The best of Toronto’s independent music scene gathered at Tattoo Queen West to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Toronto Independent Music Awards.
Artists, executives, and fans crowded the downtown Toronto venue for Decade Party on Sept. 25, where musicians showed off their talent and rocked the stage.
Started by attorney and journalist Dani Oliva in 2004, the Awards, known as TIMA, began as a biannual song-writing competition for up and coming Ontario musicians.
“I was invited to the American Music Awards in California by a label when I was 16. The experience inspired me to start a music award show for independent artists who need the recognition and help,” says Dani.
By submitting their songs for consideration, artists become eligible for advice from industry experts, award recognition, and other prizes. In the past ten years, over $300,000 has been given away in the form of prize packages.
“TIMA brings together the community and allows industry professionals, musicians, and media to engage and network. The event becomes a hotbed of creativity. We also give musicians useful prizes, feedback, and try to connect winners with helpful opportunities.”
These industry professionals come in the form of Grand Jurors for TIMA, the actual judges for the competition. Since its beginning, the positions have been held by Canadian recording artists like multi-platinum record selling Bif Naked and Juno Award winner Jully Black.
“I’ve always considered myself an independent artist, even with major distribution,” Black says. “I think every artist, especially in Canada, directly signed or not, you’ve got to know how to chart your own course and build a team, even learn how to be savvy in order to continue to lead your vision.”
Black says there were very few outlets where independent artists could be heard when she started out in the music business, from radio play to venues.
“I’ve always admired the fact that there’s even a platform, an association, available. Metaphorically, I look at it as another stage. To me, it’s basically a place where it’s free from the political agenda, and to come full circle, we all are independent. We should remain thinking as individuals, as independent artists. You do not want to become 100 per cent dependent on anybody, be it a band member, a record label, a styling crew.”
Black hosted the event in 2006, and was a Grand Juror in 2012, where she enlisted the help of her best friend and background singer D.Shon to get a more objective point of view.
“He listens to everything, so it was nice to get his take on it, of someone that could actually analyze phonically what they were doing, and reasons why certain sounds might even be chosen,” Black says. “You don’t have to be Siskel and Ebert to be an expert. If you’re an expert, you really admire an art and study it. Everyone’s an expert once you’re really committed to learning the ins-and-outs, and knowing the whys of whatever it is you’re critiquing. It was nice to hear fellow peers and fellow creators just really tell their story with their music.”
This year, the panel of Grand Jurors included radio broadcaster Alan Cross, CBC television producer Korey Schaefer, and award-winning songwriter, performer, producer Hill Kourkoutis.
“I’m a very big fan of this city and the music that comes out of it. I grew up in this scene, started playing in clubs when I was 13. I feel great being able to take part in something like this, being a native of Toronto.”
As a Grand Juror, Kourkoutis was given a selection of music, and asked to listen and score it based on criteria like lyricism, musicality, and overall musicianship.
“There were some great nominees this year, and I think everyone did a great job,” Kourkoutis says. “It actually made the job very difficult.”
Kourkoutis is also the manager of Eh440, an a cappella group that connected through TIMA. Consisting of beatboxer Luke Stapleton, bass vocalist and cousin of Dani, Joe Oliva, and lead and backing vocalists Janet Turner, Mike Celia, and Stacey Kay, the band kicked off the performances for the night with its own original songs as well as a medley of popular music.
“In 2008, Luke won the best Live Urban category and Mike won the Best Blues category. Through networking at the TIMAs, we formed this band, so Dani thought it would be appropriate for us to perform tonight,” says Joe.
“We were stage managers, Janet and I, at the last few shows. And we saw them performing, and we thought, we need to put a band together! And we need someone crazy, so we found Stacey Kay.”
Eh440 was a great choice to start off the night, as they highlighted the success of TIMA and its aim to make a statement within the Canadian music industry. Also performing were 2012 Best Rap winners Philly Moves, and Best Female-Fronted winners Sumo Cyco, led by singer-songwriter Skye Sweetnam.
“The entire night was a highlight; it was our best event yet. The room was electric, everyone was feeling it. The talent was absolutely incredible, from Eh440 starting off the night and the crowd moving to the front of the stage, straight through to fans head-banging to Sumo Cyco right to the end. The nominees and winner announcements were so exciting. All the bands were thrilled, regardless of if they won or not.”
Ten years later, Dani sees nothing but success for TIMA, and plans on making the competition bigger and better than ever before.
“TIMA, which has taken place every two years, will now take place annually. We are also attempting to bring more North American opportunities to winning artists through our connections with Los Angeles.”