Published Feb 21, 2011Did you know that Canada supplies around 2.5 percent of all the music consumed every day worldwide? It's a Canadian fact! Okay, it doesn't sound like a big number until you realize we only account for 0.5 percent of the world's population. So hell yeah, Canadian music is slugging way above its weight class.
Now, it's likely that our most globally popular artists (J. Bieber, C. Dion, N. Back) lead the wedge for most of that 2.5 percent. But of late, independent Canadian artists have been roaming the world in search of new audiences, often with surprising results. Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, the UK and France have become second homes to Canadian artists, and many Canadian artists are choosing to focus their export aspirations not on our great hulking neighbour to the south, but to, say, Denmark, or Japan, for the very good reason that those are comparable, smaller, manageable markets.
When a Canadian artist succeeds in a foreign market, it reflects well on the whole Canadian industry. Plus, for some reason, any kind of success outside Canada makes our press and public take notice where it never did before, which is annoying, but it does create interest both in the artist and the domestic market overall. So while it's important to get the timing right, making the effort to develop a career outside of Canada can economic and fan-building sense. Adding to that, there is a fair amount of funding and support available to Canadian labels, managers and artists who are export-ready, and more importantly, market intelligence and support.
Over the last few years, the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA; www.cimamusic.ca), with support from the federal departments of Heritage and Foreign Affairs and International Trade, has been focusing considerable time and effort into Canadian Blast (www.canadianblast.com), a program that provides a brand, market support, administration, facilities, and ultimately, bums on seats for Canadian artists who want to showcase in other markets.
"Canadian Blast is a marketing and networking strategy designed to bring maximum exposure around the world for Canadian companies and artists to generate business opportunities for deal-making, licensing, touring, promotion, accessing new markets," says Donna Murphy, VP Operations at CIMA. "We launched the first Canadian Blast showcase at South by Southwest in 2005. Since then we've done Canadian Blast showcases in Berlin, Cannes, Brighton, Iceland, Hong Kong, Cologne, Liverpool, Los Angeles, New York…"
To establish the Canadian Blast bulkhead, CIMA has put representatives in place in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and London. Most of the Canadian Blast events to date have taken place at or in conjunction with a music industry conference or showcase like Iceland Airways in Reykjavik, MIDEM in France, PopKomm in Berlin, or Music Matters in Hong Kong. But the Blast reps have also been busy throwing down non-conference events, including a big public show in London's Trafalgar Square for Canada Day.
Shain Shapiro runs CIMA's Canadian Blast efforts in Europe. "I try to act as the intermediary between Canadian acts and the companies that represent them and opportunity and business partners over here," says Shapiro, who is based in London. "I'm trying to make it a little bit easier for an act to come over to Europe, in whatever territory, and get the right people in the room to see them play. It's hugely expensive to tour internationally and unless a lot of boxes are ticked in terms of release, promotion, marketing and infrastructure it can be difficult to see any business emerge from it. I'm here, through CIMA, to help as and when necessary, whether it's booking festivals, issuing a work permit or introducing one to a PR. It's boundless and genre-less and infinitely interesting."
For Canadian artists who play a Canadian Blast, the advantages are many. As the Canadian Blast brand grows, organizers are able to attract more and higher-level music business execs to the events, meaning that artists and their label/management teams are getting a chance to play for and meet the right people. Plus, grant providers like FACTOR recognize the Canadian Blast as worthwhile and are willing to help artists and managers pay a significant portion of the costs through their International Showcase program, while labels, managers and other music companies can score FACTOR help through its International Business Development program.
Canadian Blast is not meant to promote brand new, out of the box talent. It's intended to give opportunities to artists, labels and managers who are "export-ready," meaning they have been doing good business in Canada and have the resources, knowledge and infrastructure in place to start exporting the music to other territories. You don't have to be a signed artist to get on a Canadian Blast, but realistically, you do need some sort of team to help you sort out the business while you worry about the creative part.
Established artists who are well on their way in Canada might balk at playing a showcase, probably on a small, crowded stage in a small club somewhere. If you're a theatre artist, then for sure playing a small club stage will feel like six steps back. And playing to a room full of cynical executives may not have the satisfying oomph of a real show with regular music-loving peeps. But that's not the point: doing a Canadian Blast showcase isn't meant to replace a bona fide tour. It's meant to help get you a bona fide tour, record release, distribution and so on.
While the goal of Canadian Blast is to help artists and labels do business, like just about everyone else in the underdogged Canadian music business, CIMA and its reps are ultimately motivated by true patriot love for music. "I've only ever worked in music and I find it exciting to be involved in some small part with so many people's goals and plans, "says Shapiro. "It's an amazing feeling when a showcase you plan succeeds or a band signs to a label you introduced them to."
Allison Outhit is the VP Operations at FACTOR.