By Emma Kenny, Girls+ Rock Ottawa
Survey findings as published in the new City-approved Ottawa Music Strategy reveal that only 37% of respondents (a sample of artists, industry professionals, educators, and music fans) consider the local music scene inclusive. That leaves 63% of survey respondents who find that our local scene hasn’t come far enough in terms of inclusivity and accessibility.
That’s where Girls+ Rock Ottawa (G+RO), the local, volunteer-run organization that exists to empower girls, women, femmes, non-binary, two-spirit, and gender non-conforming folks through music education, is striving to fill the gap. G+RO are invested in showing girls+ that music can be their career, and that they can make valuable contributions to our music scene by showcasing the artists who they care about and who deserve representation.
At Rock Camp for Girls+, G+RO’s flagship event, young girls+ are taught how to play an instrument and perform on stage. Campers form bands and learn songs to perform at the final camp showcase at the end of the weekend. Throughout Rock Camp, G+RO also provides a variety of workshops about the different roles and professions in the music industry. We acknowledge that girls+ aren’t just underrepresented and underappreciated on stage, but in just about every other music space as well.
To address this problem, G+RO has organized the Gig Planning 101 workshop in partnership with local women-powered show production organization Debaser. Debaser’s Creative Director Rachel Weldon is one of the workshop facilitators, and we asked her some questions about her experience booking shows in Ottawa. She has organized and run over 150 shows as Debaser alongside collaborators Emily McQuarrie and Willow Cioppa over the past five years – in fact, May 24, 2018 marks the five-year anniversary of Debaser’s gig planning! Rachel also manages the music program for MEGAPHONO Festival, which puts on about 25 shows over three days as part of the annual festival.
The first show Rachel ever organized was held on May 24, 2013 at Mugshots Jail Bar, the venue that used to be on the ground floor of the HI-Ottawa Jail Hostel. The former venue was small and intimate, with helpful staff, and no booking fee. Unlike some venues, insider knowledge wasn’t a prerequisite to organizing an event there, and the fact that things were kept low-cost meant that the bands were able to take home most of the money collected from ticket sales. The bill for that first Debaser show consisted of Toronto artists Doomsquad, Petra Glynt, and Mas Aya, artists of whom Rachel is still a huge fan and continues to book when they come through town. She credits this first gig planning experience for getting her involved in this aspect of our scene.
The goal of the Gig Planning 101 workshop is to give girls+ the skills to work behind the scenes in the music industry, and to empower them to put on the shows that they want to see in Ottawa. Because gig planning can be daunting, I asked Rachel if there was anything she wished she had known when she first started booking shows. Rachel identifies technical knowledge and creative promotional strategies as the two areas she wished she had known more about before starting off as a booker. She now has more experience with the technical aspects of live music production, and has learned some new methods of promoting on a budget that don’t rely too heavily on fickle Facebook algorithms.You will have to attend the workshop if you want learn those tips!
The goal of the Gig Planning 101 workshop is to give girls+ the skills to work behind the scenes in the music industry, and to empower them to put on the shows that they want to see in Ottawa.
G+RO believes that creating a safer and more inclusive music scene is multi-faceted work that requires collective effort by bookers, promoters, venues, artists, and audience members alike. This workshop is just one element of the work that G+RO is doing to change the local scene for the better. When I asked Rachel why this workshop was important to her, she echoed these sentiments. “I truly believe that we can work out the systemic problems with the music industry by mentoring each other and helping to make behind-the-scenes representation more diverse,” she responded, “which I believe will in turn make on-stage representation more diverse.” But more than that, Rachel reminded me about the importance of mentorship and knowledge-sharing – especially amongst girls+ – in the development of a thriving local scene where there are enough awesome event producers to showcase all of the amazing bands who want to play.
Sharing skills, resources, connections, and expertise with each other can only make our music scene better. If you want to learn the ins and outs of being a producer, check out the Gig Planning 101 Workshop on Sunday, May 27 at 1pm at Origin Arts and Community Center (57 Lyndale Avenue, Ottawa). Visit the Girls+ Rock Ottawa website for more information on the workshop and how to register.