Edmonton’s Darryl Hurs may just be an independent musician’s best friend.
As the founder and creator of Indie Week – the annual Toronto-based rock festival that’s grown from 40 bands and six venues, to 240 acts in 25 venues, representing 20 countries – the 49-year-old Hurs would qualify for that title based solely on the venture, which just completed its 17th edition.
But in February of 2019, Hurs further galvanized his standing by adding the position of Canadian representative for CD Baby, the U.S.-based retail website for musical do-it-yourself-ers that has since expanded to become the largest online distributor of independent music on the planet.
Needless to say, the double-duty keeps Hurs hopping, and collecting those precious air miles. “When I’m working, I’m on the road,” he says from the 2019 Halifax Pop Explosion, where he served as both a scout for Indie Week and an ambassador for CD Baby.
A graduate of the general music program at Grant MacEwan College, Hurs has a work history that includes playing guitar for an Alberta cover band; handling indie consignment for HMV (both in Edmonton, and later, Toronto); and spending nine years at concert-promotion firm Live Nation – as a freelancer involved with event marketing and re-branding “on the graphic design side of things.” During his tenure at Live Nation, during which he helped create the VIP Nation Membership Club, Hurs also booked clubs on the side.
“The focus on Indie Week is about emerging artists and giving them a platform.”
Indie Week, which Hurs says was an important stepping-stone for such popular bands today as Walk Off the Earth and Sumo Cyco, began while he was booking a now-closed venue called The B Side. He felt that many indie artists needed not only a lift, but guidance on how to advance their careers. “The focus on Indie Week is about emerging artists and giving them a platform,” he says.
But simply offering them a performance seat at the Indie Week table isn’t enough. “It’s about what artists need in order to get to the next level,” he explains. “Meeting the industry, getting education, networking – a lot of emerging artists don’t have that education, and I think the more opportunities they have, the better it will be for them.”
Hurs is particularly bullish on making artists aware of valuable resources. “Many artists don’t even know [that] provincial associations like Music BC, Music NL, and national ones like CIMA [The Canadian Independent Music Association] exist,” says Hurs. “So they haven’t signed up, or looked into them. We look to be a platform where we help bridge those gaps for the artist, and educate them.”
The advent of streaming, and the trend toward disappearing music venues, have created formidable challenges for independent musicians. “Artists need a place to play, but they’re also having a hard time finding an audience,” says Hurs. “Streaming is great, but now we’re just flooded with so many artists and songs – how do you cut through the noise? That’s the new problem that artists are facing. Because there’s so much that we’re hit with, you have to be very smart and strategic. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money.”
To that end, Indie Week holds a conference – this year’s dates included Thursday, Nov. 14 at Revival, and Nov. 15 and 16 at the Thompson Hotel – and is expanding to cover the Indigenous music scene. “We’ve have one afternoon devoted to panel discussions about the Indigenous community, and diversity,” Hurs explains. “We also hosted an Indigenous showcase on the Thursday, Nov. 14, at Hugh’s Room. We’re proud to say buyers from different fests and venues specifically come to watch artists with the purpose of hiring them.” An all-ages component has been added to some of the showcases for the first time, and a focus on tech and digital is also a new Indie Week addition.
“Have your business in check so that you’re collecting properly from all of these different revenue streams.”
Hurs has also forged talent exchange partnerships with festivals like Brazil’s CoMA to give Canadian talent a shot at global exposure. “We’re in an age where touring is more important than ever,” he says. “Artists can find their niche market in other territories easier than ever before, through festivals like Reeperbahn in Germany and The Great Escape in the U.K. These are all great places to go, and there’s definitely more opportunities.”
On Hurs’ other professional front, CD Baby has expanded its parameters with CD Baby Pro Publishing. “One thing to know with CD Baby is that it’s a distributor, but royalty collection [as a publisher] is a big part of what we do,” he says. “We’re actually in a place where for the first time ever, nobody owns music anymore, and the public buys memberships to listen to music. So, it’s really important for artists to have their royalties in check, be registered properly, have their metadata correct, and make sure that they know where they’re being played. You’ve got to have your business in line.”
Hurs is of the mind that many new opportunities have sprouted from technology. “There might have been some bad deals in play during the early days of streaming, which has now made it hard to monetize,” he admits. “But as somebody who used to play guitar, that didn’t even exist as an option for me when I played. Here’s another revenue stream that didn’t exist before. YouTube didn’t exist when I was around, and today LyricFind is doing some cool things where artists can monetize their lyrics.
“I think artists need to sit down and think of this as a pie with many pieces. Just have your business in check so that you’re collecting properly from all of these different revenue streams. Several artists that I’ve talked to tell me they’re doing quite well in royalty collections through internet radio and satellite radio.
“There are ways you can find a niche and footing, get your music played, and collect royalties.”