Matt Masters: A Gentleman of the Rodeo
You may have the strongest intentions to become something – say, a doctor, or a lawyer. You may want to become a history professor, and study the past for the rest of your life; you may hate country music; you may want to tour as an honorary member of the Flaming Lips. “What you want to be and who you turn out to be can be very different” – for some, this statement can be terrifying; all those history classes struggled through, and they aren’t even worth it? But for some, this idea can be an invitation to the ambiguous, the unknown.
Matt Burgener attended Brentwood from ’89 to ’91 (to this day, he is still a loyal Rogers boy: “Anything you’d like me to include in the article?”, “Rogers Rules”), and the person he turned out to be, after graduating high school and university, doesn’t even share the same last name. Type in “Matt Masters” on the search bar and you find, not a Brentwood student, not a touring member of the Flaming Lips and certainly not a historian, but a well known Canadian Country artist and songwriter. However, Matt Masters once was, or had every intention of being, all three before ultimately becoming what he never expected he would.
On November 10th, Matt arrived at his old high school not only to put on a good show and sing a couple of his songs, but to spread this concept in what turned out to be a one-man careers day of sorts. The job description given, that of a working Canadian artist, is one rarely heard among the doctors and lawyers at conventional career days – something that should be rectified, as the career choice of singer, songwriter and touring artist is an inviting possibility, as is proven by Matt’s resume so far.
And an impressive resume it is: what started as a degree in the History of Science and a penchant for playing the guitar with his college friends slowly developed into the self-made career path Matt follows today. He started slowly, and when gigs for his band didn’t come, they created their own gigs, building a stage in the back yard and playing at local parties and events. Even now, after performances during the intermission of the Calgary Flames, a couple of albums, a musical play, the Telus Arts Award for Artistic Innovation and songs featured on TV and in movies, making his own opportunities is a huge part of his success. “There’s no scouting process, you have to build your own job”, he says, before relaying stories of calling venue after venue in search for gigs. Grant writing, a venture that is aided by his history degree skills in essay writing, is important in the business of a self-supported artist – being able to persuade someone to support your music and propagate your artistic ideas. “There isn’t a big secret” Matt says, when asked about success, “you just have to stick at it”.
He shared with us some of his stories (among others, being the “first country band to perform in Qatar…ever”) before going deeper into what a career as a working artist is like. Matt admits, as a school audience, we are a little different than the grade four students he teaches Alberta Music History to. We are an attentive auditorium, mostly filled with music students who are considering, or have already taken steps towards, a career in music – and what he has to say is well received.
“As a musician, you get invited into the best part of people’s days”. Being a working musician, it isn’t your job to see people when they’re irritated and unhealthy, as it is a doctor’s, or irritated and ready to sue someone, like a lawyer’s. As a musician, you are the entertainment, usually at weddings, parties, and festivals; everyone is always happy when you arrive. “Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like a job, just playing music for friendly people”. Along with the fact that you get paid to do what you love, the friends and community that accumulates around you are almost unparalleled in any other field. Matt says, several times, if “you take care of your friends, you take care of the community that takes care of you, you never know where you’re going to find open doors”. This point is proven when he tells the story of his long – prolonged – travels to reach us on Vancouver Island, culminating in a missed ferry and a cup of coffee with the woman working in the café at the Brentwood Ferry – an old friend, a part of his community.
Although the downsides do exist (missed ferries, long days of travel, stretches of time away from his wife, expecting their first child this November) Matt says the career choice is ultimately worth it. “It’s not an easy way, but it is a totally possible one” he says, in the welcomed voice of a working artist, much needed amidst all the doctors, lawyers and historians out there.
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