Regional Music Spotlight: Alberta

July 29, 2015


Music Association Name: Alberta Music

Location: Edmonton and Calgary

What are some of the musical highlights from the province over the past year? 

One of the big highlights of last year would be Calgary securing the JUNO Awards for 2016. We’re pretty excited to have the JUNOS coming back to Calgary in late March of next year. Albertans are really going to get right behind it, and the fact that it will coincide with the opening of the new National Music Centre (NMC) is very exciting.

The 2016 JUNOS will be the first time that a spotlight is put on Calgary as a real music city—and NMC is at the centre of that.

We’re also excited to have an Alberta Music office in Southern Alberta in the new NMC building [now called Studio Bell]. We can’t wait to get things rolling with that.

The other highlights of living in Alberta are the summer festivals. Interstellar Rodeo is only four years old in Edmonton, but it’s really starting to gain traction. It happens the same weekend as Calgary Folk Music Festival with both festivals sharing a lot of the same headliners, and so it’s great to see that kind of collaboration between two festivals in the same province.

Prince’s Island Park, where Calgary Folk Festival is held, is just a spectacular location right downtown. It’s an easy place for people to get in and out of. It’s near hotels and easy for people to walk to the event. It’s so great and people-friendly and really conducive to people travelling. The same thing goes for Edmonton. Though it’s not exactly downtown, the incredible Heritage Amphitheatre is central and really very accessible in the river valley.

There’s also festivals, such as Sled IslandCanmore Folk Music FestivalJasper Folk Music FestivalSouth Country Fair, and North Country Fair. Summer festivals are a highlight of any Alberta summer for people that are interested in music.

What are some of the recent accomplishments made by Alberta Music specifically?

We had a real big year. We do a lot of international showcasing of our artists. This year, we were at the CMJ Marathon in New York with Astral Swans. We were at Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany with Sidney York, Owls by Nature, Boreal Sons, and Ann Vriend. We were also at The Great Escape this year, and did our own showcase in London after the conference. We packed-up a room full of London music industry people with Viet Cong, Colleen Brown, 36? and Fist City on the bill.

Sled Island 2015Viet Cong performing during Sled Island 2015. Credit: Brandon Wallis. 

“Beginning of the End” off Astral Swans’ debut album, All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson.

We’ve been running a market development program in the UK over the last few years with funding from the provincial government. I think that packed-out show is a testament to the work that we’ve been doing over the last few years.

It’s been over a year, but we’re really excited about securing a south office with a space at the National Music Centre. Lindsay Shedden was running that for the first year, and now we’ve got Jessica Marsh down there. We do a lot of programming in Calgary. It is a huge part of our focus, so having someone physically there full-time is great. That’s just going to expand with our space in the new NMC when it opens. We’re really hoping that’s going to become a bigger and bigger part of what we do in bringing programs to Southern Alberta.

Who are some of the Alberta acts that should be on Canada’s radar?

The Hearts, formally known as Jeff Stewart and the Hearts, from Edmonton. The Hearts played our BreakOut West showcase at SXSW, and they have a new record in the can that’s amazing.

The Wet Secrets won the first Alberta PEAK Performance Project 2014. They are working on a new album, which will be out in the fall on Six Shooter Records. They were down at SXSW this year. They also got a record deal and an agent, so things are really moving forward for them.

“Apple Tree” by The Hearts.

The Wet Secrets’ “Nightlife,” featuring Joe Flaherty.

Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk came in second for the Alberta PEAK Performance Project and they’re working hard on a new record that’s going to be really good.

The Royal Foundry participated in the 2014 PEAK Performance, and will participate in 2015, as well. They are the only returning act in the top 12. They decided that they were in for another summer of very, very hard work. They’re also one of the regional Searchlight finalists for Alberta, and they showcased for us at the Americana Music Festival & Conference. They’re a fantastic duo (now trio) that writes incredible songs.

In fact, all of this year’s PEAK Performance artists are great. They include: Cowpuncher, The Velveteins, Beach Season, Miesha & the Spanks, The Wisers, Transit, Layten Kramer, Leeroy Stagger, Braden Gates, Northern Beauties, and Two Bears North.

What else do you want people to know about the Alberta music scene / industry?

Alberta after Toronto is Canada’s second best live music market. The Edmonton/Calgary corridor is where a lot of big concerts are happening, and a lot of people make a lot of money from these concerts in those cities.

That’s the reason why arguably Canada’s second biggest music promoter and events company, Union Events, has its head offices in Edmonton and Calgary. They put on events all over Canada, but that comes off of the strength of what they’ve been able to achieve in Alberta. Live Nation also has an office here. I think the live music business is one of the strongest parts of Alberta’s musical economy.

Alberta is also a great way to develop as an artist. Some of this is because of our provincial arts funding, as well as funding coming from both the cities of Edmonton (Edmonton Arts Council) and Calgary (CADA). Speaking of a few: Tegan and Sara, Purity Ring, BRAIDS, and Kiesza, who went away to university, but she definitely developed as an artist in Calgary. Calgary and Alberta are a big part of the brand of these artists. I think that’s a really important thing to note in our industry.

BRAIDS’ “Miniskirt,” off their 2015 Polaris Music Prize shortlisted album, Deep In the Iris.

