Megaphono: verb. To amplify that which is heard locally, so it may reach a broader audience.
February 1-3, 2017 // Ottawa & Gatineau.
Jon Bartlett is the music industry veteran that started the Ottawa’s newest music festival, which is going into its third year. It’s a little bit weird, a little bit quirky, and very Ottawa. It’s still flying under the radar of many in the city. Yet Megaphono offers something totally different – it’s not just about bringing people to the show, it’s about who they are bringing to the city.
Megaphono is a showcase festival, which means they’re hosting music industry representatives to demonstrate regional talent. “There’s an appetite for Canadian music, and our city has way better than average music.” says Jon. Yet, we haven’t built a reputation much beyond our boundaries. That’s one of the goals of the festival, and one of the reasons why hosting industry scouts is a great investment for the city. Beyond showcasing the talent of local artists, it is part of building Ottawa’s creative brand. In this capacity, music, film, theatre and other creative industries are doing a lot of heavy lifting. “That’s what makes a good city,” says Bartlett, “I’m more optimistic than I was 5 years ago. There’s so much happening that I had no idea about. It’s made me want to dig a little bit, explore.”
Musicians from this region, Ottawa and Gatineau, can certainly represent. We have some success stories, but Bartlett admits “we don’t have a great reputation for being the mavens of championing our own artists before other people do.” Megaphono acts like an ear to the ground for hard-working artists, picking up sound bites and making sure they’re heard by the right people. It’s a well-curated festival, which is helpful to music industry reps, but equally so to normal people that don’t necessarily have time to follow the local scene.
Speaking about Ottawa’s music scene, Bartlett revealed some of the challenges of making it as a musician in Ottawa. It seems as though one of the biggest barriers for a musician committing to it. “People have cushy jobs. It’s harder to walk the plank and take that risk… Maybe that’s why those people move away. You need the friction of [pressure] to motivate yourself.” Geographically, we’re also quite spread out, so staying local can limit a musician’s growth.
Another challenge is Ottawa’s federal side. As Bartlett says, “We are bureaucratic Jedis. Everything is steeped in taking way too long and making decisions because two people wrote letters of complaint… You live downtown in a city.” Noise brings vibrancy, and we’ll have to embrace that as a city in order to grow.
There are opportunities of being based here – and one of the big ones is that we’re right between Montreal and Toronto, which are “the two main Canadian places you should be playing anyway”. There might be fewer resources, but part of the appeal of Megaphono is that it holds panels to share knowledge, and enables networking.
It’s not every day you speak to someone who is so upfront about the music industry being, well, a business. Those connections are happening more and more, and people are starting to buy into the economics of it. Jon spoke about one of the festivals sponsors this year, Lixar. “They really get it. Businesses are starting to understand that if you want to attract workers and you’re doing things that involve creativity – and a lot of those high tech industries do – people aren’t going to want to move here if there isn’t a vibrant music scene. That might actually be the most important thing to get people to move to a city.”
Megaphono, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and many other players are working hard to bring the city “to a place where the economic value of a good music scene is recognized, beyond filling hotel rooms during festivals, beyond being a handout to the arts – because investments in trying to build this industry are, dollar for dollar, a way better investment than most industries.”
Is Ottawa cooler than we think? We’re getting there. Let’s keep investing.