Why You Should Consider Submitting to Contact Events and How You Should Do It

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From left: Darryl Brunger (Woody Holler and his Orchestra, Daniel Jordan (Red Moon Road)

By Manitoba Music and Deborah Remus

Many artists are familiar with industry conferences and festivals like BreakOut West, North by Northeast, Canadian Music Week, Folk Alliance International, and the music mecca, South by Southwest

Performing arts showcases, often called “contact events”, are another showcasing avenue that may be a little less in the public eye, but can be just as valuable as a way to book shows and tours.

What are contact events?

Contact events bring together performing arts presenters, festival and talent buyers, community arts councils, concert promoters, agents, and cultural organizations from across their region to take in showcases from a wide variety of artists and performers, and offering those artists the opportunity to books shows and even tours.

“All provinces have a regional presenting network. Each Network hosts a contact event where artists perform to a venue full of presenters and arts professionals,” says Kevin Korchinski, executive director of the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils (OSAC), which organizes an annual contact event.

“The showcase events across Canada revolve around artist showcasing, networking and professional development to support the growth and challenges of the touring industry,” says Rose-Anne Harder, the executive director of Manitoba Arts Network, which organizes Manitoba Showcase. “For artists, they are a gateway to touring and making your name known. Besides the performance opportunity, the event includes a conference that connects artists and presenters or buyers.”

While contact events have a long tradition of booking acts that work in folk, roots, world, jazz, blues, and acoustic genres, many contact events are actively working to broaden and diversify their line-ups and appeal to new generations of music fans.

They can help build a grassroots following outside of major centres

Contact events can help get you into towns and festivals that are perhaps outside the typical touring hotspots, getting you up close and personal with the local communities.

“The purpose of [Manitoba] Showcase is for artists to perform for a live audience of arts presenters seeking to book acts to tour to their communities. The benefit of developing grassroots audiences is that they are now committed to you as an artist, not just a hit song or a one-time festival. They will be supporting you for years to come,” Harder says. “Touring through the prairies provides unique opportunities to get up close and personal, with entire communities of captive audiences. This is where they’ll make new fans, sell CDs, and often be invited back. They’re the talk of the town for months. It doesn’t get more grassroots than that.”

Getting into smaller communities also has the potential to lead to tours in larger markets.

“It’s important to understand that audiences in the tertiary markets feed the tastemakers in the secondary markets,” explains Mighty Cypress Talent’s Stu Anderson, who manages The Bros. Landreth, about how rural communities can be an important connection to larger cities.

“Grassroots following means that we have fans who are friends, closer to family really, in every town we've played in,” says Red Moon Road’s Daniel Jordan, who is no stranger to contact events. “They attend the shows, bring their friends, put us up in their houses and follow us online. Ones we know will be saying ‘we knew them when’... as we now play the bigger venues in town where the same mingling is not as easy.”

They can offer an alternative to the typical lounge or bar setting

Bars are popular music venues, but they’re not the best fit for every artist. Many rural communities have a variety of venues, including community halls and some gorgeous Vaudeville-era “soft seat” theatres.

“We don’t do well in bars, we’re definitely a soft seat theatre band. These are the bread and butter of our career,” says contact event veteran, Darryl Brunger, of Woody Holler and His Orchestra.

Many of these venues come with an agreed-upon artist fee, or guarantee, which provide a solid anchor date to balance out lower paying shows, and can really help with budgeting your tour.

“It makes all the difference,” explains Jordan. “Having an anchor means you have a point to start from, and gives you cred in setting up the rest of the tour. It helps for grants as they usually have contracts in advance.”

Figure out what you need to submit.

Like many showcase opportunities, you have to submit to be selected. Submissions, which usually have an application fee, are adjudicated by juries made of up presenters and industry who know their respective regions well. Before you start, take the time to do your homework and become knowledgeable about how these events work.

“Best bit of advice is to speak to the contact person at the organization. Learn about the organization and how they operate,” says Korchinski.

“Take the time to find out about the event, and the audience you’re pitching to,” says Harder. “These are juried submissions and to get to showcase you need to stand out above the rest of the applicants. This jury wants to see your interaction with an audience and the audience response to your performance. To ignite a spark in a buyer’s eyes, give a glimpse of how the show will unfold live on tour.”

Videos are one of the first things that the jury will see so it’s important to make a strong first impression. Make sure it’s your best work and try to use a performance video instead of a music video.

“Short, 90 second introduction or promo video can be the most effective,” says Manitoba Music’s professional development coordinator, Roland Deschambault. “These would typically have bits of live performance, studio shots, tour footage, and brief interviews with artists and their team. It’s a great way to get your personality across to the jury and to get them excited to explore further.”

“If the first video isn’t your best, the jurors may not look any further,” adds Harder. “Make sure your links work and your application is professional.”

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

If you’re selected to showcase, you have a tight 15-20 minutes on stage to impress the people in the room so you better make sure every second counts.

