Friday, June 5, 2009

Listen Up

"Based out of Brooklyn, they play indie/rock, influences are the Smiths meets Modest Mouse and Radiohead, they've played SXSW and CMJ, pictures are pretty bland, seem purposely casual in front of an outdoor landscape"; escaping the predominately sinister music accompaniment, free beer and snacks, and revolving door of judges, welcome to the Pop Montreal listening sessions.

How is one anointed the graces of staging the plugged festival, well if you're not a part of a label showcase or making movement enough to be thrown an offer to play, its only plausible through the submission process. The number of applicants for the week long multi-venue festival climbs in around 1,400 yearning artists annually (85% online via sonicbids + 15% physical submissions). Unfortunately, only 100 of these submissions make the cut and are programmed into the festival (those are 7% odds).

The requirements are standard, a typical EPK, plus $25 submission fee (necessary so everyone owning a guitar doesn't comply respecting a free pass). For those lost on the Electronic Press Kit, simply: bio, photos, press, CD and contact info.
Imagining this to be your field or industry, how straightforward it stands to complete. Yet, embarrassingly how difficult reality proves. To think a major label would send in for one of their own, without leaving contact info (double checked the empty envelope afterward). One artist left me dumbfounded recently including simply a CD-R, band name, her name and $25 cheque. No bio, no picture, no address, no email, in fact no way of getting hold of her whatsoever. Fortunately facebook and my ambitions endure. But ambition can't produce a record player or boombox to play the vinyl and cassette tapes received.

Than there is Tam, Tam decided to send us an entire Xerox box of paper, included 4 different CDs (without a single highlighted track, hoping songs 1 & 2 of random CD are a favored representation) and personalized apologies for her performance and behaviour a year ago opening for Nice Cave. Her press included a Montreal Gazette article titled "Worst opening act in Montreal music history?", on with the ode to her.

But there is a charming approach, though I caution it is simply backing vocals to the spotlighted musical merit. As the deadline drops, many a acts choose to show face and saunter into our office personally handing over their musical resume. Moodini stopped by with four-year-old twin daughters, who handed over homemade wood helicopter toys. Pom Pom War passed along a set of Army men camouflaging their army themed album cover art. Honest I's punched out space in a book to hold their CD within. 'We're Coming' took their name literal delivering a box of sex toys accompanied by condoms. 'Domlebo' marched through our door singing Bonne Fete to pop, bearing a lit cake (ironically was his birthday) than proceeded to charm each of us individually. Deserving more applause, another act ventured in with chipmunk cheeks routing the office directly from having his wisdom teeth out! Mode Moderne couldn't physically attend hailing from Vancouver, alternatively they elected to ship a fair sized framed painting in the mail. Pricey to send, the portrait was not their work, but taped to it was their bio, flowers and a pop love note. Clearly, this doesn't shed light to their on-stage performance, but the abnormal package did award them a pre-listen.

On to the listening sessions, where the chords, beats, lyrics, etc. of every applicant are aired, following which democratic decisions are made by a jury of associates connected to the industry or with strong music taste. The decision had follows a thumbs up/thumbs down policy to whether the band fits with the festival. Each session lasts about two hours a sitting and rumbles through nearly forty artists, honoring each a minute of a couple songs (spelling why artists should highlight songs they want played). Simultaneously, the band bio, press & influences are voiced, pictures are shown, and peeps discuss the artists potential. After the music breathes air, attendees display their need or dislike of the sonic dispelled. Making this cut only guarantees a trip to a second round in which the stereo spins the CD again and tougher calls are made to match the magic number necessary. Even here, nothing is set, the names are simply passed to the Creative Director for final programming decisions.

At present, we have passed the application deadline for the 2009 festival, and having only hacked through a third of the applications, here are a few acts that have chimed positively to date...

Yes Nice
Ghost of a Stranger
Deleted Scenes
Computer Perfection

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