It’s that time of year again. I’ll be packing up shop once again and heading down to NXNE in Toronto this week to cover the festival. There are plenty of Ottawa bands playing this year, including some of our local faves. Don’t forget to tune in later this week to see what’s going on in the big city! Check out the bands below:
It’s that time of year when summer festival announcements begin pouring out the yin yang, and today NXNE announced its second wave of artists for the June 13-22 festival in Toronto.
First Round: includes St. Vincent, Danny Brown, Run the Jewels, Juicy J, Mac DeMarco, Rhye, Omar Souleyman, Speedy Ortiz, Odonis Odonis, Courtney Barnett, Mas Ysa, the Golden Dogs, the Cliks, and Paradise Animals, and more.
Second Round: includes Spoon, Sleigh Bells, Spiritualized, Swans, A$AP Ferg, tUnE-yArDs, METZ, Ryan Hemsworth, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, the Pizza Underground, Fuck Buttons, Low, Small Black, Eagulls, Perfect Pussy, the Barr Brothers, Le1f, Swearin’, Glasser, Alvvays, Saint Rich, Ratking, Mutual Benefit, Juan Wauters, Kelela, and more.
For more wristband and ticket information, see here. Before you know it June will be upon us, and we’ll be seeing you there!
We’ve compiled some information, with the help of our friends at MusicOntario, in order to help artists navigate some of the things happening right now in the music industry. If you have never heard of MusicOntario, here’s how they describe themselves:
MusicOntario delivers a number of events and services throughout the year, available to anyone involved within the music industry in the province. Our focus is on industry education, professional development, resources, information, and support, all with the goal of helping artists and industry in Ontario reach their professional, creative, and personal goals.
To receive updates from MusicOntario, click here. To join MusicOntario, click here.
Once in a while, a bill pops up on the calendar and makes you do a double take. “$10 for all of this? That can’t be right!” It’s like finding one of your favourite records that you’ve been looking for for ages, and then finding one in perfect condition at Value Village. So it went, leading up to the night of Nov. 21. A few artists I had come to really love, Dusted and The Elwins, managed to somehow meet and decide that they want to play music together in the same night at Ritual in Ottawa. Needless to say, no twisting of my arm was required.
As the days have passed since a fast-paced NXNE festival drew to a close, it’s time to revisit some of the bands that helped make the festival experience as good as it was. I had the chance to sit down with several groups from all over the country, and even one from Wales, U.K., to talk a bit about who they are and what they’re all about. It was my own little NXNE Interactive, where I huddled close to the band members (which isn’t easy for a 6’4″ dude) on a small bench at the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown Toronto. The first artist I spoke to was Miesha Louie of the 2-piece garage-rock outfit Miesha & the Spanks, of Calgary, AB.
Miesha & the Spanks. PHOTO: Ryan Kostel, FFWD Weekly.
Interview by Matìas Muñoz
Transcribed by Joseph Mathieu
Miesha & the Spanks
Matìas Muñoz: Hello! So, tell me a little about yourself.
Miesha Louie: We’re called Miesha & the Spanks, we’re a two-piece garagerock band from Calgary and we have a new record coming out this month. We like to tour a lot and though we didn’t get to much in 2012 hopefully with the new record we’ll be doing more in the fall and spring. We’re pretty much just kids who like to play rock and roll.
MM:How long have you been around for?
ML: I’ve been playing for about 15 years in you count crappy high school punk bands. I’ve had this project for about five years and before that I usually just sang, fronting different rock and punk bands. It’s a huge difference from when we started five years ago—I was writing for my acoustic guitar more, a much more country feel.
MM: You mentioned that you like touring a lot and you guys have been on the road, where have you toured and what’s your favourite stop been so far?
ML: We’ve done coast to coast. Pretty frequently we’ll fly to Toronto a lot, being just the two of us it’s pretty easy. We’ll rent a van and do Halifax and back, or even just Ontario. I think my favourite is Halifax though. That is such a great place. It’s got a real small town scene, like Calgary does. Everybody knows everybody, they all go out to the shows and all want to party. We were there for Halifax Pop in October and it was amazing.
MM: What got you into this and what keeps you going?
ML: I think my parents bought me a guitar to keep me out of trouble when I was 13, and I kinda just fell into music. We started doing punk shows in our community hall, and my exposure to music was Calgary bands that came down to our small town to play, like Knucklehead and Belvedere. Even now, I’m more influenced by bands I meet on tour than by any big records. I just see people doing what I want to do, and it makes me want to do it even more!
MM: Have you had any opportunities to get to know these bands you meet on tour, or is it fleeting?
