The Creationists

Creating Indie Week Canada with Darryl Hurs

January 06, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 19
The Creationists
Creating Indie Week Canada with Darryl Hurs
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating Indie Week Canada with Darryl Hurs
Jan 06, 2021 Episode 19
Steve Waxman

In 2002 Darryl Hurs created Indie Week Canada, which has since become an annual event held each Fall in Toronto filled with music showcases by and a conference for independent artists. In the years since its inception Darryl has also helped mount similar events internationally. When Indie Week was first established though, Darryl needed to be able to articulate to sponsors what set his event apart from other similar conferences.

My interview with Darryl took place while this year's conference was still in the planning phase. By almost any measure, the event was a huge success.  The final count had over 1000 participants from 40 countries who were able to network and attend seminars featuring a wide range of industry experts and special guests. 

2020 was a year like no other and every industry has had to adapt to new ways of doing business. Given social distancing, artist showcases were probably not going to happen but Darryl felt that it was important to the artistic community to at least find a way to mount the indie week conference.

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

If you’re interested in finding out more about Indie Week, the festival, the conference or their weekly online sessions go to indieweek.com

Please follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram and, if you are so inclined, please leave us a nice little comment on your favourite podcast platform.

We'd love to hear from you at [email protected]

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant

The Creationists and its theme music are created by Steve Waxman

Show Notes Transcript

In 2002 Darryl Hurs created Indie Week Canada, which has since become an annual event held each Fall in Toronto filled with music showcases by and a conference for independent artists. In the years since its inception Darryl has also helped mount similar events internationally. When Indie Week was first established though, Darryl needed to be able to articulate to sponsors what set his event apart from other similar conferences.

My interview with Darryl took place while this year's conference was still in the planning phase. By almost any measure, the event was a huge success.  The final count had over 1000 participants from 40 countries who were able to network and attend seminars featuring a wide range of industry experts and special guests. 

2020 was a year like no other and every industry has had to adapt to new ways of doing business. Given social distancing, artist showcases were probably not going to happen but Darryl felt that it was important to the artistic community to at least find a way to mount the indie week conference.

Read the full transcript at imstevewaxman.com

If you’re interested in finding out more about Indie Week, the festival, the conference or their weekly online sessions go to indieweek.com

Please follow The Creationists podcast on Facebook and Instagram and, if you are so inclined, please leave us a nice little comment on your favourite podcast platform.

We'd love to hear from you at [email protected]

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant

The Creationists and its theme music are created by Steve Waxman

In 2002 Darryl Hurs created Indie Week Canada, which has since become an annual event held each Fall in Toronto filled with music showcases by and a conference for independent artists. In the years since its inception Darryl has also helped mount similar events internationally. When Indie Week was first established though, Darryl needed to be able to articulate to sponsors what set his event apart from other similar conferences.

My interview with Darryl took place while this year's conference was still in the planning phase. By almost any measure, the event was a huge success.  The final count had over 1000 participants from 40 countries who were able to network and attend seminars featuring a wide range of industry experts and special guests. 

2020 was a year like no other and every industry has had to adapt to new ways of doing business. Given social distancing, artist showcases were probably not going to happen but Darryl felt that it was important to the artistic community to at least find a way to mount the indie week conference.

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Darryl Hurs:  You know, at the start of all this COVID stuff we had cancelled, we weren't even going to run it. We just said, "Let's not deal with this mess at all." But as things started progressing, and seeing what kind of online options there are, it made more sense to have the conference. And then we also found that there needs to be a positive light for the music community. There needs to be something for them to look forward to. And we're seeing online connections as a very positive thing. You know, other conferences in Toronto canceled. And so we're like, 'Wait, there's not going to be anything this year in Toronto?' So we had to do something. We kind of decided months later than we normally would that we are doing something. We were behind the eight ball a little bit, but we're doing great getting things going. We started a weekly series. Every Tuesday we have an online discussion. And the first time it was like, we should do something, and it was a Thursday. Okay, cool. just announce it. Tuesday. We don't know what. We don't know who's talking. We don't know anything. We're just doing it. And just under 40 people showed up for it. Now we have on average around 100 people show up every week. And it's International. It's amazing. The response has been great. And so we just feel that right now artists need something that's positive. And we are continuing education. So it's throughout the entire year now. And we will do festival talks. And it's like festivals from the UK, Brazil, you name it. So artists are connecting. And that's the thing is right now, I think performance is getting figured out. But we still need to connect and we still need to learn and help share information. Because I think that's the biggest thing with this is that there's so much unknown. As we learn, we need to share it and so that we can all keep moving forward.

