Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Hamilton Music Awards and Conference is off and running with a successful first day.  Most music conferences are for the artists and the industry, and fair enough.  You expect that, for them to work on their careers, networking and such.  The HMA's have taken a different approach.  The conference is actually for students interested in the music world as a career.

High school and college students get to come to workshops and seminars in a variety of topics about jobs on the stage and behind the scenes.  You can get in-depth with the world of a pro bass player, hear how to become a producer, or find out what music companies are looking for from songwriters these days. This year the stars heard from stars such as George Pettit of Alexisonfire, Juno nominee Emm Gryner, and Christopher "Black Velvet" Ward. 

One of the people on stage was locally-raised Canadian music star Ian Thomas, recipient of this year's lifetime achievement award.  Thomas first hit in the late 1960's with the group Tranquility Base.  In 1973 came his breakthrough with the smash Painted Ladies, a Cancon classic.  That turned into a long and stable career, with performing (Lunch At Allen's), songwriting (for Santana, Chicago, America, etc.) and voice work.  The talented actor and mimic had the young audience giggling away at the revelation that he was Snap, of Snap, Crackle and Pop fame, from the Rice Crispie commercials.

I also caught up with a group I had first met last year, participating at the Rising Star Challenge.  Weekend Riot Club did really well at the competition, coming in second out of 16 acts chosen to showcase.  For that, they received a significant prize package, which included studio time at the famous Hamilton recording centre, Grant Avenue, founded by local Daniel Lanois.  It was a blast to come back a year later and find out what they had done with it. 

I got to hear the results in a forum where young musicians brought their demo and finished recordings to be heard by media professionals.  That group including reps from music publishing, A&R for a major label, and a top engineer/producer and now-label exec.  In an honest and sometimes brutal critique session, the musicians got some strong first impressions and tips from the talent scouts.  They all agreed that the top music they heard that hour belonged to Weekend Riot Club.

The band has turned the three Grant Avenue tracks into a 3-song EP called Rubber Bullets, and it's available now on iTunes, and in local stores.  It's rockin' stuff, and Melissa Marchese is a strong and feisty singer.  Along with writer Mike Chetcuti, the duo is working hard to establish the group identity, polish the sound and shows, and get the word out.  Just a year old as a group, the label reps were complementary about their progress, and I was pretty thrilled with the development they've shown in the time since last year's awards.  It just goes to show that in the end, hard work wins.

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