When singer-songwriter Will Ross won the Whistler Music Search at The Crystal Lounge last October, his career began a rising trajectory that has changed his life.
"I think it provided the catalyst. The way everything happened... the Whistler Music Search started a lot of it and I just picked up the football and ran with it," Ross says.
"Getting the notoriety and publicity of winning the music search, and having that get my name out there more in Whistler gave me the confidence."
In the months that followed, he entered a competition run by local radio station Mountain FM and Whistler Blackcomb — this led to funding for a music video. From there, local promoter Kristen Robinson booked him to play GO Fest in Whistler in May. This got him into another local music competition, run by Mountain FM and the Pemberton Music Festival — he came second. And the prize? Opening for Sam Roberts on the festival's free concert night at Whistler Olympic Plaza in July.
"It all started to snowball and I think the snowball really started with the music search. It is amazing how things like that happen," Ross recalls.
"Not only that, but it is one of those things that you mention to the bars in Whistler and the scene, and it has helped me get ahead in terms of speaking to bar managers and getting shows.
"It wasn't all because of the talent search, but the talent search helped quite a bit. It lit the spark."
The Whistler Music Search is now in its sixth year. It runs over the first four Thursdays in October (Oct. 1, 8, 15 and 22); five musical acts perform each night for the first three weeks, with each week's winners and two wild cards going through to the final round, this year on Oct. 22.
(Full disclosure: I am one of three judges at Whistler Music Search this year.)First prize is $500, plus a live video and photo shoot at WMN Studio, while second prize is a Takamine acoustic guitar.
All five finalists will also get the chance to perform on Whistler FM on the day of the final.
Earlier this year, Ross took the plunge that every artist dreams of — he quit his day job.He laughs: "Once everything started picking up, I started getting very busy last winter. I was playing four nights a week and playing full time, 40 hours, and eventually it got to the point where one of them had to go and I wasn't going to stop playing music, so I stepped aside from the full-time job."
Since May, he has been performing and teaching guitar in Squamish. The plan is to also teach in Whistler and Pemberton if there is enough interest.
"I can't say how happy I am that music is the only thing on my plate; I have more time to continue to grow. It gives me time to book more shows and get things done with my band. It has been very exciting."
Organizer Jon Shrier says the 15 acts for this year's competition were selected on a first-come-first-served basis."There's a four piece, a three piece, four duos and the rest are solo artists," Shrier says of this year's performers."There are people doing a folky kind of thing, and one singer whose voice is absolutely beautiful."
This year, he wants the acts to take some risks and to perform music that might not be as well known.
"We're looking for a little creativity, originality, and a great stage performance," he adds.
Of Ross's successes following his win last year, Shrier says he had the ingredients for success before he stepped on the Crystal Lounge's stage.
"The guy is way talented before the (talent) search, but what could he do to challenge himself?" says Shrier.
"... It puts fire into your act.
"I don't see it as a competition, I see it as an experience that propels some to work a little harder."
Shrier himself won the competition several years ago.
"I think we help up-and-comers. It doesn't have to be a case of whether someone has been playing for eight years or being classically trained," he says.
The Crystal Lounge's bar manager Jono Young agrees.
"We like to use the event to expose new and up-and-coming artists. They get gigs in the Crystal and this gives them good exposure, during the competition and through the whole winter," he says.
"We're stoked to be part of it again."
And Will Ross's advice for competitors this year? Be yourself.
"Don't be nervous. Try your best. Put hard work and dedication into it and just try and do your thing. Don't worry about what other people are doing, just go out and have fun," he says.
"Whether I had won last year's contest or not, I met a lot of great people. I developed a good relationship with The McQuaids (who came second two years running). We've often played shows together since then.
"It's about meeting new people and having fun, win or lose. You immerse yourself in the culture and it's a great experience."