Band Boot Camp: Peak Performance Project boosts local scene

In a time when arts funding isn’t getting cut so much as slaughtered, it’s nice to know that there is still money out there to be taken by artists that work hard and play the game. At least, there is the possibility of money for BC’s radio-friendly bands and solo artists, thanks to the Peak Performance Project, a multi-million dollar contest and training program sponsored by 100.5 The Peak, Vancouver’s newest major radio station.

The Peak Performance Project is unlike any other radio contest looking for new talent, though, because the Peak does more than just plug a song or put on a concert - it takes 20 musicians or groups and teaches them everything they need to know about the ins and outs of the music business. At the end of the months-long process it offers $150,000 to the band that exceeds in talent but industry know-how.

“A lot of times a band will get some funding for a music video, or a tour,” says Bob D’Eith, Executive Director of Music BC, “but there’s no follow-through. We try to develop artists. We wanted to let the cream rise and give them enough money to make it.”

The Peak Performance Projected is slated for a 7-year run, with a 5.29 million dollar budget. The Jim Pattison Broadcasting Group, which owns 31 other stations in BC and Alberta, developed the contest as part of their Canadian content initiative, necessary to get a broadcasting license for The Peak.

D’Eith was put in charge of designing the program. What he came up with was a full introduction to all sides of the music industry. Besides having a chance to compete for the top three spots with large cash prizes (cash prizes which can only be used for band development like tours, recording or studio musicians), the 20 acts chosen for the Peak Performance Project get a one-week boot camp at a lodge where they will learn about everything ranging from entertainment law to marketing, radio tracking to management.

“We didn’t expect them to learn everything about the business in a week,” says D’Eith. “What we did want was for them to fill in the gaps a little, and to know where the gaps were so they had an idea that they were there.”

This year it was held at Rock Ridge Canyon Resort in Princeton, BC. Danny Echo was one of the chosen this year, out of nearly 500 applicants. Dan Newton, singer of the band Danny Echo, found the camp invaluable.

“A lot of bands get managers who end up ripping them off. [The bands] are naive about the music industry and there’s these guys sometimes who are like ‘C’mon, we’ll make you famous’ and next thing they know they’re out a couple grand,” says Newton. “The camp was really about teaching artists to get the most out of the industry we can without getting hurt.”

The highlight for both Newton and D’Eith was the songwriting challenge. After the songwriting seminar, all the artists were given a few days to write an original song inspired by the title “In a Minute.” All the songs were performed at the camp, and the caliber was so high that songwriting instructor Don McLeod was inspired to record all the versions - despite the fact that they had no recording studio at the lodge and had to build one at the last minute using bits and pieces of all the gear they could find.

“We feel really lucky to have been chosen to participate,” says Newton. “It was a big treat for us to see these bands perform every night for a week.”

“[The boot camp] totally exceeded all of our expectations by a large margin,” says D’Eith. “We wanted to give them the tools to develop themselves, but we didn’t expect the sense of community to happen. I think everyone came out of there really inspired.”

D’Eith admits that a lot of tweaking of the program has had to happen along the way, because they were so surprised by the quality and talent of everyone involved. Besides the boot camp, artists were also given the opportunity to record. At first, it was intended that five acts be chosen from the 20 to record demos. It wasn’t until later that organizers realized that nearly all the participants already had demos, and so funds were split evenly; all 20 were given $3500 to record and produce three songs.

All the acts are also now given the opportunity to perform, instead of the originally planned five. For five weeks starting in October, those who’ve heard the bands will have a chance to see them live at The Cellar, where four bands will play every Thursday night in front of an audience as well as a panel of judges. The live performance only makes up 30% of the bands’ score, though, in deciding who will win the grand prize. Another 20% is online voting from the Peak’s website, while the remaining 50% is made up of a number of small challenges, like writing about how the band has incorporated what they learned at boot camp.

“It’s not always the best, most talented bands that succeed. It’s the best bands with business sense that succeed,” says D’Eith.

The three bands with the highest scores will play a show at a yet undisclosed venue, during which the winner will be announced. D’Eith doesn’t find it fair to predict who will win — he also says he wouldn’t be able to harbour a guess. “After the camp, I think it’s up to [the artists] now. We came away thinking ‘Oh my god, how are we going to pick one?’ I wouldn’t want to be on the final jury,” he said.

And picking the final jury is even tougher now. After the camp, connections were made between artists and their seminar instructors, the very people who were supposed to be in the pool of potential judges. For instance, Danny Echo is going into the studio soon with producer Jeff Dawson, who they met at camp. Dawson had already been a fan, having seen them live, and owned a copy of the album.                         
Newton says that while the top prize money would be nice, it isn’t everything. “Whether we win or not, we still got a lot out of it. [The contest] is a real scene booster for BC music, and it’s really great to get that injection of education into these bands.”

Megan Drysdale

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