Canadian Music Week: Where the Serious Music Industry Is Heading

Canadian Music Week (CMW)
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Half the cost, double the deal flow.  Is serious music industry dealmaking heading North?  A look at the competitive advantage of Canadian Music Week.

After a decade of upheaval and general craziness, the brand-new music business is starting to reassemble.  But where are they reassembling, exactly?

One spot may be Canadian Music Week, a conference that’s becoming a growing nexus of music industry dealmaking and networking.  And that’s not happening by accident: talk to conference CEO Neill Dixon, and doing meaningful business is now
a core selling point and strategic angle.  Not just for execs, but also musicians, students, and tech companies.

The ambitious goal is to make this the hands-down, serious dealmaking spot for the music business. And a hardcore following is already developing. “LyricFind would not be the global company it is today without the opportunities for networking and exposure available at CMW,” LyricFind CEO Darryl Ballantyne testified.

Others are also making CMW a mandatory tour stop.  “It’s a unique conference that caters to independent artists,” said CD Baby’s CEO, Tracy Maddux. “It adds a ton of value to its participants, we’re so pleased to be a part of that.”

Perhaps the biggest validation comes from Scott Borchetta, head of Big Machine Label Group, who recently confirmed his participation with a keynote interview.  Big Machine’s management group includes Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, and Reba McEntire, among others.

CMW also tapped yours truly to get involved.  Last year, DMN started partnering with this conference to help broaden outreach and expand our event editorial. And not surprisingly, we noticed a lot more deal flow, connection with our readership, and access to the people in this industry.  The stepped-up strategy seems to be paying off.

But why might more serious industry people start heading north?  Here are a few of the advantages we’ve noticed.

(1) CMW is a crowd, not a mob.

There are times when shows can get crowded, and panels overflow.  Awards showcases and shows can also get packed.  But for the most part, CMW sports a healthy crowd, not an overwhelming mob.

That makes a difference on the business-building level.  Companies typically throw events at venues and restaurants around the main hotel, while shows are sprinkled throughout downtown Toronto.

That includes Google, who threw nightly events across the street (more on that ahead).

(2) Access to dealmakers.

Access, of course, is pretty critical for dealmaking.  And one thing we noticed is that CEOs don’t give keynotes and disappear. Instead, speakers are typically engaged with the audiences realtime, and taking conversations after keynotes and panels.

And that goes for pretty much everyone else, on-stage and off.  Last year, Daniel Glass of Glassnote Entertainment Group sat on numerous panels, while continuing numerous discussions afterwards.  So did Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy), Steve Barnett (Capitol Records), and John Meglen (AEG Live), just to name a few.

Others in the mix included Ruud Berends (EuroSonic), Darryl Ballantyne (LyricFind), Ashu Avasthi (LinkedIn), and Charlie Amter (Warner/Chappell), with dozens of others milling around and striking up conversations.

We were pretty much sitting down with one company after another, figuring out ways to effectively partner.  That’s the same game plan this year (we’ll share our calendar soon if you’re going to be up there).

(3) Access to critical companies.

Last year, the best party was thrown by Google, right across the street from the host hotel.  Actually, the party spanned two nights, both with music, food, the works.  I think they just cleared out an entire floor of an office building across the street from the Sheraton (where the conference is held).  We met more than a dozen people we wanted to work with, and re-connected with more.

And, Google executives were also hanging out and accessible.  And there were lots of events just like that.

(4) Access to clientele

So here’s the flip-side to that.  The companies spending cash on CMW marketing seemed to be taking non-stop meetings.  United Talent Agency (UTA), SOCAN, IBGrocks, Warner Music, NYU, and Live Nation were all highly visible, just to name a few.  They weren’t getting buried in the noise.

(5) Canadian attitude: it’s less pretentious!

If you’re American, you’ll probably agree with this. Canadians are more polite people, and that helps.  But they’re also a way into major corporations whose US doors may be closed.

Take Google: plenty of Toronto-based Googlers were at their party (of course).  All of them talking to companies, both Canadian and US.

(6) And, the music.

The other thing is this: there’s still tons of music, non-stop, at CMW.  So you might not see Jay Z, but last year, I was taking in music non-stop.  X Ambassadors, Tegan and Sara, Tommy Stinson, plus an entire slate of up-and coming Canadian artists.

This year the bill also looks pretty solid: Earl Sweatshirt, Good Charlotte, Hollerado, Mellissa Etheridge, and Wolf Parade, just to rattle off some of the headliners.

There are also full-blown awards showcases and performances throughout the event.  That includes the Second Annual Live Music Awards, which involves more than two-dozen awards across every imaginable venue category.  Proud Canadian Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s longtime sidekick, will be playing emcee.

(7) And the best part: the non-cringeworthy T&E bill.

This isn’t your father’s music business. Cigar-puffing in the South of France isn’t de rigueur anymore.  This time, it’s leaner-and-meaner.  And CMW is pretty wallet-friendly.  Flights to Toronto are reasonable, and so is the city itself.

Actually, if you’re coming from the US, there’s currently a pleasant currency discount of 25% on pretty much everything.  We did the math, and it started to work out nicely for us.

Suffice it to say, we’re heading up again this year.  So maybe we’ll see you in Toronto.  Drop us a line if you’re up there.