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FYI

Neill Dixon Charts CMW's Return This June. Karen Bliss Reports.

CMW topper Neill Dixon speaks for the first time about the return of the annual convention, in Toronto, June 6-11. Post pandemic the global music industry event has evolved so the bunfest MBIAs won't be on the menu, but a category celebrating the return of 'Live' makes its entrance.

Neill Dixon Charts CMW's Return This June. Karen Bliss Reports.

By Karen Bliss

Toronto’s Canadian Music Week (CMW) will be back to an in-person conference and festival this year just in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary.


With the continual changes to the covid restrictions and re-openings, president Neill Dixon and CEO Danya Dixon kept having to change the dates, eventually having to defer their deposit at the Westin Harbour Castle until next year because the hotel couldn’t accommodate the desired dates. So, this year, CMW will be held June 6-11 at the Intercontinental Toronto Centre.

The usual 3-day music summit will be back full swing June 8-10 with keynotes, speakers, panels, workshops and receptions, with very little online programming.

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But there are some big changes too. The long-running Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards (MBIA), and Radio and Audio Awards are no longer. Instead, some radio honours will be given out during the first day of the Radio Active conference, June 7, and publishing and record label awards will be handed out as part of the expanded Sync Summit on the 9th.

The 21st annual Indie Awards are still a-go (June 11), with nominations now open, as is, surprisingly, the relatively new Live Music Industry Awards (June 10), whose categories are just being finalized to reflect the pivots during covid.  

The festival portion, programmed by John Kastner, is accepting applications until March 31.

Dixon spoke to FYI Music News about mounting the in-person event, the changes to the conference, its commitment to diversity, the cost of applying, and the 40th-anniversary plans.

When did you know that June would work and how accommodating has the Intercontinental been during all the changes?

We were going to be in April at the Westin Harbour Castle and just after Christmas when Omicron was all over the news, we asked if we could push it back to June; of course, everybody else was thinking the same thing so there was no space at the inn, as they say. I said, ‘Can I have my deposit back?’ and they said, ‘No. You can have your deposit for a future date, but you can’t get it back.’ So we said, ‘Let’s book June of 2023.’ So the first week of June 2023, is Canadian Music Week at the Westin Harbour Castle.

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Then, I was on a hunt for anywhere I could get and I didn’t know what date we would end up with, but I was shooting for the first week of June because that was the date that MIDEM [in France] had and cancelled. I thought there was going to be a bunch of people with nothing to do if they planned on going there. So that’s why we took June. We’re not a replacement for MIDEM, but it’s an opportunity because that window was never available as an option.

CMW is international. You have speakers flying in, as well as delegates from around the world. Has that been difficult getting people to commit because of border and flight restrictions, vaccination requirements and tests?

When we were trying to get out of that date in April, we had no idea when this thing [covid] was going to step aside. Obviously, it’s going away a lot faster than anticipated. I still think we made the right move by pushing it back to June. We were debating going virtual again, but after our experience last year our numbers were good and it was a pretty polished product but it wasn’t the same and it certainly didn’t put a lot of money in the bank. It’s not even close to what live is like.

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Are you integrating the virtual component?

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Yes, it’s a little bit hybrid. There are going to be some panels that are virtual and there will be people beamed into the conference.

Do you worry that might cut into delegate pass revenue, people who can’t be bothered to hop on a plane?

It could, but I don’t think so because we’re not taking the conference that’s happening live and putting it on the internet so whatever they’re going to miss, they’re going to miss. We’re using that [online] to deal with, for instance, Japan, our spotlight country this year. They’re slow to get over [covid] as well, so we’re going to be doing a lot more virtually with Japan this year than we would do in a normal year. That’s where we’re talking about hybrid.

Right now, you have to be vaccinated to get into Canada.

You do at the moment, but that’s probably going to go away. That’s federal. Provincially, everything is going away. We’re lucky there’s an election in Ontario because it sped up everything.

[Vaccine passports are no longer required and mask mandates will be lifted this month. All covid restrictions will be gone across the province by April 27].

Award shows are a big part of CMW each year, but you’ve made some changes.

The MBIAs [Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards] are not happening this year. It got too big for its usefulness because there were a thousand people there last time and nobody could hear. Speakers had to yell over the din. When you’ve got everybody from radio to records to publishing to sync to you name it, they pay attention to their own awards but not to anybody else’s and they just want to drink and have fun.

So, the opening party replaces that and is a chance to get together and drink, and we’re doing individual awards shows, specific to the sector. The Sync awards are on the Thursday. There’s going to be a fair bit of sync in the conference. Besides specifically sync awards, they’ll be publishing awards and label awards, on the Thursday. We’re trying to cover off most of the sectors in the industry, but they will be tied to sync because every publisher and label has a sync arm now.

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For Radio, because that event is hybrid — it’s half live and half virtual — we’ll give out significant awards on the first day and the others will have to wait until next year.

What is the thinking around still having the Live Music Industry Awards, which has categories for small, medium and major festivals; best teamwork at small, medium and major clubs; and new touring artist of the year? Everyone in the live industry deserves an award for just getting through covid, but how do you hold an awards show for it?

The thinking behind that is everybody needs to get together, so we didn’t want to go another year without recognition.  We’re finalizing the new categories and they’re going to reflect what happened during covid. A lot of people pivoted and did a lot of great things. We’re going to recognize all the work that was done over the last two years.

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Is there a conversation now at CMW around gender parity and diversity in terms of booking your panellists?

Absolutely. We have a committee now to help us do that. That’s ongoing. The purpose of it is to advise us on gender diversity, equality, and inclusion.

What is the justification for the cost to apply to the festival? $79 to $129. That’s high, especially after covid.

It’s an administration fee and it costs us that much to set it up, run it through the website, adjudicate it. There’s a fair bit of work that goes into it.

If you apply, does that fee cover a pass?

You can attend if you get accepted.

What are the highlights for the 40th anniversary?

We’re going to do a series of concerts this month, partially nationally: one in Vancouver, one in Toronto and one in Montreal. The one in Toronto is sold out already, Pup, March 23. We’re doing Marianas Trench and Fefe Dobson in Montreal on March 31, and we’re doing the new Tik Tok sensation Jessia on March 25 with Stereos and Elijah Woods.  And at the Indie Awards, we will recognize and have a reunion performance by Bran Van 3000. So it will end up with a party at the end of the night.

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