Matt Blais Connection

Does a band really need $200,000?

That’s what I was asking myself as I walked from my car towards Long & McQuade to meet the Matt Blais Connection, who just won that very amount in the Fuel Big Rock Star Competition. The location was Matt’s suggestion. Was I about to witness a rock star shopping spree?

I met Matt and two members of the Connection in the store and was surprised by our time there. There was no looking at price tags, no talking to salespeople…just hanging out. As we moved from room to room, I became open to the idea that these were just fortunate kids who loved music and had scored an amazing opportunity.

But what was the opportunity? This is $200,000 going to a Calgary-based group that, for the moment, has one EP, a string of local gigs, and just over two years experience as a band to their name. Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether a band needs this cash, but does this or any band deserve it?

“We were definitely as surprised as anybody when we won,” admits Matt. “I still can’t believe it, really. We see it as a chance to get started on achieving what we all want, which is a career in music.”

“I think their win was astounding,” comments Isaac Creasey, promoter for the Stetson. “They’re a really great band, I won’t deny that. But do they or anyone else deserve to win this amount of money? Not a chance.”

Creasey is quick to emphasize that large handouts such as this one undermine the idea of a band going out to make it on their own, take away the motivation to tour and work their way up the ladder. In short, if you can buy your success, then where’s the need to strive for success?

“All of the bands in that competition were bands that are waiting for immediate fame and that’s not how it works,” comments Creasey. “I think that there needs to be some guidelines for future events, like the bands must have at least three years experience. That is an important quality to consider.”

Perhaps instead of scrutinizing the past, another question can come to light: now that Matt Blais and his Connection are rolling in dough, what will this money be spent on?

“We’ve already spent some of it on upgrading our gear, mostly amps,” explains Matt. “We also bought a PA system that we can take on the road ‘cause some places don’t have one that can be rented. We have a budget, though, and we’re making sure the money is going to different things.”

Rick Mizzoni of Music Centre Canada Entertainment, which sponsored the competition and is in development with Matt on the band’s debut full-length, is adamant that the money will be spent wisely. “Don’t get mistaken, this isn’t a ‘fly to LA and blow the money in two weeks on a hot-shot producer’ kind of deal. We work with Matt and other artists to ensure that their best interests are met and that the money they have will be spent effectively.”

Mizzoni agrees that the amount of money awarded suggests that achieving a music career costs more now than in the past.

“I’ve seen anywhere from $15,000 to $45,000 spent on one video,” admits Mizzoni.

“Gas is important. There always needs to be money set aside for that. We’ve given these guys the opportunity to reap the rewards of their efforts immediately, rather than waiting until they have paid off their costs. Here, their costs have already been paid for.”

However, for Creasey, the Connection needs to focus on getting out of the city if they want anything to materialize from their win.

“I think the first thing they need to spend that money on is a 15-person van and a trailer,” he continues. “Next, they need to map out the best route to take across Canada and back home. Nobody cares if you’re playing a guitar that’s worth $50 or $1,500. The point is that you’re bringing your material to people outside the city. You can’t do that with a giant cheque.”

There are too many questions, I thought to myself as I chatted with the Connection. What to do with $200,000? Suddenly, Matt was hit with an idea. “I’m gonna see if they have a pedal board – I need one of those.”

As he dashed off, I pretended to look at keyboards when I was really watching the cashier’s desk. Matt came back a couple of minutes later.

“They don’t have the kind I like. That’s a shame. That’s really the one thing I need.”

Don’t worry, I thought. With $200,000, you can buy anything that you need.

Originally published December 2008