Calgary has nearly all of the pieces in place to become a powerful figure in the Canadian music scene. There are artists from nearly every genre here in Calgary, if you know where to look. There are recording studios ranging from state-of-the-art DIY setups to award-winning commercial spaces that record international touring acts and local legends alike.
To top it all off, there are a variety of stages available in nearly every corner of the city. Calgary is home to many iconic venues, each with hard working staff who, time and again, work tirelessly to organize shows despite seldom getting the thanks they deserve. It is exactly this sort of passion that has brought our city’s music scene to life in recent years.
With the completion of the National Music Centre in July, Calgary is now home to even more technologically advanced recording studios, and one of the largest collections of historic instruments in Canada. Some of the most legendary recording equipment ever created now lives at the NMC, such as the one of a kind Olympic studio console used to record the likes of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.
The talent is here, the fans are here, the venues are here — but something in the city is missing. Something that could help Calgary get noticed by the people who can help position us more centrally in the Canadian music market. A way for local artists to receive consistent airplay for their music, and gain exposure to a wider audience.
Enter RadioYYC, a 24/7 online radio stream that is available across the globe, thanks to the power of the Internet.
All local, all the time
RadioYYC is committed to curating and presenting the best in local music, making it available for anyone to access — it’s as easy as visiting their website. Jim Ripley and Wes Ericson, the co-founders of RadioYYC, hold decades of radio experience between the two of them, and hope their project can promote all varieties of music, arts and culture in Calgary.
“There was just no place where we could listen to local artists in this kind of format, and for any music to catch on it needs to be supported locally,” says Ripley.
“That was kind of the idea behind us starting Radio YYC. We felt that we were lacking that place where you could go and listen to a bunch of local music all in the same place.”
With hundreds of local bands and solo artists calling our city home, ranging from groups that might play twice a year, to international touring acts like Reuben and the Dark, there is a lot of music that has come out of Calgary in recent years. But only a small selection of it reaches traditional radio, leaving the vast majority of local music unaired in a broadcast format.
That’s not to say local music doesn’t make it onto the radio at all. Certain local staples like The Dudes, Cowpuncher or Michael Bernard Fitzgerald see fairly consistent airplay on stations like CBC Radio or CKUA that have a commitment to promoting Canadian music.
Matt Berry of X92.9, Calgary’s alternative radio station, hosts a weekly segment called Xposure which features interviews and music from local bands. The show provides a great opportunity for Calgary musicians to receive airtime on commercial radio, and many of the songs chosen are compiled into yearly albums and sold as digital downloads.
“Obviously I’m a big backer of local bands, and it is important to support them because radio is such a powerful tool, from the smallest acts to the biggest in the world. If radio isn’t on a song for these big artists, they don’t get that exposure to so many different people. Same with the little guys,” Berry explains.
“We need to promote shows, promote artists, so people can know what’s out there. And you never know which of these bands may become the next big thing. So it’s also cool bragging rights to know you supported them from the start.”
Although X92.9 cannot boast the same level of commitment to promoting strictly local content as RadioYYC can, Berry applauds the station for its efforts.
“RadioYYC is a really neat idea, and I may even have to check it out to discover more local bands, because even though I’m very in tune with the acts in this city, there’s still a lot I haven’t gotten a chance to hear,” he says.
You’re on the air
Traditional radio airplay on the FM dial though a key means of exposure for local artists on the brink of breaking into larger markets, is highly sought after and bracketed on all sides by the staples of commercial radio: the hits, the chart toppers and the classics.
There isn’t a space where local music is the sole focus of programming, offering an undistorted view of Calgary’s current music scene.
RadioYYC aims to change this with their web-based radio player, which streams music from local artists while also offering a space for other Calgary musicians, venues, studios and other organizations to promote what they have in store for the future. Whether it’s an artist’s first performance, or the return of a storied local legend, RadioYYC hopes to be able to promote Calgary music and arts however they can.
Ripley and Ericson say they also plan to host live DJ’s in the future, adding a much-needed active voice to their broadcasts, and their social media presence hopes to evolve as more people join the RadioYYC team. Though the idea is not yet perfected, the team has shown a clear willingness to support the local arts community.
“Let us spread the word, and if you have bands playing at a venue, or you are an artist playing a show, let us know and we are happy to promote it,” Ripley says. “
That goes straight through to the entire arts community. We tell people about the Calgary Philharmonic, and the ballet, and the Glenbow Museum, and Arts Commons, the National Music Centre… we’re wide open to all of the arts community. I strongly believe that the entire music and arts sector should support one another.”
Part of this support comes from partnerships RadioYYC is making with local arts organizations. By working together with partners such as Arts Commons, Theatre Calgary and the National Music Centre, resources can be pooled together, allowing for each organization to play to their strengths and create a stronger foundation of support for the local artists who need them.
Partners in promotion
For example, RadioYYC recently partnered with The Prophets of Music, a foundation based in Calgary that was created following the deaths of musicians Josh Hunter and Zackariah Rathwell in 2014. The young men had created and played in the local group Zackariah and the Prophets before their deaths.
The Prophets of Music has since hoped to offer mentorship, and foster artist development, for local musicians. 2016 saw the first recipients of their emerging artist scholarship program, with two Calgary artists, Brett McCrady and The Ashley Hundred, as well as the Edmonton alt-rock group Rend, each selected to receive over $30,000 worth of support.
As a broadcast partner, RadioYYC supports the Prophets of Music initiative by curating local music for the organization to consider, giving them a means to promote their initiative and providing a home for the music these artists produce.
“The Prophets of Music is comprised of a community of volunteers, musicians and anyone who wants to support the development of emerging artists in our community. When we talk about development, it’s not always about musicianship,” says Colleen Hood, communications manager for the Prophets of Music program.
“There is a depth of talent and amazing music in Alberta, and development refers to everything that musicians have to do in order to make a living in their craft. A big part of this is getting people to hear original home-grown music. We see a real opportunity for RadioYYC to help Calgarians gain immediate access to local artists — especially those who may not fit a particular radio format, and have difficulty getting mainstream radio play.”
Ultimately, the keys to building a thriving arts community isaccess and exposure. If everything within a city is happening behind closed doors, in dark corners where nobody from the outside world can see in, that creative spark will not be recognized, no matter how brightly it burns.
A lesson from a local
Trevor Cobb, drummer with local metal group Osyron, feels the project speaks to one of the strengths of our local music community in particular.
“RadioYYC is yet another fantastic example of the Calgary music community’s affinity for supporting local musicians,” he says.
“Having a platform like this allows for Calgary’s musical culture to be broadcast around the globe, furthering what is already a vibrant arts and culture scene.”
As Cobb explains, it is critical that Calgary promotes its creativity and supports the work of local talent in all sectors of the arts. Doing so showcases a willingness to accept creative thinking, encouraging people to visit the city and maybe even call it home.
“The culture of a city kind of identifies it — it provides a view of the heart and soul of a city,” Ripley says.
“There is a lot of things someone can find wrong with a city, but to be able to say ‘Wow, they have a great music scene, world class theatre and so much to do…’ that is what brings a city to life. When you live in a city and you are not exposed to that, I think you are missing so much of [a cities] lifeblood.”
That’s why projects like Radio YYC, the Prophets of Music and the National Music Centre are such exciting developments for our city. Their existence shows our willingness to embrace a role as a cultural hub, and support the work of local artists, bringing their art and their voices to a wider audience.
The editor responsible for this piece is Katherine Huitema and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.