I came across this article in the Torontoist decrying the current state of Canadian Music Week. Let's first put it in context. CMW is over 30 years old. It's touted as the largest national music conference and new music festival in Canada. Over 2,000 delegates across every area of the music industry attend. Over 1000 musical acts perform across 60+ venues, in a mere four days.
For a long time now, CMW has been touted as a good way for rising indie bands to get spotted by record labels. So let's examine that for a moment. In the year 2013, given the proliferation of YouTube and a host of other music sharing sites and schemes, how much benefit is there to being signed to a label? According to this article from 2011, not that much. Things have only gotten worse since this article was written.
So then playing CMW gives bands the opportunity to build new audiences, or grow their audience base? Perhaps. If you're a buzz band (like Chvrches or Savages was this year), that might be entirely true. If you're one of the other 998 acts, you're fighting against all the other scheduled acts trying to get through the fray, in the hopes that you might have more than a smattering of bodies at your 2:00 a.m. performance. Certainly a few new faces might wander in and like your sound - but a few new faces is not sufficient to fuel up the band van for the long drive home.
Industry people no doubt benefit from CMW to the same extent that anyone benefits from attending trade shows for their career area. It's that much more critical for the music industry these days, since no one seems to know for certain how to keep extracting dollars from consumers, in return for songs. In this extraordinarily bumpy transitional phase for the music industry, there are almost as many proposed new business models as there were revelers enjoying the extending drinking hours over the weekend. Delegates need (or feel they need) every seminar and presentation, not to mention every networking opportunity, just to keep the boat afloat.
This Toronto Star article suggests that CMW should really merge with the other big music festival on the calendar, North By Northeast, which happens in Toronto in June of every year (its counterpart is South By Southwest). NXNE boasts virtually the same size and scope as CMW. There's no question that a merger would produce a music festival powerhouse that would shake the foundations of North American music. But CMW and NXNE are owned and run by separate organizations, and I suspect that the spirit of capitalism, and its attendant competition, would prevent any such merger from occurring anytime soon.
That's sad, really. The lifeblood of the industry is the artists. Without them, none of the other industry folks would have a reason to come to work. A music festival should really be geared towards making the ground as fertile as possible for artists on the rise, not just finding a way to extract the greatest profit based on the hopes of those aspiring artists to get noticed by labels who have little to offer them.
My feeling is, and has been for some time, that the most enterprising acts (i.e. those that have a well-developed stage show, some social networking capability, and some decent product to sell off-stage) have the best chance of benefiting from these festivals. Unless and until the next great paradigm shift occurs in technology, we are still a long way from being able to download an amazing live concert experience.
At least one writer feels like CMW has the edge on SXSW, which immediately precedes it. I'm not sure I agree with all his points, but his is a valid opinion nonetheless.
If you think my take on CMW is of the mark, chime in and make your case!
Canadian Music Week 2013: in photos
The top 5 buzz bands of Canadian Music Week 2013
Buzz bands, blind discovery and Lana’s CMW picks