Conversation with Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC: Amplifying Vancouver’s Vibrant and Diverse Music Industry

Image from Public Disco of artist Yu Su by Gabriel Martins

Michael Bublé. Carly Rae Jepsen. Sarah McLachlan. Nettwerk Music Group. The Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Vancouver is known for some of the top music artists, companies, and events in the world. In 2018, the Province of British Columbia launched the Amplify BC fund, which devoted $7.5 million to furthering the growth of B.C.’s phenomenal music industry. Based on the overwhelming success of the initiative, on April 13, 2021, the government renewed the fund, with $22.5 million to be invested over three years.

Creative BC, an independent non-profit society that started in 2013, is responsible for the design, launching, and running of the funding programs in consultation with the industry. In this conversation, Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC, talks about Amplify BC’s overall goals, its positive impact during the pandemic, and the exciting, diverse artists, performances, and projects they have recently funded and supported in Vancouver.

Gill is a powerhouse in B.C.’s creative industry. Vancouver Magazine named her one of its “Power 50” and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade gave her a Community Catalyst Award. While at TELUS, she developed and launched their STORYHIVE program and their Optik TV community channel. As CEO of Creative BC, she oversees the growth and coordination of the province’s creative sector, which includes music and sound recording.

Amplify BC directs funding into four streams: artists, live music presenters, music companies, and industry development. Gill feels it’s really important to amplify B.C.’s music industry because of the industry’s vital economic and cultural role in the province. “The core of the music industry in B.C. is a key driver of local to international business activity and domestic talent development in the areas of music creation and sound recording,” Gills says. As the third-biggest music production centre in the nation, B.C. is home to over 80 record labels, over 200 sound recording studios, and artists from a wide range of musical genres.

Sandstone Studios; Lindyn Williams Photography

Gills adds, “Beyond this, the industry is a significant contributor to community and culture.” B.C.’s over 200 festivals throughout the year make it a music destination for both domestic and international visitors.

Because COVID-19 has led to many new challenges for the industry, Amplify BC has shifted to helping the province’s music industry pivot as well as supporting the logistical complexities of putting on live music during a pandemic. “All of this together is aimed to help venues, live music presenters, music companies, and artists survive this challenging time due to gathering and travel restrictions,” Gill says. She’s proud to say that, among other achievements, in 2020 and 2021, Amplify BC helped 95 festivals, presenters, and venues continue their operations, supported 99 music companies with their businesses, and promoted the career development of 113 emerging and established musicians.

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and dancer KeAloha

Amplify BC serves all communities in the province. More specifically, here in Vancouver, Amplify BC has supported some really innovative initiatives. Gill spotlights Here and Now Productions who launched a service that allows clients to livestream concerts and offer small hybrid audience events that adhere to the province’s COVID-19 safety measures. Through this service, beloved events and festivals such as the Heart of the City Festival, the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival were able to continue to reach audiences throughout the pandemic.

Vancouver International Jazz Festival; Photo: Dannielle Hayes

Gill also highlights Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Jill Barber, whose album Entre Nous reached incredible success, debuting number one on the iTunes Jazz Charts, reaching number two on the Nielsen Connect National Jazz Chart, and dominating streaming across platforms, with 750,000 spins alone on Spotify. In November 2020, Barber, in collaboration with Shocap Entertainment, held an augmented reality livestream performance at the Palomar Supper Club, a famed Vancouver venue that operated from the 1920s to 1950s.

Gill is also incredibly proud of Creative BC’s partnership with First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) as part of Amplify BC. “Our partnership with First Peoples’ Cultural Council is integral, ensuring that these funds are delivered by and for Indigenous creators in B.C.’s music industry,” she says. FPCC is a First Nations-directed B.C. Crown corporation that works “to support the revitalization of Indigenous languages, arts, cultures, and heritage in B.C.” Its advisory committee has representatives from 34 active Indigenous language groups in the province, and it serves 203 First Nations in B.C., over 24 Tribal Councils, 34 languages and 61 language dialects, as well as a host of artists and arts, cultural, and educational organizations and groups.

Bella Coola Music Festival; Photo by Mike Waggle

“FPCC has launched unique funding programs and initiatives with a focus on increasing opportunities for Indigenous music industry professionals to participate in, and further influence, B.C.’s music industry through knowledge transfer, skill development, and the creation of new business opportunities,” Gill says. These initiatives span training grants and mentorship; Indigifest, an Indigenous music, arts, and culture event; and The Indigenous Music Retreat, which brings together artists from across the province for professional development.

Through Amplify BC, FPCC has done some phenomenal work. In addition to many other recording studios, they’ve funded one developed by Dennis Joseph, a Squamish Nation elder.

They’ve also helped to promote Vancouver-based two-spirit artist NIMKISH who this year released their album Damage Control. It was #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown, and hit 60,000 plays on Spotify and 70,000 on Apple Music, plus national radio play. NIMKISH guest curated the Amazon Music playlist Indigenous Voices. Finally, FPCC helped with the set-up and provided the platform for a digital media hub for livestreamed concerts and workshops hosted by Full Circle at their studio space.

Increasing diversity within B.C. music industry is a top priority for Amplify BC. They’ve funded two national research studies, National Indigenous Music Impact Study and Closing the Gap: Impact and Representation of Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour Live Music Workers in Canada, to raise awareness of BIPOC contributions to and barriers within the B.C. music industry.

Black Spaces Symposium; Melanie Lynne Photography

Gill talks about “funding projects that address inequities within the music industry and create opportunities for access, ensuring that grants are going to artists, companies and projects that represent the diversity of backgrounds, orientations, genders, and experiences found within B.C.” Creative BC works to equalize access to funding by supporting underrepresented groups and engaging in outreach and grant coaching. More locally, the Vancouver Music Fund, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, allows for more targeted funding.

Gill talks about Producers’ Lounge, which gives mentorship and training to women and non-binary identifying and underrepresented engineers, producers, and beat-makers. Their mentors include Sylvia Massey who has worked with Prince and Aerosmith and Ebonie Smith from Atlantic Records.

And through Music BC, Amplify BC funded “Unpacking Barriers in B.C.’s Music Ecosystem,” which was a six-part online discussion series. “Producer and curator Finn Parkes led a collection of community leaders and advocates through some of the most impactful conversations within social equity, inclusion, and diversity,” Gill says. Topics included ableism, neurodiversity, and unequal access to funding.

Overall, Gill is excited about the year ahead, as Amplify BC continues to keep B.C.’s unique and ever-expanding music industry resilient and thriving. “Amplify BC’s future goals remain to stabilize and sustain B.C.’s music industry so it can come back stronger in the future. Amplify BC will continue to invest in artists and industry so they can create, endure and innovate with greater support and backing – the certainty they’ll need in order to recover,” Gill says.

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