Steve Waxman:  So what was the motivation of starting Indie Week?

Darryl Hurs: My background is that I started as a guitarist. I was in indie bands. I was playing around. I was from Edmonton, I moved to Toronto and I was playing around and the band I was in were always doing great shows. A lot of it was capacity or near capacity. And there's a lot of other artists that were just always overlooked by festivals and showcases that are out there. And so it's just a matter of let's showcase new artists to discover. And let's work at getting industry out to discover them. And it was a hobby at the start. It was just meant to be just kind of like, 'Hey, we're doing shows in six venues,' and it kept growing and growing. And last year, I think we had 25 venues, we had 228 artists, and I think we had about 16 countries represented. So it's gotten to be quite the project every year.

Steve Waxman:  So how how much planning did you have to do ahead of that first one,

Darryl Hurs:  You know what, it really wasn't that difficult. At the time I was booking a venue and hosting shows around town, and it was a much different world. Applications were sent in the mail. And it was paper, press kits and CDs. Nothing was really digital other than a website that had the show listings. So it was just basically putting an email out to all the artists I deal with. And we had a great response and it was 6 venues. And Toronto was very different at the time.They were all on Queen Street, all walkable, and people went out to shows on a Tuesday at the Horseshoe. I'm sure you remember those days. It would start the Horseshoe then maybe in between bands went to the 360 or the Rivoli and came back to the Horseshoe. And then somehow you ended up at the Bovine for the 2am last call and that was like a Tuesday. And so that was the thing, there was already this sort of club hopping vibe on Queen Street all the time just checking out bands because it was vibrant on Queen Street. So it was actually pretty easy to start. There's an audience built in. The artists were are a lot of artists I dealt with already. And it was the venues I already dealt with.. So it was pretty easy. Now it's much different. The city's kind of fragmented. We've got as far as Queen, and we've got Parkdale. You've got Bloor Street. You've got out east. You've got College Street. It's so spread out that the club hopping vibe is much different. I find people kind of set a destination and stay there. And they might jump around a little bit. But cab rides and Uber rides are pretty costly at times. And some of the complaints are 'Man, I spent $100 just going from venue to venue in one night.' So things have changed in that way. But it's still a great experience with lots of great artists from around the world and just getting them connected to the industry and also educating them. We've got a conference side where education is a huge part. But yeah, making connections. That's what it's about. 

Steve Waxman:  So obviously, this is a very unique year. But so prior to 2020, what were some of the challenges that you had to overcome to put Indie Week on? 

Darryl Hurs:  Well, there's two ways we can look at that question. There's challenges that just happen, like COVID. And then there's just the regular challenges. The challenges that just happen. Just so you're aware, putting on events at a scale, there's just so many things that happen. And we try to make it look seamless behind the screen. Nobody knows what happens, right? That's our job at putting on events. And I'm adding a global pandemic to my list. I've had lightning strike our bank the day before we're about to launch, which means when I went to pick up our floats for 24 venues, it was closed. I've had a volcano in Iceland strand us in Dublin for seven days. I've had the Queen show up in Dublin and that meant a lot of security and not a lot of access to our venues. A bomb scare in Belfast, which meant nobody allowed in for a four block radius. That was interesting. So there's a lot of stuff that just happens. And we make it where people don't even know that that was going on. Other challenges are that the music industry changes all the time. And you've got to try to predict where's it going to be next year? And are we going to be relevant? And can we stay relevant? And sometimes you make the wrong decision. And people say, "Oh, you should have done it this way." And it's like, well, when we started planning this 10 months ago, this circumstance wasn't like this, you know, and especially this year is the ultimate test of that. We now have to be online. We now have to think bandwidth. We have to think cost per attendee, and so forth. It's stuff that we've never had to consider. So you have to be open to learning. Each year is like a new course in university. And it's a lot of learning every single year. But that's been what the music business is and that's what running an event is.

