Quick Before it Melts

Why you should get excited/nervous about Wyrd Distro

by  |  January 10, 2014  |  4 Comments

Logo-1On February 15, 2014, a “one-stop shop where both music fans and record stores can purchase limited edition physical releases and ephemera from Canada’s most exciting new artists and labels” will launch less than a year after the folks at Weird Canada had announced a $50,000 grant from FACTOR, The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records.

Wyrd Distro, as the not-for-profit service has been christened by its creators, is an impressive, massive, and honourable undertaking, one that hopes to solve the problems faced by new Canadian musical talent that find they do not have the shrewd business sense needed to effectively market and sell their music to a wider audience.

Where Wyrd Distro distinguishes itself from other online services and sources of music like Bandcamp is that that Wyrd Distro will be dealing in real products—physical CDs, vinyl records and cassette tapes, and the “ephemera”—products that will most likely include digital download codes for music on top of the physical, hold-it-in-your-hand product.

So far so wicked for Canadian music fans and creators alike, right? It all sounds like an incredible win-win-win: helping musicians reach a wider audience, giving that audience a breadth of talent to explore and discover, and providing the missing link between musicians and retailers willing to take a chance on experimental product from across the country that’s been endorsed by what is arguably the nation’s preeminent curated music blog.

And therein lies my trepidation about this whole undertaking: what does “curated” imply for musicians looking for a spot on Wyrd Distro’s warehouse shelves?

According to Wyrd Distro, the model for their system will operate as a “loosely curated consignment store” that shares some of the same philosophies and ideas of the Weird Canada blog itself. What are those philosophies and ideas? From Weird Canada’s own criteria, artist and music are chosen for inclusion on the blog based on how many of their “priorities” said artist or art can answer yes to: Is the artist(s) from a marginalized group?; Is the art from an emerging, marginalized, or experimental genre, technique, or non-represented stream?; Is the art from a remote or under-represented area of Canada?; Is the art self-published, self-recorded, self-produced, or “self-anything”?; Is the art being created on a difficult, expensive, or cumbersome format?. Is this the first time this artist is being featured by Weird Canada?; Does the art strongly resonate with and excite a Weird Canada writer?

Anyone who has casually browsed through postings on Weird Canada has a sense of what kind of music “resonates” with their writers and what does not, which is well within their purview as an independent arbiter of “New Canadiana”. It is basically the same philosophy that this site runs on.

To be clear, Wyrd Distro does state that they intend to “feature releases that don’t necessarily resonate with a writer at Weird Canada”, which at the very least leaves a window of opportunity for any artist who wish to be considered, but still I  wonder: how often and easily will “non-resonating artists” be welcomed into the Wyrd Distro fold?

Take someone whom I’ve featured on Quick Before It Melts a few times, Paul Federici, as an example. Federici is someone I would consider an “emerging talent” and who would benefit from the services Wyrd Distro plans on providing, but if I hold him up to those Weird Canada priorities, he’s got an uphill climb to get himself curated, as Caucasian males would not be considered a marginalized group, and nor would the Niagara region be considered (by some at least) to be an under-represented area of the country. On top of that, “adult contemporary” is as far from being an emerging or marginalized genre as you can possibly get. He has the fact that, based on a quick site keyword search, he’s never been featured on Weird Canada before going for him, probably because he’s one of those artists yet to resonate with one of their writers.

As excited as I am for the possibilities that Wyrd Distro will bring when it launches in a few weeks with a series of shows and events in each of the provinces and territories, I’m left worried that the whole process could create an entirely new marginalized group of artists and musicians left on the outer edge of this experiment: those not edgy, or daring enough for Weird Canada.

I get it. It’s their prerogative, same as it’s mine to blog about only Canadian artists, and only those that resonate with me. I applaud their desire to return music to the physical world by promoting a product that can be held, collected and displayed on a shelf as opposed to a hard drive. I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little bit jealous of their chutzpah and charisma, as I have considered similar ideas to connect Canadian music communities but have yet to put anything into action. I’m not even resentful of the fact that they’ve been given $50,000 in government grant money to get this going.

It’s just that I can’t shake the feeling that the project could potentially create a whole new have- and have-not situation that, if you’ll pardon the pun, could get a bit weird.

.JD

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4 Comments

  1. Aaron Levin says:

    Here is a rather lengthy document detailing our curation process:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vr7ybXsnUz1iANQBsKC-zuEn9-4kT5RsACMpQDALizY/edit

    It’s unfortunate that curation is an exclusionary action. It’s always frustrated me that we have to curate to maintain our identity. Nevertheless, it *is* curation that has defined Weird Canada and every other publication, whether we like it or not. Which means that it *is* exclusion, and the creation of have’s and have-nots, that defines Weird Canada and every other publication.

    We’ve spent 2013 trying to build ways to lessen that exclusivity. We believe building resources is the way to do this, as our Executive Director (Marie LeBlanc Flanagan) has outlined in our 2013 Objectives.

    In the case of the distro, we on top of curation, we need a way, to differentiate ourselves from services like CDBaby and Amazon, which do not rely on any curation.

    Anyway. There is no real answer. It’s something we are aware of and something we struggle with. We don’t want to be exclusionary, but without curation we would not be where we are.

    So, what does one do?

    Well, do we our best and hope that transparency eases these concerns.

  2. QBiM says:

    No one, especially I, would deny that Weird Canada has gone above and beyond the steps necessary for transparency. “There is no real answer” is the only answer to the struggle, as you’ve stated Aaron.

    Identity, “curation”… these are issues and questions that face the little guys like me, too. Just as your team asks how you differentiate from other organizations and publications, so too do I when I make a decision of what and who to feature on the blog, what discussions to start, or opinions to express.

    The purpose of the essay was never to question the decisions behind your organization, or to point out some perceived flaw. It was to muse out loud / online with readers about questions and issues that play on my mind, just as they must play on yours. My intent was to (perhaps) foster a discussion, not incite a debate.

  3. Spike says:

    At least Mr. Levin and Ms. Flanagan are actually trying to include people that wouldn’t get heard elsewhere or get distribution elsewhere due to race and skin color or said quirkiness in their music; that’s more than most of the big record companies or radio stations would do (and that includes the CBC!)

    What I would do if I were a government big shot would be to give them $500.000-enough money for a radio transmitter, a building to house said transmitter, and interdiction with the CRTC on behalf of Wyld Distro to set up a low-power radio station so that they can broadcast the artists/groups that are being featured by them in addition to this hub business (radio still will do/does more for you as an artist/group in terms of exposure than just also having a distribution outlet selling physical media.) These two are trying to do something different and not just the same old, same old-that makes them more deserving of support than ever.

    Besides, if somebody won’t do it, who will?

  4. asdgadg says:

    The opportunity to “self-produce” your music is often a form of cultural-social capital in the hands of the artist/creators of music that is a privilege until itself and people don’t always realize this. I am a member of an all-grrl punk band (still a pretty damn marginalized musical entity if you ask me) whose submission to weird canada was rejected. So now that we have my biases out of the way, I’ll relate to you this representative anecdote. We wanted to record ourselves but did not have even close to the resources to know where to begin so after approaching tons of people asking for help, some “kewl DIY scenester people” offered to record us on their four-tracks so that we may get that gritty-pseudo-authentic lo-fi sound, and you know what? They didn’t show up. So we saved up a couple bucks and went to a studio and paid a bro to record us and all we got was judgment from fellow musicians in our scene. Loss of cred in other words.

    Another inconsistency? C’mooooon, We don’t ALWAYS see Weird Canada reaching out to those most in need of showcasing. For example, Weird Canada is constantly giving Dirty Beaches shout-outs. How is a dude profiled on Pitchfork in need of their “curation”?

    I DO support Weird Canada in this new venture and I regularly consult this website as a means of discovering exciting things happening in the Canada culturally right now. I also support the Distro and hope to attend the launch in my city. The Distro could mean a very good thing for, again, a “curated” group of musicians in Canada but I think it is another example where these small institutions of cool too(independent festivals, music reviewing sites, etc.) within the indie world are sometimes victim of the powers and pressures of “connections”, packaging(including how fuzzy your recordings are) and image that plague the mainstream music biz which in turn influences what is considered “good” and “bad” music and thus listened to and in the end, reinforce another cultural hierarchy albeit within a smaller cultural scene.

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