Melissa McClelland - Whitehorse
Where were you at in your music career when you had your first child? Was there much discussion about how that life choice would affect your career within the music/entertainment industry?
When I had my son Jimi it was the busiest and most exciting point in my career. My band Whitehorse toured extensively during the first three years of Jimi’s life, as we were riding the success of our Juno award winning album ‘Leave No Bridge Unburned’. It was a creatively abundant time too. That record was written and recorded while I was pregnant and the following record ‘Panther In The Dollhouse’ was made when Jimi was 2 and I was just emerging from the fog of new motherhood. Looking back now, the whole experience feels like a dream! I experienced crushing exhaustion those first few years, but I had a massive support system; my husband and bandmate Luke Doucet, countless family members who came on the road with us to help out, including my amazing step-daughter Chloë, and a great team of co-workers helping to drive the whole ship. I eventually learned how to sleep again and the chaos subsided as our little one grew and grew. He’s almost 9 now!
There was much debate leading up to pregnancy as to wether becoming a mom was the right path for me. I had plenty of people telling me that I couldn’t be a touring musician and also a mom. I was given many examples of women who had tried and failed to continue touring after having a baby. It was crushing to me that it had to be a decision between my life’s passion and the opportunity to experience motherhood. I ultimately decided that it would not be a decision and that I would set out to do both. And of course we now have countless examples of touring moms! This may not be right for everyone, but it ended up being the best path for me. Touring as a family has been a beautiful (and exhausting!) adventure. Our son has had some incredible experiences traveling the world and being surrounded by music and it’s been a wonder to see it all through his eyes.
As a working parent in the music industry, what are some of the biggest challenges you are facing?
I knew before pregnancy that I would have to be ok with embracing a non-conventional upbringing for my son. We’ve managed to strike a great balance between the peace and quiet of home time and the unpredictability of life on the road. That being said, the logistics of everything can be difficult to navigate. We often have to rely on the kindness of our village; family members who step in to help out either on the road or at home. It’s always a struggle to make sure we’re always meeting our son’s needs while moving from place to place. He needs other kids, fresh air, time to run around, and that needs to be factored into days that don’t necessarily naturally offer those opportunities. It all just takes a bit of extra thought and planning, but also a need for all of us to be adaptable.
What is one small change within the industry that could make a positive impact for working parents?
It can be an endless hustle for artists and we’re resistant to say no to anything because our livelihood depends on our ability to work hard. The industry can take advantage of this sometimes and there is an air of entitlement to our creative output. We are constantly adding to our plate and often getting squeezed out of the equation when it comes to compensation. This makes it all the more difficult while trying to raise a family. To find the ability to say no, so that we can make time to be a present and focused parent is challenging when not working within the 9-5 framework.
I think if industry members fought harder on behalf of artists to receive a bigger piece of the pie- wether through streaming revenues, management/label deals, merchandise sales, other forms of writing/creating, etc… it would help ease the struggles that working musicians experience wether they are parents or not. We need to somehow change the structure of how this functions and we need to do away with the glorification of the struggling artist. Everyone deserves to be compensated fairly for their time and work.
How do you find support and community with other working parents in or out of the music industry?
Six Shooter Records has been a huge support in our journey to parenthood. Before I even got pregnant they were assuring me that this would not affect the trajectory of our career and that they would arrange our tours so that it fully supported my needs as a new mom and the needs of our son. These words of support amongst a sea of negativity and trepidation was everything to me. Over the years they have taken the time to make sure that we are able to do what we do while remaining a healthy and happy family. No surprise, as they are a record label run by incredible women and moms!
What could a music event (festival, conference, etc.), do or provide to make it easier for you to participate?
I have found music festivals to be hugely supportive over the years. Our son is often with us for these weekends and it is always a warm environment for little ones. I think anything that can be offered backstage is always appreciated. It’s not fun to have to travel with toys and books, so if there was a backstage area that was kid friendly and provided some of these things it would definitely make life that much easier. Even some lovely volunteers who might be willing to dance side stage with a 4 year old while we play a show can come in handy! We always had a family member with us on the road, but there was one festival when Jimi was small where we ended up with no one. We improvised and figured it out, but it truly would be amazing to have some built in support systems in place at festivals. The cost of bringing someone along for the weekend can really add to our overall expenses in a significant way.
What’s one specific example of an organization/venue/company doing something great to help support working parents?
We’ve toured in Sarah McLachlan’s band for years and I was around when her two girls were small. They used to wake me up on the tour bus for a bit of play time and would always wander into my dressing room and watch me put makeup on before the show. It was inspiring to watch Sarah manage life on the road with two little ones while maintaining so much grace through it all. Sarah has always invited us to bring Jimi along on tour and he’s loved every second of it. It’s so amazing to have that kind of support from another mom who raised her kids partially on the road, albeit a superstar! I wonder if this policy of bringing your children along on tour exists as often on tours fronted by men. I really hope this becomes the norm for all touring parents. When we completely exclude the family unit from touring life, the road ultimately becomes a lonely and challenging path.