“Music Is My Weapon” seeks to eliminate financial barriers

Published in The Cambridge Citizen: August 3, 2015

More than one third of Waterloo Region youth cite financial hardships as the main thing preventing them from enrolling in music-based extracurricular lessons.

To counteract this, the “Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged Concert Series,” held at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre on Sept. 18, 2015, seeks to eliminate financial barriers preventing children from receiving training in music, song writing, instrumentalism, and performing.

The official “Music Is My Weapon” logo.

This benefit concert will raise funds for E-Bolt Music in Cambridge and the Community Music School of Waterloo Region. This funding will enable both schools to expand their music programming, slash their prices in half, and increase intake capacity for new students.

“Music really helps children to think differently and to process thoughts and emotions,” said Eric Bolton, local singer/songwriter and owner/music teacher at E-Bolt Music. “Music was my reaction to life. I remember going through some tough times and the first thing I did was write music. This initiative is great, and already we see young people benefiting from the power of music.”

Businesses around Ontario have sponsored this concert series, including MIREU Entertainment & Music Business Consulting Group as an artist sponsor; Coldwell Banker Gary Baverstock Realty, Brokerage as a stage sponsor; and Musselman Compressor Services Inc., as musician sponsors.

Prominent Canadian artists, instrumentalists and music producers such as Alysha Brilla, Adam Bowman and Kenen Shadd have voiced their encouragement of this initiative.

“Getting children involved with arts and culture is critical,” said Shadd, vice-president of Roulette Media Records in Waterloo. “There has to be an outlet for them, though. There has to be a way for them to be recognized for their hard work. I think ‘Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged’ will provide a great outlet for these children to showcase their musical talents to a wide audience.”

According to the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, music programs build the confidence and problem-solving skills sought by today’s employers. Children from low-income families who are given the chance to develop skills in music – whether it’s through singing, performing, producing, or composing – achieve grades above 80 per cent in mathematics and science.

Using the hashtag #ELIMIN8BARRIERS, the “Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged Concert Series” encourages members of the Waterloo Region community to come out to this event, and donate what they can to assist students wishing to pursue music lessons.

Please visit the official website, the Facebook page for more information about this initiative. Please click here if you wish to donate.

Canadian arts and culture is serious business

Over the years, I’ve heard people disregard the Canadian arts scene as a “true business”; one that doesn’t “pull in the bucks” or contribute to a strong economy. It might be seen as an industry in which a handful of people paint, sculpt, perform magic, or sing and dance to loved ones and a moderate YouTube following.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Canadian arts and culture serves as an entryway to a prosperous economy securing people financially — and providing them with an outlet to unwind.

https://i0.wp.com/media.ifacca.org/files/acorns_200/ifacca_20091214.gif

But what counts as arts and culture, specifically?

It’s not just influential singers dominating the airwaves, dancers gracing a stage, or big-time comedy festival performers; it’s the exhibitions and recitals you gaze at and listen to in libraries, of which artists have dedicated their lives to the creation and staging.

Culture is the heritage resources, archives and historical organizations, independent film festivals, and exquisite artwork which has defined our the high culture of our generation.

According to Statistics Canada, $7.7 billion was invested collectively from the municipal, provincial and federal governments in 2010. This employed 600,000 people in the arts and culture sector, producing $40 billion for the Canadian economy — a 500 per cent return on investment.

https://i2.wp.com/www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/13-604-m/2014075/c-g/c-g-4-eng.gif

In reality, Canadian’s cultural sector in monumental. It employ as many people as the agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas industries combined.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial in Calgary and author of The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada’s Economy, concluded that, next to New York and California, the province of Ontario houses the third largest entertainment economy in the world.

Canadian tourists who partook in arts-related activities in 2009 — watching a production in a village, attending a concert, or exploring heritage buildings — generated $3 billion for the Canadian economy alone.

Believe it or not, investing in the arts helped Canada to climb out of the 2008 recession.

Simon Brault, senior director of the Canadian Council for the Arts and former president of Culture Montreal, vocalized that the gross domestic product share in 2007 catapulted by 4.4 per cent, when $400 million was spent on arts and cultural activities: namely sidewalk show, plays and music festivals.

Even though people weren’t spending money on anything during that time, the sector produces domestic products and services, rather than relying on international trading.

