Careers in Music: Marilena Gaudio, Music Programmer

By Erica Howes


This blog series features women+ in different careers in the music industry, from centre stage to behind the scenes and everywhere in between. Is there a career in music you’re interested in learning more about? Contact us with your ideas! 

Marilena Gaudio is always on the lookout for musicians or bands whose sound sparks something different, with moving vocals and killer lyrics.


Her job involves managing and attending hundreds of shows and sometimes - in the case of the Folk Alliance International Conference in February - seeing a hundred artists in the span of four days. Marilena started at the University of Ottawa with an arts degree majoring in Arts Administration and was band manager of beloved local band The PepTides and programmer at the downtown club Mercury Lounge.

Now, Marilena is the Programming and Rentals Officer at the National Arts Centre (NAC) with NAC Presents, as well as a board member with Girls+ Rock Ottawa. She manages community programming, which takes place on the Fourth Stage, features many local musicians and hosts about 100 shows a year.

So what is it like to be a Programming and Rentals Officer with NAC Presents? I met up with Marilena to learn more about her role and it was quickly clear she’s a music lover passionate about her work.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the shows and discovering new artists while figuring out what their sound is. There’s so much variety in my job. In my day to day, I’m managing show logistics, updating the website, liaising with artists or managers, coordinating rentals or traveling to venues and/or showcases to see different artists. It’s a lot of advancing, which is connecting with the tour manager to sort out all the logistical details from transportation to accommodations to a rundown of the show program.

From May to September I often attend concerts and festivals because I want to make sure I’m aware of what’s coming up and what other programmers who I admire are doing. It’s never repetitive and there’s an exciting energy and adrenaline rush when shows all come together.

What do you look for in selecting shows for NAC Presents?

I look for artists with unique sound and style, strong vocals and lyrics. It’s important to go to showcases in different cities and venues to see what’s out there, what’s new and what’s exciting. In the programming world, you can’t stay in one spot and assume you’re going to know everyone or make new discoveries. When the NAC Presents programming team, which includes my colleagues Heather Gibson (Executive Producer), Xavier Forget (Associate Producer) and myself, plan out the year, we make sure to schedule a diverse collection of genres and styles of music, and acts from every stage in their artistic careers, whether they are emerging and new to the scene or seasoned musicians who have a large and dedicated following. NAC Presents features Canadian musicians. Many of our shows take place in the NAC’s ‘Fourth Stage’, an intimate space with a capacity of 150 people, which is ideal for emerging artists as they develop, well known artists who wish to offer their fans an intimate experience or artists looking to experiment with new ideas.

What’s the greatest challenge in your work?

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The long hours can be tough at times, sometimes I’m checking out shows around the city until 2 a.m. in addition to my regular day job managing logistics, answering emails, coordinating rentals.  When I graduated, it was hard to find a position in music programming and I had to work three part-time jobs to make a living and gain experience in my field. I’m very fortunate to now have been in this role with the NAC for over three years.

Certain times of year are always very busy so you train your brain to prepare for the intense rush of our busy season. It’s also a different kind of work if I’m at a show looking out for artists, and despite the long hours, it’s an exciting part of the job, and what I am passionate about.   

What advice would you give to someone interested in music programming?

Find a band that you love in Ottawa, reach out to them and ask how you can help! Many artists want to focus on their artistry and less on the business side of things, so you’d be surprised by how much they’d appreciate that help. That’s how I started out with the PepTides, I volunteered as their band manager and loved it.

The Ottawa music scene is full of music lovers, who are happy to help and although it can be intimidating, don’t be afraid to reach out to musicians or people in roles you admire and see what you can learn from them. Networking and finding a mentor goes a long way.

Is there a career in the music industry you’re interested in learning more about? We’re always on the lookout for great women+ working in music in Ottawa and want to hear from you! Contact us with your ideas.

Industry Insight: Study Finds Women Not Represented in Popular Music


DID YOU KNOW: Across the top 700 songs from 2012-2018, only 21% of artists and 12% of songwriters were women, while only 2% of tracks were produced by women? 


For this month’s #IndustryInsights, we’re sharing the kinda depressing findings of a study on gender representation in music by USC Annenburg’s Inclusion Initiative. The study found that women are not even close to being represented in popular music.


Between 2013-2019, only 10% of Grammy nominees were women. While males were the majority of nominees in each category, females were most likely to be nominated for Best New Artist, followed by Song of the Year. In the Record and Album of the Year categories, fewer than 10% of nominees were women. 

Female artists noted the barriers they face in the industry, including difficulty navigating the industry; breaking into the business; making connections and getting into different rooms. Other challenges included financial instability; having their skills discounted; and being stereotyped & sexualized.


To generate industry change, the report recommends creating environments where women are welcome; generating opportunities for women to use their skills and talents; ensuring that role models and mentorships are available to women; and for the industry to commit to considering and hiring more women - in other words, inclusion targets and inclusion riders. 


What do you think about these findings? Tell us in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative for more stats about gender in the entertainment industry!

Bluesfest 2019 Lineup Shows Improvement in Gender Representation

By Girls+ Rock Ottawa

Ottawa Bluesfest revealed their 2019 lineup yesterday - so how did they do in terms of gender representation this year? We’ve crunched the numbers and found that 45% of the 2019 lineup includes acts with at least one non cis male band member. This is a major improvement from last year where only 25% of acts had at least one non cis male band member (see below for a reminder). We applaud Bluesfest for listening to the community and making a greater effort to having gender representation in their lineup. And we give a standing ovation to all the amazing local acts on the lineup!

To everyone out there advocating for a more inclusive scene: this is proof that your voice matters. Keep speaking up and pushing your local festivals, businesses and organizations to be diverse and inclusive. Let them know that #RepresentationMatters.

Our work isn’t done. As you can see, the festival headliners are still dominated by all male bands. Bands that feature women, non-binary and transgender people are lower down in the poster. In the future, we hope to see more acts with woman, non-binary or trans members as headliners.

We’re still working to dismantle the barriers that woman, non-binary, trans and queer artists face in the music industry. We know that our communities are rich with queer, trans, non-binary and women creators and we are proud to work with them to create the music scene that they see themselves in.

For more information on gender representation on festival lineups, check out Keychange EU, an organization spearheading a global movement for 50:50 gender representation on festival lineups by 2022.

Learning By Doing at Soundtech 101


On February 23, 2019, we hosted the Soundtech 101 workshop in partnership with the City of Ottawa Community Arts and Social Engagement. With women currently accounting for five percent of sound techs, the goal of this program is to increase representation in this field.


We kicked off the day by covering the basics - everything from the purpose of sound reinforcement to an overview of equipment and how to set up a Public Address (PA) system. In the afternoon, we rolled up our sleeves and set up a PA system. After that, we conducted a sound check with a full band. Participants loved how hands on and practical the workshop was!


A huge thank you to our amazing workshop facilitator Kimberly Sunstrum for creating a safe space to try out new skills and rock camp alumni band Salmon Ella for being our test subjects. A special shout out goes to the participant who drove two hours to attend the workshop!

We hope to inspire the next generation of soundtechs and this is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more workshops and opportunities coming your way!



Community Arts & Social Engagement (CASE) programming places emphasis on the role of the community within the creative process. Through special projects and initiatives, course design, instruction, workshops, commissions, and partnerships, CASE aims to deliver high quality programs that respond to community needs.

MEGAPHONO and Girls+ Rock Ottawa present the first Women+ in Music Mentorship Program

By Emma Kenny and Ariane Bell Vila

Photo by Ariane Bell Vila

Photo by Ariane Bell Vila

Amidst all the music and educational events happening during MEGAPHONO 2019, we brought together a group of industry professionals, artists, and Rock Camp alumni for the first ever Women+ in Music Mentorship program! Hosted by Coworkly and the Vanier BIA, and with support from MEGAPHONO and TD, this event set out to connect Rock Camp alumni with artists performing at MEGAPHONO and industry professionals to share skills and knowledge, all accompanied by refreshing drinks from Buchipop and excellent food from Habesha Ethiopian restaurant!

