country music

Selection of articles for the CMAO

Photo: ©Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk
From skates to cowboy boots: Q&A with Canadian Olympian Scott Moir (Photo: ©Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk)
Brea Lawrenson

Q&A with Ottawa singer-songwriter Brea Lawrenson

Ottawa area's Jordan McIntosh a loca star continuing to shine

Ottawa area’s Jordan McIntosh a local star continuing to shine

Top 10 social media tips for country artists

Top 10 social media tips for country artists

2013 CCMA Award winners The Stellas credit their Ontario music roots

2013 CCMA Award winners The Stellas credit their Ontario music roots

Recognition for The Reklaws: Sole Ontario band in CCMA Discovery Showcase has a lot on the horizon

Recognition for The Reklaws: Sole Ontario band in CCMA Discovery Showcase has a lot on the horizon

Recipe for the perfect summer night: Chad Brownlee and Fielding Estate Winery

“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”
–        Plautus   

School is done, the sun is out and the grapes are flowering – it’s clear summer is in the air. And while that may be reason enough to celebrate, how about pairing live outdoor music with stunning scenery, luscious wine, fresh food and great friends?

Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Chad Brownlee is helping do just that by bringing his heartfelt vocals and high energy to Fielding Estate Winery in Niagara’s Beamsville Bench on July 6 for Live in the Vinesan outdoor country music concert like you’ve never experienced before.

Set in the vineyard of one of the region’s most coveted wineries overlooking Lake Ontario, Live in the Vines will give fans the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the star while enjoying fresh bites from local food trucks and sipping on Fielding favourites.

You may have heard his new hit single Crash on country music radio or stumbled upon the song’s YouTube video (counting about 65,000 views so far). Perhaps you saw the 28-year-old Kelowna-native on CMT or watched him perform during his Boys of Fall tour with Dallas Smith last year. Or, maybe you recognize his name from the hockey roster where his career as a defenceman made him a draft pick for the Vancouver Canucks in 2003.

Any which way, Chad Brownlee has risen to the top of Canadian country music charts since his debut hit single in 2009, The Best That I Can Do, and continues to shine on the concert stage and awards stage. He won five BCCMA Awards in 2011, including Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, and was the recipient of the Rising Star Award at the CCMA’s that same year. In 2012, Brownlee was nominated for the CCMA’s Male Artist of the Year award and most recently, received a Juno Award nomination for his album, Love Me or Leave Me.

Hockey player-turned-country music star Chad Brownlee | Photo by Stephanie Brooks

Hockey player-turned-country music star Chad Brownlee | Photo: Stephanie Brooks

And while evidently highly praised, the artist maintains a modest outlook and stays true to his roots – and fans. Brownlee brings this down-to-earth vibe to Fielding where his Live in the Vines performance will kick-off the vineyard’s live concert series for 2013 – a great way to start the summer in a venue far from city lights and traffic signs.

But not that far.

The grape vines that line the Fielding estate lie a mere 20 minutes from St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, 10 minutes away from Grimsby and an hour’s drive from Toronto, making the setting a convenient site for show-goers across the GTA and around the province.

Fielding Estate Winery's lodge through grape vines

Fielding Estate Winery’s lodge through grape vines | Photo: Fielding Winery

Whether you favour the berry and oak notes of Pinot Noir or savour the nutty and tropical flavours of Chardonnay, the winery produces your favourites in its 20-acre vineyard. Fielding has made a name for itself as a local, family-run business with a national presence and reputation for high quality. President Curtis Fielding was named Grape Grower of the Year for 2012/2013, reflecting the team’s passion and commitment to stellar winemaking in its state-of-the-art facility.

So don’t miss out as fans, wine lovers, families and friends come together to enjoy live music, fresh air and great wine to kickstart the season: the recipe for the perfect summer night.

Get your tickets now for the premiere vineyard concert in the region: Live in the Vines. Tickets are going fast, so click here to purchase today before they sell out.

Country in the city: A review of the CMAO’s recent Ottawa seminar

Seventy-five budding artists, one music room, 10 country music industry professionals, seven hours, innumerable takeaways

The University of Ottawa’s music department saw more than 75 budding country songwriters, singers and musicians gather on November 25 to hear from Canadian professionals in the country music industry – everyone from music directors to recording artists to booking agents to producers – on everything from radio to publicity and marketing to lyrics, style and business.

I live-tweeted the day-long event hosted by the Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) that consisted of two panels and a demo-rama session.

Below is a recap of the day, including the most prevalent discussions, topics and information. Let me tell you, I could’ve written a book from all the insider advice and knowledge the insightful panelists provided. But out of interest to keep my readership and abide by one of the facts I learned in this seminar (you have a short timeframe to make your point and an impression), I’ve summarized the most dynamic elements of the production below.

Panel one: How to get your songs to radio

Panelists:

Brian Allen, producer, Amplus Productions
KT Timmermans, music director, The Island
Joel Lamoureux, music director, Y101
Anya Wilson, Anya Wilson Publicity
Steve Parker, Canadian Country Spotlight

The CMAO put on the day-long seminar to 75 budding artists

The CMAO put on the day-long seminar to 75 budding artists

Key takeaways from panel one:

  • Focus on: song, image, story
  • It’s the music BUSINESS
  • Talent is a very small part of the whole business. Like anything, it’s who you know, what you know, and what you do with it.
  • Radio is looking for the song that’s going to catch directors’ attention in seven seconds.

As moderator for this panel, Allen did a stellar job bringing the topic of conversation back to the importance of the business aspect of putting music on the radio. He stressed, with necessary emphasis, that it is a money-making industry in the first place, and to get airplay it requires much more than just talent.

Some other important ideas to keep in mind:

  • Bring an audience with you
  • Be ready by the time you get there
  • Build a relationship with the stations
  • Pitch small-town radio

Panelists outlined that country musicians are in a unique position as artists, as a result of the size of audience the genre captures, the connection listeners have with on-air personalities, the loyal characteristics of the audience, and the large demographic. As Timmermans so fittingly put it, it’s the “music of the people.” Lamoureux added, “the country music audience is the most passionate, and you need the songs to connect with them.”

Lamoureux said country music listeners are 60 per cent female, 40 per cent male, and it’s a genre based on a relationship format. By bringing a built-in audience to the game, he notes, you’ll be more likely to be considered for airplay. Therefore, a new artist has to know the audience, know the advertisers, and please both.

What goes into a radio station music meeting? Radio station music directors Timmermans and Lamoureux said:

  • Music directors get a stack of CDs almost daily, hear a few seconds of the demo and either say “yay” or “nay”
  • A song will normally get 18 plays a week

Parker, whose show, Canadian Country Spotlight, showcases emerging artists, discussed the value of time on radio, and all panelists conceded the importance of having a business plan. “You need to have a footprint, or the beginnings of a national profile,” noted Parker. “We look at the business model and if there isn’t one, we have to say ‘no.’”

Wilson, a seasoned industry publicist, takes certain artists on as projects and lobbies radio to get them airplay. She consults on songs before they’re radio-ready, including ensuring it matches the sound of other acts on the radio at the time. Once radio adds something to its airplay, the song is played for at least 14 weeks, meaning it commits to those artists. Wilson makes it her job to ensure they’re capable of reaching that point. “I don’t want a one-hit wonder,” she said.

But, years in the industry have taught Wilson it’s not all about the song. “Radio is a blind medium,” she said. This means a song can’t be five minutes long. It also means there has to be more to an artist than just a hit.

An artist’s newsworthiness is critical to their ability to grow in popularity. Have a good story, Wilson adds, and the development and execution of that story is crucial in an artist’s success.

Timmermans, who views artist biographies daily on the digital music courier service DMDS, echoed the importance of having a good story. “Don’t make light of what your story might be,” she said. “That’s what helps market you.”

Panel two: Making it in the ‘biz

Panelists:
Wendell Ferguson, musician
Charlie Major, country star
Robert Wilson, manager/booking agent
Heather Ostertag, Ostertag & Associates

Key takeaways from panel two:

  • Again, it takes a lot more than just talent
  • Funding is a daunting process and you have to be in “it to win it”
  • Be your own team, but have a team to back you up
Panelists get ready for critiquing

Panelists get ready for critiquing

The second and final panel was much broader in scope, touching on subjects from funding to fans to failing to fulfillment. Broken down by panelist below, read the industry insights on how the specialists got to where they are, where they would go differently, and when they knew they made it.

Charlie Major

When asked by moderator Wendell Ferguson what his biggest piece of advice would be for aspiring country artists, Major responds with a deep and quiet, “follow your bliss.” Seemingly simple words of wisdom from a chart-topping star from Aylmer, Quebec, who’s recorded six studio albums and released more than 20 singles.

After traveling around the world with his guitar, Major decided making music was what he wanted to do. “Know what you’re good at, and do it,” he suggested.

Throughout his career, he’s committed not only himself to follow through with “doing what he’s good at,” but also his team. “I go out there every night and give it my 150 per cent because I’m not just representing myself, but my booker, manager, record company, and so on. It’s a collaboration, and you have to be ready to take on that responsibility.”

Country star Charlie Major

Country star Charlie Major

And amidst the doom-and-gloom perspective of entering the industry prevalent throughout the panel, Major made sure to provide the audience of hopefuls with some optimism.

“Every week I listen to the Top 40,” he said. “And every week there are 40 songs. Somebody is writing those songs. Somebody is playing those songs. Every week, every year, there are new people coming out. It can be done if you want it badly. It’s not insurmountable.”

And while not insurmountable, it’s also not easy. Major said when he sat down to write music and play songs, he’d be at it for 15 to 16 hours a day. “That’s sacrifice,” he added. 

Brian Allen

King of the session’s most quotable lines, Allen, as founder of a production company, focused predominantly on the business aspect of the industry.

Budding artists have to be willing to put in the legwork behind their music and BE the team before they HAVE a team, he said. “First, you have to have a brain,” he noted. “Nobody’s going to be interested in you if you don’t bring something to the table or have an interest in learning how to do some of the work that goes alongside just singing, like promoting yourself and booking yourself.” No one is going to come along and say ‘I believe in you and I want to lose a million dollars,’ he said. “You have to be strong enough to attract a team.”

And attracting a team is different than seeking out a team. “Some managers and agents will show up when they smell talent,” said Allen. “The best managers and agents will show up when they smell money.”

Allen made mention of the innumerable times he comes across someone wanting to make a recording to start their career. But, he advises, artists should be making a recording to further their career. “People want to be rescued by a recording and think it’ll pull them out of their dreary day job,” he noted. “I think that’s just wrong, unrealistic thinking. To figure out if you have a song worth recording, play live! If they don’t clap, don’t record that song.”

He added there are logical, tested, strategic steps to go through when coming up with your music business plan in the beginning, which he dubbed the “career equivalent of diapers.”

But how does one know when and if this is the right thing to pursue?

Allen said an artist will know once they evaluate the opportunity cost of making music for the rest of their life. “You know when it’s time to commit to music when you know that the value of what you are leaving behind is worth less than if you had not committed to it,” he said.

Top three Brian Allen quotes of the day:

  1. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
  2. “A fan is a stranger who will give you money twice.”
  3. “Loose lips sink ships in this business.”

Heather Ostertag 

As former president and CEO of FACTOR, Ostertag knows the ins-and-outs of funding for musicians. While an option for some, funding programs are serious business and not for the faint of heart. “Funding is not an entitlement,” Ostertag said. “You may be lucky to get it, but you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting the funding.”

All funding agencies (like the CMT video artists program, Canada Council for the Arts, FACTOR, and the Toronto Arts Council, for example) provide forums for competition for the money, complete with a jury to determine the successful applicant. “To have a successful application, you really need to think beyond just production,” she adds. “You can’t just have the talent. You have to have the knowledge, the expertise, the ability to take it into the marketplace and exploit it in moving your career forward.”

