Laura Simpson’s main mission is to support artists in nearly all aspects of their careers, and the Nova Scotia native’s resume since 2007 proves it. Now, as the CEO of Side Door, Simpson—along with her co-founder Dan Mangan—is helping independent artists tackle the always-challenging problem of booking shows through an ever-expanding cross-country network of house concert hosts and other alternative venues.
As an online platform, Side Door matches artists and hosts based on preferences, then books and tickets shows. The company’s goal is to give audiences instant access to intimate and unique events happening in their neighborhoods, hosted by passionate community curators.
Side Door partly grew out of Simpson’s other venture, The Syrup Factory, which continues to provide artist consultation and serve as a concert venue in her home. Simpson has also worked with Music Nova Scotia, the Halifax Jazz Festival, the East Coast Music Awards, CAPACOA, and the Halifax Pop Explosion.
Although Simpson credits a four-month mentorship in 2015 with the former president of Warner Bros Records in Los Angeles as inspiring her to go all-in with the music business, she has maintained strong ties to Nova Scotia. It’s all part of her belief—and the philosophy behind Side Door—that experiencing live art in intimate community settings leads to stronger human connection, greater empathy, and improved mental health.
For more information on booking or hosting shows through Side Door, go to sidedooraccess.com
Congratulations on the success of Side Door. Are you surprised at how the business has been growing?
My surprise is only that so many people have given it a try since we launched! I did not doubt that when we got more artists doing shows, the results would be good. Our job is to create opportunities. There's no question in my mind that once people figure out how they want to host and who they want to present in their space, the possibilities are endless for great shows, everywhere.
What motivated you and Dan Mangan to start Side Door?
We want to live in a world where artists are thriving, and I think all the work I’ve done since I became involved in the music business has reflected that. Dan is grateful to all of the fans he earned by doing intimate shows at the beginning of his career. We're both driven to find fairness and transparency in an industry that has consistently abused or undervalued the reason for its existence.
What's your advice to artists interested in teaming with Side Door?
It's free to sign up! Get in there, put as much info as you can, including when and where you want to play. Live performance videos are still a huge asset. And pay attention to our updates, which come out nearly every week. We're using feedback from artists and hosts to create a better platform, so you will see that resulting in things that make it easier to get what you need.
Your other company, The Syrup Factory, also provides services for independent artists. What's your advice for someone preparing to release a new album?
Start early. Make a plan and understand that it takes time to bring all the pieces together. So many people you may need to rely on to get your album out will have timelines of their own, so giving yourself the time to roll it out in the way you want is essential. The Syrup Factory, which is run by my partner Sarah Jamer, helps with that by hearing your vision and helping you make it happen.
What initially got you involved in the indie music scene?
All ages shows in downtown Halifax. I was 14 when I went to my first battle of the bands, and then I just hung out in the scene ever since. I started “working” as a freelance music photographer—still using film—and my first paid gig was selling a couple of photos I took of Joel Plaskett for the cover and back of his Truthfully, Truthfully album. He's still one of my favourites.