There’s no sugarcoating it: 2020 has been truly terrible—a chef’s special of a nomadic lethal virus, global economic downturn, and eroding race relations. It’s been especially bad for working musicians, with COVID-19 pretty much erasing their largest source of income, live concerts, with no clear indication of when it might return. In spite of this, Canadian artists have been coming through in the clutch, writing and recording some truly great music that’s been getting us through the year. 

Thankfully, some companies have also risen to the occasion, helping to bring said homegrown music to our ears. Case in point: the First Up with RBCxMusic initiative, which supports emerging Canadian musicians and recording artists by shining a spotlight on them. After a successful first round earlier this year, the program is back for a second, with 27 up-and-comers along with nine alumni from Round 1 selected to participate. Each artist gets a $1,000 stipend to perform a virtual set on Instagram plus promotional support and mentorship opportunities with industry experts from The Remix Project and artist ambassadors like Ali Gatie, dvsn, and Tenille Arts. 

First Up performances kicked off November 27, and have been taking place Friday through Sunday evenings on the musicians’ Instagram channels. 

We caught up with six rising Canadian artists participating in the initiative—from across the country and spanning a wide array of genres—to ask about their origin stories, how they’ve dealt with 2020, and what the nation’s music industry really needs.