Steve Waxman:  Did the media and industry buy in right away?

Darryl Hurs:  No. Not at all. First off, it was like, 'Oh, so you're just like, Canadian Music Week?' No. 'Oh, so that means you're like North By?' No. 'Oh, why do we need another?' And also trying to get sponsors as well, because they're already sponsoring events in Toronto. And that's where a lot of their budgets were allocated to. So it was very much an indie endeavor, just like building an indie band on an indie budget, and a lot of grassroots and sweat equity. But, you know, a lot has changed. And we're established and now we've had Jack Daniels as a sponsor for eight years, which is kind of unheard of, for a global brand to stay with one event for that long.

Steve Waxman:  Well, how did you separate yourself from the other conferences that were already established?

Darryl Hurs:  A lot of it was really focusing on the emerging artists side and still trying to think of the discovery of music. You know, I go to a lot of the conferences and a lot of times I just see the same people. And what we're trying to say is 'Here's the alternative.' This is if you really want to see kind of what might be the next thing, check this out. And it's been very rewarding in that sense. The other thing too is that I found with a lot of conferences I could go and listen to say a company like Live Nation talking about data and analytics and how that translates but to all the indie artists, that does not apply to them at all. So we would rather do things like 'How do you get your publishing in order.' 'How do you collect royalties.' 'How do you make sure your metadata is correct and how do you export to a different market.' 'How do you know which market is your market.' 'How do you do that properly so that you're not wasting your money and time.' And so we do educational kinds of components, but also try to make the connections for the artists so that they can start doing those kinds of things.

Steve Waxman:  So are there any particularly early successes from bands being discovered during a new week that you can kind of point to?

Darryl Hurs:  It's an interesting thing. I don't know if it's necessarily discovered. It's the start of it. For instance, we had Walk Off The Earth right before they went big. And I fought hard for that. That was on a Gibson Guitar showcase. And I was like, 'We need this band, they're gonna be huge.' And they're like, 'Well, they're not really a Gibson artist.' I was like, 'Wait, Sarah,' who at the time was not officially in the band, I'm like, 'She's in Creep Show and they're Gibson artists. So let's have them on.' And sure enough, a few months later, they went huge. So we're really almost like A&R of here's the ones to watch. You know, there's a band called Sumo Cyco that we brought to Europe for the first time. And they've now since toured Europe eight times. They work with Live Nation over there. They headline UK tours. They got signed to Nuclear Assault Records (note: it's actually Napalm Records) and have management out of the States. They were just prepared to do two massive tours and this COVID stuff which stopped them, of course. And we've had Monowhales, which is now bubbling up on radio charts in Canada. They had a Billboard record for indie artists last year. So yeah, we're really like the a&r, almost like, check out these really cool bands. And it's just interesting to watch that, you know. A lot of them are young, and they're all different levels. But on the flip side we've had Glenn Matlock, from Sex Pistols perform for us. We had the drummer from The Doors, John Densmore, do keynote discussions and things like that. So we've brought in some of the people who were kind of known to be the indie sort of disruptors during their era and try to pass on some knowledge as well. 

Steve Waxman:  So is government funding a part of getting this off the ground every year?

Darryl Hurs:  Yes, absolutely. We rely on funding and sponsorships for sure. That's what kind of allows us to do what we do. And this year is a little tough to try to tell funders we're moving online and we don't know what's going to happen. You know, it's all question marks right now. But overall, they've been very supportive. 

Steve Waxman:  Was the conference always a part of Indie Week? 