FactorLogo

Put bluntly, none of the agencies are interested in giving you money just because you have talent.

The realist of the group, Ostertag added the industry is based on a lot of “no’s” and if you do so happen to get the funding, it comes with accountability.

Finally, she emphasized the importance of knowing what is being done on your behalf. “Know what’s been put on funding forms, especially if it’s done by a third party,” she said. “You are accountable for what’s down there.” While you require a team, it behooves you to know what’s happening. “I’ve seen artists who’ve been taken to the cleaners by their team and lose everything. It’s incumbent upon you to know the business in music. I’ve seen so many people have their dreams sold back to them because they didn’t do their homework.”

And my favourite Ostertag line of the day: “It’s evident by some of the people who came to FACTOR that they had been getting advice from friends or family or deaf people. Your friends and family don’t know. It’s a business.”

Wendell Ferguson

This panel’s moderator and accomplished guitar player, Ferguson brought intelligent and careful thought to the session, making sure to add a few jokes throughout.

Aside from his remarks like, “think like your audience,” and “your talent may be big, but you’re not,” what stood out for me was his recommendation on staying committed. “In Nashville, they say your first thousand songs don’t count,” he said. “Come to me when you’ve written 1,010, and they’ll probably be really good by then.”

Vince Gill said if you're getting into the biz, learn to love every aspect of it

Vince Gill said if you’re getting into the biz, learn to love every aspect of it

Clearly an esteemed musician, Ferguson recounted an exchange he had with Vince Gill. “He told me, if you’re getting into this business, you have to learn to love every aspect of it. If there’s something that drives you crazy, it’s going to keep driving you crazy until you can’t handle it.”

Seems like some of these lessons are not only those helpful in the music industry, but life lessons, as well.

The down low on CanCon

Being a Canadian seminar with Canadian industry professionals, it wouldn’t be truly patriotic without the mention of “CanCon” – Canadian Content. Love it or hate it, the CRTC-regulated policy is a reality that today’s Canadian radio stations must abide by. The CMAO panelists shed some light on what makes up music that fits these strict guidelines.

 

The MAPL system defines that to be Canadian Content, or CanCon, at least two of these letters have to be true:

  • Music written by a Canadian
  • Artist a Canadian citizen
  • Place of production is in Canada
  • Lyrics written by a Canadian

Further resources

Carrie Underwood blows Ottawa away with talent and production

It was a true spectacle in every sense of the word. Elaborate sets, a well thought-out storyline, lavish costumes and special effects made Carrie Underwood’s three-hour Ottawa show last night an incredible production that left the sold-out crowd truly, blown away.

Aside from the country queen’s killer vocals that left fans’ jaws dropped in awe, kudos goes to the Oklahoma-native’s production team. From set to design to clothing to lighting and technical aspects, the production elements complemented the pitch-perfect vocals and brought the story behind the album to life.

Carrie's Blown Away set

Carrie’s Blown Away set

After hearing from the sweet and charming Ottawa native and rising country star Kira Isabella, Louisana-boy Hunter Hayes had the young girls in the crowd ooing-and-awing over his musical talent (Hayes played a different instrument for each song).

Opening with Good Girl, Carrie had the largely female crowd immediately on their feet and wishing their own were adorned with the diamond-laden heels Ms. Underwood danced around in.  Telling the audience, “we have a long show in store for you, I hope that’s okay…” garnered screams and even more when she swapped the word “American” to “Canadian” in All American Girl.

In a black and white vintage-looking dress exposing her to-die-for legs, Carrie sang Randy Travis’ challenging song, I Told You So, and explained it was one she grew up singing.

Frilly ensembles and diamond-clad footwear adorned the songstress

Frilly ensembles and diamond-clad footwear adorned the songstress

Although growing up a singer, Carrie’s move to Nashville has her foraying into songwriting, as well, and she described the heartfelt ballad Temporary Home as one she is particularly proud of crafting.

