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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Wonder Women Taking on Canadian Music


            When you think of music, you always register it with women- from the lyrics of a song, to the hotties at the front of any stage. But, what you should really be associating the idea to is ‘Hits and Giggles Media’, ‘Vai Media Group’, ‘The Harlton Empire’, and ‘Music She Blogged’. Why you ask? Well, because these popular companies are not only at the top of their game when it comes to running any and all of the hottest music acts and shows in Toronto, but each company is run by a harmonious goddess who can pretty much school you on the industry. So, if you do not already know of Vanessa Markov, Vanessa Vai, Kat Harlton, and Sarah Litt, pull out your note pad cause you are in for quite the ride.
Vanessa Markov of 'Hits and Giggles Media'
Like all my interviews, I wanted to start from the beginning and in this case, with Vanessa Markov of ‘Hits and Giggles Media’, because I very much had a line up of ladies to interview this time around. Markov is the proud owner of a multi-media blog, which also complies as an online radio station. “I work with local musicians in and around the GTA, sometimes a little further. Canadian music in general actually, and also comedy; I love the local comedy scene- I think there’s a lot of rising stars coming out of Toronto.” Truly, before Markov ever started writing for music she was a huge comedy fan. “I would come downtown probably more than once a week just to watch the local shows and one of my closest friends, Sandro Veri, is an amateur standup comedian so that’s how I got involved. And, when I met this lady over here (Vanessa Vai sitting to her right), I really dove head first- cause I’ve always been a music fan and started attending local shows with her, and started writing for an online magazine. So, when I got to start my own blog I thought, ‘Hey- I love music and comedy equally might as well do both.’ Plus, I also don’t think that comics get enough press- you don’t see interviews and you don’t see features- and they need it badly.” Throughout the article you’ll find that these lovely ladies are constantly rooting for the talented, dedicated, and unique.
Vanessa Vai of 'Vai Media Group'
    Vanessa Vai of ‘Vai Media Group’ is very much so the cool and enthusiastic classification of a ‘music mogul.’ Vai has been in the independent music scene for about 5-6 years. “I started out just managing up-in-coming artists and kind of turned that into a company where I do management for hire- so development type stuff for new artists like doing their branding, getting a brilliant writer like Miss Markov here to do their bios, and assembling all their packages. Also, I book events, coordinate, and promote all over the city.” Devoted to her passions is pretty much what Vai is about, and it is a very commendable attribute. Vai adds that she likes to think of her company as a “Music label and a management company but, all on a contract basis. So, if you’re an up-in-coming band and you need something done- you can hire us on contract and not be dedicated to anybody or have anybody own you, so it’s giving artists the tools to further their careers on their own.”
Kat Harlton of 'The Harlton Empire'
           Moving through the line-up comes Kat Harlton of ‘The Harlton Empire’ who actually came to me about the idea for this article, which I ecstatically agreed to be apart of from the get-go. Harlton was an actor before she started ‘The Empire’, so being on the other end of the spectrum, she was surrounded by fellow hard working musicians and actors that received no recognition. So, she thought to herself, “I don’t know what I can do- but I’m going to do something, and I’m going to promote the hell out of everybody.” One of Harlton’s first big tests was bringing together a concert for the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank. It was a huge endeavor, which lead to her managing one of her present artists, Buddy Black. “He came up to me after [the concert] and was like, ‘Do you want manage my band?’ And, I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I don’t mind talking to people and I’ll totally call venues and send e-mails.’ So, that’s what I did and word just kind of spread around that, that’s what was happening. But, the idea of ‘The Empire’ was kind of supposed to be like everyone helping each other- [like a community] to help each other get where they’re going.” You got to love this girl; her hearts in the right place, and her head is definitely on track. Harlton is also the subject of an upcoming documentary featuring her company and all her hard working artists. “Right away I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ” When asked to take part in the documentary, then as the idea hit her she thought, “ ‘Wait a minute. Cause in acting you’re a character and people judge that, but I’m going to be on camera and people are going to be judging everyone I meet [and] everything I say. [So,] if I [have] to lay the hammer down at a show- people are going to see that.’ But, it’ll be an interesting experience and ‘A’ I’ll learn stuff and [be able to] look back and say these are the steps I did that [equaled] this, or this is what I did and it failed. And ‘B’, I can use this to help promote everybody else I love; the shows I do for bands, the blogs, and the videos, things like [our interview.]” Exciting times are ahead for this mogul, and I cannot wait to see the end result. 