What are some of the challenges for Alberta artists?

One of the things that we’re trying to do with Alberta Music is build the infrastructure. One of the challenges that we have with all of these kinds of bands, going back to artists like Tegan and Sara, BRAIDS and Purity Ring, is that they often get known in the city, or across the province, and then have to leave. We develop these artists to the point where they’re well known nationally, but at that point, often their best options for a manager, record label, booking agent, or publicist is outside of the province.

We don’t have a lot of that infrastructure here, so we lose our artists to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal or New York and London.

And also, because Edmonton and Calgary have such strong economies, they’re becoming expensive places to live. It’s actually cheaper to move to Montreal, so why wouldn’t you move to Montreal? Or wherever?

One of the things that we need to do is to build an infrastructure for these artists, so that when they are at a point where they are ready to get to that next stage, there is an obvious person that can look after their careers in Edmonton and Calgary, so that they don’t necessarily have to move.

Giving artists that opportunity will actually make them that much more successful. For every Tegan and Sara or Purity Ring, there are 10 developing artists that moved just a little bit too soon that might have done a little better if they could have stayed in their home surroundings, and not had to throw all of their chips in.

Some of these artists move to Toronto just a little bit too soon, and the whole thing just falls apart within the first year, because it hasn’t taken off as quickly as it could have. Maybe if they stayed in Edmonton or Calgary for another year or so, with a little more support as they continued to build a national/international following, and maybe if they had a local manager or a record company, things would be different? It’s not that there aren’t people here already, there just aren’t enough right now.

If artists had that opportunity, then they would have more of a chance at forming a sustainable career.

Another industry-wide challenge that is being felt here is related to Tariff 8, which is a tariff on music streaming services that was put in place by Canada’s copyright board. This affects any music streaming on non-interactive (i.e Last FM or Jango or CBC Music), semi-interactive (i.e. Pandora or Songza), and premium services that you get from Spotify or Rdio, where there is a lot of traffic right now.

Our artists and industry have been forced to accept 10 percent of what our counterparts around the world are getting for the same services. We’re not sure why that happened, but it’s important for people to know that it’s a problem that the industry is trying to correct.

We have partners and stakeholders across the country that are working with us on this, including CIMA, Music Canada, and all of the music industry associations across the country. As a matter of fact, all of Canada’s music industry associations have formed the CCMIA (Canadian Council of Music Industry Associations) and we’ve just hired an executive director in Ottawa, Jon Bartlett, to address our concerns for the music industry with the federal government there.

There is an awareness campaign happening on social media right now. If you go to I Stand For Music’s Facebook page, you can keep up with what’s happening. Look for the hashtag #IStandForMusic on Twitter, as well.

Recently, there was a campaign that looked at the Barenaked Ladies song “If I Had a Million Dollars,” and compared some of the things they mention in the song to how many streams on Pandora it would take to buy that. To make a million dollars, it would take 9.8 billion streams of a song.

The big challenge for the music industry right now is that the business model has changed completely, and we need to put value back in the content that these digital service providers are making lots of money from. Google, Apple and YouTube are making billions from musical content, and artists and companies are not getting paid what the music is worth. It’s a big challenge here in Alberta and it’s a challenge around the world.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

We’re really excited about next year’s PEAK Performance. It’s the last year for BC, so we’ve been getting prepped for the program to move entirely into Alberta next year.

We had a lot of great mentorship from Music BC and 102.7 in Vancouver, and now we’re excited to implement our own ideas.

We’re also really looking forward to doing a mission in Poland. We’re going to Warsaw at the end of September after the Reeperbahn conference. We’ll be headed there with Music Nova Scotia, Manitoba Music, SaskMusic and FACTOR, and we’ll each be bringing a band to showcase.

“All We Have” by The Royal Foundry, who will participate in the 2015 PEAK Performance.

We’ve assembled a lot of music industry people from across the region in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Baltic States, like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There is huge growth in the music industry in that part of the world, and we are working to find ways for our members to access the market.

We’re going to make the contacts in that region, so that when our bands are touring Western Europe, they can add to those dates and move into the Czech Republic and Poland. There are lots of dates to do in those regions.

Any other industry news?

Our partnership with NMC on the Alberta Music Cities Initiative (AMCI), and the Fertile Ground report is something that we’re really happy to be a part of.

Since Fertile Ground was released, there has been some movement on the recommendations that are made in the report. There are plans to develop task groups for a live music strategy and for an industry capacity-building strategy.

A part of the industry capacity-building strategy is to develop some programs for the mentorship of managers in the province of Alberta, along with educational programs that pertain to music management. One of the focuses of the AMCI is to keep building that capacity.

There’s also a lot of movement with the Edmonton live music initiative, which has started up on its own accord. That came from an individual, named Tom Bennett, reading the Fertile Ground report and acting.


—Compiled via interview with Chris Wynters, Executive Director at Alberta Music

For all of the latest updates from Alberta Music, go to or follow them on Twitter @Alberta_Music.

About the Author

Julijana Capone

Originally from Winnipeg, Julijana is NMC’s senior publicist and the managing editor of Amplify. In addition to her role at NMC, she is the founder of Light of Day Publicity, a company she formed to promote the work of emerging Canadian artists.

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