photos by Amy and Sal

*If all you want is to be exposed to 7 cool bands pls skip to the bottom of this page.

My first and only prior trip to NXNE was back in 2007.  Five years really is an eternity when it comes to digital culture. This year I was really looking forward to learning about changes in the music industry and digital media space, and getting a feel for how the event itself has evolved.

For example, how did we get from the demented bunny (NXNE logo circa 2007):

To an array of magical monzies and robos?

NXNE creatures

ZOUCH wants answers!

It was nice to see that NXNE is still based in the same hotel (Hyatt took over the property, but it functions the same). King Street West in Toronto is the perfect location because most music venues are walking distance, which  makes it feel like we’re taking over the city. I love that.

The general hangout room at NXNE

My pitch for NXNE

After two full-fledged experiences at NXNE, I now call it a must-have experience for any music or film focused creative, entrepreneur, or band. Whatever festival/conference pass they give bands is well-worth showing up and playing a set of music pro bono. Attending so many shows at so many great venues is a dreamlike experience. With the music bracelet you can see 800 bands in some of the best venues in Canada for $50. That works out to $0.06 per band. Good deal.

If you’re inclined to learn about new media and the music industry you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the NXNE interactive conferences. It’s easy to network there. I feel like I met and discussed ideas with all the right people even though I’m not much for schmoozing. It becomes easy to talk because everyone’s mind is alight with ideas. The vibe is friendly and authentic.

A cautionary note to bands: Many bands neglect to promote their shows and end up with no audience. The picture below shows an awesome bluesrock band from San Francisco called Papa’s Garage playing almost exclusively for Zouch (and an old dude on a stool). It was a riot! There are a zillion venues and time slots, so be assertive if you want to be heard.

If you’re in from out of town make sure to stay awhile to soak up the experience. And if you’re part of a project don’t just show up for one day to plop some swag down on a random table and expect to get noticed.

NXNE promo swag on some table

Endless 2012 NXNE promo swag. Can you spot the lone audio CD!

The liberation of creativity

The panel entitled The Rise of the ‘Artistpreneur’ & Entertainment Industry 2.0 was a bit of a letdown. But a rapper named D-Sisive had some cool stories about how he recently turned a corner in his life by taking the business aspect of his music more seriously.

The panel carried on with anecdotes, and overall the message was: “We’re really cool rapper guys, you should probably take your music as seriously as us if you want to succeed”.

They debated the pros and cons of  common issues like whether or not you should give your music away for free, arriving at no consensus, providing only a glimmer of insight. However, a take away here is just how easy it is to try all sorts of promotional ideas in the digital space. As a general rule hip hop artists are the best at promotion (and metal bands are the bloody worst).

Back in 2007 the idea of podcasting wasn’t well understood. NXNE even had then CBC3 radio host Grant Lawrence on a panel to explain what a podcast was! I remember it vividly. We attendees were ravenous with the desire to learn.  The experience even inspired me to start my own underground podcast in 2009. It’s rather easy now to broadcast music or podcasts across many channels, so the focus can really be on quality content.

Over the past five years it feels as though the onus has been taken off the technical aspects, and is graduating to the artistic side of things. This trend is liberating creativity. An artist like D-Sisive is able to focus mostly on writing and producing new tracks, doing what he loves to do, without being at the mercy of technological barriers or a corporate agenda outside of his control.

A growing focus on entrepreneurship 

Saul Colt‘s Startup Marketing: Techcrunch is not a Marketing Plan was the most well put together presentation I saw this year. He told stories about crazy things he’s done in marketing.

My favorite was a contest where he asked people to submit their guess at what the BEST SONG IN THE WORLD is. First prize was $1 MILLION DOLLARS. Second prize was a box of cereal. Of course nobody got the answer right, but there were over 200 2nd place winners and Saul sent each of them a little box of cereal stuffed with a $5 or $10 gift card for iTunes or Starbucks. The overall buzz created by a contest like this can be well worth the investment of a couple hundred cheap prizes.

Saul’s message was that if you want to start a sustainable business, you need to be continually creative and aggressive with marketing, and that it is much better to work to inspire people than it is to simply try to influence them. I knew it would be an enlightening experience to listen to a man who bills himself as “The Smartest Man In The World“.

Saul Colt shows a massive slide of himself.

Saul Colt shows a massive slide of himself.

How to Start a Start-up was a panel of particular personal interest to me. Since soon after the launch of the Zouch website on September 30th 2010, we have been looking at ZOUCH as a startup company (even though Jeff Campagna and my idea for Zouch Magazine wasn’t exactly born that way).

This panel was loaded with super-strong entrepreneurial minds. I had the chance to have a conversation with super-dynamo entrepreneur and Ycombinator graduate Michael Litt (whom I now refer to as “The Waterloo Wonder”). I had some unique private questions for him about starting a company and he graciously gave me advice to ponder.

Litt’s message was that a good founder must be a person who has the will and the skill to act on his or her good ideas, as well as the ability to pass that energy on to others. I suppose with any new media project there must be both a solid technical component, and a good socio-cultural component, and that a good founder must focus on being able to handle both of these. Whereas, in the past being so versatile may not have been so crucial.

What’s the use of a head for business?

Participants and panels were more business and entrepreneurship focused this year, as compared with 2007. The age of technological emancipation we are in now seems to be slightly shifting the focus of artistic talent. Again, I feel like artists and writers today have a better chance of being successful entrepreneurs while remaining true to their artistic vision (this is exactly how and why Zouch Magazine  was born).

I don’t remember there being as much buzz about startups at NXNE in 2007. The explosion of technology products of late seems to have led to many people feeling empowered enough to start their own entrepreneurial ventures in web media spaces. On one hand all of this technology is great because artists can collaborate more easily with new people with whom they share related visions and complimentary talents. On the other hand, it provides more competition.

In my humble opinion, in order to create good art and literature, it’s important for the creative mind to be released from the common day to day competitive feelings of the business world. Art is supposed to be about connecting with your true voice or your “soul”, and then showing the world something unique. Good concepts for art and literature have a unique power to guide culture, and they are most often created from a point of serene introspection. If artists become more and more business-minded, what happens to the art? What happens to our culture? [I don’t have an answer, but a teacher once told me I should end these things with an “opening”. Hit me up on twitter to continue this discussion]


WIDOWSPEAK playing The Garrison during north by northeastEveryone swooned and swayed and fell in love with Widowspeak when they played The Garrison.

Toronto dreampop band Beliefs playing The Drake Hotel in Toronto during NXNEShoegazers BELIEFS at The Drake… met them after the show at the ice cream sampling truck and became friends.

young magic playing live music at the garrison venue in Toronto for nxneYoung Magic entranced the crowd at their secret show at The Garrison. This was a big highlight of the festival for me.

Ottawa band SILVERGUN & SPLEEN playing the bovine sex club for nxneOttawa band Silvergun and Spleen carrying the pop-punk torch at the Bovine Sex Club.

 Eternal Summers have a unique sound. I’d say they are your true pioneers of post-punk pop, or something good like that.

KOVAK playing El Mocambo for NXNE 2012 Power pop UK sensation KOVAK were a sexy sight to behold at El Mocambo.

The punky LA band BLEACHED drew a big crowd at the The Silver Dollar and didn’t disappoint.

 …Already looking forward to next year.

Check out this free NXNE music download: