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Anna Ruddick - Unison Fund & Artist

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?

I had my first child, Leni, in 2018. At that point I was a full-time, self-employed touring and session bassist. This meant I was hired by a variety of artists for either studio sessions or tours. I relied about 50/50 on playing live and session work in the years leading up to and following Leni’s birth.

As a working musician it's important to understand the difference between yourself and birthing parents with the standard 9-5 careers before you decide to have a family. As a working musician you have no choice but to keep going during pregnancy and after your child is born, because you do not have access to the same conveniences and financial support (ie. maternity leave) as parents who are not self-employed. One of the most important steps was making sure that I would have the support of my family before becoming pregnant, as I did not yet have an interest in changing careers. It all felt possible at that time, and most of it was because I had that support.

Nothing about that time in my life as a mother was particularly “normal” or easy. I was on stage at Massey Hall with two pairs of Spanx on under my dress three weeks after giving birth to Leni, and she was born via emergency c-section followed by 5 days in the NICU. I had to make sure I could sit down at rehearsals in the weeks following her birth because a c-section is major surgery. In the months following I had to ask the artists I was working with if my infant could be backstage with a caregiver during their show/tour because I was exclusively breastfeeding, and infants must feed constantly. If the answer was no, I didn’t have a gig. I intentionally chose to work with people at that time who would be lenient with these matters. I made sure the artists I planned to continue touring with were those with whom I was relatively indispensable musically, and I spoke to them about my situation, and helped them facilitate me bringing Leni and a caregiver on tour for as little cost as possible. That often meant me not actually making money in the beginning because I was paying for plane tickets for Leni’s caregiver (my mom), but it was such a worthwhile sacrifice to keep growing my career and staying relevant while being a present mother. The optics of that activity helped my career tremendously.

As a working parent in the music industry, what are some of the biggest challenges you are facing?

One challenge as a mother was transitioning into the industry job I have now which is much less flexible than being a musician and came with a steep learning curve in personal/family administration. You would think it would make things easier as a parent to have a day job, but the truth is that literally any job requires serious strategy if you have children. When you have children, your priorities change, and you become more forward thinking. You must choose work that you absolutely NEED to do, and you’ll always figure it out. Working as a musician was more income in less time, but in recent years I developed an interest in musicians’ advocacy and during the pandemic I had time to go back to school and make a major career transition I had been seriously thinking about for a long time. I wanted sustainable, impactful work I could be proud of, and to make a difference in my community. I knew I didn’t want to sacrifice time with my family to be away anymore because I love being a parent more than anything else. Being a “hired gun” type musician is admirable, skilled labour that can be extremely rewarding, and I am so proud of that work, but options with that work can become limited for the primary caregiver in the household. This limitation is not only on your time or the types of work you can do, but it’s also financial- there is no certainty in that work, which we have learned more than ever in the past 3 years.

While I still work as a musician professionally on a more selective basis, I wanted to work for Unison because it spoke to my long-term career goals. The opportunity to work for Unison presented itself during the first semester of my postgrad at Humber in 2020 and I have not looked back. The challenges of my career change are numerous. My kids must be in full time childcare/school because I’m at work all day. I went back to work 4 months after having my last baby (Billie) and almost my entire salary went to a full-time nanny for the first 12 months. I feel that in the music industry in general you can’t step away from the game for very long, so this was a worthwhile sacrifice to keep a career that I’m passionate about moving forward. But it doesn’t make it easy or straightforward. If I didn’t have a partner now who earns more than me, I would not have been able to do what I have done. I am very lucky. The biggest challenge now is stretching my emotional and physical resources and energy over what are essentially three full-time jobs (musician, employee, parent) and not dropping the ball. I know what I am capable of, fortunately, and anyone who has given birth knows what I mean.

What is one small change within the industry that could make a positive impact for working parents?

This is entirely dependent on what job you are doing in the industry. I think this all comes back to money, and I don’t think it’s on the industry. I think the government needs to recognize that self-employed music workers have kids, and are good parents, and contribute to their communities and to the economy and deserve better resources. Maybe the industry could work to create policies around this. In terms of other industry jobs, I always say it-- people with kids, especially those that are the primary caregiving parent, are going to cause “problems” when things come up that are beyond our control. But we are hyper driven, emotionally invested, empathetic, and extremely hard working. We know how to be extraordinarily organized, fight hard for what’s important and we can see the bigger picture in almost any situation. It’s 100% worth it to hire us.

How do you find support and community with other working parents in or out of the music industry?

I keep my parent life and work life separate in my work as a musician. I don’t find that there is much overlap there in terms of interest and I have found it’s better not to bring up family life on gigs unless there are other parents there. Since diversifying my work, I have met and had great conversations with other mothers on the industry side and I think there’s a bit more of an open, inclusive conversation there. Most of us have the same struggle of keeping those parts of our life under wraps so that our work can shine. But when it comes to my public facing social media, etc., I am always posting about my kids, or parenting stuff, almost equal to posts about my work as a bass player and my work with Unison. As an advocate for other musicians, parents, etc. I want to show people that being a parent is not a detriment to our personal autonomy or our career. But that doesn’t mean we bring it all to work with us.

What’s one specific example of an organization/venue/company doing something great to help support working parents?

Folk Music Ontario- I spoke at their conference last year. I brought my whole family. They keep their programming reasonably early; they had tons of parents there and there were meaningful conversations and panels about work/life balance and holistic wellness for music workers where people could really discuss this subject and the challenges they were facing. It was so comfortable to both do my work and be a parent with small kids in that environment. I love when there are opportunities for my family to see what I do for work and at FMO having them there didn’t feel distracting or unusual.  Leni loved seeing the live showcases of artists her mummy had recorded with in the studio in the past year. 

What could a music event (festival, conference, etc.), do or provide to make it easier for you to participate?

I don’t have a good suggestion for this because I do believe it’s up to parents to make things work for themselves if they decide to have kids. But I would say with 100% certainty- if I brought my babies to places like Hillside or Winnipeg Folk Fest, I would have no problem finding a nice volunteer to take care of them while I’m on stage if I was in a bind. Canadian festivals always make parents feel supported. There’s always somewhere to breastfeed, there’s always a kid’s area. There is a real sense of generational community in Canadian music and that includes music lovers not just music workers. I am so proud to work in the Canadian music industry and experience how we all work together to make this a better more sustainable place to exist and grow our careers.

Can you shout out another music mama doing great things? 

I will give a special nod to Rosalyn Dennett who I am extremely impressed by. She is the executive director of Folk Music Ontario, a touring and session musician and absolute advocate for music workers all while being a mother. I think her work is helping to change how people like us (“music mamas”, if you will) are perceived, and that’s one of my goals too.

Hear Anna Ruddick HERE