Sarah Litt of 'Music She Blogged'
             Finally, I made it to the beautiful Sarah Litt of ‘Music She Blogged.’ Litt’s blog represents her likes and dislikes, which is a fun read as well as the genuine article. “Basically, I just write unconventional reviews for artist and shows. I like writing about the experience of listening to an album and going to a show as apposed to just like the technical ‘how good the bass is’ type thing. [My focus is]: ‘What do you feel when you’re hearing this music?’ And, ‘What mood does it put you in?’ I tend to be pretty rude about it but I’ve also been putting on shows for the past 11 years, I think I started when I was 14.” Litt has been running productions even before I had my first laptop, which goes to show mind over matter really is the key to success. Also, this strong believer in doing what you can to inspire others always threw shows to benefit charities. “I’ve never once taken a penny from [any of my productions]. I really think that you can make a lot of difference with music and shows, and spread awareness that way. So, we’ve donated to hospital funds like cancer research, the kid’s help line[, and many other notable causes.]”
            For the next part of the interview I chose to start an open discussion to see what the ladies of the hour had to say. So, when describing their role as a whole in the industry Markov took the mic, “Well it’s obvious that we’re all behind the scenes, and it’s one thing that a lot of people don’t realize [which is] how many people it actually takes to create real and lasting success. You have the people promoting the show, booking agents, managers, media, production people, even your sounds guy is important. There are so many people involved and I think all of us [have the role of] doing a little bit of everything. We all have our specific talents, but we all try to do whatever we can; we’re a working fan if anything. We try to do whatever the hell we can, when we can.” Nicely said, and the other ladies were in definite harmony. These moguls fill in the blanks and wear several hats to do so, but it’s not because they are control freaks- it is because they want to constantly be creating something great.
I wanted to bring the focus however back to being a woman in a male dominated industry. So, I asked the taunting question, “What does being a woman entrepreneur in the music industry mean to you?” And, the consensus was definitely a power struggle. Litt explains, “You have to worry about your image a lot more so, it’s pretty difficult actually- you’re usually pegged as a groupie right off the bat. You really have to put your foot down and make them know that you’re doing this- and that you’re not trying to sleep with them.” Harlton adds, “With guy promoters too, I’m physically a little [woman], and so I feel like a lot of guys just look down to demean you, and I don’t know if they are doing it on purpose or consciously. It [seems] they feel like [I’m] just this little girl who doesn’t know anything about what [I’m] doing. You have to be stubborn and right at them, and be like: ‘No, I’m taking this seriously- and you need to take me seriously.’ ” It sounds like a male dominated tyrannous battle on some fronts for the ladies however, Markov and Vai break down the idea further to explain as long as you, as a woman, are on top of your business, you will be heard. “You really have to push that seriousness factor because of that whole ‘groupie’ image. You have to be really careful about that- and even when I’m media and going to the bigger shows, I’m usually the only female photographer there- and there will just be a whole bunch of guys around. And, it’s not too intimidating but you know that you have to prove yourself in order to be taken seriously,” says Markov. Vai ends with a great defining factor that is even apparent in my industry, “You have to prove yourself right away to be taken seriously- so as a promoter, bohemian manager, or how ever you want to put it- you have to show up and be on the ball right away. Don’t wait around for someone to ask you, you [have] to show up and say: ‘This is what we’re doing’ ‘This is the time’ ‘You’re on at this time/ You’re off at this time- alright, let’s go.’ So, if you show them that you know your stuff right away and you mean business, they’ll respect you right away.”
