A look at New Brunswick’s recent growth on national campus/community radio charts.
Ouch. It’s hard to believe we’re already more than a month into a new calendar year. I’m still at the stage where I catch myself writing the date as 2018 instead of 2019. This usually lasts until sometime in mid-March if I’m lucky. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. I’m sure I’m not alone here.
So while I’m still trying to get my head around exactly what year it is, I want to stop and back things up for just a minute, even if that means prolonging my true understanding of time for another week or two. Specifically, I want to go back to the last days of December. Back to when Earshot Magazine (!earshot) announced it’s Top 200 albums of 2018. Reasoning being, New Brunswick artists had a pretty impressive showing on the national charts this past year (it was actually the third straight year to include no less than seven New Brunswick artists among the top 200) and I feel like, outside of a few scattered Tweets and posts on Facebook, this somewhat monumental achievement has largely gone unnoticed.
Now, some of you may say, “But Matt, 200 is a big number. That’s like Ryan Seacrest’s American Top 40 times 5. How is this even significant?” Good question. But think of it this way – when you consider that Ontario’s population alone is something like 15 times that of our own province, squeaking even one album into the national conversation should be seen as a major accomplishment.
The absence of hoopla surrounding this achievement probably had something to do with the fact that Earshot’s charts are compiled entirely from data submitted by campus and community radio stations. Yes, these are essentially the same “college radio” stations that helped turn the tide of popular music nearly three decades ago. Despite existing on shoestring budgets and with minimal resources, these stations continue to play an important role in helping independent bands and labels reach new audiences. I would even go as far as to say campus and community radio stations are the backbone of independent music in Canada. They’re that important.
If you’re not familiar with campus/community radio stations, think of them this way – they’re like commercial radio stations without all the annoying ads and the shitty music. Campus radio is probably where your favourite band got their start before they opened for Arcade Fire in Saskatoon, landed a modest record deal, and lost their edge. But I’m not here to educate you on the importance of stations like CHSR FM (Fredericton), Codiac FM (Moncton), Local 107.3 FM (Saint John) or CHMA in Sackville. We’ll leave that for another time.
In researching the content for this article I went back over the past five years of Top 200 charts and here’s what I learned. In 2014, there were four New Brunswick acts to make the list: Jon McKiel (Sackville), Vogue Dots (Saint John), Matt Andersen (Perth Andover) and Little You, Little Me (Saint John). In 2015 we took a bit of a dip with only two artists making the cut. Those were Kappa Chow (Sackville) and The Vogue Dots for the second year in a row.
Things start getting interesting in 2016 when seven New Brunswick musicians or bands made the Top 200 chart: Laura Sauvage (Moncton via Rogersville) at #56, Matt Andersen (Perth Andover) at #72, Lisa LeBlanc (Moncton) at #91, Tomato Tomato (Saint John) at #124, Little You, Little Me (Saint John) at #162, Motherhood (Fredericton) at #185 and Hard Charger (Fredericton) in the final spot.
Now, before some of you feel the need to leap onto your favourite social media account in an attempt to correct me on some geographical specificity related to some of these acts, you’re right, some of these artists no longer reside in our beautiful province but the fact remains, they did get their start here. That said, the majority of bands mentioned in this article still do live and work in the province. No list of New Brunswick artists would be complete without a few caveats. That’s just the way it is.
Things remained interesting and no less impressive in 2017 with Partner (Sackville), Jon Mckiel, Elephant Skeletons (Saint John), Laura Sauvage, The Hypochondriacs (Fredericton), Lisa LeBlanc and David Myles (Fredericton) all finding their place within the big list. In fact, in 2017 Partner received the highest placing of any New Brunswick band over the last five years by confidently claiming the #16 spot as their own.
This brings us to 2018, a banner year by any measure with Partner and Jeremy Dutcher (Tobique First Nation) making it onto the Polaris Prize shortlist, with Dutcher eventually winning the award.
The 2018 Top 200 list also included The Olympic Symphonium, Jane Blanchard, Tampa, The Hypochondriacs, Janowskii and Brookside Mall – six New Brunswick bands, five of them from Fredericton. Why was there no parade or a tree planting ceremony? For a province that accounts for roughly 2% of the country’s population to have eight artists place among the top 200, to me that’s worth some kind of acknowledgement, a few dozen high fives or at the very least, an article on Grid City.