By purchasing a ticket to the Stratford Festival or Big Music Fest, a season pass to a theatre, or pottery from an artist-in-residence, you’re contributing to the growth and stability of the Canadian economy by investing in a very profitable sector. If one year of regular arts engagement can produce $40 billion, imagine what five or 10 years of investment can do!

Succeeding in post-secondary communications programs

If you’re enrolled in public relations, marketing, communications or journalism at the post-secondary level, developing soft skills is just as essential as learning the ropes of the industry.

https://i1.wp.com/sojcpr.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/photodune-1303233-college-students-xs-1wpyksx.jpg

Here are four key skills (and pieces of knowledge) to acquire while progressing through a communications-based diploma or degree.

1. A sound knowledge of group dynamics

Whether it’s a presentation on research findings, a mock press conference or capstone, expect to be affiliated with a number of groups for an undetermined period. In some instances, you’ll be assigned to two or three groups — at the same time, comprising completely different people — to prepare special events, strategic communications proposals, and issues management plans.

The moment you meet your group members, collectively establish ground rules. Agree on meeting times and locations, topics of discussion, and possible roles (e.g. one member may be responsible for proofreading documents, another could act as “head researcher”). Ensure that everyone — including yourself — is satisfied with decisions made. If you have any issues with meeting times, your workload, or anything that could hinder the group’s advancement, notify other members immediately. This way, you can iron out the kinks and ensure a smooth, uninterrupted work experience.

While working with your groups, communicate as often as possible. Set up a Facebook page (or another outlet of your choosing) so your group can update each other on tasks, absence notifications, etc. Don’t overwhelm others with constant information; update your group members only when important things need to be discussed (e.g. a piece of research which could further the assignment).

2. Time management and organization skills

The pace of communications programs is aggressive. If you’re studying journalism, you’ll be writing and photographing stories for your college/university newspaper on a weekly or monthly basis. In public relations or marketing, you’ll be coordinating with real clients in the midst of projects and exams.

https://i1.wp.com/freddiescott.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/how-to-time-management.jpg

I recommend purchasing a day planner or appointment book to keep track of assignment due dates, meeting times, etc. For example, if your research professor assigns a report with a one-week turnaround, pencil in a “work period” the following day after a class.

Also create a priority list of assignments, client meetings and media interviews. If a campaign proposal worth 20 per cent is due in four days, complete that before your grammar worksheet due in two weeks.

3. Extemporaneous thinking

This is a skill you’ll gain over time, both in your program and in the workplace. Extemporaneous means “spoken or done without preparation.” While studying communications, it’s not uncommon for a professor to question you after a presentation, or a client to request clarification on your campaign, event, or issues management plan. You won’t have an ample amount of time to think about your response, so you need to be quick on your feet and provide a coherent response.

https://i1.wp.com/www.nancymueller.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/How-to-Think-on-Your-Feet-300x300.jpg

How is this achieved? Through practice. Ask a classmate or family member to role-play your professor or client and to ask you a series of question that catch you off guard. Additionally, ask them to assign you a random topic to discuss in the span of two minutes.

4. Adaptability

Communications is an art and a science; there isn’t a right or wrong necessarily. An open mind and a willingness to learn is critical for academic success.

https://i1.wp.com/www.marketingteamdirect.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/adaptability.jpgMark the wisdom of your professors and guest speakers, and listen to the viewpoints of your classmates. You’ll learn not only from your teachers, but from your peers. You’ll incorporate a multitude of ideas in your projects, yielding favourable results for yourself, for your group(s), and for your target publics, audiences and markets!

I hope these skills will be of use to you during your academic epoch, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.

Don’t bust the buskers – exhibiting talent is not a crime

I can’t even begin to fathom the thought of musicians getting arrested for doing what they love to do. When I got wind that a singer in my area was arrested for performing outside a department store, I felt very unsettled.

On March 11, 2015, 19-year-old Olivia Gains (who goes by “Liv”) sang and played guitar outside a Giant Tiger department store in Cambridge, Ontario, where she was ordered to leave by a police officer. When she refused to reveal her identity, she was handcuffed and fined $65.

19-year-old Olivia “Liv” Gains of Cambridge, Ontario.

According to Miss Gains, a member of city council informed her that busking is acceptable as long as store owners are O.K. with it and no complaints are lodged. A spokesperson for Giant Tiger said that the police weren’t contacted to complain about a woman busking outside the store.

