Breakout West takes over Winnipeg

Tina Jansen

Break out your earplugs one more time, Winnipeg. Things are about to get loud as our city wraps up the Year of Music with BreakOut West, the third and final music awards event of 2014.

Unlike March’s JUNO Awards  and September’s Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, BreakOut West is focused solely on the western portion of Canada.

It all started in 1995 when Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta teamed up for a series of conferences and music festivals called All Indie Weekend.

By 2003, British Columbia and the Yukon joined forces to create the Western Canada Music Alliance Inc. and the first Western Canada Music Week and Awards was hosted in Regina.

In 2014, the entire four day event is now known as BreakOut West, and it includes a festival, conferences and the WCMAs.

Anywhere the entire industry is together in one place is always a good opportunity to try and get your name out there.

Elise Roller, Pipe & Hat

Winnipeg is hosting for the first time since 2006, though the nearby city of Brandon was selected in 2009.

“Business is our primary goal,” BreakOut West executive director Robyn Stewart says. “We want to help create business opportunities for artists to move to the next level, such as performing at an international festival or helping them secure a booking agent.” 

Members of Noire, Federal Lights and Chez Willi, all playing BreakOut West this weekend..

This year the Western Canadian Music Awards includes 21 categories for musicians and 9 categories for the industry professionals that make everything happen behind-the-scenes.

Manitobans earned 44 nominations and can be found in every category except Spiritual Recording of the Year, Rock Recording of the Year, Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year, Instrumental Recording of the Year and Country Recording of the Year.

This is also the tenth time Winnipeg’s Paquin Entertainment Group is up for Agency of the Year, a WCMA it’s annually taken home since 2004.

“They’ve honestly won it so many years in a row because they do such a great job of supporting what we do,” Stewart says.

“The main purpose of these awards is to just recognize all the hard work everyone is putting in to make the music industry possible.”

For musicians to be considered for the 2014 WCMAs all recordings must have been released between January 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014.

All solo musicians and 50% of members in a particular band need to have lived in Western Canada for at least six consecutive months during that time period.

It’s also recommended that they’re a member of a Western Canadian Music Industry Association such as Manitoba Music, which entitles them to a 10% discount off of submission fees.

Non-members are charged $45 to apply to play the festival, $40 to apply for an award and $60 if they wish to do both.

“The money basically helps produce the festival. We are a non-profit organization and everything goes back into the event,” Stewart says.

The award nominees are determined by a panel of jurors who are selected for their impartiality, geographic location and musical expertise to narrow each category down to five releases.

Electronic voting is open to all members of the Western Canadian Music Industry Associations and the jurors to determine who will be announced as winners on Sunday, Oct. 5 at the Club Regent Event Centre.

“There are some exceptions. We don’t open up categories like jazz and classical to our general membership and those are just determined by the jurors,” Stewart says.

“For the festival we look at all the applications and start piecing the showcases together. We’re looking at which bands are export ready and already have an album out, among other things.”

Most categories stay the same, but newer ones emerge if there’s enough demand, which happened last year with Metal/Hard Music Recording of the Year.


Noire released its debut full-length, Dark Reverence, in October 2013 and is the only Manitoba metal group nominated in that category.

The band also plays a showcase for metal, punk and hard rock at the Zoo on Saturday, Oct. 4 with Vampires, Triggers, All Else Fails and Waster.

“We sent in an application, but we’re still surprised that we made the cut and that there was even a metal category. It feels good and it validates our efforts a little bit,” 32-year-old guitarist Bob Fitzgerald says.

“I don’t know just how helpful all of this is yet. We’ll have to see. We’ve only been members of Manitoba Music for two years, but without them we wouldn’t even know about BreakOut West in the first place.”

Cassidy Mann

18-year-old Winnipeg folk-pop songwriter Cassidy Mann released her second EP, Blue Skies and Bright Eyes, in August 2013 and is nominated for Aboriginal Recording of the Year.

She also headlines a showcase on Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Folk Exchange with Zachary Lucky, Boreal Sons and Chloe Albert.

“This is my first time going to BreakOut West, but I have known of people that have been before. Arun Chaturvedi mixed and mastered my latest EP and he won a WCMA [2011 Producer of the Year] a couple of years ago,” she says.

“I’m most excited to play the festival and hopefully showcase for some industry people that I wouldn’t normally get the chance to see or talk to. It’s also going to be my first full band show. In the past I’ve just been doing solo gigs by myself.”

The networking is a huge component and BreakOut West also holds a series of conferences with industry professionals such as Union Events talent buyer Josh Boser and Hidden Pony Records president Mike Renaud.

“My favourite part is the one-on-one mentoring sessions where we get industry professionals and the artists meeting for short sessions. They might get 15 minutes with someone they’d never be able to get on the phone with otherwise and I think that’s when the real business gets done,”
Stewart says.

Of course BreakOut West can’t recognize everyone and some people aren’t letting the rejection get them down.

Calgary pop-rockers Fever Feel are among 13 musicians playing unofficial showcases at the Garrick Hotel from Oct. 2 - Oct. 4 thanks to Colleen Krueger from the Landlocked Agency and Elise Roller from Pipe & Hat, a Winnipeg label that’s nominated for the Independent Record Label WCMA.

“When we realized the bands still wanted to keep playing and the venue was open we decided to put these unofficial showcases together so the bands can still have the opportunity to come out and invite people on their own terms. Anywhere the entire industry is together in one place is always a good opportunity to try and get your name out there,” Roller says.

“There’s always someone that has to be left out, but it doesn’t mean that they are less talented, that’s just how it works out sometimes,” adds Gary Birshtein, who has owned the Garrick Hotel since 2008.

If nothing else, BreakOut West seems to get people talking about music, whether their favourite musicians made the cut, were rejected or just didn’t bother applying in the first place.

“We realize any given weekend there’s lots of different artists playing in Winnipeg,” Stewart says.

“We just hope people check out as much music as they can.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 1, 2014)

Related Reads