Article originally appeared on Timber and Steel: https://timberandsteel.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/the-woodford-files-paper-lions-david-cyrus-macdonald-and-confederation-entertainment-inc/
While sitting in the media centre, writing in the last post about how Overheard Productions got its name, Bill Quinn overheard David Cyrus MacDonald drop in to talk with the office staff.
About 3.6 minutes later, David and Bill were outside the donga by the Spirit of Woodford office, standing variously on the wooden palets or in the mud, dodging dangerous ants the size of small cats, and speaking over the sound spill creeping up the hill from Bluestown, chatting about Paper Lions, music advocacy, and the wondrous, wonderful Woodford.
*** Audio file will be removed by end of March 2020 ***
*** Audio file will be removed by end of March 2020 ***
Text of the interview:
Bill Quinn: We’re at the Woodford Folk Festival, and representing Timber and Steel and Galloping Sheep and Trad and Now, but the other business represented here is Overheard Productions. I was just in the media centre and I overheard David Cyrus MacDonald, David is from Canada, and more than that, I’m not really sure!
David Cyrus MacDonald: Hi, how’re you doing?
BQ: Really good. Now, I did overhear something about the performance stuff you do. Tell us about that.
DCM: Yeah, sure. We’ve over here at Woodford, the band Paper Lions, we’re an indy pop band from Canada. So the reason I was dropping by the media centre today is I also run an artist management/development company in Canada, so I’ll be speaking about that later on today.
We’re really a pop/rock band and to play a folk festival like this is a dream because the audiences are so attentive and they’ve been so receptive. And we do have an acoustic EP so we draw on that a little bit for an event like this. Really it’s about sharing that with the audience, and getting out of your regular day to day life and enhancing things like the way we do with our performances.
BQ: If you could have picked one folk festival here in Australia, Woodford is the place to come. I always say we bend the genres here a little bit you know: pop, rock, a bit of glam, all that sort of stuff, a few cover versions – it all works well.
DCM: Yeah, I mean, I saw a circus show last night, there was this hip-hop/jazz/R&B show. It’s been really fantastic so far. We arrived basically straight here from Canada, very little sleep, and the first night we came on site was pouring rain, and we woke up in the morning and in spite of that, everybody was happy, just raring to have a good time.
And then we started seeing all the decor; it’s like you’re surrounded by art installations, and there are all these visual treats as you’re walking around. You could be walking along and some guy in a robot costume comes up and starts talking with you, or some parade of these papier mache-lit animals – maybe your audience probably knows this. But for me, my mind was just bending.
BQ: On that subject, is there anything to compare it with in Canada?
DCM: Oh, there’s some great festivals in Canada. I don’t think there are any that are quite like Woodford; Woodford truly strikes me as one of a kind. There’s a mix: Hillside in Guelph, Ontario has a bit of a vibe in the ballpark; it’s quite different but it’s more of an indy rock one. And then there’s Evolve (Monckton, New Brunswick) which in some of the vibe it reminds me of.
There’s a lot of different folk festivals. Bending genres in Canada, you know, whether it be Calgary or Winnipeg Folk Festival or the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in our neck of the wood, but none have this kind of thoroughly experiential thing going on that I’ve experienced at Woodford so far.
And just the scale of it just being this little city that comes together and the variety of vendors and the variety of music and the variety of experiences.
BQ: So wearing two hats as you are with being a performer but also in artist management, do you see there’s a way you can pave for some of the artists you represent to get their foot in the door here?
DCM: Yeah, for sure. From the artist management side of things, you really have a responsibility to take a step back and look at the business behind the music. So sometimes when I speak about the management side, to someone who’s interested in it from the artistic perspective, it isn’t always the most inspiring.
But for someone who’s interested in the business behind the music, I think there’s a lot of ideas and lessons that are there but are shrouded in mystery, because a lot of people in the industry don’t want to clutter people’s minds up that are really there for the artistic experience.
But when you take it back, there’s really two things you’re doing as an artist from a business perspective, and the core one is content creation.
And the other one is audience generation.
