Kinjo says many artists need to leave the Calgary scene to make it big

When established Calgary musician Kaley Kinjo recently got the opportunity to play music with a group in Japan for a few months, he took it. Before packing his bags and flying to Tokyo, Kinjo, 31, weighed in on the question of whether Calgary artists need to leave in order to advance their careers.

“I feel like if I don’t go and try it now, then I don’t know when I will get the opportunity again,” said Kinjo. “There seems to be this cap, like Calgary artists can only go so far within the city as far as success and popularity goes before they have to relocate. And a lot of artists will relocate elsewhere and then find success and notoriety back here.”

Kinjo mentioned Canadian musician Feist and how she found the scene difficult until she moved to France. Similarly, Canadian musician Kiesza took off to Boston and is now internationally famous. At last month’s Juno Awards, Kiesza took home four Junos, including “Breakthrough Artist of the Year.”

 “I played bass on her very first album. So it’s kind of funny,” said Kinjo. “I think I was watching YouTube the other day and this Gibson guitar commercial popped up and the girl that they were interviewing, I used to play bass for her in Calgary. I was like ‘Oh! Ok! Maybe it’s time to move away from the city.’”

The music scene in Calgary is up and coming, seen lately through Kiesza’s success, along with other local bands such as Viet Cong and The Wet Secrets recently getting wide-reaching exposure.

Kinjo has been singing and playing numerous instruments his whole life, but said that Calgary has a “flash in the pan mentality” when it comes to local talent. He explained that some artists will be successful and people will get behind them. But only temporarily, and then lose steam quickly.

“I think there’s still a cap of success in Calgary, just like in any city,” said Kinjo.

Produced by: Ali Hardstaff, Angie Lang and Brett Luft.

But radio host Matt Berry at X92.9 Calgary’s Alternative believes otherwise about Calgary’s music scene. Berry hosts Xposure, which is a contest for local artists and bands to have their songs played on the radio, as well as prizes and a chance to play at XFest in the summer.

“You just need to do what is successful for you,” said Berry. “If you want to be the next big act, you have to start doing something different I guess, you have to have a lot of luck on your side. You don’t necessarily have to leave to Toronto or Vancouver to be successful.”

Berry suggested local bands need to put in the extra effort to get noticed. They can do this by putting in the effort to get airplay on the radio, or apply for grants that are available locally, provincially and internationally. Though a lot of bands, he said, do not take the initiative.

“There are a lot that actually don’t, which is surprising. Because you have this opportunity to get yourself on the air, and the majority of the bands that I put on the air are ones that I’ve actually sought out,” said Berry. “There’s quite a few outlets for these bands to get out there and get discovered, but they need to put in the grant-writing and just sending a quick email.”

Berry said Canadian grants and organizations give a lot of support to musicians; including the FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) grant, SOCAN (The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Oublishers of Canada), and those from Alberta Music for any genre of music.

Though Kinjo acknowledges there are opportunities for local musicians who seek them, hurdles remain. He suggests major events such as Sled Island and Calgary Folk Music Festival; don’t use enough local artists, instead bringing in bands from the U.S.

“I know that a lot of Calgary artists struggle for years to even play their own local Folk Fest,” said Kinjo. “Which is not a slam on Folk Fest — they have so many musicians and artists that apply every year and they make a great job of lining it up. But I think they could may have brought in their local selection more.”

Artistic Director for the Calgary Folk Music Festival, Kerry Clarke, said there are quite a few opportunities out there now for local artists, and they do not need to relocate to make it big. She articulates that the festivals in Calgary, such as the Calgary Folk Music Festival, broaden the experiences of the musicians while giving them exposure to a bigger audience and giving them key play.

“There are few places artists can get support for tours, which often cost more than the revenues brought in, or for putting out CDs, developing press info etcetera,” Clarke states. “Radio stations like CJSW, CKUA, CBC, 97.7 in the evenings and now Peak play the music of some local independent artists, which helps. We’re also lacking in critical support for artists in the way of artist managers, publicists etcetera.”

She also mentioned that there are a lot of local artists that stayed local and are well known outside of Calgary, including Viet Cong, Jann Arden, Paul Brandt and Oscar Lopez.

Kinjo acknowledged there is a lot of talent working and living in Calgary. But he suggested that leaving, at least for a while, pushes artists to grow.

“It’s good to go out and dip your toes in other waters and see what the music scenes have to offer.”

Berry conceded that it can be difficult for Canadian musicians, and also recognizes the “cap” identified by Kinjo.

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of Canadian bands will only get a certain amount of success, but it also depends on what you want as a musician. Like if you want to be the next Foo Fighters, it’s the same thing like as everybody in the city wanting to be an actor or an artist.”

“If you want to be Feist, Tegan and Sara, those are still very rare stories. They are extremely talented. And there’s a lot of extremely talented bands, but when you think about how many bands are competing to get to that level … how many can actually get there,” Berry said.

But, according to Kinjo, “If you don’t branch out then you don’t really get the experience. But there’s lots of Calgary artists that come from here but then have to go elsewhere to bigger music scenes to really expand.”Kaley Kinjo performs with his bandmates during open mic night at Below Deck Tavern last month.

Photo by Ali Hardstaff

Which is why he made the big move overseas to Okinawa, Japan on March 19th. He hopes to get some experience there, at least for a few months, before returning.

“I think the Calgary scene will still be strong when I get back,” said Kinjo. “It’s still growing. It just needs to remain resilient I guess.”

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