ML: Usually it’s common that we tour at the same time as the same bands and so cross paths on a three-week tour. Any given bill’s got like three bands on it, so you usually end up meeting them often. It’s really cool, that community of bands, especially in Canada and we always make contacts from different cities than the one we’re actually in.
MM: Please describe Calgary’s music scene for us.
ML: Everybody knows each other. There are really five main venues in town, everyone bikes around to show, drinks beer by the river—it’s totally a small town feel. And you wouldn’t know it, when you first move to Calgary! You just gotta go to the right show and then you know everybody. It’s just fun: beers, rock shows, bikes, sunshine.
MM: Tell us about your album coming out soon.
ML: It’s called Girls, Like Wolves. We recorded it in October, actually right before we went to Halifax Pop. We packed up the studio, which was in a cabin in the Kananaskis, and flew right to Halifax. So pretty much in the Rockies on a lake for six nights. And we could because our engineer has this big CBC studio truck that powered everything we needed. We devoted all our time to make a track, then slept or made some chili or something, and went back to recording. It was really cool. (the end)
Miesha & the Spanks playing at the Audio Blood Plegendary Summer Rager party on Friday, June 14, 2013. PHOTO: Sebastian Buzzalino, beatroute.ca
One of the great things about large-scale festivals like North By Northeast is that it’s not just about live music. It’s about keeping the independent music industry alive and well in our country, from coast to coast. On Thursday, June 13, I was able to sit down with bands from all over, from Winnipeg to Wales, and speak to them about their experiences getting to where they are now (those pieces are on their way). But one of the highlights for me was attending a NXNE panel discussion on music industry entrepreneurship hosted by Executive Director of MusicOntario Scott Honsberger. I have a lot of respect for Scott and what he is doing to help not only musicians, but people in all corners of the music industry here in Ontario.
The panel included Scott as the moderator, PledgeMusic founder Benji Rogers, small business guru Katherine Roos from the City of Toronto, and Derrick Fung, founder of tunezy.com.
The panel began with an interesting discussion on what it actually means to work for yourself, whether in business or as an artist. Benji offered his view that people who want to go down their own path need to stop thinking like “entrepreneurs”, and start thinking more like a business. His point was well thought out, as he explained the differences between just going with a gut feeling that entrepreneurs often do, and actually approaching your craft (whatever it may be) from a business standpoint. Can you balance your books? How are you putting gas in the tank? Benji’s career as a musician certainly helped him define his view as he’s seen the challenges on both the artist and business sides of the music industry.
One interesting point that was raised was whether streaming was a good idea for musicians. As an artist struggling to get your music heard and make money, do you put your work online for free so more people can access it? Or do you charge and make some profit, but risk your music never being heard by the masses? Daft Punk and Adele have rejected the idea of streaming music for free, and it works for them. But, then again, they don’t need any help getting their music out there, nor do they face the same kind of issues musicians hoping to break out do.
Derrick brought up an interesting analogy. He compared starting a business like jumping off a cliff while trying to build an airplane on the way down (yes, he emphasized the ‘jumping’ part, as it is an intentional venture). Maybe this was a little extreme, but the analogy works well to demonstrate his point. In order for an airplane to safely fly in the air, there needs to be trained pilots (company founders), the wings (company founders), fuel in the tank (cash/revenue streams), maintenance people (your team), and people to fill the seats (customers). If these things don’t come together, the risk of your business failing is higher. Pretty simple.
Benji chimed in with his idea, that there’s two ways to start a business: First, the methodological approach, which sees the founders taking every precaution before startup to ensure the time is right and that the company is poised for success. Second, the JFDI approach, which is self explanatory: “just fucking do it”.
Katherine also had some interesting points. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes. One needs to measure the goals of the business against the owner’s objectives. That is to say, no one approach is ideal, as it all depends on the owner’s end goals. She drew the parallel between artists and small business owners, and proposed that true entrepreneurs are excellent risk mitigators. This is true for artists as well, as calculation of risk is part of the process of achieving a certain level of success – whatever your definition of success is. What decisions do I need to make in order to have a lasting career? Who is my audience, and how do I monetize what I’m doing? Counting receipts on the road, for example, might just be the difference between breaking even or ending up short and paying for gas out of artist’s pocket.
Scott Honsberger (left), Benji Rogers, Derrick Fung, Katherine Roos
Benji also brought up a helpful analogy about realizing goals. It’s really important to imagine the end product, because without having an idea of what it is you’re trying to do, it is much easier to go astray. Imagine the Empire State Building. Someone imagined what it would look like before it was built, an idea of the overall product after everything is done. It all has to come together, but other people need to be involved in building it. At one point the person creating needs to believe that the world will be better off with his or her product (or song, or album) in it. It’s a matter of attracting the right people, and getting the right people on your team.
