The Most Awesome Peak Performance Project

“Badger crossing?” I asked myself.  “Where the hell am I?”

I’d just flown five hours to Kelowna where I found a rental car waiting for me for the two-hour drive into the mountains.  Reaching the tiny town of Princeton, I turned onto a gravel road that’s apparently crawling with badgers.  

Some ten kilometres later along a twisty road with no guardrails (and no badgers, as it turned out), I reached my destination:  a lodge literally in the middle of nowhere.

This was the site of the 2012 Peak Performance Project, a seven day boot camp for a select group of BC artists who are deadly serious about what they do. I was there to offer some advice and instruction.

Wait.  Back up.

Let me start by explaining the unique situation we have with commercial radio in Canada.  

All radio frequencies–including AM and FM–are public property.  Radio stations do not own the frequencies on which they broadcast.  The government licenses these frequencies for the exclusive use by companies they feel are in the best interest of the public.

In exchange for using this public property to make money, radio stations have to promise to give something back.  One of the things they do is contribute Canadian Content Development (CCD) funds. This is an ongoing commitment to put money into the system for the betterment of Canadian culture.

In the case of the Pattison Broadcasting, Western Canada’s biggest radio company, they promised a whack of dough when they were awarded the license for The Peak, a station in Vancouver.  Over the seven year term of their inaugural license, they have to spend $5 million in a way that benefits Canadian culture.

I’ve been involved in a lot of CCD initiatives in my career.  A lot. But I can honestly say I’ve never seen one this good.

In association with MusicBC, The Peak sinks the cash into the Peak Performance Project, an incredibly intensive annual retreat to this place in the mountains.  For seven days, experts from around the country school a select group of bands who have made it through the rigorous application process.

And it really is a boot camp. 

7:50am:  Air horn call to breakfast

8:00am:  Breakfast in the dining hall

9:00am:  Morning instruction

12:00n: Lunch in the dining hall

1:00pm:  Afternoon instruction

4:00pm:  Free time

6:00pm:  Dinner in the dining hall

7:00pm:  Band showcases (four bands each night followed by a public critique of each performance by a panel of experts in stagecraft, songwriting and vocal coaching)

10:00pm:  Studio time:  songwriting and recording.

2:00am:  Lights out.

This continues for SEVEN DAYS.  And there’s no TV and no cell service.  No trips into town.  No smoking. No drinking.  No chemical catering.  The strongest thing you can have is an espresso.

Like I said, this is intense.

Then again, the setting for all this is damn fine.  There’s a lake and a pool for swimming.  There’s a soccer field, a ball hockey arena, a basketball court, a zip line and all kinds of hiking.  As if there’s any free time for any of this, of course.

View from my room

I was the keynote speaker on Day 1.  That was followed by an afternoon teaching bands how to conduct themselves during radio interviews.  When a group of campers was done with me, they moved on to print interview instruction and then TV interviews.

Other topics over the week include:

 

  • Publicity
  • Booking agents
  • Touring
  • SOCAN
  • Band agreements
  • Publishing and label deals
  • Branding
  • Marketing
  • Social media
  • FACTOR
  • Film and TV
  • Radio
  • Performance mentoring
  • Vocal coaching

 

Each of the above was conducted by an expert in its field.  Between classes, the faculty was encouraged to mingle with the students to offer one-on-one informal mentoring.

View out my classroom window. Notice the zip line over the water.

I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was with the entire thing.  These folks have thought of everything–and it all runs like an atomic clock.  I also can’t say enough for the artists I met.  Not only are they talented–no scrubs make it through the application process–but their level of ambition, intensity and commitment is amazing.

Because of the organizers’ acommodation needs and my schedule, I could only stay about 48 hours.  I was sorry to leave.  It was that good.  

Hey, radio folks!  Take a look at what The Peak is doing.  You gotta spend that CCD money somehow. More companies should be doing their own version of these boot camps.  The ROI (at least in cultural terms) is tremendous.  And the CRTC likes that.

Good on everyone at the PPP and congrats to the artists who make it to the end–which, no doubt, will be all of them.  I hope I can come back next year.

Oh, and no badgers were harmed in the presentation of this project.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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