I think it’s also important to mention the achievements of a couple of artists who didn’t make the end of year list but still managed to pull off several weeks of national airplay. Electronic musician Wangled Teb (Fredericton) and folk artist Colin Fowlie (Fredericton), were both mainstays on national Top 10 lists in their specific genre categories (Electronic Music and Folk/Roots/Blues) through the last weeks of 2018 and into the new year.
After I found all this out, I started wondering how it all happened. What, if anything, has changed over the last few years that may have contributed to this increase? Are there more stages at home for artists to hone their skills on? Probably. Are more people finally starting to tune in to the great music happening in their own towns and cities, played by people they probably know? Again, this is probably also happening. Are stages and audiences the answer? Maybe not entirely, but they are certainly part of the equation.
Since its founding in 1998, the province’s music industry association has helped create a variety of support programs for New Brunswick musicians. In addition to Festival (506), the organization’s annual awards and conference event, Music NB offers semi-regular workshops and networking opportunities for musicians and since 2017, they have been administering the province’s Music Industry Development program.
Jean Surette is the executive director of Music NB. He believes this spike in consistency may have something to do with a growing number of New Brunswick artists touring into Quebec, Ontario and elsewhere. He has also been seeing more New Brunswick artists participating in East Coast Music Week activities and notes a general increase in the level of professionalism put forward by New Brunswick musicians.
“We’ve been administering the Music Industry Development program for the government since the 2017-18 fiscal year and we put more focus on showcasing and touring,” said Surette. “This might be one of the reasons.
“We’ve been more involved in getting artists on top of their grant writing game and I think there are more grant writers now too,” he said. “As a result, artists are accessing more funding to tour. We’re definitely getting more applications than before.”
So I guess the next question is, how do we build on what we started here? Is this kind of momentum sustainable?
Erin Bond is a music industry professional who has experience on both sides of the music distribution equation. She is the station manager at CHSR FM in Fredericton and also runs TwoFifteen Records, a small indie label that offers a radio distribution service aimed at helping musicians get their music out to campus/community stations across the country. Over the past few years she has worked with a number of New Brunswick artists including Ceeb Dread, Kill Chicago, District Avenue, Kenny James, Deep Fryer, Sleepy Driver and several others.
As she sees it, there is no magic bullet for getting your music played on a national scale. The secret isn’t that much of a secret.
“The main trick to getting played is just to have good music,” said Bond. “At the station, we can’t play everything we receive. That’s impossible. A programmer’s personal preference has a lot to do with what gets played, but Music Directors are the gatekeepers of each station. The biggest takeaway is to include all relevant information to make an MD’s job easier.”
Bond has been working to educate musicians on the best music distribution strategies for years now. In a blog post from 2014 – Submitting Music 101 – she outlined several effective strategies that have helped submitting artists find their way onto playlists at the station where she works. These include sending physical copies with the shrink wrap removed, identifying key tracks that best represent the band or release, and avoiding excess material like press kits and fancy packaging. But most importantly, she recommends artists do a little research in hopes of directing their music to the ears that may appreciate them the most.
“If you want a specific show or host to receive your album, include their name in the package when you mail it,” she said. “Look at the shows and see what types of music they play. There is no sense in submitting your music to a station that doesn’t play your genre.”
With the new year now in full swing and new releases on the way from Motherhood, Little You, Little Me, Wangled Teb, Menoncle Jason, Hard Charger and others, it will be interesting to see where these and other artists end up at the end of the year. One things is for sure, no matter where things fall in a year’s time, it’s nice to know people are starting to take notice of what we’ve got going on out here.
If you’re unfamiliar with some of the artists mentioned in this article, you can find some links below. I highly encourage you to check them all out.
Laura Sauvage – Extraordinormal #56
Matt Andersen – Honest Man #72
Lisa LeBlanc – So You Wanna leave, Runaway Queen? #91
Tomato Tomato – I Go Where You Go #124
Little You, Little Me – I’d Watch the Day Til It Died #162
Motherhood – Baby Teeth #185
Hard Charger – Bad Omens #200
Partner – In Search of Lost Time #16
Jon McKiel – Memorial Ten Count #41
Elephant Skeletons – The Traveller #91
Laura Sauvage – The Beautiful #146
The Hypochondriacs – In ¾ #166
Lisa LeBlanc – So You Wanna leave, Runaway Queen? #170
David Myles – Real Love #199
Jeremy Dutcher – Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa #24
Olympic Symphonium – Beauty in the Tension #34
Jane Blanchard – Enemy #79
Tampa – Belated Love #81
Partner – In Search of Lost Time #103
The Hypochondriacs – In ¾ #125
Janowskii – Self-Titled #145
Brookside Mall – Self-Titled #190