‘A Kiwi amongst the Kangaroos’ was how currently Melbourne-based songwriter Lisa Crawley introduced this account of her recent time spent attending a pair of major early summer North American music industry extravanganzas, LA’s Musexpo and Toronto’s marathon Canadian Music Week.
Over the last few years I’ve regained my publishing rights and become a ‘self-managed artist’ once again. When I saw that MUSEXPO 2015 was on in late April in Los Angeles, I decided to attend and book a series of shows in LA, a destination I hadn’t been since a high school trip to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival –– and Disneyland.
Run by A&R Worldwide, which NZ On Air‘s international programme has in the past associated closely with, the annual MUSEXPO features various speakers across different facets of the music industry – management, publishing, festivals, social media etc.
The conference had a bit of a ‘who-knows-who’ vibe, and I later found that the various ‘chosen’ acts showcasing had a pay-to-play contract, which explained the extreme variety in musical quality in the evening and lunchtime showcases.
I could sense the desperation with some artists who attended. The conference surely wasn’t cheap and of course you go to meet the right people and introduce yourself. It’s hard, and reinforced for me that it’s very hard to be quietly confident and put yourself out there, without being pesky or annoying.
I took my own approach with networking; befriending the legendary Seymour Stein in the foyer by sharing a Berocca tablet (I overheard him saying that he was dehydrated), and also by writing handmade business cards as mine had run out – which people seemed to find a memorable approach. Someone said to me recently that ”nobody uses business cards these days’ – they clearly hadn’t been to MUSEXPO, aka networking city!
Although I didn’t showcase as part of that event, I did a selection of gigs in LA – the first with Santa Barbara, a partially Kiwi band (Nick and Cassie Gaffaney, alongside the incredibly talented Geoff Maddock).
Another gig I was involved with was called Top Tune – a songwriting game show where you have 17 minutes to write a song with a stranger. I was partnered up with a talented young American artist called Anthony Starbull, and we managed to win the number one spot for the evening! It was a great night. It felt very American, with lots of comedy improvisation and guest songs by entertainers such as Fred Willard – a familiar face for those who have seen the Christopher Guest movies.
The next morning’s gigs had a very different tone – it was the centennial ANZAC memorial service in Los Angeles – a very special morning, and the reception featured performances by Kiwis Greg Johnson, George Vause, Kimbra, myself and a few Australian acts.
Shortly after booking flights to LA earlier in the year, I had noticed Canadian Music Week was on in May. A showcasing festival along the lines of SXSW and the Great Escape, this year’s CMW had a ‘Focus on Australia and NZ’ theme. Since I spend a lot of time in both those countries, as well as being a big fan of a lot of Canadian music and having never been to Canada, it made sense to apply. I was thrilled to be accepted and booked to fly to Toronto after the MUSEXPO conference finished.
I had a fair amount of time in Toronto. Canadian Music Week technically began on May 1, but the conference aspect didn’t begin till May 7, which gave me a chance to catch up on sleep, explore the city and check out some bands. CMW have what they call ‘concert lotteries’ – you submit your details with the hope of getting a ticket to one of the CMW allocated passes to the larger scale shows. I missed out on these, but bought a ticket to one of my favourite songwriters, Ron Sexsmith. He was performing at Massey Hall – one of Toronto’s most beautiful venues, much different to the Massey Hall I was familiar with in my hometown of West Auckland. Sexsmith has been titled ‘half-man, half-melody’ and the concert reinforced why. His beautiful, well-crafted songs were combined with witty banter and a fantastic band. This show was a definite highlight of my trip.
The next few days were predominantly a ‘pub crawl for one’ – me checking out various bands from all over the world, making a few friends here and there and practising my set for my showcases. It turns out the other two bands listed on the website from NZ didn’t end up coming, so I was the token Kiwi performer there amongst what was about to be a swarm of Australians (80+ bands) invading CMW over the next few days.
A day prior to the conference starting I took part in two vocal workshops that were intertwined with CMW. One focused on technicalities of the voice, the other on performance skills. Tamara Beatty, who has worked as a vocal coach on The Voice, took these. Not being a singer who will probably ever do one of these TV shows I still found it interesting, but it was hard to get individual attention as there were numerous participants, and the second seemed to be aimed at people with relatively little experience performing.
Instead of singing my own song, I ended up playing piano for another singer who needed piano backing. I came away with a few useful tips and made a few friends… but not sure I would pay the money to do a group session like that again due to the lack of individual attention.
As mentioned earlier, there was a focus on Australian and NZ music for CMW this year. The first day of the conference proper included the ‘Spotlight on NZ’ talk. The topic for the seminar was on Export Development. After going to the equivalent Australian talk earlier in the morning, I was interested to see how the two would compare.
The NZ panel was made up of Ben Howe from Flying Nun/Arch Hill Records, Dean Cameron, the Distribution & Member Services manager at Recorded Music NZ; Ian James who is MD of Mushroom Music Publishing (an Australian, but a large number of NZ songwriters are signed to Mushroom); Peter Baker from Rhythmethod and Teresa Patterson from CRS Management. After a few weeks of travelling alone it was great to see some familiar faces. Dylan Pellett of IMNZ moderated the session. Gary Fortune from the NZ Music Commission and Damian Vaughan, CEO of Recorded Music NZ were also there as CMW participants.
The setting of this seminar was a tad unfortunate as it wasn’t a proper meeting room, more a curtained exhibition space. The audience wore headphones to be able to hear what the panelists were saying, which must have been a little frustrating for all involved. It was great to be reminded of what a talented bunch of people we have in NZ – both on stage and behind the scenes. The small crowd, maybe 40 in all, was made up of various artists and managers from everywhere from Sweden to Australia. A shame there weren’t more people attending, but the panelists did a great job in answering the questions they had. The Kiwi speakers were involved in other aspects of CMW.
That evening I had my first CMW gig and headed to venue The Painted Lady for the AU Review/Footstomp Music party. I was excited to finally be playing after a week or so since my last show in LA. I was on first and was a tad worried people wouldn’t get there early but I ended up having an amazing crowd, the best part being people who had looked up my music from the CMW program and come along especially to watch. Numerous Australian acts followed, going into the small hours of the morning. It was a great night and very well received. I’m currently living in Melbourne and still making contacts in Australia, so it was great to feel a part of a community at this gig. Unfortunately there was no NZ showcase as it would have just been me performing!
I attended the festival summit the following day, which is where you sign up/pay to have a place at the table and chat to various festival bookers. They explain what they do, and then each person at the table has about a minute to talk about what they do and ask questions. After 10 minutes the buzzer goes and the promoters switch tables. It’s like musical speed dating I guess. The festivals represented were very eclectic, everything from jazz festivals in Japan to bookers from Glastonbury, The Great Escape, folk festivals and more.
Following this I raced off to a gig at The Paddock Tavern, my second show for CMW, where I performed alongside talented Australian artist Caitlin Harnett plus a few UK performers. The night was topped off with the amazing Pinholes, a ’60s influenced rock’n roll band from Singapore. They were great fun – the on stage antics reminding me of a Mint Chicks’ gig.
On the final day of the conference I spent some time at the Sounds Australia Australian BBQ. I then attended the ‘sync summit’, much like the festival one but with music supervisors, publishing representatives and other people in the film/advertising business. I had a good idea of what to expect this time as I’d been to a similar summit earlier at MUSEXPO.
It’s good to learn how music supervisors prefer to receive music/emails etc., and what the’y’re looking for at the moment. I found this really worthwhile having just come out of my publishing contract and currently representing myself. I finished the night by attending the Indie Awards, a bit like the NZ Music Awards (without knowing anyone!), and just one of many awards ceremonies of the week in Toronto. A highlight was seeing band Alvvays, who picked up an award for best new act, perform.
The final day of CMW festival itself was an exciting one despite exhaustion. I was off on the Sounds Australia’s Niagara Falls / winery bus trip. The majority of the NZ crew went along too. It was refreshing to get out of the city and the falls are incredible, like nothing I’d seen before. For me, an odd part of Niagara Falls was seeing America on the other side of the falls – very different to how getting from one island to another is back in NZ, a flight or decent ferry ride away.
I finished the night off with sharing stories and dinner with the some of the NZ crew, and ended my trip by a few days later after another gig in LA before the long flight back to Melbourne.