Future goals for the fantastic four are to move forward in their individual successes as well as, proceed to help the music industry grow and become more aware of what is available and just waiting to be heard. Vai hopes “to take all the experience [she has] come up with in every aspect of music and be able to manage a major artists on a label, for a major booking agency.” Markov wishes to “get more people to change their ways in finding artists and [in] how [the industry] communicates. That’s what [she] really wants to do with the radio station because [she is] allowed to stream music from bigger artists that are signed, [and she has] licenses from bigger artists like Sum 41, Big Sugar, and Alexisonfire. So, [she is] putting their music up to get people interested, but also wants to get people exposed to [indie music], where it’s like you don’t have to wait till next year and pay $80 to go to the Air Canada Centre to see them. You can see them this weekend and grab a drink with them after the show, have a great time, and you can do it all for $5. And, that’s all [she] hopes to do with the station and reach people online and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening in your city right now, so come out and experience it with us because we’re having a blast without you…. And, that’s not cool.’ ” Harlton’s goal has been present from the beginning, “I want to take the bands I work with from zero to hero; I want to get them to the point where they can sign a major recording contract, or get a label. And, get them on their way. But, I never want to stop finding those indie artists who I can [help]. The bigger goal for ‘The Empire’ is to just keep building on that.” And, finishing off this last question is Litt with honorable hopes to continue to inspire others, “I just want to continue to get those bands out there, cause if I like someone I want other people to like them too. I want to encourage people to listen to bands that they’ve never heard of before.”
            Finishing off the interview I asked the beauties to offer advice to other women trying to break into the industry. And, always as supportive as possible, the ladies offered these words of encouragement:
Markov: Don’t be scared because that’s the worst possible thing that can happen. I was terrified when I started and I realized that the way you react to that fear is what holds you back because you have to get out there. Just go up to people at shows and introduce yourself. There are the people who make the music industry seem cutthroat, but there is the same amount of people in the industry that are friendly and just [want to inspire and help].
Litt: Don’t wait around. I was fourteen when I started- don’t wait to be able to drink at a bar, find a venue that caters to you.
Harlton: If you cant find a way to do something, then create your own way. Like, if I can’t be in a band- then I’m going to work with a band in some different way.
Vai: Educate yourself, ask a bunch of questions from the right people, and go after what you want because it’s not going to come to you. So, if you’re honest, educated, and driven- you can go anywhere you want in this business and it’s all up to you to be that person.

            They work all day and all night, and still have a particular beat in their step. Here I have asked the ladies to list their favorite artists in the industry right now:
Vai: Monster Truck, Gentlemen Husbands, Hello Beautiful, Never More than Less, Second Weapon, Lindi Ortega, and The Heartbroken
Litt: Cobra Skulls, Nothington, The Jim Jones Revue, Junior Battles, Carreers in Science
Harlton: Buddy Black, Elos Arma, Anagram, Threat Signal, One Hundred Dollars, Ornaments
Markov: The Stanfields, Hotel Royal, The Johnstones, Wildlife, Sandman Viper Command  
Markov also wishes to give a shout out to Audio Blood, a PR Company who represents the majority of the bands in her list. Oh, and Markov would like to add her favorite comedians at the moment: Bryan O'Gorman, K. Trevor Wilson, Dylan Gott, Sarah Donaldson, and Mike Reeda

For more information please visit:
Vanessa Vai of 'Vai Media Group': http://vaimediagroup.ca/
Sarah Litt of 'Music She Blogged': http://www.musicsheblogged.com/
Vanessa Markov of 'Hits and Giggles Media': http://www.hitsngiggles.ca
Kat Harlton of 'The Harlton Empire': http://www.myspace.com/katherineharlton
Tishan Baldeo of 'Tishan Baldeo Photography' & 'Izura Productions'

xo B.
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