The East Coast Music Week Story...26 Years in the Making
From humble beginnings many years ago in a Halifax bar, the East Coast Music Awards, now known as Eastlink East Coast Music Week (festival, conference, export buyers program and awards) has grown from a one-day $1,000 event to a five-day international gathering, with a budget exceeding $1.6 million. At the same time, it has become the premier event of its kind in Atlantic Canada, attracting millions of dollars in economic spin offs. It has become one of the top music industry events in Canada, on par with the JUNOS and the Canadian Country Music Awards.
By inviting members of the international music industry to attend its ECMW, the East Coast Music Association (ECMA) has marketed Atlantic Canadian music to the world. Artists like the Irish Descendants, the Fables, Natalie McMaster, Sloan, the Rankins, Great Big Sea, Ennis Sisters, Bruce Guthro, Vishten, Ashley MacIsaac, the Barra MacNeils, Gordie Sampson, Madison Violet, Bette & Wallet, Mark Bragg, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, the Trews, Jill Barber, Nathan Wiley, the Chucky Danger Band (now Paper Lions), and Sarah McLachlan have launched thriving careers that were given a significant boost by the ECMA.
With the growth of its annual event, the association faces the challenge of meeting music industry expectations, while still honoring the vision of the host communities. The focus of the ECMA – to promote and foster the careers of East Coast artists – remains constant against a backdrop of rapid change within the international music marketplace.
The ECMA continues to draw its uniqueness and strength from the musical diversity found within each of the regions it encompasses. The ECMA is committed to hosting ECMW within five distinct Atlantic Canadian regions – Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Mainland Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Beyond the goal of serving as an economic catalyst, ECMW must fuel the growth and development of the Atlantic Canadian music industry. As a vital offshoot of the ECMA, innovative and long lasting community and music industry partnerships have been forged.
Our Mandate and History
“The East Coast Music Association is a regional collaboration of people in the music industry of Atlantic Canada. ECMA fosters, develops, promotes and celebrates its music locally and globally.”
The ECMA’s vision of showcasing East Coast talent to the world has influenced the growth of the music industry throughout Atlantic Canada. Here’s a snapshot of how the association, the East Coast Music Awards - now Eastlink East Coast Music Week (ECMW) - and the Atlantic Canadian music scene have evolved together:
1989 – The first Maritime Music Awards are held at the Flamingo Lounge in Halifax, NS, organized by founder Rob Cohn and hosted by JC Douglas. At this point in time, there are six east coast artists with national distribution.
1990 –The second awards show, hosted at the Crazy Horse Cabaret, broadens its goals and adds a music conference that brings the diverse elements of the industry together to discuss issues relevant to the music business. A&R reps from Toronto are flown in to witness the excitement and see what the east coast has to offer.
1991 – Cohn teams up with Sheri Jones, Bruce Morel, Karen Byers, Lee Stanley, Mike Barkhouse, Peter Hendrickson and Tony Kelly to form the East Coast Music Association (ECMA). The event becomes known as the East Coast Music Awards. It moves from a Halifax bar to the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium and new awards are added. A showcase by the Rankins helps the band get a manager and, later, an EMI record deal.
1992 – The event gains national recognition as East Coast artists begin to receive Juno nominations. A trade show is added to the event and a showcase by Sloan leads to a major record deal with U.S. label, Geffen Records. Ron Hynes signs with EMI. The weekend event becomes a major social gathering, and a chance to learn and do business. Late night parties, informal luncheons and countless impromptu discussions in the hallways are opportunities to push careers.
1993 – The reputation that the East Coast Music Awards is one of the nation's must-attend music events is cemented. The industry-stroking groundwork begins to pay off as the Rankins sign with EMI Music Canada, Thomas Trio with Cargo/MCA and the Barra MacNeils with Polygram. For the first time, all five ECMA nominees for album of the year are produced by Atlantic Canadians. National distribution for East Coast artists grows to 30. Stompin' Tom Connors is awarded the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award. In turn, he dedicates the award to the unsung heroes and pioneers of the East Coast music industry “who had to go back to the mines and the fields and the fishing boats, but still managed to keep music alive.”
1994 – After five years of growth in Halifax, the ECMA takes the show on the road to St. John’s, NL. The awards show is televised live on CBC in Atlantic Canada and a one-hour edited version airs nationally. Lennie Gallant signs with Sony, Kim Stockwood with EMI Publishing and the Irish Descendants with Warner. The major labels jostle over fiddle sensation Ashley MacIsaac.
1995 – Sydney, CB hosts the event and celebrates an astounding 225 East Coast record releases. The awards show moves to a 4,000-seat arena and for the first time, tickets are sold to the general public. The Songwriters' Circle is introduced as an ECMA event by founder Bruce Guthro. National industry magazines feature East Coast music as local labels sign international distribution deals and traditional fiddlers jet off to the U.S. and Europe to perform at festivals. The 800 delegates attending the conference inject more than $1-million into the Sydney economy. Warner signs Great Big Sea, Sony picks up Melanie Doane and BMG grabs the Monoxides. Sarah McLachlan has two platinum albums in the U.S. and the Rankins have two double platinum albums in Canada.
1996 – Charlottetown, PE brings a new dimension to the event, adding the Family Concert Series, the Industry Awards Brunch, the Live Performance Buyers Room, and a 72-Hour Jam Session. The island tone is set early, as 1,200 delegates are treated to live music on the ferries and dancers at the airport. The awards show features an emotional tribute to Gene MacLellan, the introduction of the Nova Scotia Mass Choir and the birth of the ECMA Stompin' Tom Award. The economic impact of the event reaches $2.4 million. Natalie MacMaster signs with Warner Music Canada.
1997 – An unprecedented 7,000 awards show guests attend the televised broadcast in Moncton, NB, and delegates clamor to the 76-hour jam session and a concert series featuring headliners Bruce Guthro, Great Big Sea, Four the Moment and Barachois. Moncton brings an Acadian flavor to a gathering that attracts more than 1,500 delegates, including 200 media from around the world. The event injects $3-million into the local economy. The association’s board of directors continues to develop its mandate as provincial music industry associations take hold throughout Atlantic Canada. Bruce Guthro signs with EMI Music Canada.
1998 – The ECMA returns to Halifax for the 10th anniversary. More than 1,800 regional, national and international delegates attend the conference and trade show at the World Trade and Convention Centre – and more than a million Canadians tune in to CBC for the awards gala broadcast from the 10,000 seat Halifax Metro Centre. The event injects $4 million dollars into the regional economy.
1999 – A party on the rock in St. John’s, NL celebrates the ever-increasing international awareness of east coast performers. The 1999 Event Organizing Committee receives a provincial tourism award from Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador as well as an “event of the year” award from the City of St. John’s. Although event revenues decline, the association responds by covering the losses, regrouping, forming new policies, and strengthening its operations. Radio ECMA originates, and broadcasts the weekend’s activities to the community and delegates.
2000 – Sydney, NS hosts a grass-roots event that pushes its organizational and infrastructure capacities to the limit. A financially successful event paves the way for the ECMA to regain a sound financial footing – and it commemorates the influence of Cape Breton’s Celtic music family, including the late John Morris Rankin. Showcases abound, and events like Radio ECMA and the Continuous Jam ignite industry attention. The awards show receives a Gemini Award for Best Music Variety Program.
2001 – Charlottetown, PE attracts more than 1,700 delegates and highlights the diversity of the east coast music scene. Emerging and established artists come together in a barrage of new showcases, including the debut of the jazz/classical concert series. The event fosters renewed interest in the formation of the P.E.I. Music Awards and creates Soundwaves, a program that sees musicians visiting schools throughout the province, and hospitals, businesses and churches in Charlottetown. The Ennis Sisters sign with Warner Music Canada and the ECMA Award Show receives another Gemini Award for Best Music Variety Program.
