CM Does CMW 2014Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
Longtime and prolific Canadian Musician contributor Kevin Young was out and about during Canadian Music Week 2014 in Toronto, taking in panels by day and showcases by night. Here’s what he took away from the fest.
Without a doubt, the star of CMW 2014 was the weather. Given the unholy, soul destroying winter we had and the unreasonably late spring, which seems to only have started a week or so ago, the choice by the organizers to move the festival to May seems prescient.
Maybe it was that, or maybe not, but after reconnecting with some of the folks I’ve worked with very closely over time but hadn’t seen for some 10 years, they seemed more hopeful than ever.
The bottom line may have changed for a lot of us, musicians and industry professionals alike, over the past decade and change, but at the core, the reason we all got into this in the first place was a passion for music. If you’ve stuck it out, regardless of what you do in the business, it’s a good bet your gig has changed substantially over the years.
That said, whether you’ve stuck it out, or are just getting in music, the necessity of being open to changes in the industry and a willingness to adapt is key to staying in the game.
One thing hasn’t changed. I’m sure that there’s some quotation from classical literature that may be more glossy, but me, I’m going to quote one of the grandmasters of Sci-fi, Robert A. Heinlein: “TINSTAAFL,” an acronym for, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” And truer words were never spoken.
Every artist and industry person who expressed interest in each other’s work for some reason this past week were talking about an exchange of services. And when that’s the deal, you gravitate to people who not only share your vision, but, if necessary, are willing to tell you that your vision needs a bit of work, candidly and without reservation.
Let’s face facts. The lion’s share of performers at CMW 2014 won’t make a living in music. Those who will possess a set of rare qualities: raw talent, finely honed chops as performers and songwriters, and that intangible ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before’ kind of presence that sets them apart.
Happily, over the course of CMW 2014, I saw a number of artists who fit that bill…
Fortunate Ones, an understated folk/country duo with beautiful harmonies that played to an audience of mostly industry people in a far less than packed room, but you could hear a pin drop during they’re set because they were that good.
Maylee Todd at the Horseshoe – How can you go wrong with old time soul with a modern twist? Great set.
Good for Grapes, who played the CBC Music stage in the bar at the Marriott on Saturday afternoon and killed it.
But the standouts of the entire festival, for me, were two very different acts, both playing showcases with geographically specific lineups.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard at the Horseshoe’s Aussie BBQ. I went to see them because the name intrigued me. But everyone I’d told that I was going had nothing but great things to say about them, and for good reason. Picture a seven piece band featuring two smoking drummers who just never let up – a noisy, raw, ripping good time.
Then there’s Kim Harris, originally from NFLD, who took the stage at the Rivoli’s Nova Scotia Music Tiki Lounge at 6 pm as the first act on the bill. Big voice and no fear. While she only played a few songs, her set remains the most memorable of CMW for me – the kind of performance that prompts you to buy the album right after the show.
To my mind, Harris possesses all the qualities you need to succeed in music: great songs, killer voice, presence out the wazoo. I can’t speak for them, but, personally, I believe she’s the kind of talent described by CMW’s Producer’s Panel (which featured panelists like Gavin Brown, Jim Diamond, and Richard Chycki) when they were talking about what attracts them to a project.
When asked, “What would prompt them to work with any given artist?” the answer across the board on that stage was, first, “Great songs.”
What makes a great song? It’s subjective. There are multitudes of factors that play into that. But if you have passion, chops and presence, if you’re open to what others have to say and willing to learn, if you have the ability to back up whatever you do in the studio live, you’ve got a better shot at getting someone’s attention, whether they’re a producer, label exec or random audience member.