So, basically you have to create content and you’re essentially a media company. You’re creating content, whether that be music, your live performances, or audio or video – for us, we licence to film. And then there’s a lot of different way people use the media content that these artists create, and also just attracting an audience. The business sense is audience generation, and you can look at it that way that once you have that audience, there are business models that work behind that.
The art has to come first, but once you have that, you have to find away to help the artists make a living in order from them to keep doing it, and also just because that’s the world we’re living in. It’s really exciting when things go really well and when people are making money, and that whole works.
Sometimes when you draw back the curtain a little, looking at artists as little media companies is a very nice focussed way of looking at it. People get bogged down in a lot of the details but when you think: ok, when you create content, we need to create an audience.
BQ: I’ve long prosecuted the cause that artists, especially independent artists, they end up being quasi-publicists, and tax agents, and trave l agents. The dirty little secret is that artists would like to focus on their art. So people like yourself come along and actually bridge that gap and give more time back to their art.
DCM: Yeah, and that’s what we really push for anyone we work with. We like for our artists to be aware of the business behind it but…
I mean, me as an artist as well as a manager, sometimes my artistic output suffers as a result and I know that we’re all very dynamic, multi-faceted people regardless of whether you’re an artist or not. And there’s nothing saying an artist can’t be a business person or an entrepreneur as well, but I think the problem isn’t when artists become entrepreneurs, it’s when artists become entrepreneurs to the detriment of their music.
And they start thinking: What will sell? Or they start thinking: What will people like? vs What do I want to express?
It’s pretty much agreed upon at a high level within the industry across the board that the art has to come first. And that isn’t necessarily that the music has to come first. It has to come from a human perspective. And you as a human have the closest touchpoint to what’s going to resonate with an audience, so if you can use yourself as your own testing ground and make yourself happy with your music…
Where you get into trouble is where people are slacking in their musical side and they’re not writing great songs or they’re not developing their craft and they’re just trying to push it out there into the world and want everybody to hear it, but why would someone want to hear it?
It’s not amazing.
There are a ton of musicians out there, there are a ton of artists; it has to be amazing.
And that doesn’t mean it has to be surprising. It could be amazing in that it’s just absolutely beautiful. Or noone’s ever done it. Or maybe it’s poignant or maybe it’s a refresh on something that’s been done before but just has to be at a level beyond, a very powerful level. It has to touch people in a very human way.
Business doesn’t solve artistic problems. More shows, more performances – maybe it might help get your road chops, that helps. But that’s not enough on its own.
It always comes from the artist.
BQ: If you’ve got a mediocre product, more eyeballs or more ears across it doesn’t make it great art.
DCM: In fact it’s to its detriment. You’re better off hiding it at that stage! Maybe doing some small shows, and not saying that you’re anything that you’re not. When you say, “We’re just getting started. Thanks for coming out; we love the support” – but you don’t have to pretend that you’ve made it.
Once the music is there, that’s when you’ve made it.
BQ: David, we talked about Paper Lions, you’re on tonight at 12.20am.
DCM: We’re doing the Grande two more times after that. So tonight, tomorrow and the 1st. Then after that we’re doing some Australian touring. We’re doing Black Bear Lodge in Brisbane, then we’ll be in Sydney at Newtown Social Club, then we’ll be in Cronulla (Brass Monkey), then Newcastle’s Small Ballroom, we’ll be in Melbourne at the Northcote Social Club, Transit Bar in Canberra.
BQ: Details will be below. But for now, thank you so much for joining us – as it was, coat-hangering you out of the media centre. David Cyrus MacDonald.
DCM: This has been fun. Thank you so much.
Gig venues and times for Paper Lions at Woodford Folk Festival and beyond:
Tuesday 30 December 2014, (12.20am Wed) – Grande
Wednesday 31 December 2014, 7.30pm – Grande
Thursday 1 January 2014, 3.40pm – Grande
Friday 2 January 2015 – Black Bear Lodge, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane), QLD
Saturday 3 January 2015 – Newton Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 4 January 2015 – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Wednesday 7 January 2015 – The Small Ballroom, Newcastle, NSW
Thursday 8th January 2015 – Rad Bar, Wollongong, NSW
Friday 9th January 2015 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 10th January 2015 – Transit Bar, Canberra, ACT