After some lunch and casual networking, we kicked off the event with a get-to-know-you panel for our industry professionals, asking them to introduce themselves and describe their roles in the music industry. During this panel we also asked our mentors about their favourite things about their work, misconceptions about their jobs they’d like to clear up, and what their go-to karaoke song is (which was shockingly contentious - most panelists said they don’t like or do karaoke, but Francella did hit on a popular choice with Shania Twain). The conversation was fun and free-flowing, full of life lessons and laughter. We seized on three key takeaways to share with you, so we can all learn from these powerful pros.

1. Get involved in the music scene

Any role in the music industry requires A LOT of listening to music and attending shows, which can be hard if you’re introverted. It can also be hard to make a logical pitch for a new band to sign or book, when music is such an emotional thing.

2. Multi-tasking is crucial to your success

In our current industry climate, artists aren’t just artists: they also have a hand in marketing, booking, and crafting deals. Those who work behind the scenes are always on the go, and have to make space in their brains for new music as well as be able to answer all the many emails they receive daily.

3. Stand your ground and stay true to your values

Everything is political and sometimes, you have to fight for what you believe is right. Whether you’re a booking agent fighting for your artist to get what they deserve, or a promoter trying to get your artist on a bill, you have to be prepared to stand your ground.

After the panel, participants were split into groups of three people each: one industry professional, one artist, and one Rock Camp alumnus. They had the opportunity to chat and ask any questions they’d brought with them or had thought of during the panel. The brightly-lit space was full of focused discussion and energy, and everyone looked so engaged that it was hard to interrupt to tell them when time was up! The conversations continued as everyone collected their things and started the process of layering back up for the weather outside before heading to another MEGAPHONO show.

Rock Camp alumni Victoria who attended the event said that she learned a lot from interacting with the industry professionals and artists.

“What I learned the most from the Women+ in Music Mentorship program is that working in music, while involving direct engagement with artists or producing content, also means a lot of grunt work like answering emails and making phone calls. In the end, your love and dedication to the former will make the latter worth it.”

Overall, it was a positive and informative experience, and we’re so glad to have been able to run an event like this in the midst of a busy festival! Thank you to MEGAPHONO for partnering on this event, TD for sponsoring, and to the participating delegates and artists for sharing their insights and experiences.


Clotilde Bayle, 4AD

Natalie Davila, Polyvinyl Record Co.

Mira Silvers, FORT Studios

Silke Westera, FKP Scorpio

Francella Fiallos, CJLO

Vivian Barclay, Warner Chappell Music Canada


Annie Sama

R. Flex

Felicity DeCarle, Sparklesaurus

Eva Palmar-De Melo, Bad Waitress

Mikayla Gordon, SeiiizMikk

Marie-Claude Sarault, Marie-Clo

MEGAPHONO 2019 Artist Feature: Haley Heynderickx

By Erica Howes


Indie-folk artist Haley Heynderickx is in Ottawa this week and will play the Bronson Centre on Friday as part of MEGAPHONO 2019. We got to know Haley and asked her a few questions about her latest album, musical influences and life as a touring artist.

Haley is a singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon and said her faith and Filipino background influence much of her music.

“Growing up in a church where inklings towards mystery and spirituality were mostly fulfilled through the singing tunes together. It was a guttural relationship with the void, with community, with ideas drenched in lovely melodies,” she said.

The Filipino communities also greeted her with enthusiasm and love, but she said it was her mother’s outgoing nature that kicked her out of her shyness.

Haley’s story of getting into music may sound familiar if you come from a musical family. With a mom who blasted Mariah Carey through the ‘90s and a dad who played the Beatles on the way to school, music was a part of her childhood growing up. She picked up the guitar at age 11 and grew to become the artist she is today.

Now with an album and hundreds of shows played in the past year, Haley said one of the challenges is touring and how much time that means away from other things.

“The travels are heavy on the heart, I admit. Body too. You miss your family and loved ones and sitting in a vehicle for six hours doesn’t help too much. It’s funny how touring feels like 90 per cent commuting, 10 per cent music making.”

With performances across Canada and the United States this month, I was curious about how Haley finds the variety of music scenes.

“Each evening is very different but you never know the feeling till you walk into the room!”

With her performance at the Bronson Centre on Friday, she said she’s excited to experience Ottawa’s music scene.

I Need to Start a Garden

Haley tells an emotional story of self discovery balancing exposing and protecting herself on her debut album I Need to Start a Garden with Mama Bird Recording Co. Her voice is calm and soft-spoken yet loud and powerful, taking the listener through the journey of the album with her.

There are beautiful metaphors and images around growing a garden, and Haley weaves many of them into her melodies. She sings about tending “to your garden like heaven / hell” in her song “Jo” with the background of guitar. In “Bug Collector” she lifts the tone, singing about insects intruding in her house but instead of killing them, collects them and sets them free.

The record was released in 2018 and co-produced by Haley and engineered, mixed and co-produced by Zak Kimball at Nomah Studios in Portland, Oregon.

With all this in mind, I asked Haley one last question - what advice would you give your fourteen-year-old self?

She said forget the advice.

“I’d just give her a hug and tell her it’s all going to be ok. Even if I had a wise proverb in my pocket, there’s nothing I could say that could have prepared her for this odd, ever-evolving, media-saturated world. She’d probably ask me why I’ve got these purple rings under my eyes, though.”

You can see Hayley Heynderickx live with Andy Shauf this Friday February 8 at 8 p.m. at the Bronson Centre.

MEGAPHONO 2019 Artist Feature: Annie Sama

By Emma Kenny


In advance of MEGAPHONO 2019, we were lucky enough to catch up with multidisciplinary artist and industrial electrono-pop icon Annie Sama. Sama, who splits her time between Montreal and New York, was in Los Angeles working on a video shoot, but she was kind enough to carve some time out of her busy schedule to chat music industry, the importance of time management, and staying true to yourself.

When I asked Annie what inspired her to get into music, she answered easily: “It was something just natural, it just happened. When I was a kid I was always singing songs, so it was really just a natural thing for me.” This answer set the tone for our conversation, and Sama’s self-assuredness and overall confidence are apparent in everything she does. I could easily imagine her chilling on a white leather couch in something sleek but comfortable, watching the rain pound down in LA through massive picture windows while she gets the styling for her video together (she told me they were hoping for it to break, as they were planning to shoot outside today).

Sama is a multidisciplinary artist, involved in music, dance, and fashion. I wanted to know how she juggled all those mediums: do they flow together in harmony, or is there one that takes precedence over the other? Sama’s answer was quick and to the point: “It’s just a matter of organization. Every time I’m releasing a song, I’m going to have a video clip, and sometimes I’m going to direct it or co-direct it, but I’m always very involved in the creative process.”

When it comes to fashion, Sama said “it’s a part of [her] everyday life.”

“I usually style all my video clips or I work with somebody, but I’m always very involved.”

With each single, there comes a lot of preparation, so Sama needs to be well-organized and on her game to make sure that everything she produces has her distinct stamp on it. Unless, of course, there’s a team that wants to “take her over.” Sama reflected on the cover of her most recent EP, Clear: “The team was taking me over so I just let myself flow in there...I need that sometimes.” As someone who is also pretty Type-A, I noted that it must be nice to let others take over for you sometimes when you’re juggling so many projects - Annie laughed and agreed, she needs that sometimes.

