Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 - Page 28

COLUMNS The Broken Showcase Model

By Elise Roller

I

’ ll preface this by admitting that as an artist manager , I still buy into the showcase model regardless of how much I hate it . For me , being on the ground to build my network and rub shoulders with my industry peers is well worth the investment – for independent artists , on the other hand … is it ?
A showcasing festival is designed to put topquality talent in front of music industry professionals with the goal of enabling artists to build revenue opportunities and a team . For artists operating in Canada ( low population , widespread music markets , stiff competition across the border ), especially artists from “ not Toronto ,” participating in a showcase environment is essential for accessing global and international networks for export development . We can all admit that , beyond talent , success in the music world is about who you know and the opportunities you seize . While showcases are often presented as checking these boxes , time after time artists leave empty-handed , defeated , and totally broke . Let ’ s talk about why .
Showcasing is for the privileged . Despite the fact that applications open around six months prior to the event , artists are usually given about 6-10 weeks ’ notice that they ’ ve been accepted . Between day-jobs , family life , creative time , and existing shows , the artist has only weeks to juggle this major financial undertaking , make group travel plans , research the delegate list , and begin sending out showcase invites . All whilst trying to answer the same goddamn rationale in every outdated grant portal about “ what goals you ’ re trying to accomplish ,” while we all know it ’ s the same goal – “ to connect with anyone and everyone who will pay any fucking attention to my art .” And while we ’ re extremely fortunate to have access to grants , the reality is that an artist won ’ t hear back about the funding until after they ’ ve already traveled , showcased , come back , and paid all the expenses .
If the artist is an immigrant , single parent , has a language barrier , disability , or has faced systemic barriers their entire life because they don ’ t fit into the white , upper-middle-class box this country was designed for , and if their parents or a team member don ’ t already have a spare $ 5-15K sitting in a bank account upon receiving the invite , nor the feasibility to eat the costs should the funding not be awarded , then it doesn ’ t actually matter how talented or deserving they are or how many showcase invites they receive – they ’ re not going to attend . Plain and simple .
Industry pros are partying off the backs of struggling artists . In exchange for attention towards the showcasers , industry delegates may be offered all-expense-paid trips , sometimes an honorarium , or have access to grants that cover most of their expenses . Most likely , these people are making a full-time living from artists . Attending will increase their own business opportunities as they ’ re put on a pedestal for artists to trust , hire , and throw money at , while also having the ability to rub shoulders with other industry delegates who they can do business with . They ’ ll be invited to VIP mixers , cocktail hours , dinners , and private parties , which most showcasing artists aren ’ t invited to or may not even realize exist .
It ’ s clear some of these delegates are only there for this schmooze-fest rather than for scoping talent because I can ’ t count the number of times I ’ ve been told “ I ’ m at capacity ” while watching a ricotta-fig crostini get shoved into a red wine-stained mouth . Often , these mixers even run right into the start times of some of the showcasing acts and , let ’ s be honest , if you were getting free sliders and craft beer while surrounded by global tastemakers , would you peace out to see an artist you ’ ve never heard of ? So , while this artist has just spent more than $ 5,000 in hopes of finding opportunities , the people who can offer those opportunities are too busy getting drunk and making their own deals at the mixer the artist was never invited to in the first place .
The showcase will probably sound like shit and nobody wants to work with poop . Let ’ s say the artist actually gets the funding they worked their little fingertips off for , and they spent three days lobbing out personalized emails before the conference even happened . They did their due diligence and filled the room with delegates . Because of the number of artists the festival wants to toot their horn about and check their boxes with , it ’ s likely the artist won ’ t get a soundcheck and they ’ re playing in a room that isn ’ t necessarily set up for music on a regular basis . There won ’ t be a large enough selection of trained individuals or a high enough production budget to appropriately accommodate or ensure artists are working in a safe environment .
Artists may get a 20-minute changeover and line-check with an overworked audio tech and a newbie stage manager who isn ’ t exactly sure how to keep things running on time . The artist might not even get on stage anywhere close to that 30-minute time slot that they spent thousands of dollars to play – not to mention the hundreds of hours spent trying to get the delegates there for that time . And just like that , they begin to play the set , unable to hear themselves in the monitors , feedback blaring through the venue . With each strum , the guitarist is making the audience ’ s ears bleed a little more – an audience of delegates they brought who have been given a terrible first impression and are now leaving not only because it sounds like absolute shit , but because the band got on stage late and they must rush to the next showcase they promised to be at .
Artists are put in direct competition with each other . Usually there are a handful to several showcases happening at one time , in multiple locations , sometimes so far apart it takes a $ 30 Uber to get from one to the other . Industry delegates will have to choose which artists they ’ re going to see . Ideally , it would be great if they would research all the showcasing artists ahead of time to prioritize who might be a good fit for the work they do .
Realistically ? Nobody has time to tap into 50 + artists . For artists who don ’ t have a manager
28 CANADIAN MUSICIAN