"A gig's a gig," I'm telling myself on the way to Steve's Music for my informational meeting with reps from Emergenza, the self-described "European and North American festival for up-and-coming bands." A booker I know urged me to sign up. She told me that the festival, which swung through Toronto last week, "ran like clockwork" and could mean great exposure for my band. Still, $75 seems like a lot to pay for some stage time.
The Emergenza reps are waiting in a dim room behind the keyboard department. I show up with my drummer and a whack of questions.
"Do we make any money on the event? How do bands move forward? Can I sell CDs?" My drummer laughs, used to my control-freakishness.
The Emergenza team justifies part of the sign-up cost as rent payment for the venue (paying to rent the Kathedral?) and advertising in NOW's club pages (a standard promo perk that comes with proper downtown music venues).
I nearly lose it when they tell me the ticket price. Twelve big ones if all my friends buy from me before the show. Eighteen at the door. Sell 45 tickets, you get five free, they explain.
I start racking my brain: do I have 50 friends? Who can pay $12 for a half-hour show?! I could give the freebies to cash-strapped friends or sell them and keep the $60, while the promoters keep $540. Hmm.
Next question: how much of a cut does the band get? The answer: zip, although the band that comes out on top as the best after four separate nights of competition gets to play an open-air concert in Germany this summer.
A pause to calculate: 160 bands sign up at $75 each. That's a cool $12,000. That kind of money ought to buy the Kathedral a new coat of paint as well as "renting" it. Then there are door proceeds. Let's see, 160 bands selling a minimum of 10 tickets nets another $19,200. Given the healthy sponsorships and swag, Emergenza stands to clear a tidy sum.
Spokesperson Marta Guzik says from Emergenza's North American headquarters in Montreal that there are sound equipment and other costs to cover.
"Part of it goes to pay for the people who organize it, myself and everybody else who work in the offices, (and) there are the travel expenses of the people who come from wherever to put the festival together."
Record industry types fearing the demise of music cash, take note: Idol-style festivals look like they could be the wave of the future. Emergenza boasts nearly a dozen offices worldwide.
Parting with my dough, I look for the bright side. Some crossover exposure, potentially a few new fans? An "unlimited industry guest list." My first real demo is nearly done. Fine. I'll work it as an industry showcase and tell my friends to save their money.
Seven weeks later, my big day arrives: an 8:30 pm slot on a Saturday. Sound check is followed by yet another of the meetings that the Emergenza people seem to like so much. Zero advance ticket sales goes over poorly. They refuse to let me leave a pair at the door for my dad, who's driving in from Kingston. I've spent my last $50 getting my band and their gear to the gig in taxis, so I'm stuck.
They're even less enthusiastic about my guest list. "Who are these people?" the Emergenza woman wants to know.
I identify record reps, record label owners, managers, the media, members of signed acts who I hope might one day let me open for them if they like my shit. I'm told tersely that by "unlimited guest list" they really meant five or six people, not 50, and that I should have e-mailed the list to them beforehand. I suspect stronger guest-list guidelines will be implemented next year.
Walking away from the meeting, I fantasize for the millionth time about screaming "Fuck you, Emergenza!" over the mike at the end of my show. But my mother always told me it's a bad idea to burn bridges.
Showtime. My audience arrives: some friends, a few family members, even a few media and industry types. We pull off our 23-minute show and clear the stage for the next band.
Emergenza rolls on, and the audience builds slowly. The crossover exposure value for an early band is slim at best. A radio DJ who really enjoyed my show refuses a gift of my CD but buys it instead, telling me he'll be in touch. I give away perhaps 15 flyers for my next show at the El Mocambo. Promo value: about the same as attending a good party. Ca-ching for Emergenza.
Blindsite, who played at 8 pm, sound older than their 15 years when they complain about the unfair playing order. But the prize for bitterness goes to Murder Culture.
Halfway through a competent set, they live out my fantasy: "Fuck Emergenza," they scream, urging other bands not to buy into the hype. Jeff, the MC, intervenes to smooth the moment over.
Back in Montreal, Guzik admits that the festival may be better suited for raw up-and-comers, not bands that have played clubs before. "People want to come out and play, and we give them the opportunity. There's a lot of talent out there, and it should be seen."
She says many Emergenza participants have signed record deals since the festival was founded 12 years ago. This is its third year in North America.
As for me, $75 poorer and a few CDs lighter, I'm wondering when I can catch Murder Culture again.