“The set time is short and going over is considered a negative. Plan your set carefully – including the banter between songs - and rehearse it,” says Korchinski.

Jordan stressed the importance of preparing your set beforehand, including practice, and respecting the sound technicians by sticking to the instruments listed on our stage plot and sound check.

“For us that will mean four songs tops, as a big part of our show is the stories and banter,” says Jordan, who also cites making materials easy to ready and access as an important point. “Don’t bring anything superfluous. Have the drums set up before to the side, make sure your guitar is tuned before. Test your cables beforehand. Smile. Remember, if you can see the presenters they can see you. Be professional and think about what you present and how you look in addition to how you sound. Get off the stage fast, for the next act.”

“Take full advantage of your sound check at the showcase and go through each song,” Harder adds.

“You really need to put on a memorable show that stands out, whether it’s the quality of the musicianship or a unique story,” says Brunger.

“Play only your best, lived-in material,” suggests Deschambault. “Build your set using that have proven effective in front of multiple crowds songs, even if that means older songs. A 15-20 minute showcase is not the time to test new songs.”

Don’t forget to network.

Contact events offer a great opportunity to make many valuable contacts. When your set is over, it’s important to stick around and connect with the presenters and agents. A lot of activity happens in what’s known as the “contact room”, which is somewhat like a trade show.

“Equally important to showcasing is the networking that is done at the conference with presenters particularly in the contact room,” says Harder. “Many people in the industry say the business is done in the contact room.”

You can have a stellar set, but if you don’t match that with a certain level of professionalism, it can work against you.

“Presenters notice when artists or their reps show up late, skip out early or don’t show up at all. It can reflect poorly on the artist,” Harder says.

Local acts can also keep an eye out for Manitoba Music’s newly introduced emerging artists showcase and open mic, which offers showcasing artists another chance to be themselves and network through less formal means during Manitoba Showcase.

Successful showcases can lead to successful tours.

“The Manitoba Arts Network coordinates block booked tours and performances throughout the province based on interest generated at the Manitoba Showcase event,” says Harder. “Many artists have found that they receive up to four years of on-going bookings based on a single slot at our Showcase.”

“Many, if not all, of the networks rely on block booking which allows artists to create a tour with fewer off days than tours that rely on weekends,” says Korchinski. “For OSAC, and others as well, artists are asked to submit a price structure when they apply so artists are aware of what the fees are – of course there is negotiation – but the networks pay real fees.”

“There is a continuity and commitment to discover and promote artists both new and known to them. It’s like family,” adds Harder. “They talk amongst themselves and speak to their experiences of artists seen at the showcases or who they’ve toured in their home provinces. Artists create followings with other artists as well. There’s a great deal of respect and camaraderie with like-minded folks.”

Next February Woody Holler will be touring the Maritimes thanks to a successful showcase at Contact East. The group has also showcased in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

“The ability to tour will always help build your following. The fact that the networks reach into to rural Canada allows artists to tour markets that they might not be able to otherwise. As well the networks presenters are almost exclusively sit down shows rather than clubs so you are dealing with a more attentive audience members,” says Korchinski.

“The buzz these showcases generated in the industry has led to national press acclaim, performances at the country’s best festivals, and most recently, helped secure the band a JUNO win. I truly believe the respect that the band has earned through showcasing has had a direct impact on the boom in their career,” Anderson says.

How to submit.

There is an online application site that accommodates at least a dozen Canadian and American regional showcase events. For information on those participating and their application deadlines, visit iwanttoshowcase.ca and keep an eye on your Manitoba Music weekly enews for more. Here are a few:

Contact East 2015
Atlantic Presenters Association
WHEN: September 17-20, 2015
WHERE: Charlottetown, PE
DEADLINE: March 30, 2015

Alberta Showcase 2015
Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta
WHEN: October 23-25, 2015
WHERE: Fort Saskatchewan, AB, Canada
DEADLINE: March 31, 2015 (5:00 pm MST)

2015 Western Arts Alliance Annual Conference
Western Arts Alliance
WHEN: August 31-September 3, 2015
WHERE: Vancouver, BC
DEADLINE: April 8, 2015

Ontario Contact 2015
Ontario Contact
WHEN: November 5-7, 2015
WHERE: London, ON
DEADLINE: April 15, 2015

2015 OAPN Annual Showcase Conference at Kalahari Resort
Ohio Arts Presenters Network (OAPN)
WHEN: October 19-21, 2015
WHERE: Sandusky, OH, USA
DEADLINE: May 1, 2015

Manitoba Showcase 2015
Manitoba Arts Network
WHEN: Octobert 22-24, 2015
WHERE: Flin Flon, MB
DEADLINE: May 3, 2015

OSAC Showcase 2015
WHEN: Octobert 16-18, 2015
WHERE: Regina, SK
DEADLINE: May 4, 2015

Plus events to look for in 2016…

Contact Ontarois (ON)
Pacific Contact (BC)
Arts Midwest Conference (USA)
Performing Arts Exchange (USA)
IPAY Showcase

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