North by Northeast: A War Story

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The final straw was when they didn’t have my cheque ready for me at the venue, but the camel’s back was pretty weak from the get-go. I have played North by Northeast seven times over the past ten years, and I have never felt more neglected than in 2014. As far as I had always understood it, while the festival has grown in size and scope over the 21 years since its inception, the focus would remain on local talent. Evidently, this is not the case. There are any number of reasons or excuses that NXNE could provide in order to explain why small independent Toronto acts like mine were so vigourously boned at this year’s festival, but I’m not asking for reasons and I couldn’t care less about excuses. I want an apology.

It is not surprising that two of the most powerful hipsters at NOW Magazine are at the helm of North by Northeast. Editor and CEO Alice Klein as well as Editor and Publisher Michael Hollett both sit on the board of directors of NXNE. In fact, Hollett is one of the original founders of the festival. His weekly paper has long been the final word on what’s hot in the 416, and its coverage/promotion of local acts for NXNE has become increasingly dismal over the years. In fact, out of the ten acts listed in NOW’s Best of the Fest article only one is Canadian and none are from Toronto.

This year, the cover of the NXNE edition of NOW Magazine featured top-billed American artist St. Vincent along with a caption advertising her free show at Dundas Square. While her show may have been free for spectators, it must be emphasized that she did not play for free herself. She, and many other Dundas Square performers charged NXNE a guarantee for their performances. The money paid to them was made in part on the backs of literally hundreds of small-time acts who each paid an entry charge of $25 to $35, whether they were selected to play or not, and accepted little to no fee for their performance. Artists who participate in NXNE have a choice of payment. They can either receive full passes to the festival for each performing member at a $150 value, or they can opt for a pay-out of $100 flat fee for the whole band. This poses a problem for small local acts like mine.

Over the years we have spent playing in this city, my band has cultivated a strong and energetic local following who come to see us play wherever and whenever we play in Toronto. Those people do not purchase NXNE passes or wristbands. Instead, they pay a door fee of $10 to $20 which is then pocketed by NXNE. The performing acts do not share any of this door money. They are locked in to their initial deal regardless of how many people they draw to the venue. I think that most artists would agree that it takes a lot of time and effort to build a following in the great city of Toronto. Toronto acts are working all year round to ensure that they continue to draw people to their shows in a major city that has an infinite amount of entertainment to throw at its citizens. It should not be NXNE’s place to claim the spoils of a local band’s labour. Sell the $150 passes, sell the wristbands but, seriously, leave the door to split among the artists. It would mean a few bucks for the bands that got paid in passes, and a nice bonus for those who took the $100 pay-out.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t received my $100 pay-out. In past years, an NXNE stage manager would have an envelope ready for me by the time I got off the stage. Sometimes it was handed to me while I was still packing up my gear. This year, however, I had to ask three different NXNE volunteers for money that they knew nothing about. A few days worth of phone calls to NXNE’s head office yielded me nothing until a week later when I was contacted by a staff member. He was very pleasant, and I believe him when he said that he had no idea why there was no cheque for me at the venue. He promised to have the cheque mailed out to me. That was nearly a month ago, and no cheque has arrived at my door. On July 17, I sent a follow-up email to my contact. It was not returned. Two phone calls were placed to NXNE, and they were also not returned. Finally, after a very curt email sent on July 22, I finally received a response in which I was told that my application was filled out incorrectly, and that’s why I had not been paid yet. Apparently, my application lacked a specific name for the payee line of the cheque as well as an address to which the cheque would otherwise be sent. It does seem odd that my application contained all of the information needed in order to contact me, but lacked the only two pieces of information that NXNE required in order to send me a cheque. I still have not received my fee.

There are so many reasons for a small local artist to hate North by Northeast. For one week out of the summer they monopolize Toronto’s venues and, up until very recently, a radius clause forbade all participating acts from performing in Toronto within 45 days surrounding their NXNE date. In my case, I wasn’t even notified about my show until 10 days prior to the event, effectively placing me in violation of the 45 day clause. My act received no promotion in NOW Magazine with the exception of our local listing which is standard for any show at any time of the year. On any given night playing in Toronto, I can expect to make $100 for the whole band with no money down. For NXNE I had to pay $35 to enter, and I still haven’t received my fee. The treatment I have received this year is beyond shameful, and I doubt that I will enter my act again. I ask for an apology, but I won’t hold my breath. Instead, I prefer that they just send me my $100 cheque so that I can exchange it for enough booze to forget everything that has happened in the past month, including NXNE 2014.

Photo by W.S. Rivera of You Handsome Devil

Read a very positive Provocative Penguin review of YOU HANDSOME DEVIL’s 2013 NXNE showcase here.

About Jeremy Sachedina

Jeremy Sachedina plays guitar and writes music for Toronto bands YOU HANDSOME DEVIL and They Might Be Fascists. He enjoys fine wines, candlelit dinners and making love to the films of Sam Peckinpah.

  • user xyyyz

    Pretty shabby follow up by NXNE IMO. If NXNE is serious and aspires to be a ‘definitive’ music event based in Toronto they need to sharpen up or move out. That’s my 2¢
    On the topic of ‘bands paying’ to be part of NXNE I view it the same as all these “industry promotions” they’re for the promoters and not the artists. Caveat emptor is my thinking.