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Blak Denim, one of the artists featured in the 2015-2016 #ottmusik playlist. Photo from Blak Denim's Facebook page.

#ottmusik: The art of an Ottawa playlist

By Apartment613 on February 17, 2016

Post by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing

A perfect playlist takes thought. Making sure each song moves to the next seamlessly, finding a kind of momentum and build, or giving space to let songs breathe. For those of us who live music, who listen to music every day, non-stop, who co-opt sound systems at house parties or who preferred Rdio over Songza, it’s an art. And thanks to Mayor Jim Watson, we have a kind of playlist for the city itself in #ottmusik.

It’s a pretty simple idea: when someone calls city hall and gets put on hold, instead of hearing boring elevator music, they’re treated with 40 second clips of songs by local musicians. Once the 40 seconds are up, the next song on the playlist comes on. And then the next song and the next song, until their call is answered.

The idea came from Watson himself, noted Allison O’Connor, the city’s community arts and social engagement program coordinator. Watson was inspired by BOStunes, a similar initiative in Boston that plays local music for residents when they’re on the phone with city hall.

The first call for musicians was at the tail end of 2014, looking for 20 songs for the playlist. After the call for submissions, a selection committee (made up of Arboretum Festival/the Acorn’s Rolf Klausener, Debaser’s Rachel Weldon and Ian Swain, co-author of the report Connecting Ottawa Music: A Profile of Ottawa’s Music Industries [PDF link]) reviewed the applications and selected artists they believed represented the music community in Ottawa.

“It was a ranking system,” O’Connor added. “[The selection committee] would discuss and look at the playlist as a whole and make selections, but there were a lot of great ones so we bumped it up to 25.”

The current, full playlist is a 25-song compilation of what this city has to offer in different genres, genders, styles and stages of musicians’ careers. The final list was broken up into four sections, or shorter playlists, that ran for several weeks. Tunes were on rotation in the city’s phone system by May 2015 and will wrap up in April of this year.

So far callers have had the chance to hear from the likes of Pony Girl, Flying Hórses, Kristine St. Pierre, Pipahauntas, Brea Lawrenson and Blak Denim. Until April 20, clips from songs by Fevers,Scattered Clouds, Tine Rufaro Marimba, Jah’Kota, Polly Love Spell, Danielle Allard and Sophie Léger will be on rotation.

The Ottawa music scene is going through an interesting, almost transitory, time and has arguably never been this vibrant. The new Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, a number of established and emerging festivals — from Bluesfest to Arboretum to Megaphono to Ottawa Explosion — and a growing appreciation for the music made and played here by strong and entertaining artists are all part of that scene.

“These are all [people] perceive as stakeholders, people who we look to to help us decide what this series looks like. And I think that it’s at a really healthy point,” O’Connor said.

“Last year we received 217 applicants, which is great, ranging from a variety of different backgrounds. And that’s an interesting part too, that Ottawa is so diverse… that is also reflected in the music that’s played and listened to.”

O’Connor added that #ottmusik is part of regular city programming now, so it looks like the initiative will continue for years to come. This will give more artists an opportunity to showcase their music to Ottawans who, unlike the playlist-crafting type, may not be so inclined to tune into the local music scene.

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