Canadian Music Week: Friend or Foe?

CMW: We Are The City @ The Garrison

CMW: We Are The City @ The Garrison (Photo credit: h0usep1ant)

In the wake my trip to The Hideout in Toronto for Canadian Music Week on May 7th, a few things about the experience struck me. Heavily reminiscent of my *ahem* survival of last year’s CMW (as we in the biz call it), the shows were once again well-attended by hungry crowds devouring music from a host of great performers. But I began to wonder: does CMW fall short in assisting ‘break-through’ Canadian talent? How much should we trust should we place in a week-long parade of acts and venues barreling through a cacophonous array of short, simultaneous sets?

CMW in my limited experience appears to be, on the whole, an extremely positive idea, though still somewhat flawed in its execution. My favourite moment from last year’s event involved an unexpected performance from a young, up-and-coming Australian singer-songwriter playing in the lounge of the Mariott (if I can remember correctly through my Molson goggles), to a crowd of casual drinkers and listeners. While not necessarily a formal showcase per se, he garnered much attention based on the fluidity of his performance and it was, all things considered, a successful set. But herein lies the rub for CMW: the sheer volume of simultaneous music and gigging pushes attendees to direct their attention towards major acts as safe bets over the ‘little guys.’ This is not simply an “oh no, I missed Imagine Dragons at Coachella because Outkast was on at the same time” moment, so much as literally dozens of venues hosting simultaneous acts, maligned by little discernible effort to properly showcase most acts. Despite the sheer volume of people in Toronto (and the many more that flock to the city for CMW) it is difficult at best–and impossible at worst–to be noticed or to garner proper attention in a massive event like this.

CMW: the Schomberg Fair @ The Horseshoe Tavern

CMW: the Schomberg Fair @ The Horseshoe Tavern (Photo credit: h0usep1ant)

That isn’t to say that CMW is without its merits, obviously. The event, which supports Canadian talent and provides showcases for larger, world-class acts like Metric, also provides up-and-comers with shows and opportunities to meet industry professionals. If aspiring artists are willing to put themselves out there, hawk their merchandise, talk up a storm, and toss business cards like narcissistic confetti, CMW presents a vital make-or-break opportunity. Likewise, in spite of the steep price for the weekend tickets, fans are given access to a virtually unlimited amount of shows. Being able to catch Coheed and Cambria, Protest The Hero, and Metric within the same three days is incredible. And despite the kinks inherent in the wristband system (you gotta get there early), going to three of those shows separately on a non-CMW system would easily run the cost of the wristband itself.

And so if one is eager and prepared (as an artist) and willing to deal with long lines, crowds of people, and the sensory overload of four days of non-stop insanity (as a fan), there’s much to glean from Canadian Music Week. With presentations and workshops by industry professionals (like Dallas Green’s interview from May 8th, for example), there are many rewards to reap for Canada’s aspiring “next-big-thing”–if they can stomach the hotel prices for a week’s stay in the big city. CMW is not perfect, but its benefits at this time certainly outweigh the annoying cons. Just make sure you know how to drive in the city before you get there.

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