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Reverb: Curbside Concerts continues to build a network of neighbourly live music

Matt Masters said going from one to 10 to 100 to 1,000 clients over the course of 18 months has been a real growth experience.

And yes, growth is good, but Calgary-based Curbside Concerts has had some missteps along the way, he said.

“I think we grew a little bit too big too fast, with our aspirations,” Masters said.

“We saw some explosions happen in Calgary during the pandemic and we just thought it would happen that way everywhere. But it didn’t.”

Curbside Concerts Canada was started early in the pandemic when traditional, indoor live music performances were cancelled due to public health measures. Masters and his team came up with the idea to perform live music outdoors in neighbourhoods where social distancing could be done.

Calgary and Winnipeg are their big success stories, with dozens – if not hundreds – of performances in each city. They have operations in Ontario, BC and Saskatchewan, but the most work is done in Alberta and Manitoba. They use a diverse range of musicians local to each area.

Masters said they owe a lot of their early traction to media stories done in Winnipeg and Calgary to drive the awareness.  While they got interviews in Vancouver and Toronto, the response wasn’t the same.

There’s a less fractured media landscape in cities like Calgary and Winnipeg and other cities where they’re seeing more success, like Saskatoon and Brandon.

“I think that we’ll probably get into the bigger cities by route of the smaller cities,” Masters said.

Aside from the media factor, Masters said different geography and community structure are factors. As is the way people in different cities engage with their outdoor spaces.

Learning about business

Masters said he’s spent decades fine-tuning his skills as a songwriter and stage performer.

“I have not spent time and or similar amounts of energy, learning about the operations of the business.”

That’s what drew him to Platform Calgary’s Reverb music start-up accelerator program.

It’s covered everything from accounting practices to engaging their customers. He said one of the first things he noticed was how to gather and review data.

“It’s provided me with insights already. And we immediately introduced some of these techniques into our company,” Masters said.

While the concept was born out of Covid-19, Masters said there’s life beyond the pandemic. They’re already close to being sustainable long-term.

“The product works,” he said.

He believes their continued growth will come because they’re not only hosts, but they’re musicians as well.  The experience creates something fun for families, neighbourhoods and communities, Master said.

“Community associations are always looking for cost-effective ways to safely engage with their community, and that’s what we do in spades,” he said.

It’s also a way for musicians to succeed, too. He said they’re often the foundation of the night. Everyone else, from the taxi driver to the sound tech to the bartender, makes more.

“I frankly say to hell with that whole model, because I am not interested in that,” he said.

Masters wants to create a model that helps musicians thrive. He also wanted one that provides them all of the social supports many other professions have – like benefits, work/life balance, etc.

The plan is to continue building across Canada to create a network of artists – and support – for smaller-scale, intimate live music.

Curbside Concerts was also up for a Western Canadian Music Award last year.