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article imageOp-Ed: Toronto's Battle of the Indie Awards

By Cheryl Hoar     Feb 23, 2009 in Entertainment
Toronto, Canada is getting ready to host another party on its streets beginning March 11, 2009 in the form of the now internationally known, corporately sponsored, Canadian Music Week.
Held every year at the Fairmont Hotel in the heart of downtown Toronto, the hotel is the primary meeting place for CMW related conventions, forums and discussions; the event also features performances by artists from around Canada and internationally in various live music venues around the city.
The Canadian Music Week which runs until March 14 ends with the Indie Awards which, during its time, has featured marquee, Canadian Indie artists such as, previous winners and nominees, The New Pornographers, Bedouin Soundclash, Feist, Neverending White Lights, iconic Can-rock stars Rough Trade and The Lowest Of The Low (who have both been given lifetime achievement awards by the festival organization).
During that same week and on the same day as the official kick-off to the Canadian Music Week festivities, just down the road on Queen Street West another ‘Indie Award’ show will also be taking place but with a decidedly different type of artist roster.
The names on this line-up are not well known. They have not sold millions of singles or albums worldwide or do not have high budget videos currently in rotation. Aptly titled, ‘Indie Night In Canada’, this particular soiree has definitely not received the press or exposure that the latter has, even though it is unquestionably more of a grassroots effort than that of its well-financed and well-sponsored counterpart.
For the great Indie music lover, this can only pose one question – is there such a thing as ‘Indie’ anymore and does it really matter in today’s music market?
There used to be an honor in being ‘Indie’ but now the classification seems to have become confusing. It was a chance for a musician, a particular genre, music scene or just an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the commercial and mainstream overflow emitting from our radios, to use your newfound voice to say and do musically all the things that represented your own personal creative flow, that often went against the commercial status quo. It was an individual, direct, yet also strangely open dialogue between the musician and his or her audience.
But while we have exalted in the success of some of these Indie artists and pat ourselves proudly on our Canadian backs for being the country of origin of these new musical talents, the fall back has caused a different run of luck that has closed the door on the opportunities that helped to make these bands huge to begin with.
Now, instead of joyfully submitting a new Canadian artist or band to a radio station for possible airplay, or for inclusion in a festival or event that has the ability to garner thousands of new listeners and fans, and having the music listened to simply because it was Indie, because it was unique and because it was unlike anything that was being played via the top 40 charts, the Indie artist is now being directed to a corporately run ‘division’ set up to determine what constitutes as ‘Indie’ and how well it will fit into now, not only the mainstream and sponsor driven radio stations and events but the so-called Indie ones too.
Nice. So the choice, strangely enough, still lies within the corporate structure. Not the DJ who may like the sound you have created and may want to promote it on their radio show. They have program guides that are given to them, and in some cases the entire program itself has been put together by the ‘folks upstairs’. The DJ, unfortunately, is now there to do just that – play what is given to them. Now ‘upstairs’ gets to decide what is Indie, how and when it is played, and what demographic will get to listen to it. If none of the criteria fits then the door is shut – thrown out based primarily on sponsorship and financial reasoning. So the doors that once paved the way for the aforementioned artists are now being closed and are also regulated. Hence, the online explosion that the music industry is currently experiencing and battling fruitlessly – but that in itself, is another story.
More and more artists and bands are now complaining that for the local, well-known act looking to get a spot on a hot festival roster like NXNE or Canadian Music Week, they always end up either playing the smaller, lesser known venues while industry backed ‘indie artists’ play to packed shows in the best venues on offer. It has also become painfully apparent that now almost every artist taking part in either of the aforementioned shows are either on their way to being signed, will be signed or has been already been signed and the corporate mainstream are using festivals like these to showcase their latest talents and to assess their overall marketability.
Fair? That is a decision only you, the music-lover can make.
With access to venues becoming more and more limited for the aspiring artist we need to help combat apathy by helping to consistently promote homegrown talent by promoting these events as one.
Canada has a bad habit of staking claim to some of our greatest musical acts only AFTER they have left Canada and found fame elsewhere first. By dividing even our own classifications on the sounds we make, in many ways we continue to murder our own, unique musical stamp on Canada and it’s impact on the rest of the world.
So should we really be hosting two Indie Awards?
We’ll find out soon enough in the next two weeks.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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