Before they even left Courtenay, Edmonton-based folk rock band Owls by Nature was able to apply a lesson they learned at the Vancouver Island Music Business Conference (VIMBC).
Owls by Nature was one of the first showcase acts to play Wednesday night at the Whistle Stop Pub at the start of the five-day conference.
They sold some CDs — but, according to bassist Sean Hamilton, not as many as they thought they would in a crowded pub where people were really receptive to their music.
Later in the week, they attended a seminar in which Nettwerk Music Group co-founder and CEO Terry McBride suggested bands give their CDs away by donation so more people can access their music.
Owls by Nature was back at the Whistle Stop Saturday night, and they followed McBride’s advice. When the night was over, they’d sold more than 50 CDs and made “a ton of cash,” according to Hamilton.
“That’s something we really learned, and it’s something we probably will take on the road,” he said.
VIMBC is an annual conference produced by Susie McGregor and Andrew Lorimer of Highland Music Multimedia Productions Inc.
It is the only music business conference on the West Coast, and it has grown a lot since it started four years ago, noted McGregor.
“It’s exploded,” she said, estimating 200 to 300 people took part this year, including about 55 panelists. “We do it totally different. We do it totally intimate and trying to make a huge difference. And people say we have.
“They say, ‘It opened my eyes to the whole industry’ and ‘I’m looking at my career differently.’ They’re so appreciative.”
A lot of that has to do with the panelists who share their experience.
“They’re all absolutely there to help and give back and nurture,” said McGregor. “It’s beautiful. It’s really neat that the industry has so many people like that.”
Owls by Nature banjo player Cory Dee attended VIMBC last year, but this was the first conference for Hamilton, drummer Kate Paradis and lead singer and guitarist Ian McIntosh.
“When I hooked up with these guys, it was kind of a no-brainer that this was something we needed to do,” said Dee. “The opportunities for growth and knowledge are just amazing.”
During the course of VIMBC, the band learned a few lessons on stage performance and also how to get its music to people.
“It’s a good time to focus on just the band,” noted Paradis. “Now, we’re going to work on refining our product and getting it out there any way we can. It’s a real push for us.”
Hamilton feels the conference was very worthwhile.
“It was a lot of fun, we met some really cool people, and actually there are things coming out of it potentially,” he said. “We’ve gotten a few opportunities. Something might come out of it, and something might not, but we’re further ahead.”
McIntosh felt it was beneficial to learn about organizations that can help musicians and even provide funding.
“I realized there are resources out there,” he said.
Merville’s Paul Rodgers was one of many showcase acts during the conference, playing solo during Wednesday’s kickoff party and playing with the band Tin Town on Saturday night.
He has been singing publicly for about 11 months, and he planned to attend as many songwriting and guitar workshops as possible.
“I’m going to be a sponge this week,” he said. “I’m so green in terms of the music industry, songwriting, anything. I’d just like to learn as much as I can. Since I love it, why not do it better?”
Many people with experience in various facets of the industry sat on the VIMBC panels.
People like Ralph Murphy, vice-president of ASCAP Nashville and author of Murphy’s Law of Songwriting, who was a VIMBC panelist for the second year and was a mentor during the two-day Songwriters Retreat earlier in the week.
He hoped to give conference delegates the opportunity to earn a living doing what they love.
Murphy saw someone who had participated in one of his songwriting workshops who said it had changed their writing, and that’s why he does events like this.
“Back in the late 1950s and 1960s, I had to leave Canada to get that information,” he said.
A connection with Murphy helped bring Steve Wilkinson, producer and songwriter for The Wilkinsons, to Courtenay.
Wilkinson was a VIMBC panelist for the first time and also mentored during the Songwriters Retreat.
“I love the fact this is in support of Canadian music and it’s in support of B.C. music, which I think is really cool,” he said. “I love to see this kind of enthusiasm and nurturing for talent that’s grown out here.”
Jolie Gardner of Mission came to VIMBC for the first time after hearing about it from her voice coach, Darcy D, who was one of the panelists.
She thinks the benefits of events like VIMBC are “getting to meet industry people and meeting like-minded people that also understand the business.”
“There aren’t a lot of things like this that I can see,” she said.
Courtenay’s Emily Brule won a chance to participate in VIMBC when she tied for fifth in Valley Idol.
“I wanted to learn more about songwriting, improve my skills and meet the right people to make the dream come true,” she said.
McGregor is thrilled with this year’s conference.
“An amazing time was had by all,” she said. “People networked and learned … all the panelists were overwhelmed by the kindness shown to them and really overwhelmed with the beauty of our little piece of heaven.”