Elana Harte, second from right, performs with Stiletto Flats at The Old Nick. 'You go into music because you love it, because you want to play 25 hours a day,' Harte says.

Country, blues singer’s passion pay off in Toronto’s tough music biz

It’s a cold February night when Elana Harte walks on stage at The Old Nick.

It might be just a small hole-in-the-wall pub on The Danforth, but it’s a regular home and an opportunity to make ends meet for many in Toronto’s live music scene.

“It’s difficult to make money in this city if you are a musician,” said Harte, a blues and country singer. “If you don’t make any money making art then you’re starving.

“Those of us who want to make a living, it’s intense but it’s doable. I play in a trio and a duo, I do some production and I do some recording, I even run a choir part-time.”

Harte’s hard work is bearing fruit. With four albums behind her, her music has reached international ears, reaching the blues and country charts in Belgium, France and Ireland.

Attaining that success as a vocalist wasn’t always sure thing, Harte said.

“I’ve been singing for thirty-odd years now [but] I was such a horrid singer when I first started. I had no tone. I was nasally,” she said. “I was terrible.”

But she was determined to sing, she said, so she persevered.

“I would practice for hours a day to try to get a voice,” Harte said. “I really started to work at it.”

Honing a singing voice is no small feat, said choirmaster Rosemary Flynn, who works at developing youth voices.

“If you have a good ear you can learn to mimic the notes you hear, but it takes a significant amount of time,” Flynn said. “Improving your range, for instance, that’s like strengthening a muscle. You need to exercise it constantly.”

The artists that put that kind of effort into their music add life to the city, Toronto Sun music columnist and local music analyst Errol Nazareth said.

“I’ve been following the local music scene for almost 20 years,” he said. “There are so many amazing musicians in this city from different genres… They rarely get the love and credit in newspapers and media.”

But Nazareth sees signs that that’s changing, he said.

“We all know that Toronto’s a film destination now with TIFF as big as it is, but there’s a real sincere, strong effort to make Toronto a music city like Austin, Texas,” Nazareth said.

Back at The Old Nick, Harte’s performance adds to the strength of that effort.

“You go into music because you love it, because you want to play 25 hours a day,” said Harte. “It thrills you from your feet up.”