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culture

Dear Canadian Music Week, It’s Not Us, It’s You

Why is Canada's oldest multi-venue music festival seen as a weak, sloppy knock-off? We offer six reasons.

20130322 cmw 2013 the indies 002 374 photo by corbin smith

Cold Specks was fantastic at this year’s CMW. The festival as a whole? Not so much.

If you were paying attention to the local Twittersphere over the course of the last week, you probably saw a fair bit of mention of Canadian Music Week. Many of those mentions were comparing it to the city’s other major music festival, North by Northeast, and the comparisons were almost universally negative. The consensus was basically as follows: even if you’re working it as a writer, PR hack, or record-industry type, North by Northeast is fun. CMW is an event where you can see some great bands, but will generally leave frustrated.

We’re inclined to agree. There’s plenty to like about CMW, of course, which is why we spent a week writing about its shows. But even though it’s older and better established than North by Northest, it’s now vastly outshone by its younger counterpart.

Here are six things that are wrong with CMW, and how they can be fixed.

1 The branding is terrible.

Is this Canadian Music Week or Canadian Music Fest? Apparently it’s both. Canadian Music Week is the overarching week-long music-industry shindig, which features a conference, as well as comedy and film festivals. Canadian Music Fest is just the music festival. However, your Canadian Music Fest bracelet will also get you into the comedy shows and the film screenings. Clear? No?

If Canadian Music Week/Fest/whatever wants to generate a little more enthusiasm about its event, its organizers could start by figuring out what the hell it’s called.

2 There are no rules.

While your wristband will get you into comedy shows, there’s no guarantee it’ll let you see many bands. Far too many concerts this year were labeled “limited passes and wristbands allowed.” What that actually meant varied from venue to venue. At the Mod Club, it meant that there was a cap on the number wristbands let in to see CHVRCHES. At The Crawford, it meant that there were no wristbands let in after midnight, regardless of how few people were in the bar, and also regardless of the fact that during a festival, most people like to move between venues. Add to that the fact that holders of VIP wristbands were still required to line up, and you’re left with the impression that CMW’s festival passes are near worthless.

It’s pretty clear that some establishments are just using CMW as an excuse to stay open later. This happens at NXNE, too, but at least they have to put in some sort of effort. Let’s make it clear what a bracelet or pass does and doesn’t entitle a festival-goer to do. It would also be helpful if CMW would set some clear expectations for its venues.

3 The big acts aren’t accessible.

If there’s one thing North by Northeast does well, it’s making big-name acts accessible. Over the years, we’ve managed to see the likes of Ghostface Killah, Iggy Pop, and The Flaming Lips for free, in Yonge-Dundas Square. CMW, on the other hand, tosses big names on the bill, then makes them hard to see. The A$AP Rocky and Rihanna show was largely sold out before a single wristband was allowed in. The Grade and Choke showcase at the Mod Club, Austra, and Action Bronson were all limited-pass shows. CMW puts big names on its posters, but for many attendees this ends up being a form of bait and switch.

Either keep the festival restricted to unknowns, rising stars, and blog-buzz bands, or make sure people can actually see the the megastars.

4 There are too many mistakes.

The app doesn’t work. The set times on the website are wrong. Shows require special, previously unknown “media guestlists” for photographers. Headliners cancel without warning.

A 32 year-old festival should be smoother than this. Period.

5 There are too few repeat performances.

During NXNE, most bands have at least two gigs. If a band has a good show, it allows them to build a buzz and play before a bigger crowd the next time around. At CMW, most bands only play once. This is unfortunate. Finding those word-of-mouth hits is one of the most enjoyable parts of NXNE.

Why not give CMW’s performers some sort of opportunity to build buzz throughout the festival? The organizers could cut the number of bands and try to give each band two shows.

6 Who the hell is in charge of quality control?

There were 1,000 bands playing CMW. Some of them were excellent, but there were far too many generic rawk bands, industrial acts that dressed like Orgy tribute bands, and rappers who couldn’t find a decent rhyme scheme if it kneed them in the face. We realize registration fees have become a cash cow for CMW’s organizers, but the money has clearly blinded them to the fact there are some truly bad bands on the roster. There are far, far too many deluded musicians wasting everyone’s time at CMW. Someone needs to listen to these demos more carefully.

Listen, CMW. We want to love you. You’re a venerable institution. We saw some great shows this year. Unfortunately, we also saw some terrible ones, and missed others entirely because the schedule was wrong, or we couldn’t get in and no one would tell us why, or else they cancelled at the last minute.

Until you fix these things, you’ll always be seen as the discount-store knock-off version of North by Northeast, even if you were here first.

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