Darryl Hurs:  Not from the very first start It started pretty small, more like, panel discussions and things like that. I'd say I think the first four or five years, there wasn't the conference aspect. We might have done B2B, sort of like industry speed dating style sessions. But the full conference started about five or six years in, and it's actually grown to be really a major component. You know, last year, we had a whole delegation from Korea where they brought four bands over plus they brought media and delegates.. We were actually the only festival in the world to be part of the new program called Korea Splash where they actually flew myself and another one of my staff over to Korea first, where they held showcases, and introduced us to artists for us to select which artists would come to Canada. So that was pretty cool. And we've partnered with festivals in Brazil. So we've presented artists, Canadian artists in Brazil and we're just continuing to expand outward to international focus. Canada is an export market. And I believe it was a couple weeks ago, I saw a figure where about 60% of the revenue for the music industry comes from outside of Canada. So there's a lot of funding and focus on export. We've actually just launched a mentorship program with CIMA, which is taking place in October, where attendees will be able to learn how to figure out what their market is, should they invest in it, what are the steps to prepare themselves to export because a lot of people I find just go, 'Hey, it'd be cool to go to Europe,' and they almost treat it like a holiday. But just how to get results and exporting? So we've launched a mentorship program, and that's kind of like an extension to our conference. So there's a lot more knowledge that new people to the industry need to learn, and artists need to learn because I think this is one of the best times to be a musician. When I played, basically, you're an indie artist, you paid up to $100 an hour in a studio to record. Even the tape to record on you had to be paid for. And then the mastering was up to $1,000 per song. And then you put out a CD and minimum orders were 5000 units, but you go it's cheaper for 10,000 units. And just when you get your finished product, you're like, 'Wow, I've already spent $30,000.' And wait, no radio station will play indie artists, and no record stores will take indie artists, you had to go on the road, which was a cost. So just to do something back in the day was like thousands and thousands of dollars and a time commitment. And now people are recording a song in a week and then putting it up online next week. And they can collect royalties internationally. And if it goes on to YouTube, they can collect there. I think this is a great time to be a musician. Truthfully.

Steve Waxman:  I couldn't agree with you more.

Darryl Hurs:  I challenge artists. There's an artist that I use as an example. I worked with them for about 14 months, a band called Double Experience. They're really smart, like, super smart. Their own business model is that they got a song on a game. So they play Comic Cons where there's a built in audience and merge sales. Amazing. But they needed to get beyond that. And so we worked on developing them and had them play a Reeperbahn showcase in Germany. They got signed to a German label and they literally were just about to release that album, of course, in May this year, and, you know. They still released it, it just changed their plan a bit. But at the start of this, I'm like, "Why don't you guys do the live stream on Facebook? You should be doing that every week and build audience." And they're like, "Should we? Okay, we'll try it." Well, the first one they did, 3200 people watched. Which is more than any show that they would play because it's international. And they actually started writing songs with their audience. They did these cool things like that. One time it was with fortune cookies. They would go "I've got fortune cookie A and fortune cookie B. All right, everybody vote, which one do we open?" And that'll be the topic of the song. But the thing that I think all artists are missing is how do you translate that into a community that will keep coming back? And I think they're missing data collection. Like, 'Hey, could you give me your email address, and I'll put you on our newsletter.' Simple things like that. And ultimately, they could come out of this with a bigger audience than they've ever had before. And like one push of a newsletter button and they could have people from around the world knowing about them. I think there's a huge opportunity to build an audience, which doesn't cost a hotel, doesn't cost a train, plane, anything like that. And that's one of the biggest opportunities right now. Build an audience. You know, my girlfriend's kids, they watch concerts on Fortnite. And I'm like, 'Wow, really?' And it's a game. So I feel, oh, I'm now part of the generation gap. I didn't even know that existed. And I'll be like, "How many people are on here right now?" And they're like, "Millions." And like, what? Millions? They're like, "Yeah, last we looked, there's like 3 million." And it's a 20 minute concert. It's a DJ, and yes, four guests during it. And I'm like, wow, what are the royalties off of 3 million people watching a stream? I wouldn't mind that. So I think we have to look at the kids and what they're going to do, because I think a lot of us are like, 'I don't think I'd watch online concerts much.' And I'm like, okay, but would kids? Yes, they will watch online concerts. So I think we got to look at that's the future you know, and embrace it.

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If you’re interested in finding out more about Indie Week, the festival, the conference or their weekly online sessions go to indieweek.com