Sama is so effortlessly cool, so when I asked her about the challenges she has faced in the music industry and how she overcomes them, I didn’t know what to expect.

“I mean any challenge that you have in any industry [can be overcome] by just believing in yourself and just continuing on your idea.” She noted that one of her biggest struggles was people from different pockets of the music industry trying to tell her what to do - to be more pop, to be “something else,” criticizing and nitpicking. But Sama reminds me that there “is always a public for what you do. There is always somebody who is going to be inspired by what you do, it’s just reaching out to those people that’s the hardest.” She also emphasized the importance of working with a good team who understands your vision as an artist and knows how to reach that audience who will click with you and your work.

“Being a woman in the music industry is one thing, and being your own creative one creates in the same way, so’s not my thing...I don’t fit in every context.” That said, Sama advocates for remaining open to new ideas and new ways of working, thinking, and creating. “The combination of two worlds can always bring something forward.”

I brought up Sama’s recent rebranding, if you will - her transition from APigeon to Annie Sama. What inspired that change, and will we see something really different from her under this new moniker? “I think I just wanted to go back to basics,” Sama said, and cautioned me that this new phase in her career may not be permanent - everyone is always evolving. She describes letting APigeon “hibernate a bit” to allow herself to try a new sound and have fun. Her first album as APiegeon, she was going through a major change in her life. “When what you do is a bit darker, it can be hard to bring that on stage every night. I just wanted to have a fresh new start and show people who I really am.”

“I tried to work on myself for that [APigeon] album, and I think it really helped me to become a better person, and to heal a lot. And now, I mostly want to have fun!” She laughs, and it’s throaty and slightly self-conscious. “I think Annie Sama is the real me, in a sense, but we never know what’s going to come out.”

Sama has never played a show in Ottawa before, and is most looking forward to having her younger sister, who lives in Ottawa, come see her show for the first time. Her genuine excitement about coming to our current winter hellscape warms me, and I lamely offer to give her recommendations if she wants them. Sama receives this graciously and I like her even more.

My final question for Sama is: what advice would you give to your fourteen-year-old self?

There’s a thoughtful pause, and it’s clear that Sama is thinking deeply about this. In the end, she settles on something equal parts practical and inspirational: “Listen to myself more. Because we’re the best ones to know what’s good for us.” At the same time, don’t get too caught up in yourself, “Get out of your mind and try to reach out to others. Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.” Striking that balance between believing in yourself and reaching out to others to learn and grow can be tricky, but Sama believe that it’s always worth doing, and I have to agree.

Don’t miss Annie Sama live with Cyber and November, Friday February 8 at LIVE on Elgin, 7:00 PM.

10 shows you don't want to miss at MEGAPHONO 2019

By Emma Kenny


MEGAPHONO is back to give Ottawa a showcase of some the best indie and emerging artists around! We’re very excited about the amazing and diverse artists that will be in town. There’s something for everyone at MEGAPHONO 2019, so put on your parka and get ready to navigate the slush puddles, because this fest is worth ending your hibernation for.

Here are 10 MEGAPHONO performances featuring artists you won’t want to miss.

The Sorority

There are no words to describe the power, the prowess, and the bad-assery of The Sorority. Comprised of pHoenix Pagliacci, Keysha Freshh, Lex Leosis and Havia Mighty, the group has all the flavour and flow of old school hip hop with a completely fresh way to centre femininity and solidarity. With a hometown pride for Toronto that puts Drake to shame and an impressive roster of festivals under their belt, this is a show you cannot miss.

9:30PM, February 8 at the 27 Club. $20 at the door.

Haviah Mighty

Not only performing with The Sorority, Haviah Mighty will also be gracing us with a solo show at MEGAPHONO 2019 and we couldn’t be more excited. This Toronto singer, rapper, producer, and DJ is championing a message of empowerment for women with her fiercely powerful delivery and lyric sincerity. Her 2017 EP, Flower City, was named one of Complex’s Favourite Canadian Releases of 2017, and her reputation for intense live performances as seen her open for greats like A Tribe Called Red and Snoop Dogg. Get one quarter of The Sorority at 100%. We’re not sure exactly how that math works out, but who cares? You definitely don’t want to miss this show.

9:30PM, February 7 at Triple 7. $12 at the door.


SATE’s powerful vocals and blues/rock/punk style will straight up melt your face. I don’t make the rules, I’m just here to deliver the warning. Her signature live performance style has been seen all over the world, from Afropunk Brooklyn to the Paleo Festival in Switzerland, and it’s equal parts empowering, exhilarating, and enraging. Get ready to have a fire lit under you by SATE’s dynamic sound, with all the relentless and driving features of hard rock and punk informed by the spirituality of SATE’s practice of tarot, numerology, and astrology.

9:00PM, February 7 at Le Minotaure. $12 at the door.

Luna Li

Float through the air on the ethereal waves created by Toronto garage rock goddess Luna Li and her women-centric four-piece band. With a vocal range and tonal quality that varies from bedroom pop crooning to rock n’ roll grit, Luna Li has a universal appeal while maintaining a sound that’s all her own. Drawing on years of classical piano and violin training, Luna Li plays with genre by incorporating looped violin and dreamily distorted guitar into her tracks. Her brand new single, Silver Into Rain, was released in June with an accompanying music video to widespread excitement. Get ready for a show unlike any other.

2:30PM, February 8 at Shanghai Restaurant. All ages & pay what you can! (BONUS: You’ll get to see Rock Camp for Women+ alumni band Salmon Ella in the same show!)

Bad Waitress

If you want to get loud with a band intentionally formed to center women’s voices, then you’re gonna love Bad Waitress. Vocalist/guitarist Kali-Ann Butala moved to Toronto five years ago with the goal of playing music with more women, and Bad Waitress was born. The group has a loud-and-fast-and-wild style of bratty punk that just doesn’t quit, full of chanted vocals and crashing drums that’s guaranteed to make you want to hit something.

See the MEGAPHONO website for show details.


The coolest crooner around, Cyber (also known as Leodie Domond) is blessing Ottawa with her sweet as honey, smooth as silk vocals again this year. If you missed her at DIY Spring last year, don’t make the same mistake at MEGAPHONO 2019. Cyber already has an international career in gospel and is now making a name for herself in Montreal’s underground scene with her hypnotic R&B sound. Don’t miss this spiritual set.

7:00PM, February 8 at LIVE on Elgin. All ages, $10 at the door.

Haley Heynedrickx

With vocals alternating between haunting and overpowering and accompanied by deft guitar picking, Haley Heynedrickx tells an emotional story of self discovery on her debut album I Need to Start a Garden. With a sound that’s reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens and a vulnerability that evokes Mitski, Haley invites listeners to an introspective account of what it means to be a human being. Come out and get introspective in a crowded room.

See the MEGAPHONO website for show details.

Melissa Laveaux

Let the sweetest, summeriest vibes of Melissa Laveaux carry you away on a wave of music unlike anything else you’ll hear all year. Fascinated and inspired by the cultural heritage of Haiti, Melissa uses music to honour the history and struggles of Haiti and its people while looking towards a future of limitless possibility and joy. It’s all right there in her music, with its rhythm, technicality, warmth, confidence, and carefully placed distortion. Once called a “lesbian miracle” on French national radio, you’ll definitely want to bask in her presence.

See the MEGAPHONO website for show details.

Camille Delean

There’s something at once classic and refreshing about the music of Montreal singer-songwriter Camille Delean. With a voice so rich in tone and precise in pitch, Camille transports listeners with her a sound that feels deeply Canadian, despite her ten track album having been partly recorded in England. The result is meandering songs with beautifully layered instrumentals and a lush tone, evoking big open sky over fields of wildflowers. Close your eyes and go there.

See the MEGAPHONO website for show details.

