Industry ties and audience tastes drive CMW’s success

Sponsored feature: presented by Canadian Music Week

CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK 2018. One of Toronto’s most celebrated festivals, featuring hundreds of bands across dozens of venues in downtown Toronto in just one week. May 7-13, 2018. More info and tickets at

Toronto’s music scene has long dictated what the future of music will sound like in this country. Since 1981, Canadian Music Week (CMW) has embodied that spirit as its core, putting together lineups of incredible bands and visionary thinkers, year after year.

But a lot has changed since 1981. The music industry all around the world is only now sorting out what a new creative economy might look like in our Internet-connected landscape. Bands and fans alike have a lot to consider about what the scene should look like going forward. These rapid changes have made festivals like CMW all the more important, as they provide a community gathering space to celebrate what we’ve got and consider new ideas to make it better. 

Anyone who runs a performance venue or promotes live music in Toronto has a unique dual-role as both hero and hustler – the scene can’t survive without them and it takes a ton of work to make local music a viable business in today’s industry landscape.

Shaun Bowring of The Garrison (1197 Dundas West) and The Baby G (1608 Dundas West) has dedicated his career to music, both as a venue owner and a passionate advocate within the industry community.

“It’s been a little different the last few years,” he laughs, “but if you pay attention and you have a well-curated room and you make sure you’re reaching audiences who are actually going out, you’re going to be fine.”

Bowring says both of his venues are doing really well right now, and that can be attributed to building strong relationships with agents and promoters as well as keeping a close eye on what resonates with people who show up to hear music each night. 

He and CMW have built a strong relationship over the years, which is crucial since venues are the backbone of this intense one-week festival when hundreds of bands perform across dozens of venue stages. Typically, Bowring explains, CMW will have some suggestions for who’s available to play and he’ll know what would be a fit for his venues. Despite the scale of CMW, which is always ambitious, booking acts is fairly straightforward.

This year’s lineup includes acts like 2 Chainz, Rural Alberta Advantage, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and plenty of up-and-comers you might not have heard yet. And that’s one of the big benefits of CMW, says Bowring.

While bands aren’t necessarily discovered and made famous overnight, he says “you can get a bit of buzz going and get in front of some new people who haven’t seen you before.” Playing a set to a festival crowd who are coming out to hear something new is exactly what makes CMW such a great experience for musicians. 

Still, it’s hard not to think about “making it big” after looking at posters from previous CMW festivals (see below). So many of our best-known bands have played this festival that it’s become a must for anyone looking to build their audience.

And it’s not just the mainstream success stories that stick in Bowring’s mind when he looks back on previous years of CMW shows. “Duchess Says last year was great. The singer is kind of a wild child and made it all the way from the back of the stage to the bar and did a couple of songs from the bar,” he remembers. “Stuff like that sticks out.”

“But it’s always great seeing locals and bands that have moved on and are at a different level now.” 

Regardless of how Toronto or the music industry as a whole weather evolving technology and creeping waves of displacing condo projects, live music is remaining strong in this city. The proof comes from bands who are earning reputations for putting on great shows. 

Bowring mentions Hot Garbage and Possum, specifically. “Those are two that come to mind. I think they’re super cool.” Each will play CMW this year on May 10.

For music fans who don’t want to miss out on CMW 2018, there’s still time to get tickets to a ton of shows. 


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