Behind the ECMAs – Part 2

The East Coast Music Awards kicked-off in Moncton, NB last night. In the first of a two-part interview, ECMA executive director Su Hutchinson opens up about herself and the annual gathering.

ECMA Week (which includes conference)SH: So we call it “ECMA Week” (“ECMA Week 2012” is in Moncton). The awards are just one part of what we do. We actually do an entire week of programming, which is showcasing, it’s the business meetings, conference sessions…and then it all ends on the Sunday night with the awards show. But, we’re actually the “East Coast Music Association” so there’s a lot more going on than just the awards. But 24 years ago that’s how it started [with mainly the awards] with people getting together saying, “let’s celebrate our industry”, and rightfully so. And it has become now one of the more significant music industry events in Canada. If you click on the ECMA 2012 schedule, you can see exactly the kind of sessions we offer there, all the showcasing and we have about 600 artists performing this year. It’s much bigger than an awards show.

AE: What’s new for this year?
SH: We’ve started what’s called the “Breakout Artist” program. So, in the past we had what was called the “72-hour jam” which allowed people to play all night long... That morphed into the “Discovery Stage” – it needed to mature into something that was a little more significant. And we’ve taken that even further. We really felt that was not giving people their very best opportunity to engage an audience or have a buyer discover their work. So, we’ve turned it into the “Breakout Program”. The Breakout Program is a jury that has selected 12 artists from the submissions. Those artists will have two performance opportunities within ECMA Week and they will be assigned a mentor who will work with them before, during and after ECMA Week… This is all designed to really help an emerging artist who is ready with their music to really be able to navigate all of the elements of ECMA Week and meet the people that they need to get the work done.

More than just the Awards show…SH: Many people do [think of ECMA Week as only being an awards show] and that’s something we’ve been really working hard on for probably about five to six years or probably even more than that, on what the brand identity is, which is the East Coast Music Association and the kind of work that we do. And really much of our focus is on the business development. The awards show is absolutely an essential part of recognizing the work of the year and the very best of what’s come out of Atlantic Canada in a year. But, it is only a tiny element now of what we do because, again, people are independent businesses and this is the kind of support that they need. You have to evolve - as the business and the sector evolve, so too must the services that you provide.

AE: How has the diversity of artists increased (generally and in terms of Atlantic Canadian musicians)?
SH: I think absolutely…I can’t speak on the other sectors in the east coast because I’ve only worked in the music industry here. But I think all of our art forms reflect our populations. I come from Toronto which is probably one of the more diverse populations. And I certainly see that here as well in our artists. The diversity of the population in the east coast is probably less diverse than downtown Toronto, but it’s certainly making great inroads in its diversity and our artists absolutely reflect that.

AE: With the awards show, are there any “close races” between nominees within any of the categories?
SH: Our jury shortlists that the nominees are and then it’s our ECMA membership who votes on who the winners are – it’s a very democratic process. So, I couldn’t actually tell you about the closeness of a race. What I can say, and what is so interesting, is that you have somebody like a Classified and a David Myles and a Jimmy Rankin and a Kim Stockwood, who are all nominees this year and in multiple categories. So, what’s going to be interesting will be the kind of race between a Classified and a Jimmy Rankin in some of the categories that we have. It’s a fascinating process because what I think this speaks to is how people are less genre-specific in their musical tastes now. They’re more eclectic – they actually listen to urban, they listen to Americana, they listen to country, they listen to rock, pop, classical…I think that’s what you really see in people’s music collections is that diversity and therefore you see that in our nominees, which is that they’re grouped together in the same category. If you went back ten years they would have been slightly more traditional genres for the breakdown of nominees. Now it’s actually crossing the genre borders, which is really exciting because they’re also collaborating. For example, David Myles and Classified are collaborating on each other’s work and yet they’re totally different artists.

AE: Who makes up the ECMA membership?
SH: Right now there are probably between 900 and 1,000 members. It’s quite a mixture of musicians, managers, agents, publicists… – people who are working in the industry. There’s a reason to be a member, of course with the annual activities, but there are year round supports that we give. For instance, we have a group of artists going down to Folk Alliance in Memphis [Feb. 22-26, 2012], which is a large showcasing opportunity, and we have about 12 artists going down to do that showcasing. (Charlie A’Court, Meaghan Blanchard, Rose Cousins, Sherman Downey and the Silver Lining, Dave Gunning, Ennis, Maggie & Cassie MacDonald, Ria Mae, David Myles, Old Man Luedecke, Owen Steel and the Olympic Symphonium – so actually we have artists from all four Atlantic Canadian provinces going). And again that’s a buyers’ market for folk artists.

AE: Is there anything you’d like to add?
SH: It’s really great to be able to share the kind of depth of programming that we do with people who imagine that we’re an awards show, which we are, but we’re so much more. It’s really great to be able to tell that story because somewhere out there is a musician who needs some of the services that we offer and so it’s great to be able to inform them of all the work that we do in this industry. It’s very exciting! ~ Michelle Brunet

April 11-15, 2012, Moncton, New Brunswick

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