While predominantly performing her big hits from her latest album, Blown Away, a Carrie show would not be complete without some of the American Idol winner’s older girl anthems like Before He Cheats, Last Name, Wasted and Cowboy Casanova.

About halfway through the show, a fenced-in portion of the stage lifted from its place and rose up and over the multitude of fans on the stadium’s floor, complete with massive Ikea-like circular paper lanterns to give the set a dreamy feel.

While hoisted in the air, reminiscent of her previous tour in which the singer sang in a pick-up truck suspended from the ceiling, Carrie sang her hit Thank God for Hometowns. Having spent a great deal of time in Ottawa and even living here for a while with hockey hubby Mike Fisher, Carrie gave a shout-out to the city for being a second great hometown to her.

On her way back to the main stage, she “got the party started” with her summery song One Way Ticket, for which massive beach balls were launched into the crowd and really got the audience engaged.

Beach balls were launched into the crowd during "One-Way Ticket"

Beach balls were launched into the crowd during “One-Way Ticket”

Carrie appealed to the men in the crowd with her rendition of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion – and man, can she rock.

But a personal favourite was her performance of her duet with Brad Paisley, Remind Me, for which her CMA Awards co-host appeared on-screen to sing.

Finally, after rising up to the stage from below to cheers and screams, Carrie belted out her album’s single, Blown Away for the encore.

Her Blown Away finale

Her Blown Away finale

What goes through my mind during every concert I see is the dedication artists must have to sing the same songs, in the same order, in a similar way, day-in, day-out from city to city while on tour. The real measure of a great performer, then, is to make fans feel like it’s the first time the artist is singing it – to make the audience feel something and engage with the song.

I was shaking my head in amazement last night many times because of Carrie’s ability to convey meaning through each and every song. It was evident she was truly giving it her all, and that is what made me – and I think everyone else – feel their money was incredibly well spent.

And that, my friends, is what really blows people away.

My Kinda Party in Suntan City

It was a balmy 40 degree-night in downtown Toronto, which made it feel like 50, and thousands of plaid-clad fans were piling into the Molson Amphitheatre. I almost passed out when I saw the endless crowd of sweaty, intoxicated people all trying to get into one entrance of the 16,000-seat venue. Luckily, the VIP on our tickets got us smoothly through the chaos and into our box, where we would find cold beer and hot sun waiting for us.

As we settled in, newcomer Rachel Farley was warming up the stage with laid-back songs like Ain’t Easy. Farley looks too young to be at an event selling alcohol, but she opens her mouth and a matured, deep twang tells me she’s been at this a while.

Then out came Luke, to arguably a louder cheer than his following act, proving that many fans were here just to see the first talented Georgia gentleman. Funnily enough, Bryan started out his set with Rain Is A Good Thing from his second album, during Toronto and eastern Canada’s drought. Bryan’s energy was contagious, and the heat, evident through his grey-turned-black v-neck tee, didn’t seem to slow him down on stage. 

A row of high-school girls in front of us had t-shirts that said, “NO, Luke Bryan, YOU shake it for ME.” Shake it for me was one of the last songs he played, and it was clear it was the one everyone was waiting for.

But the one was waiting for also seemed to be a crowd favourite. As soon as the guitars started strumming for I don’t want this night to end, the entire theatre erupted. Bryan mixed it up with some of his slower songs, like Do I, where he played the piano and had every country girl oohing.

Luke Bryan

For an outdoor country concert in the middle of summer, nothing really beats Luke Bryan. Jason Aldean couldn’t have gotten a better amp-up for his performance.

It was Aldean that pulled the show together and made it the best country concert I’ve yet seen. From the minute he donned his class cowboy hat and his drawl met the mic, Aldean meant business: he was there to infuse this party town with a little southern hospitality. And did he ever deliver.

Jason Aldean

Aldean even delighted the crowd with two new songs off his new album coming out this fall. The songs, which are not out yet but will be on the radio in the next few weeks, were nothing short of incredible.

