Marc Merilainen

Songs to Live By: Marc Merilainen Creates New Harmony in the Music Industry

“I try to let life flow as it happens. The universe has a plan, and I'm just along for the ride,” Marc Merilainen shares. Born in Lynn Lake, Manitoba, he grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario and moved at 19 to study music industry arts in London, Ontario. Eventually, he ended up in Toronto, which he calls “the center of the music universe” in Canada, where music companies, record labels, management companies, distribution services, PR companies and other related services are based. He lives where he finds it easier to find work and make things happen.  

As a musician, he sings and plays the guitar, piano, bass, drums, and cannula (a Finnish instrument). Over the years, he’s seen the music industry change, with musicians needing a broader skillset.

 “You have to basically know how to do everything, not just the technical skill behind music and playing the instrument. But also, there's another aspect to do with technology, and how to record that into your computer and get that on the internet and so forth and so on,” he explains.

He grew up surrounded by music, exposed to cultural music at ceremonies and powwows and listened to classic rock on the radio. Influenced by both, he chose a music career. He took a year off after high school to work, save money and decide what he wanted to do. 

Merilainen went to the library to review university and college course calendars, researching his options for weeks until he found the highly competitive school he attended. As one of just thirty students admitted that year, he learned to read and write music and train his ear and the business aspects of the music industry. 

From contracts, legal terminology, and common traps that exploit artists, he learned to navigate the agreements that underpin a complex industry. He explored technical engineering, too, learning how to use a mixer, effects, and how to mix a song. 

Those two years gave him the skills and confidence to chase his dreams, though the scarcity of resources, finances, knowledge or opportunity challenged him. With 100,000 songs released daily, standing out as a musician is difficult. The experience of leaving home to go to school can be intimidating and overwhelming, too. He suggests making friends in the program you can study with, joining school clubs to spend time with people who share your interests and building a career network with friendships for the future.

Illustration by Shaikara David

If he could advise his younger self he would suggest ignoring self-doubt and staying the course. Imposter syndrome plagued him. He needed persistence and practice to master skills and build expertise. Even after thirty years in the industry, he practices songwriting daily to keep his mind active, stay young, motivated and continue moving forward. 

To manage his mental health, he walks in the morning to start his day in nature. He gave up caffeine and finds focus in his time with Mother Earth. Meditating when he can helps manage his blood pressure and reduces his worries. His mindfulness practice has helped him develop patience, slowed his temper and reduced his judgement of others. Running a record label, managing several artists, touring and performing in a project called NADJIWAN, he had to learn how to relax. 

When he needs inspiration, he looks to the sounds of nature and the up-and-coming artists he meets and mentors. Having all these experiences to workshop material, living vicariously through new talent, and even hearing birds singing all bring new creations that will come together when things slow down enough for him to tinker. 

To pay forward that inspiration, Merilainen says, “Keep doing what you're doing. Persistence is the key. Eventually, if you keep showing up, if you keep doing the thing that you're doing, people will notice. You just have to hang out long enough … Usually, people have naysayers, they have haters, they have people who try to bring them down. Don't listen to those people. Those people have their own issues that perhaps you can help them with. Maybe they tried something and they failed, and maybe it didn't work out and they want the same fate for you. Remember if you do fail: keep trying again. Just pick yourself up, get yourself back on the horse, on the bike or whatever you're trying to do and keep doing it again. Repetition, repetition, repetition, persistence, that is what will eventually let you achieve the goal. Just keep at it.”

He tries to let life flow as it happens, knowing the universe has a plan, and he’s just along for the ride. Marc Merilainen has been building the soundtrack of a musical career for himself and lending his expertise to help others craft their own. Working from a place of collaboration rather than competition, trying to stand out in a crowded market, he finds harmony and peace where he can. With a love of music that follows him wherever he goes, his voice as an Indigenous artist reverberates across an industry that yearns for a new song. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    January 23, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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