Michou’s music is for the fans

As a figure of speech, “hitting the jackpot” is tossed around rather easily, even for the smallest of victories.

In the case of melodic guitar-pop band Michou however, they truly did hit the jackpot.

Early in March, the Windsor, Ontario natives won “Artist of the Year” Award at The Verge Awards, a celebration of music presented by XM Satellite Radio. In addition to the well-earned bragging rights of beating Grammy winners Arcade Fire and Tegan & Sara, the quartet walked away with a cool $25,000 cheque to spend however they wanted.

Michou guitarist-vocalist Mike Hargreaves still seems a little stunned by the band’s recent turn of good fortune.

“The money is definitely a lot for a Canadian award and honestly, it has saved our career in way that we didn’t even consider,” the affable Mike says. “I can’t count how many times that we have wondered aloud what we would have done if we had not won. Things like our tour van needing maintenance and all kinds of other stuff. The money definitely saved us and made it easier to continue being a band.”

Originally pitted against an estimated 30 to 40 bands, the eventual winner of the Artist of the Year Award was determined by online voting, and Michou has taken great care to nurture their fans online and in person.

“If anything, it kind of cemented the reasons why it is so important to maintain those online relationships by updating your website, uploading videos onto You Tube and interacting with people via Twitter,” Mike says. “Making sure that everything is up-to-date for you online is extremely important. You don’t want a first-time visitor to take the time to stop by your site only to find out that it hasn’t been updated for months.”

In return for their fans voting for them for the Artist of the Year Award, Michou enticed voters by offering a free song download in addition to rewarding the top four cities in terms of voting numbers with free shows, as determined by voters entering their postal code. Ironically, Hargreaves said that the group hadn’t taken the competition all that seriously in the time leading up to it.

“Our manager had pushed us to enter the contest,” Mike says. “It was more after the fact that we realized the implication of what the money meant that made us realize that not winning the money would have definitely put us at a handicap. We probably wouldn’t have been able to play as many shows which would have really slowed the pace of what we are doing.”

Living up to their reputation as being tech savvy and an Internet-friendly band, Michou’s most recent effort, an EP entitled Celebrate Love, is currently an online exclusive. Mike says that fans interested in picking up a physical copy of the EP will have the chance to do so at one of their shows.

Interestingly, Mike says that the group has seen little in the way of negative impact in terms of offering music online prior to the physical release of a record.

“I believe that most of our physical CD sales come from our live shows. And there, it feels like people are buying the CD as a souvenir more than anything else. Our music can be found online easily enough; you can go to our website and listen to almost our entire discography for free. A big reason why we do that is that we are really making music for our fans. I’d rather our fans go online, listen to our stuff, learn the words to the songs and then come out to see the show.”

It certainly stands to reason that if someone hears something from Michou that they like online, they are very likely to pay the admission charge to see a live show.

“Your music ends up being more like an advertisement for your live show than anything else these days,” Mike says.

In speaking with Mike, you can tell that he takes a great sense of pride in his band’s accomplishments to date. One of the many Michou coups of the past year since the release of its full-length effort Cardona was having its video for the song “Growing Younger” put into rotation on Muchmoremusic. Shot by friends of the band at a cost of approximately $100, Mike appreciates what video exposure can do for a band although he readily says that they are not going to change the way they operate in order to secure future video plays.

“In my opinion, the Muchmusic market is very specific and geared towards a certain age group and, in turn, produces a certain type of artist. There’s nothing wrong with that by any means but we have never gone out of our way to say that we don’t want anything to do with them. If they are willing to play our videos, we think that is fantastic and really appreciate the support. It is just not a priority for us, though. We want to attract and win over music fans who are going to come out to our shows. Those are the people that we want on our side.”

Article published in May 4, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript