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Getting in on the ground floor: James Kasper shares experience starting Fraser Valley Music Awards

In anticipation of the first-ever Fraser Valley Music Awards, I sat down with FVMA Coordinator James Kasper to talk about the awards and the local music scene.
As well as being a musician and a founder of Mighty Speck Records, Kasper started and organized the Vancouver Island Music Awards (VIMAs) for 11 years.

How did the FVMAs come to be?

That precedes me a little bit, but CIVL Radio applied for funding through the Community Radio Fund of Canada. They made a proposal saying what they would do with the grant, and they got it. A big chunk of that was a one-year contract for an employee to actually coordinate it, and specifically someone who had experience doing that.

When I saw the ad, I thought, that’s just a perfect fit. So I got here, and we put the wheels in motion, and now it’s 10 months later and we’re almost there.

Have there been any major challenges in starting this event from scratch?

The main positive thing is that all the musicians want to be involved, and the media has been supportive. But the main challenge is getting the word out to the general public. Obviously the media’s a big part of that, but also getting people to care about their local arts and culture, and to understand that it’s not only important, it’s absolutely crucial that they support their local artists. It’s really not a question of, “Ehn, I can take it or leave it, and maybe I’ll just listen to Top-40 or whatever.”

If you’re in a community with local arts and culture, you should really be doing something, even if it’s a minimal amount, to support it, and most people don’t. That’s the unfortunate reality. Not to be a Debbie Downer—there’s a lot of people who do, and those people are loyal and dedicated and passionate. Those are the people we need to make sure know what’s going on because they’re going to want to support it, help get the word out, and attend the events, and by next year it will have a much higher profile.

Right. And that’s a real problem, is getting people to engage with local arts and culture, especially when there’s a lot available out there that you don’t have to put extra effort into finding.

Yeah, it really is a matter of actually seeking it out in a lot of cases, especially when it’s not coming from Top-40 or high distribution print. You have to seek it out a bit more because it’s maybe not at every magazine shop or it’s not the strongest signal on the dial. But it’s important to go looking for this stuff and know what’s going on in your own backyard.

To navigate that challenge, how have you been trying to amp up community circulation for the FVMAs?

The main way is getting as many people and as many facets of the community involved as possible. So we bring on community partners who have their own audience, and we get all of them talking about it. The most effective advertising, as you know, is word of mouth. You can pay $1,000 or $10,000 for an ad; it’s still not as effective as an event that people are talking about. So what we’re trying to do is get as many local businesses and different media as possible talking about it, and eventually that network builds to the point where there’s a buzz.


You mention local businesses and media. Have you also partnered with any local arts organizations?

There’s Moda Events, Art Battle, and The Reach, specifically Emerge at the Reach. Those are all kind of connected and definitely have their finger on the pulse of the arts community. We’re also doing a call for an artist to design the awards, so we’re connecting with arts organizations to make that happen. [Editor’s Note: The call is now over.]

We’ve tried to reach out to as many arts organizations as possible, but at the same time, you can’t twist people’s arms if they don’t respond, or it’s not a priority for them. Luckily, we’ve had a lot of great businesses that have gotten on board.

The reason I ask is because the emerging music community seems to be distinct from established arts organizations and, for instance, having concerts in places that aren’t the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium or some of those bigger city venues.

You can’t fill a venue like that if you’re on your way up. And that’s what we’re kind of trying to do with this bigger venue and bigger event, is bring those facets together to celebrate the scene, because you need that just to fill the room and get everybody excited about it. The more people are involved, the more exciting it’s going to be.

I know you’re contracted for just the one year, but where do you see the FVMAs going in the future?

I think the plan, and I can only sort of partly speak for CIVL, is to raise the profile of it every year and encompass more of the valley. I think it’s going to start out a little Abbotsford-centric, even though we are doing outreach to the rest of the valley and certainly the nominees are from all over the valley. First year, it’s probably going to be mostly Abbotsford ticket-buyers that come out to the show, but by the second or third year you would hope that people would be coming from as far away as Surrey and the outskirts of the Fraser Valley.

What can people expect when they attend this year’s FVMAs?

I like to call it the regional Junos or regional Grammys for the Fraser Valley; it’s a variety show, certainly musically focused, and alternates between live performances by 10 nominees and 12 award presentations, all glued together by our hosts. Maybe some surprises here and there, and some stuff we are actually advertising. The youth nominees are doing a Prince medley, so that’ll be a kind of departure from the show — certainly still musically themed, but in memoriam of somebody that a lot of musicians have looked up to.

How were the 12 categories determined?
You start with looking at the Junos or Grammies, or the Western Canadian Music Awards, then the things that make it specific to this region or to independent artists can steer those categories in different directions. Most of our categories are genre-specific — so hip-hop, blues, folk roots, and so on — until you get to the youth. Then we have a live act category; the finalists of that are coming out of the Battle of the Bands, then three of those perform at the [awards]. And we had a wildcard one which was a matter of trying to incorporate every possible category onstage so everybody could have their moment in the sun within a three-hour show.

Every scene is a little different. I think there’s a bit more strength in the rock and alternative scene here. So we have a loud category, an experimental category, an alt category, and a rock category — those are all kind of in the same family. So maybe there’s a bit more of a focus on the rock genres and a little less on the roots, at least for now. But we’ve still covered folk roots and jazz as well. Other than that, the categories are pretty standard.

Did you get a lot of submissions?

We had 109 different bands submit from across the valley, and we ended up with 57 nominees.

What are some differences you’ve noticed between the Fraser Valley arts scene and the Vancouver Island arts scene, and the differences in navigating an awards show for those regions?

It’s surprising how many similarities there are. The independent scene for music is surprisingly similar no matter where you go. Maybe there’s a bit more of a rock scene here; if you look at Nanaimo on the island, there’s more of a blues scene there; in Victoria there’s a lot of indie, pop-rock, maybe less heavy genres.

The planning process [for the awards] differs because there I was a one-person production crew, with a bunch of volunteers the week of. Here, we’ve got an entire radio station team built in, which I didn’t have [for the VIMAs]. In that way, it’s better, because I have a paid position where I can spend 10 months building this up and coordinating this and developing this network. It was more challenging doing it myself. But I also built that up [on the island] over a decade; it’s tougher here because it’s the first year, nobody knows about it, and we’re starting from scratch. [Having experience] definitely helps; I know what to expect, what works and what doesn’t work. That cuts out a lot of trial and error.

How can communities help local arts and local artists, and stimulate that environment?

Just get out to local shows, whether that’s as a fan of the music or a volunteer. There are tonnes of opportunities to get involved that people may just not know about. Like I said before, it’s like seeking those opportunities out through campus community radio, through magazines like yours, and those fringe outlets that are so crucial to the scene. That’s what makes the scene cool and hip and modern and on the fringe and challenging the mainstream, and that’s kind of what the independent scene is all about. And what’s more exciting than discovering an artist, who then builds their career into something big? It’s not hard to get on the ground floor. Seek out those ways that you can get involved with local artists, whether that’s supporting them in a sponsorship role or just getting out to their shows.

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The Fraser Valley Music Awards take place July 16, 2016. Tickets can be purchased at http://fnd.us/CIVLFVMA16.