Street performing – otherwise known as “busking” – is the practice of performing in public places for voluntary donations. Street musicians, in particular, have a rich history.

The term “busk” derives from the Spanish root word “to seek” – buskers are seeking recognition for their talents. Before the 20th century, it was common for buskers to use a trained monkey as a bottler. With time, that practice has diminished, but sometimes a “monkey stick” device acts as a tribute to the monkey’s original purpose. Essentially, it’s a long stick with bottle caps or small cymbals attached such that they make an attention-getting noise when shaken.

The art-form is alive and well: up and coming artists perform on streets and in subways in Ireland and Great Britain.

By no means should it be deemed an illegal nor harmful act; it’s how several well-known singers and entertainers – including Canadian singer/songwriter and painter Joni Mitchell – launched their careers. It’s an uncomplicated way to get noticed in all facets of arts and culture, and shouldn’t be greeted with measures used to punish suspected criminals.

If street musicians are to be arrested, then we might as well do the same to photographers and painters we see in the streets. After all, they’re “performing” and displaying their own artistic flairs, too.

Once in a really scary, red-eyed moon!

Video Game Review

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Developer: Nintendo EAD

Publisher: Nintendo

Release date: Feb. 13, 2015

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

9.2

Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever. Whether a parting be forever or for a short time, that is up to you.

Just one of many stimulating quotes spoken by Majora’s Mask 3DS’s multidimensional characters.

This prepossessing game maintains the same charm and allurement the Nintendo 64 classic did. When I first played the game Christmas of 2000, I was entranced immediately by the story and the gorgeous land doomed by a falling moon.

Majora’s Mask 3DS, as well as the original game, follows the story of Link, the Hero of Time, searching for a invaluable friend who accompanied him during his tribulations in Hyrule. He ends up deep within the Lost Woods, where he’s attacked by Skull Kid – under the spell of Majora’s Mask, which houses a faceless entity – and his fairy companions. Upon stealing his fabled ocarina and horse, he’s lured into a world known as Termina – a land facing the Apocalypse from the Skull Kid’s newly-acquired powers.

The game isn’t a stereotypical “hero vs villain” scenario. The Skull Kid was a normal child combating with his friends because of his mischief, and ended up lonely because of it. When he steals Majora’s Mask, he’s letting out his anger against the world by wishing to destroy it. Even after 15 years, this disheartens me greatly.

In most games, non-playable characters (NPCs) serve as the beginning of a long quest, or the provider of hints as to what to do or where to go next.

Majora’s Mask 3DS takes this concept a few steps further. While NPCs tell of the land around you, or prompt you to procure an item or defeat an enemy, they each have their own demons to fight, as people do in real life.

Two star-crossed lovers, one of whom has vanished, try to find their way back to each other before the world around them faces destruction. A town postman wishes to flee before the impending ruination, but feels he cannot due to his dedication to the job. A dancer’s spirit haunts the land, still wishing to educate the next generation of entertainers.

The focal point of Link’s adventure is using masks to progress. Whether its transforming himself into a Deku Scrub, a Goron or a Zora – the species inhabiting Termina – or leading residents of Clock Town to react in different ways.

The only complaint I’ve ever had about Majora’s Mask is the rather concise excursion in Termina. There are only four temples in total, and the rest of the game is filled with side quests. It would have been better if there were two or three more dungeons, because it would have made it that much more challenging.

The game will always be special to me. As cliche as this sounds, it’s truly one-of-a-kind. I recommend it to any casual or midcore gamer seeking profoundness in entertainment.

Music artists must establish a brand

Published on FAME Canada: March 1, 2015

We see thousands of music industry hopefuls covering top 40 hits on popular video and social media websites, and performing on streets and in our local pubs. They endeavour to create a reputable name for themselves and be recognized for their talents. 

It’s by no means an easy feat. Music – and entertainment, in general – is a rigorous business requiring tenacity, confidence and determination. It can take people years to even get discovered by a record label or artist manager, with no guarantee of a successful career.

Those who stand out from the crowd possess raw talent, an unforgettable aura, and most importantly, something by which people remember them.

Technical ability is half the battle. To truly shine in the music world and encourage ongoing discussions among consumers, an artist must think about their “personal brand.” They must ask themselves, “When I finish performing a song, what would a fan associate with me? What is my secret sauce?”