Knowledge sharing is crucial, no one knows everything – especially as a startup. Knowing your industry is important, but getting people on your team that are specialists at management, finance, social media, or whatever piece of the puzzle may be. Asking questions about aspects of your business only helps one learn the intricacies of the company’s operations or structure. One can’t be expected to know everything about an industry or market right off the bat, but adapting and learning are ongoing processes.
Another concept that was discussed was “pivoting”. Pivoting is a point in a company’s life cycle where a significant and deliberate change in the business approach takes place, potentially opening up a range of new possibilities. Startups often do this when their idea is established in the form of an operational business, but not gaining traction. Obviously, in order to pivot properly, decision-makers must be connected with their consumers so as to get important feedback from the marketplace in which they operate. Sometimes the questions that must be asked are simple: how do I monetize what I’m doing? Do I know my market well enough?
Things wrapped up with a brief discussion about building the right team, whether in your business or as an artist with those around you. The old cliché that team must be bigger than the sum of its parts works in the case of startups (and artists), because the people who a new entrepreneur surrounds themselves with really dictate how things get done. Get the best on board, and the best results can be expected.
I found the discussion very interesting and helpful, especially being someone who has an interest in leaning more about the music industry and business side of how things work. Scott Honsberger did a great job moderating the discussion, timing his interjections well and ensuring the topics flowed. However, time did seem to fly by and I thought there would be more discussion pertaining to artists as entrepreneurs and selling their product as a way to make a living. There were times where the panel touched on this, and Katherine in particular kept bringing the artists back into the fold when speaking. Of course, I didn’t expect the discussion to be centred around artists as entrepreneurs, but even some more questions or feedback from artists in the audience would have rounded things off. Minus a bogus audience question about EDM (electronic dance music) which chewed up time, the panel was succinct in their points, and more than happy to share their words of wisdom to us. NXNE Interactive is a necessary component to the festival, as the dissemination of knowledge can inspire new creativity and give direction to those needing some direction. Thanks to Scott and all the panelists for giving us newbies to the business side of the music industry some food for thought!
With the recent release of their brand new EP Inferior Ghost, Toronto’s Papermapshave proven themselves as one of the city’s premier up and coming acts. Personally, the 6-track album left me wanting more and should prove to be a taste of things to come when a sophomore full-length release comes to fruition. We were treated to a couple of sample tracks on their Bandcamp leading up to the August 28th release date (which were fitting precursors to what the rest of the songs offered), but for me the EP really stood out because of the final track called ‘Reaction Formation’. Marino’s vocals bust into the chorus beautifully as the band takes us on a ride that includes intervals of soft and thunderous percussion and great instrumentation. It’s a perfect ending to a successful EP, and a song that I’ve blared many times for my wonderful neighbours to enjoy (no complaints yet). I always try and gauge how I feel after listening to an album, and with Inferior Ghost the first thing that came to mind was that this band really has an identity, a true sound. Not that they didn’t before, but this album really solidified it.
Leading up to the CD release party that happened at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on August 28th, the band embarked on a 3,000 + kilometre Canadian mini-tour that was filled with excitement and some overnight stretches of highway that probably seemed never-ending. They were also one man down, as synth/guitarist Todd Harrison stayed back (partially because of personal commitments and partially because the van rental company screwed up and gave them one that was a little bit too small). However, when Papermaps hit Zaphod’s on August 17th the rest of the band filled in nicely as they played a stellar set in front of a smaller than expected crowd. This only made things more intimate, however embarrassing it may be that Ottawa folk in the Byward Market are hard-come by to walk in off the street to see a good show.
The set included some staples from their debut album, the most recognizable being ‘Reunion’ which sounded even more catchy live as well as most of the new tracks from Inferior Ghost. Despite the smaller turnout and road weariness, the band still put on an energetic show that could have easily gotten a full house riled up. They were supposed to play with Amos the Transparent the night before but had to change plans due to scheduling conflicts, which I also attended.
At the end of the night, I stuck around with the band for drinks at Zaphod’s and got to know them. All I can say is that I made some new friends that night, a great group of people were a pleasure to see perform and get to know. I actually felt really bad that the turnout hadn’t been what was expected, and almost (inexplicably) at fault. I assured them that Ottawa has a unique music culture that, if you’re a smaller band from out of town, needs to be cultivated. Although Ottawans may not walk off the street into Zaphod’s, Papermaps is a band that so many people would love seeing live. They said they’d come back, which put my worries to rest.
After a fun-filled night that ended up being a riot, we parted ways and promised to keep in touch. I had the chance to interview lead singer Dean Marino after the fact about where the band is at right now and what the new EP means to them. Here it is: