Canadians spend a lot of time clearing snow off things. Conditions may not be so great for driving but they are, apparently, just right for producing a bountiful sonic harvest. Despite (or maybe as a result of) spending half the year subdued by a relentless winter, Canada keeps delivering top-notch independent music from bedrooms and garages in its every corner.
Weird Canada is a website that has developed from a simple music blog to a multifaceted DIY resource and ever-growing showcase of art from across disciplines and provinces. It’s one of the best places on the internet to discover music by Canadians experimenting in a range of genres, and it provides a valuable place for art from across our vast geographical landscape to converge.
In their effort to unite a nation-wide community of weirdo artists and fans, an expanding collection of volunteers has allowed Weird Canada to take on a lot of cool initiatives. Their biggest and most recent project has been to establish the Wyrd Distro, an online tool intended to streamline the process of buying and selling physical music within Canada’s independent community. The distro is set to open this Saturday, February 15th, and is being celebrated at a series of free, all-ages launch gatherings across the country that afternoon.
Weird Canada’s executive director Marie LeBlanc Flanagan and founder Aaron Levin recently answered some questions for me, even though they are obviously busy as hell right now:
So how does this thing work? What kind of role will record stores and labels play in the curation/distribution process?
The Wyrd Distro is a massive, loosely curated consignment store: a central repository for emerging music on a physical and digital format. This will allow consumers to purchase new Canadian music, while also empowering record stores to carry limited-run releases through bulk purchasing.
We are proposing a new model for music dissemination in Canada by creating a web-store and distribution platform that will act as a bridge between Canadian artists and consumers. All parties, including artists, labels, consumers, and independent record stores, would benefit from a single source developed to bridge musical content from creation to purchase.
Fans of independent Canadian music are seeking new ways to support emerging musical currents, but face many pragmatic barriers along the way: Does the musician have a website? Is the shipping cost worth the investment? Will the artist actually send the order? Will it be packaged securely?
The problem of selling, purchasing, and distributing independent music is old, but the magnitude has increased. The internet has made previously scarce information about DIY music widely available to new Canadian consumers, resulting in digital information overload and causing fans to turn to curators like Weird Canada to discover new music.
What purpose does it serve in terms of Weird Canada’s mandate and goals?
One of our 2013 Objectives was to become a more resource-driven website. Weird Canada will always be curated and this curatorial process is foundational for our identity. Unfortunately, curation is an inherently exclusionary action and despite being a space for positive expression and excitement, our silence is strong.
However, the community we serve shares goals, concerns, and resources with artists and communities that don’t fit within our curatorial boundaries. Therefore, if we can develop resources, guides, how-to’s, documentation, and other services agnostic of subjectivity, then we serve both our community and others without sacrificing our identity.
Wyrd Distro is a small part of this process. It’s a resource for artists. And while it’s still curated, its boundaries will be much wider than Weird Canada.
I understand you got some funding from FACTOR to help develop this project – what other kinds of craziness did you have to go through to get it set up? Or was it ultimately pretty simple?
Basically everything is difficult. Software, design, advertising, marketing, launch parties, etc. If you consider just the advertising: calling magazines, getting quotes, developing a marketing plan, creating ad copy, distributing ad copy, negotiating rates, etc. Just so you can stick some silly .gif in someone’s face while they’re reading about the Grammys. It’s all very exhausting.
Thankfully we’ve had some amazing volunteers working on this project. Rachel Weldon has been leading our outreach and communications with all the bands and record labels. Marie taught us all how to use a free Gmail CRM called Streak to help manage and distribute these communications. It’s kind of amazing. We may be a rat-pack of weirdos but there’s some sophistication in the way we work sometimes that is inspiring.
The launch is being celebrated at gatherings in just about every province in Canada, which is quite admirable! Do you actually have volunteers living in all of these places? What’s the weirdest thing you think could happen on February 15th?
Marie spent the last year actualizing a massive outreach program she developed. This resulted in us having volunteers in almost every single one of these cities. What’s been really incredible is the desire for some people to host their own Wyrd Distro Launch Gathering, which has helped with the cities where we didn’t have a volunteer.
Organizing these events have been very inspiring in that it’s shown us how truly national Weird Canada has become. We’re so lucky to have Marie leading the ship. Who knows where we’ll go next!
I predict the strangest launch gathering to be in Yellowknife. It may happen in a back-alley or a living room. We’re not sure yet, but performance artist Nacomi is really excited to organize something special!
Have you ever considered establishing a Wyrd Bistro?
Marie has actual, real-world experience running a volunteer-run, not-for-profit cafe. It turns out that it’s really hard!
As a national organization we’ve always been reluctant to plant our feet too firmly in one city. If we could have a bistro in *every* city, then maybe!
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