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Sharing the sound of the Midwest

The majority of Midwestern America is considered by many to be flyover territory; a place to see from the skies but not worth touching down for any number of reasons, ill-founded or otherwise.

But for touring musicians in Manitoba, the U.S. Midwest holds all the potential in the world; it's a thriving musical market that acts as a gateway to even larger opportunities. It's full of like-minded artists and industry professionals who, too, struggle with being in the national shadow based on location while at the same time are confident the work they are producing is of the highest quality.

It's a region of kindred spirits, and Manitoba Music is tapping into that with the Midwest Music Exchange.

In previous years, Manitoba Music partnered with Minnesota Public Radio's The Current to host the Manitoba X Minnesota Exchange, a music-exchange program that gave musicians and industry personnel from each city the opportunity to experience the other's music scene by way of a small tour and panel discussions.

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The majority of Midwestern America is considered by many to be flyover territory; a place to see from the skies but not worth touching down for any number of reasons, ill-founded or otherwise.

But for touring musicians in Manitoba, the U.S. Midwest holds all the potential in the world; it's a thriving musical market that acts as a gateway to even larger opportunities. It's full of like-minded artists and industry professionals who, too, struggle with being in the national shadow based on location while at the same time are confident the work they are producing is of the highest quality.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Winnipeg punk rockers Silence Kit.</p>

SUPPLIED

Winnipeg punk rockers Silence Kit.

It's a region of kindred spirits, and Manitoba Music is tapping into that with the Midwest Music Exchange.

In previous years, Manitoba Music partnered with Minnesota Public Radio's The Current to host the Manitoba X Minnesota Exchange, a music-exchange program that gave musicians and industry personnel from each city the opportunity to experience the other's music scene by way of a small tour and panel discussions.

This year, Radio Milwaukee has joined in on the fun, expanding the reach of the exchange all the way to Wisconsin.

"We’ve always sort of envisioned our connection with Minneapolis as being a gateway to the market across the Midwest and really it was through our parters at The Current in Minneapolis, they’ve been working with Radio Milwaukee and felt a really kindred approach to celebrating new music and support for their local music community," says Sean McManus, executive director of Manitoba Music.

"And we’ve always known Milwaukee has a very cool music scene, great summer festivals and interesting things happening, and we like the idea of being in markets that... we could have gone to Chicago, but there’s some alignment, I think, between Winnipeg and Minneapolis and Milwaukee."

Tonight, one act from each city will take the stage at the Good Will Social Club before they hit the road and do the same in Minneapolis on Wednesday and Milwaukee on Friday. Explosive punk-rock four-piece Silence Kit will represent Manitoba on the tour; they will be joined by pop-soul songstress Lady Lark of Minnesota and rapper Zed Kenzo from Milwaukee.

Additionally, a collection of industry folk from each participating city will be at Manitoba Music today at noon for a roundtable discussion exploring strategies artists can use to "make the Midwest a launch pad"; visiting panelists include The Current's music director David Safar, hip-hop producer Aaron Mader (known as Lazerbeak), The Current's Jade, Minnesota Music Coalition's Symone Wilson and Tyler Rehm of TR Agency.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Minneapolis pop-soul singer Lady Lark.</p>

SUPPLIED

Minneapolis pop-soul singer Lady Lark.

A similar group will be at the Minnesota Music Coalition's annual Music Summit a few days later to speak with American musicians about touring in Canada. McManus, who will be speaking at the summit, notes the music exchange has been great for encouraging more local acts to head south to tour and for bringing more bands up to Winnipeg, but the hope is to continue to increase traffic in both directions.

"We’ve seen more and more artists choosing to make that route south for touring even from an earlier stage. We’re fond of and we’re attached to the communities and partners in western Canada but we recognize it can be a slog in terms of touring, and so a big part of our goal with the exchange was to raise the profile and concept overall of there being more traffic back and forth for artists between the two centres, and we’ve definitely seen that," he says.

"We’ve seen more artists going south and we’ve also seen some more Minneapolis bands coming up. It still is a challenge to get folks to sort of break down the border and think about coming up here, but we’ve had Festival du Voyageur and jazz fest looking at artists from Minneapolis. Folk fest as well. And I think as part of this awareness building, that’s really helped."

Jordan Lee, program director at Radio Milwaukee, says he didn't know much about the Winnipeg scene before jumping on board, but he and his team see the exchange as a valuable opportunity for everyone involved, noting the similarities in the three participating cities, not only in terms of market size and core values and attitudes, but also in the quality of musicians being pumped out of each region.

"If you look at the markets in the three cities participating, it’s a quality over quantity type of thing," Lee says, adding in Milwaukee, they are experiencing a bit of a boon in nationally recognized artists.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Milwaukee rapper Zed Kenzo.</p>

SUPPLIED

Milwaukee rapper Zed Kenzo.

"With the advent of streaming and digital distribution things that happen now, we’ve had some real standout artists in the last few years; we’re in a position now where we’re trying to really harness that energy and help to really have a couple more digital breakouts in the next few years because the community is really strong right now and the quality output is amazing."

Lee says working with Manitoba Music on this exchange program opened his eyes to what is possible in terms of supporting emerging artists, and he used the organization as inspiration to start Radio Milwaukee's grant program, Backline, which offers funding, mentorship and industry networking for local musicians. "A lot of the services coming out of the Manitoba programs are things we cited as success stories we wanted to build off of," Lee says.

"Folks in the industry in the U.S. are often surprised to see how engaged Canada is in supporting the arts and supporting business development for artists and creative-industries companies.

"Manitoba Music has been privileged to do this work all over the world, with Manitoba artists but also leading innovative music-business incubator projects and export projects that are national and international in scope. It’s gratifying for us to be recognized as a leader in music-industry development for this work."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 7:29 AM CDT: Adds headline

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