By Aileen Duncan
Photo by Steve McGill
Ottawa Showbox has emerged as one of the city’s most active outlets in music journalism, since it’s launch in May 2012. They’re increasingly organizing their own showcases and events, and are working to foster partnerships in the city. For example, they work with other local media and have co-produced shows with a number of festivals.
Founder Matías Muñoz began the website as a personal creative project.
“I just dove in. I started going to shows, concerts, and writing about them,” said Muñoz. “People loved that someone cared about this, and was writing about it.”
Readership began increasing, and Muñoz found a niche exploring the wealth of musical activities in our city. In February 2013, Showbox became a team with the addition of Eric Scharf. The two became fast friends, and together they developed the website into a trusted resource for people to seek out information on the local music scene. They’re continuing to look forward, and in mid-April Showbox applied to legally become a not-for-profit organization.
It’s a big step, and one that could open a lot of doors. As a not-for-profit, Showbox would be eligible to apply for grants, funds which they would use to further their goal of “spreading the gospel” of local arts and culture.
“It’s about giving back—to the bands, the community. We wouldn’t be there without them,” said Muñoz. “We feel a duty and an obligation to the musicians that work so hard to put out good music. If we can help them get some new listeners and fans, we’re going to keep doing that.”
As Showbox expands their activities to include show production and even advocacy, Muñoz said it is a natural progression.
“The growth of Showbox and its readership coincides with growth of Ottawa’s music scene, and the amount of good music coming out of it—diverse types of music,” he said. “There’s something happening every night. You might have to work a little harder to find it, but the rewards are worth it.”
The music industry is getting broad attention, even with City Council, who recently earmarked funds to develop the city’s first music strategy.
“One way [Showbox] can move forward is having more of a critical eye on stuff like that,” said Muñoz. “Ottawa’s music community needs people who will fight for them.”
Scharf echoed these sentiments.
“If the city wants to explore the cultural potential of the city as a music city, they have to be open to that,” he said.
Getting the right infrastructure in place is crucial — such as venues, booking agents, and complex by-laws that capture the differences between pubs and music venues.
Scharf was adamant that Ottawa is much more than just a city with potential.
“The talent is there,” he said. “We don’t need to optimize the talent, or the festivals—we have that already. What we needs is more Ottawans to see that . . . we’re good at supporting the community in other ways, but we’re not always good about showing up.”
Scharf drew the analogy to other movements where supporting local is often prioritized due to the broader benefits of supporting that local economy—industries such as craft beer, local farmers, and makers or designers.
“When you consume local music, it’s the same effect. You get so much out of it,” he said.
Yet, there are barriers preventing people from enjoying music the way they may like.
Distance is a factor—Ottawa spans a large geographic area and city transit links don’t always facilitate a timely transfer between the core and outlying areas.
More can be done to engage beyond the core group of people who attend music shows regularly.
“Part of my vision of Showbox is chipping away at those [barriers], casting the net a bit wider by providing a resource that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Muñoz said. They recognized the contributions of other local organizations and individuals in this effort.
Aside from the growing pains, Muñoz and Scharf are optimistic about the talent coming out of the city.
“Sure, it’s tempting to shout from the rooftops about how amazing we are, but there’s something really enjoyable about being humble,” Scharf said. “We’re okay with being a smaller city. We don’t feel inferior because Ottawa isn’t pumping out huge festivals like Toronto, we have our own thing. And that is no less valuable than what other cities are doing.”
Celebrate with Muñoz and Scharf at the Ottawa Showbox 5 Year Anniversary Weekend, taking place May 26-27 at the Record Center. •