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Photo by Ming Wu/Apt613.

Grand reopening of the NAC Fourth Stage drops an opportunity bomb on local musicians

By Colin Noden on October 4, 2017

Heather Gibson, the Executive Producer of NAC Presents, and her team hosted an evening of surprises. If you were a regular to the Fourth Stage before renovations then you’ll be happy to hear that the cozy feeling has improved. But more on that in a minute.

First, about that bomb.

One big initiative at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage is going to be Fridays at the Fourth. The room and bar will be open at 6:30pm for people to gather and visit, and then local artists will be featured. The plan is to get new artists onstage and people having a fun night out for just $15.

Heather Gibson made her philosophy very clear: “I am not a gate keeper. My job is to open the door.” She spoke about the NAC’s role in helping talent to develop and how she wants to go beyond booking to help artists grow into bookable talent.

Photo by Ming Wu/Apt613.

Fellow panelist Erin Coyle from TD Place echoed that sentiment, even though her business model is more stringent. She joined Heather in what turned out to be a state of the industry report for the local music industry. This included some very frank observations, suggestions, and wishes. They were joined by discussions and questions from industry insiders in the audience.

To be honest, I didn’t expect this. This was a lay-your-cards-on-the-table evening.

If you are a local musician and want to move forward in your career, then I’d suggest contacting Nik Ives-Allison from the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC) who was one of the evening’s hosts. She probably has all these things memorized after tonight. But let me give you some of the top advice points I heard.

Be honest about what size crowd you can bring to a venue. Build your core fan base. Then find the venue that comfortably fits that number. I remember seeing Michael Bublé for the first time in a Tiki Bar on Hastings Street in Vancouver. Two blocks from the worst postal code in Canada. And way before the renos. We’ve all got to start somewhere. Be honest with yourself regarding what size of crowd you can draw, and work from there.

Don’t despair if the size of your crowd usually fits in your parent’s rec room. Heather explained that part of her mandate at the NAC is to discover and develop talent. So even if you are from Fort Lost’n Forgotten with one stuttering diesel power generator, there is hope in this initiative.

Pitch your act to producers in a variety of ways: email, handwritten letter, demo CD telephone… carrier pigeon. Old school connecting still works. Well, maybe not the pigeon. Get active on social media. Not just on your pages or accounts, but on other people’s as well. Contribute to the music community. Get a buzz going and generate sincere positive comments about you. Erin admitted to being a lurker. Other people looking for talent are doing the same.

Pitch your act to producers in a variety of ways: email, handwritten letter, demo CD telephone… carrier pigeon.

And, most important, be accessible and return your calls! The panelists expressed their frustrations with talent that goes dark and then wonder why they don’t get the bookings. “I have money to give you, and you won’t return my calls!” said Erin.

Ottawa’s performance venues were also discussed. Representatives from 50 seat clubs to the 30,000 capacity TD Place were there. Strategies on how a musician can grow through this venue capacity structure were discussed. There are still some leaps in capacity which need to be built. Again, check out OMIC for advice and guidance on the local opportunities. But as Heather repeatedly emphasized, it all comes down to the people wanting to see live performances.

Ottawa is fortunate to have a government which encourages attendance. Heather mentioned that Bluesfest could not happen in Halifax the way it is experienced here because of restrictive liquor laws. She said how astounded she was to see families with children enjoying the festival. “A week-long daycare.” Training a whole new generation in the joy of live music. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people in Halifax have never been to a live performance because of All-Age Event restrictions. They literally don’t know what they are missing.

I’ll finish this section of my report on a good news/ bad news topic. Good news for local and Canadian musicians. Bad news for top 40 fans. Ottawa is still trying to get traction with the major tour industry which is why you are probably going to Montreal or Toronto to see some international names. They are still blind to Ottawa.

The good news for local and Canadian musicians is that Ottawa has a proven audience base willing to attend properly promoted events. And we have local promoters who have their hearts invested in seeing you succeed. If you let them know you exist and return their calls.

Photo by Ming Wu/Apt613.

Speaking of local musicians, Amanda Rheaume and her band were back at the Fourth Stage and had the honor of breaking in the room. Her sound team had to struggle with the damping effect of the temporary curtains on the windows but soon had the mix figured out. It gave us the chance to see just how intimate the place can be. All the musicians could be seen and heard as individuals. That has always been the beauty of the Fourth Stage for me.

They flipped the room, built an elevated 18 seat back row and put love seats below them. No more leaning against a wall all evening. They refinished the old tables so you still can meet new people as you share one. The place will only hold 162 people. I’m assuming the same organic table sharing and chair shuffling is going to happen. Just with new chairs with lumbar supports and eye-catching upholstery.

Oh, did I mention the bar? The bar’s been taken out of the janitor’s closet and is now integrated in the room with plenty of space for an intermission rush or pre-show fuel up. No more local brews anymore though. That seems to be widespread NAC policy.

The room is wrapped in curtains, the door is soundproofed, and the ceiling is packed with 9 rows of sound and lighting trusses. Behind the performance backdrop there is an impressive bank of electronics with more on the way, which will give the place excellent performing and recording potential.

So, plan to add Fridays at the Fourth as a weekend kickoff meet-up. The music industry in Ottawa is looking good.


The National Arts Centre’s new Fridays at the Fourth series kicks off when BLAKDENIM perform at the Fourth Stage on October 6 at 8:30pm. Tickets cost $15 online and $10 student tickets are available with valid ID.


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