Who you know: getting involved in the St. Catharines music scene

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On a campus as diverse as Brock’s, it should come as no surprise that the creativity and artistry of students can be boundless. People bring their passions and interests with them wherever they go, and it’s not hard to find talented creators roaming the halls, especially musicians.

One of the greatest things about the wider St. Catharines community is that it thrives on  creativity: the downtown music scene is as vibrant and eclectic as Brock University’s own student body, and plus, it’s always looking for fresh faces and new talent. There’s a huge number of ways to get your music out there and get involved in the community of musicians around us in the Niagara Region, but taking those first steps can be daunting. This feature contains a few ideas on where to start, and will hopefully help you find your footing!

Depending on how lofty your ambitions are, you might want to start by getting your name (and more importantly, your music) out there. The most obvious way to do so is through performance, and that option is incredibly accessible here in Niagara with the right talent.

That being said, one can’t go wrong in brand strength, and social media seems to be the best way to currently build this. Online communities can be a great way to get involved with groups specific to your music and even your local area. Especially for those who may struggle with performance anxiety, sharing clips within these safe, online spaces can be a good way to alleviate some of that worry, while sharing your passion. Sharing on your personal Facebook profile amongst friends and family is a good start, but there’s plenty of opportunities to go further afield. Facebook is filled with groups and pages dedicated to specific genres and subgenres of music, as well as to particular instruments or performance styles. Many of these groups are very encouraging and open to their members posting videos of their own performances, and their experience and advice might give you useful tips to improve upon your act.

In my own experience, the best social media site to share music is Instagram. Whether you’re performing jazz guitar, pop vocal covers, or even just a killer drum solo, Instagram has a thriving community full of people waiting to hear fresh music. Try searching a few hashtags that you feel are relevant to the music you’re making, then share a few clips with those tags. The response I’ve gotten from the wider community, after sharing music this way, always blows me away! Be on the lookout too for specific accounts that are dedicated to sharing others’ work as a form of signal boosting, and see how you might be able to get your own clips included.

If you want your output here to remain somewhat relevant to the local community, you can try tagging your location on posts. You might be amazed how many people in the area will find your work if you do this. Additionally, both Instagram and Snapchat have location-based public stories, which amalgamate user-submitted photos and videos for all to see, which can be used to increase your reach to local areas.

Little details like this are more important than they might seem; the St. Catharines music scene is all about community, and making yourself and active and visible participant in that community is just as valuable as performing; you really can’t have one without the other. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the best ways to get involved in performances in St. Catharines is through involvement in the community.

There’s plenty of opportunities downtown, but there’s also some right on campus that you might want to be familiar with. Always be on the lookout on the various message boards around Brock University for information about open mic nights or performance opportunities being run by the various groups and societies on campus. In the past, both the The Lofts and Issac’s have both held events like this. But a recent addition to the Brock landscape has been going all out to provide such opportunities is GoLive, a group created by and run for musical students. In the short time they’ve been operating, they’ve been providing open mic nights in and around campus, regular opportunities to meet and jam with fellow musicians at the Ryson’s Music School in Downtown St. Catharines, and even organizing concerts at local venues for Brock-based bands, in additions to searching for musicians to perform at on-campus events. They’ve also been helping out with a number of charity events; last semester they helped organize a Karaoke night in collaboration with the Relay for Life team. In recent weeks they’ve also been planning on expanding their offerings, and are developing a roster of musicians who are willing to busk on campus, performing at various locations throughout the day. Their social media pages also host regular clips of covers and original music from Brock musicians..

(I sent this paragraph to someone involved with GoLive to make sure I didn’t get anything wrong or miss anything out, so the above might change slightly)

Even more opportunities lie beyond the Brock border. Just a ride on the 16 away is Downtown St. Catharines, the musical epicentre of practically the entire Niagara region. One of your first ports of call downtown should be Mahtay Cafe, who host open mic nights every Thursday evening. Don’t let the relatively small size of the venue fool you; this is one of liveliest, most bustling events in the area, but it’s also one of the most welcoming! By the time the evening is in full swing this little coffee shop is packed with talented musicians sharing their talents, and an audience who loves every last note that comes out of them! Mahtay and its community welcomes any and all styles of music. In my time venturing to this little event, I’ve seen traditional Spanish folk music, spoken word poetry, classical music played on traditional japanese instruments, guitar-based music of every variety from psychedelic to folk to punk, Amy Winehouse-style brooding soul and plenty more. What I’m getting at, essentially, is that no matter what you’re playing, you’ll likely feel at home.

What’s more, Mahtay’s open mic nights are an epicentre for St. Catharines’ music culture. Whether they’re busking on St. Paul street or playing to sold-out crowds at Pepper or Warehouse, all of the area’s musicians come down every Thursday evening. This is great for a number of reasons; for one, when you do decide to come down and perform, you’ll be in good company. But this is also a great group of people to network with; some of the regulars here have been performing in and around St. Catharines for years, and are integral landmarks in the community’s cultural landscape. You’re guaranteed not only to make some strong friends here, but also to solidify the connections that could be your foot in the door of some of St. Catharines’ more prestigious venues. Plenty of the musicians here are always looking for collaborators, jam partners, even opening acts; not only does the open mic night give you the chance to show them what you’ve got (and vice versa), it gives you the chance to make a connection, and let them know that you’d love to work with them. The more fellow musicians you can keep in contact with, the more places you might get information about performance opportunities from.

Networking is perhaps one of the most important parts of getting involved in the music scene here – I can’t stress that enough. Even as a solo performer, the people around you are your ticket to where you want to be. If you’re not yet ready to perform, I’d still recommend heading to Mahtay to start making connections; if you come away with even one more person interested in what you have to offer, it will have been worth it. But there are other places downtown that you can go, that don’t carry the same pressure to perform as an open mic night can. Almost anywhere you that serves food and drink downtown is also putting on occasional concerts and musical events. Smaller venues like Rise Above often provide a more intimate space, that practically encourages conversation between performer and audience. Even at a venue like warehouse, you can often find members of the performing acts hanging around amongst the crowd pre-show (especially when the act is local).

So, you’ve made it out to Mahtay. You’ve played a few songs at open mic night, you’ve gotten in touch with a few people who really enjoyed your performance, and made friends with a few people whose performances you’ve really enjoyed. Your name, and your music, are out there now, even if only in the heads of a few people at this one event. What do you do next? Where do you go from here?

Once again, this is a great chance for social media to come into play. Keep in touch with the people you meet; try and share some contact information with one another, and don’t let this be the last time your paths cross. Share your music with one another, find ways of staying updated on anything each other has coming up, and get out there to support them.

You may also want to consider ways of keeping fans of your performances up to date with anything you might have coming up, which is why I emphasized social media outreach so much earlier in this article. Having a Facebook page, or something similar, that people can connect to to stay up to date with you without necessarily being connected to your personal accounts is a great tool to have. Aside from posting clips of yourself, it’s a great space to thank people for coming out to your performance, announce any upcoming shows, and can also be a great space to share collaborations with other local artists if you can’t make a performance work. In my experience, I’ve found Instagram to be a valuable tool for sharing the music itself, but Facebook’s emphasis on community makes it a better tool for advertising upcoming performances, with the ability to set up events and share easily with your friends, family and local area without much hassle.

But don’t let this be a one-way street; as I’ve said time and time again, this is about community more than anything else. Support the artists that support you. You’re here to be a part of this community, not just benefit from it. It’s not a huge commitment by any means, but paying it forward in gestures of goodwill shouldn’t be overlooked, or underappreciated.

Ultimately, you’re going to get out what you put into this community. A single performance at an open mic without sticking around to soak in the talent around you isn’t going to book you a headline gig, but at the same time, missing one week’s open mic out of the month isn’t going to make you disappear. Whatever your aspirations are, there’s a way to make your schedule work around them. It’s easy to convince yourself that being a student doesn’t leave much room for anything else, but even a minimal time commitment can be hugely beneficial. The key, other than community, is consistency; make a habit of however you choose to approach your involvement in the local music scene. Be as dependable as you are regular; if people know you like to play on the last thursday of the month, they’ll likely put in the effort to come and see you.

It can be nerve wracking climbing up on the stage for the first time, but it really doesn’t have to be. You aren’t competing with your fellow musicians, you’re performing alongside them. They’re allies, not adversaries. Likewise, the audience members aren’t there to judge you, they’re there to have a good time. Putting yourself and your music out there in the world is one of the most daunting things a person can do, but it can also be one of the most exciting.

 

 

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