You Learn By Doing—An Interview With Big Things Productions

By Aviva Lev-Aviv

Big Things Productions is a Toronto-based concert production company run by Vanessa Marie Rose and Valerie Drinkwalter. The talented duo are passionate about what they do and have tons of helpful tips for aspiring artists and music industry professionals.

Demo: Firstly, tell us a little bit about what you do and about Big Things Productions!

Valerie Drinkwalter: Well, Vanessa and I started Big Things just over a year ago. We put on shows of all different genres all over the city.

Vanessa Marie Rose: Exactly, anything from pop punk to hip hop. We work with a lot of touring acts that come through as well and are sitting with just over fifty shows on our belt.

D: Where did the idea come from and why did you decide to make it happen?

VD: Vanessa and I met while volunteering at a music festival. We quickly realized that we were meant to be best friends. Both of us wanted to work in music, so we started it for ourselves.

D: How did you learn to do what you do?

VR: I have a strong background in theatre, having acted and directed my entire life. Music has always been a passion of mine and I learned really great live technical skills from the theatre role. I moved into music, began volunteering and stage managing for festivals, and it snowballed from there.

VD: Basically, you learn by doing. I started putting on shows when I was in high school. I’m from up North so I would have to travel two and a half hours to Winnipeg any time I wanted to see an all-ages show. It was really expensive so I started to bring the bands to me. In college I worked with the student government as their VP of Entertainment which involved assisting with shows and other activities. After all of that was over I moved to Toronto and started volunteering with festivals.

D: How do you establish connections with the bands you want to work with?

VD: Basically by being super friendly, not an a**hole. Not only do Vanessa and I put on shows, but we go to shows too. Toronto has an amazing music scene and if we like a band or artist we will tell them. We also find bands through other bands that recommend them and through online submissions.

D: How do you use social media in your business?

VR: It’s everything. You have to be able to connect to your audience and the only way you can these days is through the internet. A simple text, call, or e-mail to your friends works but social media is the way to connect it and tie it all together. You meet like-minded individuals and discover music through events. It makes it easy to collaborate, share information on our shows, and get the word out. It’s essential and in this day and age the strongest marketing tool we have.

D: What has been most difficult part of the process and the most rewarding?

VD: The most difficult thing would probably be that we would love to put on a show every day, but it isn’t realistic. We really put in a lot of strategy when we book our shows.

VR: The most rewarding part for me is the quality of our shows. Often promoters try to pack tons of bills just to get a buck, which isn’t bad because there is a lot of music that needs to be heard, however we really take our time. Quality over quantity.

D: What traits does a successful concert organizer absolutely need?

VD: You need to be able to prioritize your time, be able to promote without sounding repetitive, be able to communicate with the bands/venue owners, understand social media. The most important thing is that you want to do this for the love of music. Love music and don’t be a jerk.

D: What do you look for in bands?

VD: It’s all about the music. That is the most important thing. Also bands who have a great attitude, know that they have to work and want to build the music community.

VR: Along with great music, the work ethic of a band. If you are a great band but have a poor attitude you will get nowhere. This is the smallest community ever.

D: What do you recommend for bands first starting out/any common mistakes you see bands making in efforts to promote themselves?

VD: Common mistake would be inviting every single person you know and their mothers/pets to every gig. When you’re starting out you are still finding your sound and people might not want to see the same set over and over again. Invite a few people, get feedback, grow and continue gigging.

VR: The “5 W’s” are the questions all acts need to be thinking of, especially in the beginning. Who is your target audience? What is your plan? When do you want to accomplish it by? Where is your market? Why are you playing? Make good music, create a plan, and do work! Drive is the only thing that will set you apart. For promotion, it looks really horrible when you have a public profile online and you are only doing consistent show pushes or only pushing your content out there. You need a voice and unique content. It’s like spamming a bunch of e-mails in the public eye. Replicate your offline contacts online first, and then expand. Continue doing so at shows. Capture emails; get people to follow you [on Twitter], right in front of you. Don’t assume they will when they get home.

D: How do you recommend other promoters/people looking to get into industry start out?

VD: Volunteering at festivals will teach you so, so much. It will teach you the hands-on skills you need as well as surrounding you with people you can network with.

D: What do you like best about the Toronto music scene?

VR: How genres always support other genres. You see the same crowds at the same type of shows. It’s quite humbling to see so many different communities really supporting one another. This city is a gem in itself.

VD: I love the music scene here. Most people are in it to build the music community. Everyone is a lot friendlier than you think and the music itself is amazing. There is so much talent in this city.

Find out more about Big Things and check out their show listings at facebook.com/BigThingsProductions

This article appeared in Demo‘s January 2014 print issue.

Aviva Lev-Aviv is a second-year student studying media and music history. She’s crazy about all things music – especially seeing live shows, singing, and playing guitar (yet she’s always known her spirit animal is a drummer!). She loves bands from all different genres, from punk to blues to Latin, but she will always come back to her ultimate love, Led Zeppelin. Otherwise, Aviva can be found exploring Toronto, practicing salsa dancing, or watching cooking shows with her three rad sisters.

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