Annie Sama

Last but certainly not least, take in the melodic noise of multi-disciplinary artist Annie Sama. Sometimes ambient, sometimes harsh, but always original, Annie incorporates elements of multiple genres to explode the concept of pop music and create a musical world all her own. Reminiscent of Sneaks and in conversation with Grimes, we can’t wait to hear Annie’s new EP, due in September. In the meantime, catch her live this MEGAPHONO and revel in this strange soundscape.

7:00PM, February 8 at LIVE on Elgin. All ages, $10 at the door.

Personal Perspectives: I’m not a camper, here’s how Rock Camp brought me back to music


Personal Perspectives is where Girls+ Rock Ottawa readers can share what music means to them. Contact us if you have a story to share!

By Erica Howes

You know that feeling of hearing a familiar song and having a flashback? It transcends time and you remember something that you forgot was even living in your brain. It comes back to you instantly and feels as real as your mom bringing out an old photo album of your childhood birthday parties.

That’s what it felt like volunteering at Rock Camp with Girls+ Rock Ottawa. It wasn’t a specific song or tune, but it was a wave of nostalgia seeing teenage girls passionate about music and wanting to perform. It took me back to my teenage self where some of my most confident moments were centre stage in front of an audience of mostly strangers with a piano.


From when I was seven to 18, the one thing I always had as a constant in my calendar was piano lessons. It was always there in my school “about me” projects of hastily cut out magazine pictures or drawings fit together on brightly coloured paper. There was always some slanted music notes or a crooked keyboard.

As a sometimes quiet kid, getting to be loud and aggressive and then slow and emotional all in a few minutes of a song felt exhilarating.

Fast-forward to today, I’m in my twenties and my keyboard sits in the corner of my apartment like a fireplace, loved for its feeling of warmth and comfort but only used once in a while. Like a falling friendship where you keep saying you’ve been meaning to get together, we lost touch.

It wasn’t a sudden or even conscious decision, but without weekly lessons or parents reminding me to practice, it didn’t become top of mind.


I always loved performing. I later got into spoken word poetry and found a knack for public speaking. It’s fun standing in front of a group of strangers, owning a stage and telling them a story, making them feel something or changing their perspective.

I can relate a lot of who I am today to music. To calm my nerves I still tap my fingers against my legs, miming scales as if preparing for a conservatory exam. Before a big presentation or interview, I rehearse lines in my head as if with crescendos and fermatas for pauses. My piano teacher always said no matter what happens, even if you forget parts of the song, end in a major chord and take a bow. A lifelong lesson that being confident and closing on a positive note goes a long way, and despite mistakes, life goes on.

Volunteering at Girls+ Rock Ottawa brought back the memories of teenage years. The dramas of high school or stressing about courses for the next year. But also the memories of singing in coffeehouses with friends, learning violin in orchestra and of course, playing and performing piano.

The feeling of playing in a band and making eye contact with your bandmates at the moment you know you’re rocking it. That side smile that I catch in concerts and feel like an insider. Walking away from a show feeling like you had an intimate conversation with the musicians rather than a performance separated by a stage.

In the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of stories like mine. Took piano lessons for years as a kid, loved music and then at some point, stopped playing. There’s always a million reasons behind why, and you don’t need an explanation filled with guilt or the “I should’ve stuck with it” lines. You don’t have to feel bad about not playing anymore, but there’s always the option to start again.


Just like growing up when I got up to play a piano recital as a kid, no one knows if you’re going through an awkward teenager phase. No one knows if you’ve had a rough go with music or you stopped playing for ten years and are getting back into it. You don’t need a disclaimer.

People hear music, this powerful force that can take you back to a memory as real as an old photo album. People hear and see that you’re a musician. And often being on stage, being heard for that moment, that’s all that matters.

Project SoundCheck Creating Safer Music Spaces in Ottawa

By Emma Kenny

With festival season in full swing, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to staying safe.

