…If you're lost and on your own
You can never surrender
And if your path won't lead you home
You can never surrender
And when the night is cold and dark
You can see, you can see light
Cause no one can take away your right
To fight and never surrender
Corey Hart’s inspirational anthem serves as a life story for many who attended CIMA’s Celebration and Gala Awards Monday night. It was a festive occasion that honoured a few, acknowledged many, and gave a moment in time to pay respect to those in Canada’s tight-knit clan that recently passed away.
Those who passed were people who believed that Canada’s place in the music world was something to be proud of. Is something to be proud of. Those whose memories were observed: Bobby Gale, Deane Cameron, Ralph Murphy, Dave Bookman and Darryl Weeks; fighters who never surrendered and who separately and collectively lived and breathed music, and daily went to bat to mentor, promote and befriend a very long list of Canadian artists.
Canada’s homegrown music community is rich, varied, and populated by an extraordinary cast of characters whose collective kindness, zeal, and risk-taking is nothing if not remarkable. We live in modern times where entertainment news is bloated with click-bait stories about global superstars who drain the purse strings of the streaming giants and gobble up unfathomable wealth on tour. The music business today is promoted as a game of numbers that fixates on a small number of acts that seemingly win all. The tools, building blocks, for developing new artists in today’s economy is a confusing maze that can no longer count on the power of radio to generate record sales that can float a tour and provide developing acts with a livable income.
But this hasn’t stopped Canada’s independent music community–and, so far, it hasn’t stopped the few remaining major labels left from investing in our own and taking a flyer in a risky business that spits out more losers than winners.
The 235 spirited entrepreneurs who turned out Monday night for CIMA’s 5th annual did so despite a rainstorm that more resembled monsoon, and the Raptors Game 5 that was scheduled to start midway through the evening’s proceedings.
Hosted by CBC Music radio personality, Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, the best and the rest of Maple Music’s creators, business mavericks, politicos and wily impresarios were there in force to network, schmooze, share stories, and honour their own. Attending Monday night’s event, it was impossible not to feel the love in the room. It was a family affair, complete with hurts, tensions, a great many affections and a whole lot of respect for the parts that each plays in storming the ramparts and giving Canada’s songwriters, musicians and composers a voice in a global village dominated by big tech, big money and American culture.
A quartet of previously announced honours over four categories dominated the night’s proceedings.
The Unsung Hero Award celebrated the accomplishments of Yvonne Matsell, for her tireless and too often under-compensated role as a concert promoter and den mother to a long list of Toronto clubs that became breeding grounds for Canada’s next stars. Her award was one thing, but Kevin Drew’s solo performance on piano, singing about the “pink-haired lady” was something else. When he recalled those early days, when she fanned the flames for Broken Social Scene, he spoke with such respect, affection, and appreciation, you just wanted to hug them both. It was a precious moment and his song came straight from the heart. You can’t choreograph this kind of evocation.
The (late, great) Brian Chater Industry Award and Entrepreneur Award respectively went to Six Shooter Records’ Allison Outhit and Shauna de Cartier. Theirs is a story about fiercely determined women who have created a culture of acceptance and delivered the goods, shattering the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ like they were hitting slapshots in a world cup series. Not all of have been winning goals, but you’re not going to find a lame duck act on the label’s roster. Six Shooter artists Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland’s collective voice performing as Whitehorse put the icing on the cake, letting everyone know that this a label that sticks up for its artists and fights to give them a supportive home. These are risk takers with a heart.
Fourth on the list of those honoured was Kim Cooke, a moderate in a collective of outliers who was honoured with the Builder Award. More Ivy League than Radical Chic in his exterior persona, Cooke’s accomplishments as an executive at Warner Music, recounted with amusing intelligence by onetime label peer Dave Tollington, tells the story of someone whose life story one would never have guessed at a glance. Even less of a guess is that Cooke would leave the security of his job, with a company he had spent the better part of his professional life with, in his 50s, with wife and kids, and become an entrepreneur. This he did, financing and running Pheromone Recordngs, a boutique artist label, and Revolution Recording–a high-end multi-track studio complex that beat the odds to become one of the pre-eminent recording facilities in North America in a time when home studios had become all the rage. Pheromone artist Joel Plaskett flew in from Halifax to pay his respects for his friend with a song that was as playful as it was evocative. As with Kevin Drew’s affectionate performance, it was, quite simply, extraordinary. One can’t buy friendships like this.
The one award not previously announced was the juried Marketing Award that was won by Arts & Crafts for a project built around Dan Mangan’s More or Less Album. The year-long campaign was heavily reliant on video spots designed to tease and build audience attention on Instagram and Twitter. The marketing reel shown on the big screen was both fascinating and instructive, clearly defining the strategy to engage audience interest in the project over the long-haul rather than making a big splash and then winding down. Reels from Last Gang, for Harrison’s Apricity, and Endemic Marketing’s campaign, for Good Lovelies’ Shapelifters, similarly showed how online platforms are the new tool for winning audiences.
Opening the event was Slaight Music’s 2018 It’s Your Shot winning duo Moscow Apartment, youngsters who reminded one of what it was like to be innocents playing music with verve, and Pledge-funded feminist hip-hop ensemble The Sorority whose charisma and energy was seductively mesmerizing.
Put in perspective, Monday night’s CIMA gala was a spectacular event. Yes, some of the speeches were bloated with hyperbole, but that comes with the territory. More important is the fact that it was a family affair where the rich and the poor mingled with equal enthusiasm and drive–and commonality.
The Canadian music business is very much a family affair populated by a network of people who are driven with ambition and a lust for success and share a boundless love for songs, songwriters, musicians, and life liberated from the constraints of popular acceptance and cliques. It’s what has kept me youthful and in love with life itself. There was a time when I could do three shows a night, five nights a week, and listen to hours of new music at home and in the car. I can’t do that anymore–but the clan is still there. It’s a mixed up, shook up world we live in today–but what started the fire within me is still there, and it’s stoked by events such as this that tell me there is still room in ths disruptive and politically charged world for oddballs to find a place to dream to succeed. For our children’s children, let’s hope it stays just so.
To end this, to Stuart Johnston and the CIMA crew, a big ‘thank you’ for going the distance and giving us a night to remember.
And to the evening's sponsors that included Ontario Creates, Gowling WLG, Select Distribution, Slaight Music, CBC Music, Re:Sound, SiriusXM, Cassels Brock, CMRRA, Global Public Affairs, Long & McQuade, LyricFind, SOCAN, and Spotify.