Monday, March 18, 2013

CMW 2013: Strategy

[Please note: My opinions haven't changed too much on the matter, so I'm re-running this strategy guide, first posted last year, with some minor alterations. A list of bands that I can vouch for will follow tomorrow.]

Canadian Music Week is not for you.

The powers-that-be want you to think of CMW* as an equal competitor to NXNE — a buffet-style music festival with simultaneous showcases creating the autohype of too-much-to-see. But CMW is first and foremost a gathering for the remnants of the bloated corpse of the mersh music industry:

Now in its 31st year, CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK is recognized as one of the premier entertainment events in North America focusing on the business of music. We bring together Sound Recording, New Media and Broadcast for one spectacular week of events. [...] IF YOU’RE GOING TO ATTEND ANY INTERNATIONAL MUSIC CONVENTION THIS YEAR… Make it CMW 2013 – Where Music Means Business!

Amongst peers and people I pay attention to, there's a huge gulf in anticipation levels, from so-much-goodness delight to over-it eye rolling — a level of enthusiasm that's probably directly proportional to the number of times the individual has gone through this exercise before. I am, admittedly, skewing well towards the latter camp, but I shan't let pessimism get the better of me. Even if for every good band, there appears to be ten that are "industry ready from the shoes up!" it is possible to carve your own little festival out of the whole loopy spectacle and hopefully come out the other end feeling okay about the experience. To that end, tomorrow I'll offer a list of bands playing at the festival that I'm willing to vouch for. But first, here's a list of strategies that I have found useful.

#1: You probably don't want a wristband

For years, I bought into the mystique that a wristband brings. So many possibilities! Unlimited access! Etc. etc. But CMW is reaching a fairly audacious price point. Interestingly, the Festival seems to be acknowledging this a bit, with wristbands on offer for $60 — down from last year's $75. But still, it's not easy to get your money's worth with a full-price wristband. If you're going full-bore from Wednesday to Sunday, your cost per night isn't so crazy. But if you're focused on a more reasonable Thursday-Friday-Saturday the price is quickly getting out of hand. (Also interestingly, the just-plain-goofy one-day wristbands, on sale last year at $35 a pop, don't seem to be on offer any more.)

With a wristband, you're getting yourself into a bit of a crapshoot if you have must-see bands, especially if they're in any sort of high-profile showcase. Over the past few years, CMW has been opening the floodgates on individual show advance sales, which means there's less room for wristband holders. Read the schedule carefully. "Limited wristbands" is just that — sometimes it's not going to be a problem getting in, but at places like Lee's or The 'Shoe, it's just as likely to mean a handful — or even none are admitted. And for the prestige shows that the Festival has attached their name to, you're basically S.O.L. All things considered, if there's a band you simply must see, you're as well off buying a ticket for that and settling in for the night.

#2: Never wait in line

If you are going the wristband route, always have a plan B and be prepared to miss something you had been planning on. If you're show-hopping and you arrive at your next spot to find a line — keep going. Unless it's small and the previous set hasn't finished yet, in which case you can count on a certain between-set turnover. There's nothing worse than being stuck outside, so seeing a second-best option is far better than nothing. Be prepared to cut your losses and move along. Which is easier if you're planned for...

#3: Geographical clumping

You should always have an idea of where your next set is going to be and where it is in relation to other venues. And then plan realistically: if you had a 10 o'clock set at C'est What and an 11 o'clock set at Parts and Labour, ask yourself if it's physically possible to get there by whatever means of transport at your disposal. You should have an idea of how far you can get on your bike, on foot or with your Metropass in twenty minutes or so and never set up anything outside that boundary. And always keep in mind what else is nearby. For me, for example, my festival go-to zone is usually along the Spadina/College axis, simply because there's so many venues close at hand. And if it's packed, say, at the El Mo, then I know I'm only steps away from Rancho or the Silver Dollar, or a short hike to Sneaky Dee's or down to Queen Street.

#4: Know your curators

Having backups is easier when you can carve out the crap in that big grid and focus on showcases put together by a trusted authority. Look over all the "Presented by..." lines in the grid for any familiar names. I always know, for example, that I'm going to get no-bullshit rock'n'roll from Dan Burke at The Silver Dollar. Similarly, even if I don't know any of the bands, I figure I could go up the stairs to Rancho Relaxo and take a chance that Two Way Monologues have dug up something interesting. I'd say I'm open to listen to bands picked by, say, Silent Shout, Exclaim! or M for Montreal. And similarly, the presenters can serve as useful red flags as well: I'm automatically suspicious of anything under the banner of a commercial radio station or "lifestyle" brand.

#5: Ignore the Corporate Bullshit

On that note, there's a lot of weird industry stuff that you should just resolutely ignore. Whether showcases set up by child-exploiting pay-to-play agencies or the weird spectacle knows as "the Indies", just move along.

#6: Look for the Freeness

Especially if you're not busy during the daytime, you can see some top-notch bands playing unofficial shows piggybacking on the festival. The in-store lineup at Sonic Boom is a reliable (and all-ages!) spot to stop by for a spell.

#6: Consider your non-CMW options

As always, there's a lot of good music taking place independent of the festival, so if you're in a show-going mood but don't want to deal with any of the above, don't forget about the other shows at hand. No just name a couple, there's a very interesting Wavelength show on Thursday, and the Fucked Up-curated Long Winter on Saturday. And if you want a real alternative, Toy Piano Composers will be hosting a wonderful show on Saturday night with Montréal's Ensemble Paramirabo.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW.

1 comment:

  1. And if you're using the app, tonight's shows will appear under the "past" tab. I could make an itemized list of other bugs but will not.