Pembroke, ON - 2002: At eight years old, Jason McEwen started playing the guitar. Now at twenty-two, McEwen has a new name, a lot of influential musical friends, and a career that is about to take off.
The Algonquin College Business Program graduate recently won Project Discovery 2002, a nation-wide search for new Canadian country-music talent.It could result in the big break that will lift McEwen into a spotlight that few Canadian musicians get a chance to be part of .
"I really think my career is starting to roll and it will go as far as the country music fans will take it," says McEwen, who is also sporting a new stage name as Jason Blaine. He chose that name for two reasons. Firstly, to avoid confusion. McEwen and his manager felt his name was too close to 2001 Male Vocalist of the Year, Jason McCoy, another Canadian country artist who has made it on the music charts. Secondly, the name change is a tribute to his father. "My dad is primarily responsible for getting me hooked on music. His name is Blaine, my second name is Blaine, and now my stage name is Blaine."
Winning Project Discovery 2002 was not a small feat. The contest, which begins with a cross-Canada search for talent, was launched by several Country music radio stations. Amateur musicians were invited to send in tapes of their music. The radio stations then chose a handful of qualifiers from the more than 1,500 applicants. What followed was a series of competitions which were judged by music industry professionals. In the end, it came down to six finalists who competed against each other at "Cowboys" Bar in Calgary, Alberta. Representing Ontario, McEwen was chosen as the overall winner. As a result, he is now working on a new video for one of his songs under the leadership of Joel Stewart, who has produced music videos for Canadian country-music stars Terri Clark and Paul Brandt. The video will be aired on CMT (Country Music Television) which is readily available to cable and satellite subscribers across Canada.
The prize also includes a radio single, an hour-long documentary special on CMT, $10,000 cash, and the chance to spend a week in Nashville working with some of the top songwriters in Music City U.S.A. One of those songwriters is expected to be Canada's Paul Brandt who, with his boyish look and song writing ability, has captured the attention of Country music fans on both sides of the border.
For the past two years, McEwen has been getting connected with some of the key players in the Canadian country music business. The Pembroke native now calls Kitchener home and is being managed by Beth Warren, the wife of another Canadian artist, Jamie Warren. He has played guitar and sung harmony in John Landry's band which gave him the opportunity to open for other Country music legends such as Ronnie Milsap. It has also provided him with the chance to see North America - he has played in Las Vegas, Sacramento and Tuscon, as well as in several Canadian cities. "I plan on writing a lot more songs this year, but playing with other bands has allowed me to pay the bills and keep my focus on music," says McEwen.
His goal has always been to be a musician, but he eventually realized he needed an education to support his ambition. He credits his decision to enrol in the Business Program at the Pembroke Campus of Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley as helping to bring him this far in the music business. "Anyone who has tried to start their own business knows what a difficult road it can be. You have to be really committed. Taking the Business Program has really helped me, particularly with giving me the encouragement and confidence to fulfill my dream. The program focuses on entrepreneurship, and that's what I'm doing," says McEwen. He adds that some of his friends at Algonquin may even find their way into his song lyrics, but only time will tell.
McEwen, who graduated from Algonquin in 2000, continues to put the business skills he was taught to good use. He is now working on a business and marketing plan to present to The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Record (FACTOR), which provides support to Canadian musicians, both new and established.
Over the years, McEwen has played in hundreds of hotels and dance halls across Canada. He says he'll never forgot his Ottawa Valley roots and he hopes the Valley will never forget him. "My music is all about real people," and many of those people are from the Ottawa Valley where McEwen hopes to do a homecoming concert in the next few months. Hopefully, it will be after he has a new music video and songs being played on CMT and country music radio stations across North America.