By Ryan David Butt
Special to The Western Star
Jon Pike has had a banner year, and he’s looking forward to many more like it.
For Pike, a native of Steady Brook, the last 12 months have seen releases of several of his own singles such as “In The Wild” and “All My Friends” to name a couple, as well as long days writing songs for other artists.
He also opened for Nelly in St. John’s in March and more recently spent some time kicking off shows for Haligonian Ria Mae during the Atlantic portion of her cross-Canada tour. His songs have been featured on multiple Canadian “new music” playlists on Spotify, and on the 23rd of November he dropped a digital EP titled “Think About You”.
To close out 2018 he’ll be coming home to headline gigs in Marystown, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Stephenville and Corner Brook at the Bar Room.
These sorts of high profile appearances haven’t come easy. To Jon — also known as Brdgs — they’re the culmination of several days’ travel, or hours spent in the basement of his Toronto home finding the perfect lyric to match an ideal beat. Performing is fun, he says, but he’s not taking success for granted.
He’s working hard to diversify his revenue streams with some writing, some producing, and of course the occasional stage gig for good measure. Now, he’s seeing the rewards for his effort. With all of the songs on “Think About You” combined, Brdgs has had around 175,000 spins on Spotify.
That may not be a huge number compared to some of the biggest artists today, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“Every one of those spins is someone listening to my song,” he says.
He’s aware of a prejudice against pop music, where critics might call the genre repetitive or derivative.
“I mean, people are always gonna talk”, he laughs. “That’s always been the discussion”, he says about music which was similarly criticized 20 years ago. “Good quality stuff — pop music, or just music in general — only the good stuff is what’s going to last.”
But, he says, “Some of the music out there right now, I would agree, is pretty substance-less. Though I would say there is room for “empty” pop music that is fun to listen to.”
He says there is value for everything when it comes to dancing in clubs, or simply grooving at home. He doesn’t agree with the idea that it’s all sugar for the ears.
“I would encourage those people to just listen a little closer.” He says there is a lot of really good pop music coming out.
So many of the artists and engineers and producers get into music today, he says, because they’re obsessed with making things sound good. Especially for the right song to connect with someone out in the world.
Plus, behind every track is a hustle for which Pike has a real passion. He spends hours writing, often alone, which is followed by even more hours of collaboration in a studio with engineers and producers. Sometimes a song is assembled in a day, developed in a boiler-pot process where only the strongest concepts survive and the weakest are quickly discarded. It’s this team environment where Pike finds he thrives, finding reward in the process, sometimes to the cost of his personal life.
It’s not all glamour in the pop world. In order to promote a song, he often spends weeks networking on the road with radio stations across the country in order to get air time. The constant travel can be draining, he admits. When he’s not moving around, he’s at home — in the basement studio — searching his mind and soul for the next hit. He’s not currently dating anyone.
“It is restrictive to the amount of time you have to do things other than music.” he admits. “In my experience — I can’t speak for every musician. Lots of musicians are out (in Toronto) who have very fulfilling relationships or have found ways to balance the romantic side of their personal life as well as competing in music.”
But for Pike, life leans towards music and involves 12- or 16-hour days working in his studio.
With success comes another toll. When asked about any lessons he’s learned throughout the whirlwind journeys of 2018, he lays it down frankly: Taking care of his mental health needs to be a priority.
“I was dealing with some pretty serious, I’ll say, mental health issues that definitely distorted my view of the past year and didn’t make what I was trying to do career-wise any easier." says Pike. "So, there’s lots of lessons I learned in treating yourself well and trying to make sure that you regulate, as much as you can, your own mental state. Keep yourself from going off the deep end too often. And that’s very hard to do when you’re trying something really difficult, like being a pop singer.”
He says it could be dangerous when left unchecked, and if he could give any advice to aspiring artists, it would be to communicate often and loudly about their mental health.
Despite this, he is feeling good now and hasn’t lost an ounce of steam. He draws inspiration from the immense support he’s gotten from Newfoundland and Labrador fans, as well as the rest of the country and his online public. There is indeed a Brdgs fan club on Facebook. He’s also looking towards the future. For him, the performance is fun but it’s not the end-game. Pike has made a point of trying his hand at any part of a song’s creation in order to keep himself competitive in the industry and cultivate more options while he grows as an artist.
Within the next month, though, he’s looking forward to coming home — his first Christmas in the province for a long time.
Born in Nova Scotia, he moved to Steady Brook when he was very young.
“I got the best of both worlds," he says. He’s always grown up with music and performing. Locals in Corner Brook might remember him from a production of Godspell, back in the day.
Some younger folks might know him from his time performing with the band RocketRocketShip or alongside Gordon Huxter in their duo Everglow. Now he’s living in Toronto and going it alone as Brdgs.
The pop process
Creating a pop song is a fast paced, merciless process. Only the strongest survive.
“I’ve written about 400 since I came to Toronto”, says Pike. He goes on to explain everyone involved wants to make a good product and bring value to even casual listeners.
“There’s a lot of heavily produced stuff out there because we can. We can make things sound better. So, why wouldn’t we want to do that?”
Here’s what it looks like behind the scenes:
A pop song can come together in a day, or a couple days. Pike says it’s different every time, depending on the song.
You’ll bring together a group of people. Generally speaking, two or three Top Liners (song-writers) who handle lyrics and melody.
You’ll also have a producer. From the first moment a song is considered, top liners and producers get into a room and the producer builds a track, which is the instrumental, as the song is being written. They’re creating the whole thing as they’re going. These sessions can go anywhere from a couple hours to a whole day. By the end of the day there’s a solid demo, because you can get good sounds pretty quickly in today’s age.
If an artist (singer) is in the room, maybe as a songwriter, they can lend their vocals to the initial mix. Or, a song could be sent to an artist for whom it fits. If this is the case, they’ll work to add their voice, which sometimes involves a producer of their own.
From here, the sound engineer dives in for finishing touches.
If at any point a song starts to feel weak, it’s gone to make way for another one. According to Pike, out of a hundred songs that go through the initial process, only a handful make it through. The rest likely end up sitting on a hard drive.
Once everything is refined, it goes out to radio stations. The process of promoting it and getting substantial airplay is something else altogether.
One thing Pike stresses is the important of securing multiple sources of income and developing a wide array of skills to keep himself competitive in the market. What seems to bring the money home, though, is touring and writing. One song you might have heard from Brdgs —aside from his own — is “WOW”, which he wrote for Victoria Duffield. It currently has 1.2 million spins on Spotify.