PEI

100s of artists attend ECMA buyers program

The live shows and awards are one big part of the ECMAs but for the hundreds of artists, it's also about business.

'It's really tough to make those connections so they make it happen for us — which is amazing'

The 10-minute sessions connecting artists with buyers were part of the ECMA Export Buyers Program. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The live shows and awards are one part of ECMA week but for the hundreds of artists, it's also about business.

Musicians met with music bookers and buyers Friday morning to talk about ways to make a living in the industry.

The 10-minute sessions were part of the ECMA Export Buyers Program. The program connects artists with agents from all over the world interested in hiring East Coast talent.

Emilee Sorrey, of the band Sorrey, said it's an important opportunity to gain exposure. 

"You want them to either come to your showcase, or you want them to check out your music online afterwards," she said.

"Or, you really just want to keep the conversation going. So it's always just about getting a foot in the door, and opening up those conversations so you can have a relationship with them."

'It's really tough to make those connections'

Music bookers have long been coming to the ECMAs to find new talent, but this year nearly 200 were in attendance.

'They do a really great job of connecting us with buyers here,' says John McLaggan. Him and his partner Lisa make up Tomato/Tomato. It's their fifth time at the ECMAs. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

John McLaggan, from the husband and wife duo Tomato/Tomato, said attending events like this are crucial. 

"Unless you're kind of a huge international artist or getting played on the radio all the time, it's really tough to make those connections so they make it happen for us — which is amazing," he said.

McLaggan said the industry is changing which makes touring even more important. 

"That's where it is now with the growth of streaming, and the kind of decline of CD sales. It's just all about connecting with people live."

'I try to help them get as many shows as they possibly can'

But just as regular touring is becoming more important, groups like Tomato/Tomato said it's also getting more expensive — particularly for those travelling with lots of gear and merchandise. 

"We weigh everything before we go to the airport. Everything's exactly you know, point five of a pound off the cut-off. So we work hard to cut down as many costs as possible," said Lisa McLaggan of Tomato/Tomato. 

'You want them to either come to your showcase, or check out your music online afterwards. Or you really just want to keep the conversation going so it's always just about getting a foot in the door,' says Emilee Sorrey, the lead singer of Sorrey. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Some of the bookers said they understand the challenges around travel costs and are working to make flights worthwhile.

Skip Taylor, the performing arts co-ordinator with the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils, said he thinks over the next five to 10 years, the touring model will change. 

"I think the good thing that we do is block bookings. So if you … get a tour with us … if you come to Saskatchewan, you'll do somewhere between five to 10 shows over a two-, three-week period.

"You fly out once, you do a tour of the area and you fly home."  

I think there's definitely a trend in that direction. It's economics.- John McLaggan, Tomato/Tomato

Bev Burton, a U.K. festival booker who runs Killer B Music, said she tries to make it worthwhile for artists when booking them by arranging blocks of shows.

"With artists, I try to help them get as many shows as they possibly can."

'You have to start thinking outside the box'

Sorrey said for larger bands, the complications associated with travelling are greater.

"You can sometimes miss out on those opportunities if you're a large band. We're a five-piece band. We've got a lot of gear, we're expensive to fly anywhere," she said.

"We have to stick ourselves in a van and drive where we want to go."

'I spend hours and hours going to showcases, talking to people, seeing what other people are interested in, then just making the call whether you think they'll be a good fit or not,' says Skip Taylor, the performing arts co-ordinator of the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

McLaggan said this is probably why more solo acts and smaller groups are emerging. 

"I think there's definitely a trend in that direction. It's economics."

The good news for artists is that there are several music buyers at the program looking to buy songs to put in movies, TV shows, and digital productions — another way to make a career in music financially feasible.

"Where are the alternative revenue streams for artists? Oftentimes they're online, or they're in digital means, or they're not at the show," said Sorrey.

"So you have to start thinking outside the box."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Steve Bruce

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