BreakOut West — the music industry conference, festival and awards show honouring the talent in the Western Canadian provinces and territories — is heading north to the Yukon, Oct. 20 to 23. With a population of just 34,000 people as of 2010, the westernmost and smallest of all the territories has an Arctic climate and on clear winter nights a spectacular view of the aurora borealis.
Music Yukon became part of this event, then simply called WCMA week, in 2002 when the Western Canadian Music Alliance — comprised of provincial music associations Alberta Music Industry Association, SaskMusic and Manitoba Music — expanded, adding MusicBC as well. The event was rebranded BreakOut West in 2010.
Billboard.biz spoke with Rick Fenton, executive director of the Western Canadian Music Alliance, about staging BreakOut West in the Yukon’s capital city of Whitehorse.
Billboard.biz: What were the logistical considerations in presenting this type of event in the Yukon?
Rick Fenton: The challenges are really what we knew going in – it wasn’t accommodation; there are plenty of hotels; they do a lot of tourism there, but just the physicality. I’m having to get a large amount of production up there, so all the backline has to shipped up there or flown up there. In this case, the backline is coming from Edmonton and the stuff for the awards show is coming from Vancouver.
On the plus side, there are things that save us time. We don’t have a huge drive from the airport; we have all the venues, so the (local) transportation isn’t as much of a concern. We have a fantastic host committee and a great set of volunteers. We have very good facilities up there and a great music community up there.
The other thing logistically was: in a normal showcase scenario for festival artists or performers we pay a small performance fee; this year we took all the money and put it into transportation. Even then, we’re not paying 100 percent of transportation. We came up with a formula, but depending where you’re from, it works out to be about 65 percent of your airfare. So that helped make it all happen for sure.
In past years had Whitehorse been considered?
The first bid we had to look at and all of those positive things were in place. The big one was just dollars for transportation and none of those dollars ended up sticking to the organization. We literally took the final bid that we asked them for.
Who is “them”?
The Whitehorse Bid Committee. It’s different every year but it’s comprised of people from Yukon Film & Sound Commission, Music Yukon, people who work in the arts and the community. It’s varied.
Is there territorial funding?
Yes, we received levels of funding that was different, in addition to the biggest thank you — this is organized through ourselves [WCMA] and Yukon Film & Sound — and that’s the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
What kind of local music industry is there?
There’s a lot of music considering the fact that there is, I think, 22,000 people in Whitehorse proper. It’s always been a very vibrant music community. I don’t know if there’s a huge music infrastructure. There are managers; there are small labels; there are small studios; there are certainly a lot of artists who work but they tend to be in the export business obviously. (Some) bands have booking agents — some inside in their own community and some outside.
Was it worrisome that you didn’t know if people would fly all that way from outside the territory?
I was little trepidatious at first. We didn’t go in without doing some homework. We spoke to a lot of our stakeholders and said, “We’re thinking of doing this, off the record, and what do you think?” and it was a very positive response, but at the time I didn’t know how positive. Well, it turned out to be a fantastically positive response. I was in Europe and the States — for this job, I get to go to some conferences and learn how people are doing it, but also to recruit top people to come and speak, and buyers, and a lot of people were over the moon. It’s kind of a bucket list (item). So very early on in the process I stopped worrying because we had more people that wanted to come than we could afford to bring in. We’re very happy with the amount of people who are paying their own way to come.