Grey Brisson was astonished to learn that they had been nominated for three awards at the 2024 Capital Music Awards (CMAs). Brisson has been only living in Ottawa since August 2023 and their mother secretly signed them up for the awards.

“I didn’t even know that people in Ottawa know me like that,” said Brisson. “I’m Canadian, but I haven’t been here my entire life, so coming back home and being nominated is crazy.”

Brisson is among 30 other nominees who are up for public vote on the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC)’s website.

Grey Brisson’s mother secretly nominated them for three CMAs. [Photo © Victoria Green]

The winners will be announced at an awards show May 16 at the Bronson Centre.

The CMAs are unique because Ottawa has a unique music industry, says Zoë Argiropulos-Hunter, the music coalition’s membership and communications manager.

“Ottawa has never been regarded as much of an industry city,” she said. “It definitely has some missing pillars from the ecosystem, mostly because of the viability of going in an arts direction.”

Argiropulos-Hunter says that many people opt for jobs in the public service or elsewhere in the private sector because they’re more stable than the music industry.

This is why, she says, non-profits such as OMIC are putting so much effort into funding different facets of the local music industry, writing artist grants, programming shows and workshops to create an environment that fosters creativity.

Danielle Allard, 2023 winner of the Solo Artist of the Year award, said she started navigating the music Industry in Ottawa at a young age, and the community she has found is extremely uplifting. She says that live streaming helped her built a successful creative platform.

“There are constant obstacles. But in these last few years, having organizations start to sprout up in the city and having the city focus more on being a music city – that’s really helped a lot of us access new performance opportunities and even different grants,” she said.

Danielle Allard won the 2023 award for CMA Solo Artist of the Year. This year, she’s up for Music Educator of the Year. [Photo © Laura Collins]

“I’ve qualified for some of our local grants, and what honestly helped me start that streaming journey was getting an OMIC grant back in 2020 to be able to afford my first USB mixer.”

Allard also works in the charitable sector and is a professor at Algonquin College. She is nominated for Music Educator of the Year, one of the new categories added to the 2024 CMAs.

Tsenu Zelleke, who works in media relations for the Canadian Media Producers Association, says that the CMAs highlight the multifaceted network that makes up the music industry in Ottawa.

“For industry, especially in a creative economy, it’s important for many stakeholders, not just music industry professionals, to come together, because at the end of the day this is going to help everybody in the community.”

Zelleke was the music editor for Apt613 when the organization won the Community Impact Award in 2023.

“It’s these small community publications and magazines that are going to help broaden the audience of Ottawa’s artists that showcase, the sort of the creativity and innovation that’s actually happening in the city,” he said.

Zelleke says winning the Community Impact Award helped establish Apt613 as a trusted source for news in Ottawa, among readers and musicians. He adds that he saw an influx of musicians reaching out to the organization to be featured in 2023, after winning the award.

Argiropulos-Hunter says that, while the music industry in Ottawa is made up of small players, the passion that they have for their community is immense.

Before August 2023, Grey Brisson lived in Paris for four years. Today they feel very welcomed by these organizations.

“Ottawa is the most supportive with its artists – like just artists to artists, management to artists and organizations to artists. It’s all super supportive and it’s relieving and refreshing to experience that,” said Brisson.

Organizers are predicting a big turnout for the May 16 awards show.

The ceremony will include live performances from Ottawa’s Juno and Maple Blues Award winner Angelique Francis and the house band, The Lionyls, performing under the direction of Brian Aslan, along with some of this year’s nominees – Pony Girl, Amanda Rhéaume, J. Morris and LeFLOFRANCO.

The awards are split into 13 categories, five of which go to public vote; the rest are juried.

Argiropulos-Hunter describes her first experience of the CMAs in 2023 as exciting, high production, and people “dressed to the nines.”

“It was really impressive to me, and I almost couldn’t believe that it was happening in Ottawa. But beyond the glitz of it all, it’s still very much a homecoming, and I think there is a sense of gratitude that’s quintessential of Ottawa, because sometimes Ottawa does feel like a music industry made up of small players.”