Q&A with Matías Muñoz of Ottawa Showbox

Matias photo (credit Erik Stolpman).jpg

We recently chatted with Matías Muñoz of Ottawa Showbox to find out what’s new and learn more about the role that Showbox plays in our local media landscape. You can find our conversation below!

1. Why did you start Ottawa Showbox? What were you hoping to do with and for the local music community?

The idea for Showbox was conceived in early 2012, which was an interesting time for Ottawa music. The Xpress weekly newsprint had its final issue in May of 2012, and so there was a huge gap in the music being made in town and how much coverage there was for artists in the scene.

I was in a place where I was getting discouraged applying for jobs, not hearing back, and not having much connection to the music community or culture in town. I had no tangible creative outlet. Having gone to many shows and loving the music in town, I figured there couldn't be any harm in starting a little personal music blog where I go to shows and review bands as a way to express myself, and maybe get a few readers (my mom was the first reader!) and support the scene.

I wasn't sure if I'd be welcomed or looked down upon for reviewing shows since my background was a graduate degree in political science and not journalism, but I went for it anyway. I started going to shows and writing about them, and doing a few album reviews. It turns out artists were ecstatic to have a new ground-level community music website to highlight the music scene's activity. From there Showbox grew, and I became entrenched in everything going on in the music community. Eric Scharf came on board in 2013, and we have become best friends and are equally dedicated to supporting Ottawa music. From there we began doing different articles, like the Weekend Music Roundup, artist interviews, new music, new videos, features, artist spotlights, and more.

For once, I felt part of a community. It has been the most rewarding thing I have ever been a part of, and helping artists get their music into the world is a joy that never could have imagined.


2. The media landscape has continued to change significantly in Ottawa since Showbox was created seven years ago. What role do you see community media playing today?

I think independent media is a crucial pillar for disseminating what is happening on the ground-level of any community. The Xpress is a perfect example of how an indie publication helped a scene thrive, and then went downhill once it got purchased by"big media" — Montreal's Voir absorbed the publication in 2001. Eventually the paper's quality suffered until its eventual demise in 2012.

One of the only community media outlets that was pervasive in Ottawa at the time when I started Showbox was Apt613. That blog was started in 2009 and are celebrating 10 years, and it's so good to see our friends at Apt613 continue to thrive and support arts and culture in Ottawa. And of course, non-comm radio stations like CKCU and CHUO have always been vital to independent music across the board. With the Ford government's cuts coming into play, these stations are teetering on the edge of collapse. Independent media is inherently not-for-profit, and we need to support them because their purpose is solely for the good of the community—not profit.

Now we have another music-specific newsprint Ottawa Beat, a few more music blogs, and even other multimedia activities such as video series and podcasts coming into the fray since 2012. Social media is also a massive engine for the spread of information about new music, events, festivals, and so much more.

That's why Showbox has become so much more than just a blog. We try to stay relevant to what Ottawa needs. We've moved from focusing on show reviews to event previews, curation of Spotify playlists, and concert promotion. Showbox is just about supporting the music scene, and over time that mission can be executed in new ways. That's why we incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2017.

3. We often get artists asking us how to get featured in your weekend round-ups and events listings. you've recently revised your event submission process to make things even easier. Could you quickly walk us through how an artist can submit their event to Ottawa Showbox?

We really do try to make it as easy as possible. There's a submission form for upcoming concerts on our website that allows artists to send us their show's Facebook event for Weekend Music Picks consideration which are published every Thursday afternoon. Several hundred readers check out our picks weekly, so it's important to send us the show information. We try to comb listings for shows happening, but generally we can't know about your show if you don't promote it well. So please, send us your links!

4. Over the last year Showbox has started putting on its own concert series. What are some of the opportunities and challenges you face when it comes to putting on gigs in Ottawa and why was it important that Showbox take this next step?

I should say this right off the bat—concert promotion is not for the faint of heart. You have to do it for the love of music, for the community, and for the bands. We've been putting on regular shows since 2014 when we started our Friday monthly series at Mugshots (RIP). Money has never really been a factor for those smaller shows, because, well, we think bands should get the door split. Eric and I just really love promoting shows, we get a rush out of it. It's that rush that keeps us doing it.

The Showbox Concert Series is a much larger production that happens on a semi-regular basis at venues such as St. Alban's Church and Knox Church. With those gigs, we can control alcohol sales and the overall logistics of the show. We can therefore make a bit of money to help our overhead and operating costs. Bands also get paid more because it's a night that is all about them. We've done some incredibly successful album releases with local artists like Sparklesaurus and Shadowhand, packing the venue with a few hundred people all for local acts. That's something special.

That being said, challenges exist for sure. Ottawa isn't a massively populous city like our neighbours Toronto and Montreal. Promotion is key, and there is a lot more risk involved with booking bigger gigs like the ones we do for the Concert Series. There are overheads like liability insurance, rental fees, alcohol, custodial—things that club gigs don't usually have because it's built into the booking deal with the venue. But concert promotion is like canoeing in the ocean—there's a lot of ups and downs, but the longer you do it, the better you can ride the wave.

The Showbox Concert Series is currently being re-imagined, and like everything we do, we want to keep it fresh and relevant to what Ottawa needs right now. There are some great promoters like First Crush, Debaser, PRISM, Side By Side Weekend's Anthony Cardozo, SOTO's Ska Jeff, and more that are going to bat for artists in the scene, and we have so much respect for all of them all. It's a labour of love for sure, and there's no lack of love there.

5. This summer introduced Ottawa Spins, a Showbox music series which includes a monthly Spotify playlist featuring recent releases coming out of the Ottawa area. Why do you feel it’s important to bring your support for local music to Spotify, and in what ways will this project help to foster local creativity and success?

Spotify is just another avenue to promote one's music. I don't want to overplay it, because I see it as another puzzle piece for artists to get their music out there. Plus, it's not super expensive for musicians to put their music on major streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. I suppose the reason we started our Monthly Spins Spotify playlists was to help encourage artists to take the plunge into digital music distribution, because it's not rocket science! I feel like it's one of those things that a lot of bands have on their To-Do lists, but don't really get around to doing. Once again, we can't know about your music if you don't make it easy for us to access!

The other reason is that it's another way we can bring Ottawa music together and document what's coming out each month. It's a great resource for people looking to keep tabs on the output of musicians in this city. Lately it's been more difficult to keep up with local releases in the form of our New Music posts, due to lack of time and resources (Showbox isn't our full-time gig). That doesn't feel good, and sometimes I feel like I'm letting artists down by not keeping up with their release dates. So the playlists are just one more way to catch the music that is being released and make it more accessible for people to click play. We're always trying to find effective ways to engage with our followers and connect them with music in Ottawa.

6. Something that our members might not realize is that it's possible to advertise on Ottawa Showbox. What are the advantages to advertising through community media?

There are several advantages to advertising with community media! First and foremost, I think, is that in order to operate independently, funding is imperative. Advertising on our website means that the money goes directly to our survival, covering overheads like web hosting fees, writer's fees, our membership fees to organizations like SOCAN, Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and Canadian Live Music Association. So when I say that we're a not-for-profit, I mean that we literally don't make any money, it all goes into operating costs. I think that knowing where advertising money is going is important, and for us it's going directly back into keeping gas in the engine.

The other obvious advantage is that our followership is made up of music-lovers old and young. Showbox appeals to everyone, and advertising with us is an opportunity to be associated with a trusted organization that thousands of community members believe in. Those community members love music as much as we do, and participate in festivals, support local businesses, and want to give back. So I think by advertising with us, there's a sense of collaboration and support for one another that goes a long way.

Ottawa Showbox is kindly offering OMIC members a 25% discount on advertising! Whether you’re a local music business or an artist with an upcoming release, Showbox can help! To learn more about Ottawa Showbox, click here.