A&E » Music

Whistler’s set radio future

Online radio station is a social network for music fans



The future is being broadcast from a small Whistler studio and it's called WMN.fm.

Let's be clear: the Whistler Media Network's radio station is merely the pilot project of an expansive social network masterminded by Steve Clark and Adam Colpitts, where independent music will be recorded, produced, filmed and broadcast for audio and video. If all goes according to plan, it will be local music for local people by local people.

But the first things must always come first, and in this case it is WMN.fm, the online radio component to Clark and Colpitts' master plan.

"Our ultimate goal would be to give enough visibility to an artist so that they can make the decision that if they want to go to a major label, they can," Colpitts says.

The seeds of WMN were planted three years ago, when Clark and Colpitts met through a mutual friend and discovered a shared interest in helping local musicians reach new audiences through social media. The result was WMN, which was launched in 2010 as an on-demand service. It was not successful.

"People couldn't relate to it," Colpitts says. "They were saying, 'What is this?' At its highest form, it's Google for music but people didn't get it."

Then, earlier this year, they had a collective epiphany: a live radio format.

"When we decided on the live format, it just opened up a lot of things. We were able to get the community more involved so that naturally spread the word quicker," Colpitts says.

In April, they launched a campaign to collect ideas for broadcasts and wrangle potential hosts. Since then, WMN has broadcast around 60 shows. There are now 17 regular programs during the week, including I Love Dirty Bass, a live broadcast of DJ sets broadcast from Garfinkel's every Wednesday night. Thursdays and Fridays feature day-long programming while Saturday is left wide open to give the duo a break. The rest of the week has half-day programming and Clark says they're still looking for talent to fill the dead spots.

The website includes a chat application where listeners can engage the hosts and other listeners. The network is being designed as a social network for musicians and music fans, where it will not only be broadcast but also eventually filmed - and shown through the forthcoming WMN.tv. All independent music will be shared, swapped, commented on, praised or rejected through this community.

"This is a really good opportunity for musicians that don't have management pushing to get them on major radio stations, so I think that will be a very good selling point for the stations, and I think that will be a good place to find it," says singer Rachel Thom, who hosts a show on Tuesday nights with musician Jon Shrier.

WMN is now averaging 250 hits every day. Six weeks ago it was averaging 20. Colpitts and Clark hope their big coming out party on Friday, June 3 will boost the number to 500-plus. The day-long affair will start with a breakfast show and run all day, including a live midnight broadcast from Garfinkel's that will feature local performers such as Animal Nation.

The project is still in its infancy and the creators are still working out all the kinks. Neither Colpitts or Clark is a professional radio broadcaster  - Colpitts is computer programmer and Clark is an architect - so they're learning as they go.

"This is more to see how the community forms this product," Colpitts says. "We're looking to give visibility to the local artists, or the West Coast, and the businesses as well. We're trying to pair those two up and create a model that is sustainable for, at first, Whistler and then possibility Vancouver or wherever."

The decision to feature West Coast independent artists is both righteous (it's a way to promote emerging local artists in a forum that might not otherwise be noticed) and practical - major label records demand agreements that cost money. This is money that WMN doesn't have yet and is not interested in spending on major label music. All licensing goes through the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), and currently it can play music from any artist that is a member.

"We don't care about pop music right now," Clark says. "There are enough stations playing it and everyone's looking for something that's more underground right now anyway. That's what we're about.

"We want to support the little guy. As soon as you play big labels a big portion of what you're doing is going to those major labels."

Nor will it be necessary. The internet has levelled the playing field for musicians, some say to the detriment of the record industry. Major international acts like Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and now Odd Future - who are being pulled through the online hype machine at this very moment - owe their successes largely to online forums, music blogs and file sharing - without major label support. WMN is doing its part to collect the unknown voices of the West Coast, give them a forum and let the listeners decide on what's good or bad through a social media/music network.

If WMN is successful in Whistler, they plan to take it beyond. The 'W' in 'WMN' could stand for several things: West Coast Media Network or even World Media Network.

"We will define a business model here in Whistler," Colpitts says. "That does work with the platform that we're working with and we will definitely work to expand it. Naturally the next step is the Lower Mainland and then the island. We're not focusing past that."