2002 – Saint John, NB hosts ECMA 2002. The competitive bid process in NB sparks community involvement and leads to over 2,200 delegates in attendance. Saint John brings new initiatives: the wildly popular Roots Room for acoustic performances, the UniSon bilingual concert, and the Bluegrass Stage that attracts an estimated 5,000 fans. In addition to the national CBC television broadcast of the Awards show, the Much Music ECMA Rock stage gets a prime time special on Much, and CBC radio's Definitely Not The Opera broadcasts live from the main showcase stage. Pop/rock group Crush signs a distribution deal with Warner Music Canada.
2003 – ECMA 2003 in Halifax, NS brought the conference back to where it all began 15 years before, and to celebrate this anniversary, the entire city was transformed, celebrating all genres of music. It was a resounding success, having played host to over 2,000 delegates. The Soundwaves Program brought music to over 30,000 young ears in schools throughout the region, and corporate sponsorship and support for ECMA reached new heights. Halifax celebrated Urban Music with an Urban Music Series featuring Hip-Hop, R&B and the Black Vibes concert. ECMA 2003 brought international bookings to several East Coast artists from its International delegate program of U.S. and European music industry professionals.
2004 – ECMA 2004 in St. John’s, NL saw international delegates from Japan and China join the international delegation. A strategic partnership was developed with the Atlantic Film Festival introducing film and TV elements to the ECMA conference. A number of east coast recording artists are negotiating contracts for national licensing and distribution deals. The ECMA Songwriter’s Circle is broadcast live across the country on CBC Radio and across Atlantic Canada on CBC TV. Damhnait Doyle signs with JVC in Japan.
2005 – ECMA 2005 in Sydney, CB, was a great success. The event helped to kick off the opening of two new, multi-million dollar facilities in Sydney. For both the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, and the Sydney Marine Terminal, ECMA was the first major event to use their facilities. It offered a great opportunity to introduce them to the community and the international industry delegates attending the conference. Throughout the event there were great examples of innovation shown. The conference was taken to a new level with popular sessions, a vibrant international program (50+ delegates) and great partnering with Cape Breton University. Overall, ECMA is moving towards a master class format, presenting classes this year in songwriting, export readiness and musical scoring for gaming and television. The success of the Soundwaves was built upon with the creation of a brand new program, Sound-off, which animated schools across Cape Breton to select the best band in their school and advance them to regionals and a final competition. Once again, Cape Breton delivered a great event and a financial surplus.
2006 – ECMA returned to Charlottetown, PE in 2006. Charlottetown has been a laboratory from which such experiments as Radio ECMA, Soundwaves and the 72 Hour Jam have sprung. For the first time ever, 2006 organizers decided to have a gala dinner industry awards ceremony on Saturday night. The provocative Trailer Park Boys hosted a great award show at the Civic Centre, proving many skeptics wrong and the organization right on the mark. A major highlight of 2006 was that a festival was created within the Delta Prince Edward host hotel. The music, business and networking went virtually around the clock.
2007 – Halifax once again hosted ECMA, one year early, as a result of a request to flip from Fredericton, NB. The Halifax event, introduced as the East Coast Music Awards, Festival and Conference, measures as a major industry and financial success. An amazing and insightful four-day conference, with record attendance, wonderful venues and technical and an ever growing international program with over 50 music industry delegates. With 500 hotel rooms in two adjoining Delta hotels, there was a great festival atmosphere in the hotels and adjoining malls. The 2007 award show was regarded by many as one of the best ever. The show marks the recent passing of East Coast legends John Allan Cameron, Dutch Mason and Denny Doherty. ECMAfest brought the downtown to life with many official and partnered stages.
2008 – The 20th anniversary edition of the East Coast Music Awards, Festival and Conference was hosted by the first-time city of Fredericton, NB. Highlights of the weekend were a three stage kick-off concert at the University of New Brunswick, two arena shows (including a 20th anniversary concert), an aboriginal showcase and a top-notch transportation system bringing delegates and record audience numbers to venues across the city. ECMA initiated its first greening program at the event and the television special, nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Music Variety Program, took viewers behind the scenes showing that the East Coast Music Awards, Festival and Conference is more than an awards show.
