It is tough trying to make a go of being an independent musician these days, but this past October, Gatineau, Que., electronic-rock band the Strain were given 25,000 reasons to smile.
The young band edged out 59 other competitors to take home the grand prize in an Ottawa radio station’s “Big Money Shot” competition, a contest whose previous winners include acclaimed acts the Love Machine and Hollerado.
Getting to be king of the heap was no small feat for the group. In fact, it was almost a yearlong process from the time of application through to their crowning as the 2012 winners.
“The competition started with a total of 60 entries,” Strain member David Taggart says. “The first round of the competition was judged on a YouTube performance of the band in addition to how many people the band was able to draw and, to an extent, how radio friendly the band is.
“The second round was a show held in Ottawa but with judges from the industry itself. They were responsible for narrowing the field of entrants down to the top 20 or thereabouts.”
Once the contest was narrowed down to the top five, Dave says the group was sent into the wild on tour with the other finalists, an experience that he says helped bond everyone involved.
“It was great to network with the other bands. Every one of us that were in the top five worked incredibly hard to get there.”
David says the tour was also the first time that the group had truly been “on the road,” where friendships and relationships can be put to the test. Spending time virtually living on top of one another isn’t for everyone but luckily for the Strain, comprised of Taggart, his sister Rylee, their cousin Alex Serre and Nick Johnston, getting along was not necessarily going to be a concern.
“Touring is definitely a different style of living. It is a balance that I think every band has to find for themselves. What works for some might not work for others. Luckily for us, we are all pretty used to one another and are always straight-up honest with each other. We are definitely all on the same page. Incidentally, the only arguments that any of us had on that short tour were between Rylee and I,” David says, laughing.
Perhaps no one was more surprised than the band when they were crowned the winner of the Big Money Shot competition last October. Although there are a few restrictions to what the Strain is able to spend their prize money on (they are not able to purchase a vehicle, for instance), they are otherwise free to spend to their hearts’ content. That includes hiring the publicist handling their East Coast tour dates as well as picking up some sweet new instruments.
The band was formed in 2010, and the move of the individual band members into music was not an altogether surprising thing. Having watched their family members play music at various family get-togethers, it wasn’t long before David, Rylee and Alex would pick up instruments of their own.
With two EPs to their credit, the group is getting more mileage out of their latest offering Hush Hush than they might have anticipated. Of course, David doesn’t deny the role that the prize money might have played in helping sustain the momentum of the release.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the way you promote your product. If you can find new, creative ways to promote the same release and are doing well with it, I don’t see a problem with continuing to promote the same release,” David says.
“Hush Hush actually has quite a different vibe than our first EP does. Sound-wise, our first release was a little all over the map. We embraced much more of an electronic sound with Hush Hush but still kept rock elements in what we are doing.”
Article published in the January 15, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript