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A first-hand report from Canada Music Week 2005 in Toronto

by Lindsay Kyte

Singer/songwriter Grant Tilley following his CMW 2005 seminar.Everyone at Canada Music Week 2005 (CMW) had the same shaggy ’70s style hairdo. The difference was the execs paid Sting’s hairdresser big bucks for it, and the musicians got it by choosing electricity over Magic Cuts.

CMW took place March 2 to 5 in venues all over Toronto. It involved celebrity talks (Mathew Knowles—father of Beyonce; Steve Earle), seminars teaching the ins and outs of the music and radio biz, and of course, showcases from bands all over the world. All this plus various awards ceremonies hosted by Mike Bullard for your mocking pleasure.

Perhaps the most interesting seminar I attended was called “50 Ideas in 50 Minutes.” It featured a panel of radio promotion experts from around the world offering advice on how to get your station noticed. Such examples of past attention-getting promotions were “Homeless Idol—where homeless people sing for cheese sandwiches.” Or the “Sex Toy Drive—drop off your new or gently used vibrator to our pink, fur-lined box.” It seems any publicity is good publicity in the radio biz.

Another seminar provided a chance for songwriters to have their work assessed and advised by a panel of big wig experts. Some songs were fantastic. Some sounded like something Mariah Carey rejected in 1995. Singer/songwriter Grant Tilly was advised by the people behind the microphones that his love song was “too wishy-washy. If you love her, go get her!” Tilly threw up his hands and said, “But she’s a lesbian! If you’d listen to the whole song, you’d get that!”

The showcase scene was full of indie kids (they’ve adopted the grunge rock look and attitude, but carry Daddy’s money in their wallet-on-a-chain), execs judging people’s worth by the title on their name tags, and musicians looking like they were being dragged around a family reunion to meet their great aunts. One venue, the Brunswick House, looked like “Dart Night at the Legion.” I’ve never seen so many Dolly Parton wigs and ballcap-and-moustache combos trying to find a beat to a punk band’s percussion-heavy angst. It turns out Moms and Dads come along for Music Week in the big city too.

Some bands had showcases that brought out hometown fans from across the country. Maritime band Wintersleep’s audience was an excited, happy crowd of misplaced Maritimers.

And of course, there is the drunkenness of CMW. One exec I saw at a seminar tried to make an award acceptance speech, failed miserably and finally slurred into the microphone: “Guys, I’m really drunk. I can’t even talk.” It was 11 am. Half of the people in the audience shouted, “Me too!”

CMW was a chance to schmooze, booze and go to a bunch of big parties that get shut down by hotel security. Execs shine, sparkle and dazzle, musicians slink in corners waiting to get back to their “play and jam till McBreakfast time” lives and reporters get free CDs that won’t play on their machines. Though in theory it’s a week established to promote and progress Canadian music, in reality, it was summed up for me by one sleeping bag-toting musician upon his arrival to CMW: “Man, I can’t wait to get smashed and stay that way till this thing is over.”

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