2009 – ECMA 2009 was staged in Corner Brook, NL. It was a first time for the NL event taking place outside of St. John’s. Many music organizations have taken their annual events outside of large cities. While this has many challenges there are also many positives. The event causes the biggest bang, from an economic impact perspective in smaller cities. All levels of government react positively to the event happening in smaller regions as well. Western Newfoundland really rallied and an amazing team and event was the result. The conference and international program continue to gain momentum, being cited by many as one of the leading programs in Canada. Busses and ferries were aligned to help reduce the travel challenge and cost with a February event in NL. More than 100 delegates rode the ECMA Express to Corner Brook.
2010 – ECMA 2010 was staged in Sydney, NS. It marked the first year since 1994 without a CBC broadcast, and did herald the arrival of the ECMA webcast viewed by 44,000 people from around the world. The international export buyers program and conference execution were of the highest caliber and most productive in the 10 years since the inception of these areas of our program.
2011 – ECMA 2011 was staged in Charlottetown, PE. The city had been recently designated “Cultural Capital of Canada.” The event launched the city’s “Cultural Capital” celebrations. Symphony Nova Scotia and Music PEI kicked off the event by presenting A Sound of Celebration, featuring solo and collaborative performances by the symphony. Long standing supporter and platinum partner Bell Aliant offered music fans far and wide the opportunity to watch the festivities live online. The week brings in $2.48 million dollars in direct revenue to island businesses.
2012 – East Coast Music Week 2012 was staged in Moncton, NB. Jimmy Rankin led with eight nominations. Classified was close behind with six nominations. Presented for the second year, A Sound Celebration brought together musicians from three of NB’s premier orchestras including Atlantic Simphonia, Symphony New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra along with four pop stars – Chris Colepaugh, David Myles, Samantha Robichaud and Matt Andersen. ECMA partnered with the Province of New Brunswick and the local Capitol Theatre to host a First Nation’s showcase, the first of its kind. The ECMA Breakout Stage was launched, a new program for emerging artists. The program uses both workshops and performances to foster artists and groups newer to the music industry. The ECMA also developed its first web-based app.
2013 – 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the event and association in Halifax, NS, the city where it all began. The association produced the largest event of its kind in the region, while posting one of its largest surpluses in association history. ECMW 2013 was the first event in a three-year partnership with Eastlink, the title sponsor of the event. The Gala Awards show returned to National broadcast, bringing this celebration of ECMA’s 25-year history to over 43,000 homes in its initial broadcast, and thousands more through continued viewings On Demand. Eastlink also produced a daily ECMW live show, Eastlink All-Access, and a live red-carpet program at the Gala. These programs were viewed in over 33,000 homes live. During ECMW 2013, a 13-part TV series was filmed by Eastlink, East Coast Music Unplugged. The program focuses on East Coast artists, with in-depth interviews and intimate performances and airs on Eastlink TV. Special ECMA 25th Anniversary awards were presented to 25 industry and artists from our region who have made significant contributions to our organization and industry over the past 25 years. Over 500 musicians performed in 48 events in 20 venues, with over $130,000 paid out in performance fees. More than 15,000 audience members attended Eastlink East Coast Music Week 2013. The 12th edition of the Export Buyers Program continued to grow welcoming 55 international delegates and 30 national and regional delegates, celebrating the largest delegation in the programs` history. It is estimated that the confirmed early direct business negotiations resulted in more than five international booking agent/promoter representation signings, 212 confirmed shows, 34 International festival booking contracts, 26 Canadian festival performance bookings, 78 international tours, 21 film and television music placement licensing deals, three label and distribution deals and 16 showcasing and touring business development opportunities. ECMA developed a dynamic and intuitive integrated association and festival app on multi platforms – focusing on music and the artists first and foremost.