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Five Things I Learned at the Ottawa International Music Conference

By Jean McLernon on June 8, 2015




The first Ottawa International Music Conference was held recently at Maker Space North. The Conference featured international artists and panelists, who shared their knowledge with a room full of industry hopefuls. The three day event was successful, both in attendance and information obtained by attendees. The panels ranged from how to turn music into a business, to festival programming, to the changing landscape of parties. In case you missed the conference, I’ve broken down the 5 things I learned at OIMC:

1. Know your audience and play to it.

If you’re a musician, you need to know who you’re playing to. Who are the people you’re looking to interact with? If they’re fans of yours, what sets them apart from every other band or label’s fans? By knowing your audience you’re creating a connection with them on a deeper level that says ‘I get you’. Think Juggalos, but without the violence (or with it, if that’s your fans’ thing). Everything from the venues you play at to the artists on your label is driven by fans searching for something to engage them, and once you find it, you secure a loyal following. Venues, festivals and promoters are all also looking for a demographic to engage, and finding out key details and capitalizing on them can work heavily in your favour with return business. Social media is an incredible tool for this, which brings me to:

2. Social Media is a necessary evil.

There’s no escaping it. Social media is one of the best ways for artists, labels and agents to connect to and engage with a large audience. For artists, you’re ensuring your fans are keeping you in the forefront of their minds when you engage them via the social media they’re already constantly checking. Album updates, fun contests for tickets to shows or just information about what you’re up to means that they’ll never miss a chance to support your music. Labels can share upcoming album releases and industry updates, which is both useful for artists to have help with promotion and lucrative for a label when that fan base buys music.

Sometimes it can feel like posting events to Facebook or putting anything on social media is like throwing content into a void, immediately swallowed by all of the other information on the web. Even with so many other competing events and content out there, you’re still reaching an audience that may seek out that information after its initial release. The public will still be able to revisit your content after the fact if it’s online, but might not seek it out if it isn’t as accessible. Information is resourceful for the public when you’re trying to engage them, and for yourself when you’re unsure what direction to take your next step. A helpful thing to keep in mind would be:

3. Ask questions, whenever you can.

One of the biggest things the panelists pointed out was the lack of questions that were asked. An example was when people are filling out grants and having difficulty with the steps, the common theme seems to be trial and error rather than a phone call to the source. Grant offices are happy to answer any questions applicants have, and this theme extends to the rest of the industry when it comes to being unsure what to do next.

Even those who are successful seem to shy away from feedback. “What surprises me the most is when people don’t call to ask how they did after receiving a grant,” representatives of the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts had said during the panel on Grants for Professional Artists.

It never hurts to find out what you did wrong, and even more importantly what you did right. Call up the grant office and ask how you can be the most successful. Ask an ex-club-owner what made their business sink or swim, and what they would have done differently. Ask another artist what producer they used and why they decided to go with them. The majority of the time they don’t mind being asked and you could save yourself valuable time and potentially money. The OIMC was a fantastic opportunity for people in all aspects of the industry to ask questions and make connection for future resources, but few people really took advantage. This made me realize #4, which is:

4. Resources like Megaphono and OIMC are greatly underappreciated.

The panelists alone were worth the daily charge. They brought in industry experts from all over including club owners, music publications and curators to share their knowledge on things like creating your own business in the industry and how to stay on top of a business that is ever-changing. To hear any of this outside of a music conference could very well require a consulting fee, so to be able to take this all in throughout a weekend is incredible. As mentioned above, not nearly enough questions are asked of people who want to see this business succeed. This made me think:

5. Music can be a career…

…But it takes dedication. Making your way in the music industry is a labor of love, and often not financially lucrative. However, that does not mean is can’t be financially lucrative. Musicians can take on a variety of side jobs aside from making and recording music that can turn into incredibly beneficial careers, both financially and musically. Teaching lessons, sound engineering and producing or even being a session musician for other bands are all great ways to expand you skills and bank account. There are also grants for artists, both musical and otherwise, that can be obtained to pay your expenses while you develop your craft.

Those who seek a different approach to the industry, like venue owners, promoters, writers and festival owners also had a variety of panels at their fingertips for tips on how to grow your business in any direction. Venue owners have to deal with an ever-changing industry, but get the opportunity to showcase something amazing and help musicians get their music out there. Writers endure an arms race for digital content and a dying age of print publication, but get to be a part of something great while also expanding their music collection. Festival owners must dedicate a years work building up to a festival, but get to seek out amazing programming for their audiences while getting to exhibit great live music.

Tying the things I learned at OIMC together I realized everyone can be as successful as they want as long as they know what they want, are willing to find out how to get it and having the commitment to put the work in. A lot of the panelists did not pull punches when it came to realistic expectations for the work involved in anything they had obtained, but still loved what they did. You can too, whether you’re a musician or otherwise involved in the industry. The resources for success are out there, so stay tuned to OIMC for the opportunity to capitalize on them.