Forget Slash, CMW offered a more memorable moment: The realization that our music industry is screwed

Hey there, sports fans! I haven’t written in what seems like forever and it feels good to be pounding a keyboard instead of a drum kit for a change. I’ve basically been hibernating lately, isolated from the rest of the world, trying to get an EP done with my band. Every so often though, the lure of something like one of Canada’s biggest music industry events can get even my lazy ass out of the studio. All to get shit-faced with some really cool people and then write about all my adventures. I’ve actually tried a half dozen times now to put together an interesting piece of writing, detailing the highlights of CMW like I did last year, which mostly entails a four day industry schmooze-fest and a heavy drinking binge. On my last attempt, I gave up around 2000 monotonous words and realized that a typical overview of my CMW experience would simply be futile this year. Instead, I’m going to rant about a few things and hope I don’t get blacklisted next year.

Having had a week to digest the whole event, there’s a couple of things that stick out to me. First of all, the sheer enormity of CMW: there’s simply too much to cover and from my experience, the more you try to cover and the tighter you fill your schedule; the more everything just seems to get fucked up. Friends of mine try this every year, rushing around from venue to venue like crazy people, frantically trying to catch a song or two from every band on their huge list, but at the end of the day very few of them are successful. A lot of times, despite your best efforts, you still end up missing at least half the shows or panels you figured you could make.  This also pretty much guarantees that nobody will stay at any one showcase for longer than who they came specifically to see.   Show decisions can also depend on many other factors including; weather, venue location, capacity and line-ups.  You can miss a whole set just trying to make your way from say, The Elmo to The Opera House, or show up at a venue with a bouncer that isn’t exactly supportive of a writer trying to skip a line to cover a band.

Let me be clear; the staff and volunteers do an amazing job and the event is generally terrific. This article is in no way intended to detract from the great people and thousands of hours that go into making CMW a huge success every year, but it can’t be denied that the scheduling of certain shows and events inadvertently ensures that some events are winners and others losers. This applies to both panels and showcases. For example, I hit an urban music showcase at Revival on Wednesday night and stumbled across a great band playing in front of a nearly empty venue. I realize that shit happens, but do you think it’s a coincidence that this doomed showcase was scheduled at the same time as an Alicia Keys concert at the Air Canada Center? Or just imagine being selected as a CMW panelist or presenter, but learning that your panel is competing with Slash’s celebrity interview in the same time slot? Once again, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be poorly attended. This was most apparent to me on Friday night where, as a fan of heavy aggressive music, I was forced to choose between the Metal Blade and Roadrunner showcases, which were on the same night at the same time. There were bands I wanted to see at both, but it came down to a choice and that choice was Metal Blade in the end. (Thanks in part to how good the headlining band, Titan, is.)

Though the scheduling issues are a pain for music fans such as myself, I think it also points towards a bigger problem with the Canadian music scene. Bob Lefsetz said it best at his panel earlier that day: the music scene was doing very well until money came and fucked it all up. Call me old-fashioned, but I remember when there was a cool music scene. As a kid growing up on punk rock, I remember a feeling of community and of a strong musical brotherhood among the artists and the kids going to see them.  We would actually buy shitty demos and merch because we wanted to help the bands.  Now, there is a serious sense of competition that replaces that. All I heard on Friday was the phrase “Metal Blade vs. Roadrunner” and was asked endlessly which I would attend. Do you not see the issue with that? Why have two of the more predominant metal/aggressive music labels, who service for the most part all the same people and fans, running shows at the same time and in small venues no less? They could have booked a much larger venue for each, ran them on separate nights, and I’m sure both would have been a complete success. I guess the problem with that is not having a clear winner for the night and everyone wants the honor of having the biggest or the best bands or shows or, even at the media level, everyone wants to go to the best parties and interview the biggest celebs.  Tell me again how this benifits Canadian artists?

The somewhat ironic part is that most of the biggest stars and attractions at CMW every year are American and usually the keynote and most of the panelists are also from huge conglomerates based in the U.S. And, for another shot of irony, most of the smaller local outlets (whether it be media, labels, or artists) aren’t making any money anyways, but most will always be happy to tell you how fabulous everything is going for them, regardless. It’s like nobody wants to be the first to openly admit our music scene here in Canada is, for the most part, starving. As much as I wish I could throw on the rose-colored glasses, I was a musician and an artist long before I became a writer or a publicist and it all honestly looks a little bleak from my vantage point, down here at the bottom of the heap. Let’s face it; the industry is changing and the gap is widening between the huge players and the small local outlets. There’s only a fraction of the money floating around this industry, as compared to 10-20 years ago, and now the major players are being bled dry by the Internet and are more reluctant than ever to share with those beneath them.  When the slice of pie is so small, like it is in the Canadian music scene, and everyone is walking all over each other to have it for themselves; it paints a scary picture of an emerging trend of cock blocking and intense competition. All at a time when I think it’s more important than ever to get that sense of community back. So, keep buying the shitty demos and merch and maybe your favorite Canadian band will live to fight another day.