Research by Dr. Keri Sampsel (Ottawa Hospital) showed that 25% of sexual assaults were linked to large festivals and events, 98% of the survivors were young women, and close to 60% were drug-facilitated sexual assaults. This doesn’t have to be the norm.

Project SoundCheck is an Ottawa-based organization that works to prevent sexualized violence at large concerts and festivals. The initiative started in 2015 through a collaboration between the Sexual Assault Network of Ottawa and OCTEVAW (Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women), with the support of the City of Ottawa Crime Prevention Program. Given these stats about festival safety in a city where there is at least one festival every weekend in the summer, this kind of program is desperately needed.

Here’s how Project SoundCheck works. A festival or event can reach out to Project Soundcheck to schedule a free, interactive training session for their volunteers and staff. The workshop will take place during an previously scheduled core staff training event to ensure maximum participation and impact. The Project Soundcheck team focuses on providing festival teams with the tools to recognize sexual harassment and assault and intervene in order to prevent any further harm.

A training session takes about 45 minutes, and is done wherever the event organizers and crew are currently working. During a session, facilitators discuss the basis for bystander intervention work and highlight the barriers and implicit biases that can affect that work. The group then goes through some scenarios where participants are encouraged to share ideas and collaborate on the safest ways to approach some risky situations.

There are so many benefits to festivals and events engaging the services of Project SoundCheck as part of their staff training. By empowering festival crews and organizers with the skills to reduce and prevent sexual violence, Project SoundCheck actively works to create a city and music scene that is safer for everyone. Festival goers and organizers aren’t the only ones who benefit from this increase in safety; artists also benefit from being a part of these safer spaces. The peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that everyone can enjoy the show is important, as is the Project SoundCheck policy that encourages artists to be active bystanders both on and off stage.

This is a feeling that MEGAPHONO’s Rachel Weldon can attest to. “Working with Project SoundCheck has been a great experience for our team. It gives peace of mind to us as event organizers, but also to our artists and delegates who participate in the festival to know that our team has been trained in sexual assault bystander prevention. The training equips us with several different options of how to intervene or lend support to possible victims, and emphasizes the importance of keeping both the victim and the bystander safe and free from harm.” Project SoundCheck training has a tangible impact on the comfort of festival attendees.

Project SoundCheck is unique because their training is specifically designed in collaboration with local hospitals and with the feedback of large festivals and live music events in Ottawa. Project SoundCheck’s training is informed by recommendations from all levels of music festival planning and organization, as well as the perspectives and experiences of event attendees and community members.

Project Soundcheck Facilitator Elsa Mirzaei remarked that working on these initiatives is both challenging and rewarding. “Through teaching bystander intervention courses, I've learnt so much about how to connect with people from all walks of life, in order to empower them with tools and skills to take action and become active bystanders in their day-to-day lives.” Mirzaei gets to the heart of the necessity and importance of the work Project SoundCheck does when they state that it “contributes to a larger cultural sphere within in Ottawa.”

“By making events and festivals safer for women and queer folks, these marginalized groups can access cultural programming more easily,” Mirzaei stated. “Music is such an important facet in so many people's lives, whether you are a fan, an artist, or an organizer. Making things safer and more accessible means that more people are able to engage with the arts, have more fun at the countless amazing local festivals, and ultimately improve their own lives through art.”

While their core work is training, Project SoundCheck has also created a variety of customized tools for sexual assault prevention at large events. They recently launched their brand-new Anonymous Reporting Form, providing a safe way for people to share concerns and suggestions around festival safety and inclusivity! Next up is a campaign to make bystander intervention training a requirement of the Special Events permitting process with the City of Ottawa, thereby ensuring that every fest is as safe as possible.

If you want to learn more about bystander intervention and how to safely intervene and de-escalate a risky situation, come out to a FREE bystander intervention workshop co-presented by Project SoundCheck and Girls+ Rock Ottawa on September 20th from 7PM to 9PM at the National Arts Centre.