Let's Learn Something

by Shane Erickson

Shane Erickson is a supporter of urban arts in his community, and a vinyl disc jockey/collector.  As DJ Seith he acts as backing DJ for local hip-hop artists, and is head of the Soo York City Urban Arts Collective, which is a group of like-minded Northern Ontarians committed to furthering the positive tenets of hip-hop culture.

I had the pleasure of attending the first “LET’S LEARN SOMETHING” event, which was attended by musicians, promoters, journalists, sound engineers and music enthusiasts from the Sault Ste. Marie community.  The evening was facilitated by Jessica Bolduc of Ears And Eyes - Sault Music and Art Community and the panel consisted of Jackson Reed (Ears And Eyes), Jona Barr (Old Cabin), Laura Beach (Twin Voices), Jen McKerral (Music and Film in Motion), Rich Taylor (MoSoFest/Vangelis Tavern booking), and Johnny Pints (Johnny Pints Presents/Jack Spades/Frightlight).  

The topics we covered in the span of four hours was astounding.  People had a lot to say about things that were missing from our music scene, the biggest one being that there was a sense of disconnect between promoters and media outlets.  There were also talks about a lack of affordable venues for shows, the unprofitability of all-ages events versus licensed events, and the struggle to overcome showgoer apathy. Jona and Laura shared stories of touring and brought to light a potential solution to the problem that Northern Ontario faces when trying to pull touring bands up into the strip.  They suggested the promoters in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay and surrounding regions create a support network which make it easier for touring acts to turn more of a profit when travelling through.  If the people booking shows are conversing with one-another across the board, they can toss information back and forth about artists passing through and create a stronger financial safety net for artists, making it more feasible for future tours to venture north.  The group was very receptive to that idea.

We also got to learn more from Jen McKerral, Music Outreach Officer, who joined via Google hang out, to speak about her organization, Music and Film in Motion (MFM). MFM is a music industry association based in Sudbury that helps to develop artists in an effort to grow the industry as a whole in Northern Ontario.  Jen explained that MFM has been hard at work to put artists in touch with grant writers and information, promoters in touch with tours, and everyone in touch with crucial knowledge about making the music industry work for them. Jen also spoke about FACTOR funding that is available for artists in the Soo. As the Regional Education Coordinator for FACTOR, Jen helps to get the word out to the North and in turn hopes to help our region's artists increase their chances of benefiting from FACTOR funding. Jen will be in the Soo, in the flesh, on September 28th to talk more about these opportunities and more.

Rich spoke to the group about his experiences running an all-ages venue for a number of years and took us through the life and death of the project, which started out as a doe-eyed labour of love, and snowballed to the point where they were running a show a day due to the outpouring of support from the young arts community in his city and their willingness to take the ball and run with it for everything from the poster design to promotion and admission to security.  And then through to the lack of actual profits coming into the project itself weighed against the amount of personal time and effort being put into it, on to the eventual shutdown of the venue.  From his experience, I learned that the all-ages crowd will come out to support shows in great spirit, but often do not have the capability to financially properly sustain a music scene indefinitely, and so it comes back to doing licensed shows which can usually net more profits, at the cost of less support.

Johnny Pints spoke about venues in Sault Ste. Marie, and how it is becoming increasingly scarce to find ones that will host aggressive music and medium-size acts as readily without incurring a major cost that can often be too much of a roadblock for young promoters working on a shoestring budget.  He also shared some stories about his experience as both a musician and a promoter, and how the one thing Sault Ste. Marie has going for it is that it is a hubpoint for touring bands that run through Northern Ontario.  It is always more profitable for a tour to stop in and make 100 dollars and have a place to stay than it is to stop in and pay for a hotel for the night before driving 15 hours west.  The problem is the lack of venues that are ably-sized, equipped, available and affordable for these shows to happen, and it seems to be a great opportunity that is all-too missed as a result.

We were then treated to a great performance by Old Cabin, which was a soaring folk journey with Jona Barr on vocals and acoustic guitar, Laura Beach on violin and JF Beauchamp, who is currently taking a breather from his tour with Kalle Mattson, on french horn and trumpet, with visuals provided by 360 Sault Media Arts Collective.  The music was at once gentle as a feather and powerful enough to break boulders. Jona’s vocal talent is to be experienced live to be truly understood.  Following Old Cabin was Twin Voices with an emotionally tinged acoustic set that was described by Laura as something she “hasn’t played in a long time”.  Her first song ended with an impromptu crowd participation sing-along which was very enjoyable.  After a second tune from her new EP and an anecdote about an elderly person’s relationship with the F-word, she proceeded to invite JF back onstage to join in on the closing song, which I am to believe was unrehearsed, although I only base that on the fact that she told him the key of the song as he set up.  As he proceeded to play so beautifully alongside her, anyone in attendance would be apt to think they had been doing this for 12 years together.  What resulted was the feeling of flight in motion, and the crowd clapped and cheered in overwhelming support once the song reached its end.

DJ Seith, from Soo York City, opens for A Tribe Called Red in May 2014. Photo credit: Roy Iachetta Photography

DJ Seith, from Soo York City, opens for A Tribe Called Red in May 2014. Photo credit: Roy Iachetta Photography

We then broke into groups and chatted among one-another for 10-15 minutes as some people went out for cigarette breaks.  Once we reconvened, Jessica began a group discussion, prompting people to talk about things we have, things we need, and solutions to problems in the music scene in Sault Ste. Marie.  

Donna Hopper from SooToday spoke about the site and its eagerness to cover all types of happenings in the city, and how from the vantage point of a music journalist, the problem seems to be that promoters aren’t communicating until it’s too late, and as such are missing out on great opportunities for additional promotion.  She also fielded questions about Village Media Radio and what it takes for local artists to get their music heard on the new streaming radio station which debuts in September.

I had the opportunity to speak about Soo York City a bit and its impact on connecting artists in the urban realm of music, as well as its usefulness as a tool to assist with show promotion and fan interaction.

Some members of the group brought up the lack of a single location for potential showgoers to get all of their information about upcoming shows, and there was lament for the efficiency of established online presences from the past such as The Sault Music Scene messageboard and the 705 Music Scene messageboard, both of which are now sadly defunct.

Jessica and Jackson explained the Ears And Eyes Community and how it was originally conceived by Jackson as a means to get the word out in an efficient manner about shows, then grew to become a hub for news about all things to do with the arts community.  The group had a lot of questions about the organization, and I learned that Ears And Eyes is not funded, but a volunteer effort.  Their overarching goal is to get more like-minded people to start volunteering to contribute to their efforts, whether it be through helping with their live shows, creative writing, photography, upcoming show details, or even word-of-mouth promotion of the Ears And Eyes brand.  They would be interested in album reviews, think-pieces, and just about anything that touches on the creative arts in our community, and one of their biggest struggles is in getting people to submit work to them.

Overall, there seemed to be a general sense of hope in the room.  Hope for a better music scene, hope for more public support for the arts, hope that people in our community can feel good about contributing and hope that our individual strengths help to create a greater good that is more than the sum of its parts.

Want to learn more about how you can be a part of the Ears and Eyes community? Email us at earsandeyesonline@gmail.com.