A personal brand is similar to that of a corporation’s. It’s the way someone markets themselves and their careers. It’s a way of conveying your “secret sauce” or a special quality that pokes through thick competition.

Let’s take a look at a couple influential artists who have established a strong brand.

Taylor Swift has taken the industry by storm this past year. Her transformation from country star to pop sensation has been well-received by music consumers. She’s known for being communicative to her fans, appreciating their support, and giving back to them. She’s positive, quirky, and an inspiration to people, especially since the release of “Shake It Off” from her 2014 album “1989.”

When Lady Gaga performs, you never what’s going to happen. What colour makeup or wig will she wear? What outlandish outfit will she sport (her “faux-meat dress” has its own Wikipedia page, and there are written chronologies of her Video Music Award outfits)? When she releases her next single, what’s its theme going to be? When people watch her on television or listen to her music, they discuss her fashion choices and musical style. Her popularity goes beyond her vocal ability.

For an artist to create a brand, they should conduct some self-reflection by writing a list of their inner core values and beliefs, and deciding how you want your fans to think of you. A personal brand is built on the thoughts and opinions of others, so how you present yourself to the public is paramount.

Once you’ve outlined these things, you should integrate your core values and style of music, which essentially creates your public image. In Taylor Swift’s case, her core values include giving back to people, so she makes a point of doing so at certain times of the year. It’s not necessarily related to her music. 

You might be someone who wants to be noticed in music, and who wants to be favourably discussed by people who will become your fans.

When you’re writing a song or performing at a venue, think about your “secret sauce” or “ingredient.” What sets you apart from the crowd and the competition? Of what quality will someone think when they hear your name?

Music as a catalyst for change

Rufus John is a musician on a mission. By creating music acting as a catalyst for change and the voice of positivity, he has a genuine desire to bridge the gap between the youth and elders of today.

Rufus began to sing with his church at six-years-old. Born in Toronto and raised in a West Indian Caribbean household, he was exposed to and highly influenced by many music legends of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Singer/songwriter Rufus John

While attending high school, Rufus was determined to sculpt his vocal and performance talents as the lead singer of a cover band. It was during that time that he started to experiment with song writing, eventually creating a library of life chronicles.

Rufus’s first full-length album, entitled “Growing Pains,” debuted in February 2014. It is an autobiographical journey that takes the listener through Rufus’s growth, as an individual, a role model, a songwriter, and an artist.

“This album was in the works for a very long time,” he said. “I would say the first song was recorded in 2009. It took a long time because I didn’t want to rush the process and was okay with releasing the project at the right time.”

Suitably named, “Growing Pains” is a collection of songs taking listeners through an intimate life journey of the experiences from being a young boy to becoming a man. From love gained to love lost, drug addiction to being free of demons, depression to happiness.

Rufus’s goal was to have a lyrical story everyone could relate to.

To date Rufus has released 5 singles off the album. “Hold On Me” was released as a tease in late 2013 followed by an official music video which gained outstanding buzz amongst online blogs and DJ’s around the world. “Confessions” was released in the UK and it hit #11 on the UK Independent Soul charts.

Throughout his career, Rufus has had the opportunity to perform with heavy-hitting Canadian producers Markus Shane (Shania Twain, Serena Ryder) and Slakah The Beat Child (Drake). He has also shared the stage with many Canadian musical icons such as Wade O. Brown, Jully Black, Divine Brown, the Classified and Glenn Lewis.

To complete “Growing Pains,” Rufus collaborated with industry respected producers Atilla Toth, Joel Joseph (Nelly Furtado, Ivana Santilli), Chris Rouse and Cyrus Hira.

Most recently, Rufus will be teaming up with two other music industry professionals to facilitate the “Music Is My Weapon” mentorship program at Idea Exchange in Cambridge, Ont.

The program is designed for young musicians who wish to learn song writing, how to record tracks and to run their own sessions.

“I believe we have a lot of homegrown talent in Waterloo Region [of which Cambridge is part],” said Rufus.

“I feel there are many hidden gems sprinkled throughout this city. Slowly, people understand that we need to band together to make more of an impact in this city. More and more collaborations are happening which is great. I am excited to see how things play out in the next few years.”

You can “like” Rufus John’s Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.