The beat goes on for the Western Canadian Music Awards.
The annual event, along with the BreakOut West weekend music convention, was to take place in Winnipeg this weekend. COVID-19 had other plans.
"It’s a big adjustment, like everyone in our industry," says Robyn Stewart, the WCMA’s executive director.
"There are artists who are normally touring through the year, especially through the summer, and have lost a lot of their livelihood, so we decided that even though we couldn’t be in person we wanted produce something that supported and celebrated them."
Instead of a red-carpet gala, the WCMA will livestream an announcement of 24 music awards and six industry awards Friday at 6 p.m. at facebook.com/breakoutwest. BreakOut West’s panel discussions and networking will take place online rather than at the Fairmont Winnipeg.
Manitoba artists received 36 nominations — roots singer-songwriter William Prince and the Mariachi Ghost lead the way with three each — while 10 nods for industry awards also went the province’s way, including three for the West End Cultural Centre.
BreakOut West is a chance for managers and artists to connect with agents, recording labels and concert venue operators from the across North America and Europe. Instead of doing that at a convention-style atmosphere, it’s being done through the WCMA’s online portal, with attendees paying $50 for access.
"We typically have about 600 delegates, so our expectation would be that it be around the same. Online we’re sitting at about the same number, which is interesting. It hasn’t made a huge impact on our audience, but just very different ways of reaching each other."
Many of the topics revolve around some of 2020’s key issues, such as creative digital strategies, new work life for managers, artists and promoters, and the development of Indigenous voices in the music industry through truth and reconciliation.
While the coronavirus has thrown many hurdles in BreakOut West’s way, organizers have found new opportunities to connect managers and artists with new venues and markets, Stewart says. For instance, it will hold sessions on Russia and South Korea, two countries that are rarely on a tour map for western Canadian performers.
"When we started looking at how we decided to shift our programming, while everyone was looking away from international and away from travel and looking more local, I saw it as an opportunity to introduce and educate artists about new international markets," Stewart says. "Because we’re not in person, it gives us an opportunity to check out new markets that are a little more cost-prohibitive to bring people from."
Winnipeg and the WCMAs will get another chance in the fall of 2021, but Stewart admits it’s difficult to predict what the future will bring to the music world.
"I wish I had a crystal ball," she says. "I do think there is becoming an exhaustion, not just from viewers, but on the artists’ standpoint of putting electronic content out. That’s not to say they’ll stop, but artists are fed by their audience, and I really hope that even if they’re in small amounts, that we’re soon be able to gather publicly and we’ll continue to see creative ways to do that safely from artists."
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
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