tour of his personal “shrine” of success that he’s had so far, along with the packed jam spot that you can find in his basement, Rob took us to the place where he’d perform in his fourth show of the week.
It was a rather small crowd for a Friday night, but it’s tough to predict whether or not people will show up when you book shows in advance. With the help of some friends at the bar, Rob unloaded his truck full of equipment into the bar, and began his 40 minute set up. “This is where you’ll see the real struggle” said Rob with a laugh, as he lugged his speakers, pedals and anything else he could find into his performance space.
Despite the scarce crowd, you could see the excitement on Rob’s face as he belted out hit after hit, pandering to the mostly middle aged crowd. “Before I make my setlist, I have to take a look around and see what the crowd looks like. If it looks like it does tonight, I’ll usually throw mostly older songs: Tom Petty, The Eagles, stuff like that.”
Though the crowd might not have been what he’s seen during some shows, it didn’t faze his outlook about performing. When asked what he loves most about performing, Rob told me he loves “connecting with people who are genuinely moved by my music; hearing stories of how people can relate to my words is amazing. Also, I love when people tell me stories about hearing my song at a party or on the radio.”
The touring schedule definitely keeps him busy. While the winter months are a little easier, the band typically plays “a minimum of one show per week, usually within five hours of [their] home base” but the schedule gets really crazy in the summer when, as Rob says, they “tour all across Ontario, playing as much as four shows per week.” While the schedule keeps the band busy, Rob still has to work his day job as the promotions coordinator at KICX 106 country radio to support his dream.
I asked Rob if the busy schedule causes any strain on his personal life, and he said “yes […] it definitely gets in the way of my personal life, for example I haven’t had a Saturday night off in years. Relationships suffer because you have to be so focused, and if you put anything in front of your survival, you won’t succeed, so it’s necessary. You have a very selective social circle of people who support your career and come to watch you play, buy you drinks and hang out with you between sets or after the show, but I only have about two friends that have nothing to do with my career as a musician. That’s it.”
It’s a tough life to live, but it’s the nights like the ones on the main stage at Boots and Hearts that keep Rob and the boys going. “It was a dream come true to be up there sharing the same stage as a guy like Alan Jackson. I listened to him a lot growing up, and now to be on the same stage… it’s surreal.”
It’s a profession that has a lot of return if you’re able to make it, but if you watch a guy like Rob do what he does every night, then you get a great idea of exactly how much work goes into it. These artists earn everything they get at each dive bar and small restaurant show they play. It’s not something that everyone can do, but if you want an example of the right way to do it, go check out the Rob Watts Band… You’ll see exactly what I mean.