Aldean performed his singles and the crowd-pleasers like Tattoos on this town, Crazy TownShe’s Country, and even brought in Kelly Clarkson via video to perform Stay – when you could tell the pop fans in the crowd piped up and sang along. He came back after eardrum-splitting applause to do an encore of one of his new songs and finish with Hick Town.

While I always find it a little ironic to be listening to a concert in downtown Toronto with lyrics about cornfields and pastures, we certainly did see a lot of tailgates and tanlines at this show – not to mention talent.

DID YOU KNOW?

Luke Bryan’s sister, Emily West, is also a country singer, signed to Capitol Records Nashville. Listen to Blue Sky, her duet with Keith Urban, here.

Country in the Capital

Tens of thousands of cowboy-hatted, plaid-wearing fans filled the grounds of LeBreton Flats this weekend for the second annual Capital Hoedown.

People from all over the city and across the country, according to the Y101 host, traveled to the crowded venue to watch live music from artists like Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Sara Evans and Billy Currington, among others.

Chesney kicked off the festival with Thursday night’s show. Student and fan Andrew Retfalvi saw all the weekend’s acts and said, “hands down, Kenny and his band put on the best outdoor concert that Ottawa has seen in years.”

Two of country music’s most powerful ladies, Underwood and Lambert, rocked the stage on Friday night.

Being one of the many honky-tonk-loving fans that attended this weekend, I donned my cowboy boots and headed out to the festival’s closing night on Saturday, where the headlining act, Rascal Flatts, were sure not to disappoint.

The Flatts hit LeBreton Flats playing a lot of their older, signature crowd favourites like “What Hurts the Most” and cover “Life is a Highway,” but mixed it up with songs off their new album and even a rock medley. “Summer Nights” and “Unstoppable” garnered huge cheers, but the lead vocalist, Gary LeVox, sang their new slow single, “I Won’t Let Go,” angelically and pitch-perfect. At one point during their set, member Jay DeMarcus commented on the diversity of the Canadian crowd and said “country music is clearly taking over the world.”

Talented trio Rascal Flatts at LeBreton Flatts

While the trio played another high-energy, fun Ottawa show, it was newcomer Justin Moore and powerhouse Sara Evans who shone onstage.

Moore played second in the evening’s lineup after The Keats, and instantly amplified the atmosphere with his recognizable twang and upbeat country anthems.

He had the crowd on their feet as he sang (not enough) of his latest hits like “Small Town USA,” “Flyin’ Down a Back Road” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” He connected to the crowd with ease on his first visit to Ottawa, getting a loud reaction when he asked the audience if it knew what a “hollar” is.

The Arkansas-native flew to the top of the charts in just the past year and gained a large following after touring with Brad Paisley. His popularity should have placed him further up in the lineup, but Easton Corbin took the stage after Moore and had fans in their lawn chairs singing along to his low-key acoustic tracks.

Sara Evans wows the crowd with her heartfelt vocals

Sara Evans wows the crowd with her heartfelt vocals

Corbin left the limelight to seasoned professional Sara Evans, whose sweet and charming persona came through as she sang for 45 minutes. The sweetness in her voice was evident in songs like “I Could Not Ask For More” and “A Little Bit Stronger,” but the audience was thriving when she belted her oldie but goodie, “Suds in the Bucket.”

The rain held off over the festival’s three-day stretch, and thankfully, the stage stayed intact. Overpriced (but delicious) lemonade kept many, including myself, hydrated in Saturday’s heat. The chaos that ensued as part of a busy outdoor gathering was inevitable, with incredible vendor station and bathroom lineups and mass exodus at the end of the night.

This Hoedown was amped up from last year’s show, where the biggest names were Alan Jackson, Dwight Yokam and Vince Gill, and held at the Rideau Carleton Raceway in the south-end. In the future, acts like Lady Antebellum, Eric Church, Jason Aldean or Zac Brown Band would have me back in a country minute.

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