The intrepid explorers at CBC’s Searchlight competition have been burrowing through the Canadian musical wilderness for nearly seven years.
Like Cartier or Champlain, they have been cutting through the undergrowth to expose the greatness that is too often overlooked in Canada’s music scene.
For the second year in a row, this year’s competition is seeking the best new artists in the country.
“Our mandate at CBC Music and especially Radio 3 (where the contest was first hosted) is to basically support new and emerging Canadian music,” said CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence.
More than 4,000 bands and musicians from across the country – including a handful featuring Humber students – are now in the midst of the nationwide contest.
Searchlight winners will receive a $20,000 Yamaha shopping spree, an opening slot at a major music festival and a music video recorded at CBC’s studios.
Winning last year’s Searchlight contest has certainly helped build a lasting the profile Newfoundland folk-pop act Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case.
A year after their win, their song “Annalee” has been placing on CBC Radio 2’s weekly listener-voted Top 20 chart for two months, peaking at the #3 spot.
Winning isn’t everything in the Searchlight, however.
“For the artists, there’s only going to be one winner of the contest but the artists can ‘win’ in other ways,” Lawrence said.
For Brampton-based indie rockers Orca, “winning” is all about exposure.
“It’s a bit of a long-shot but…it’s not really our goal to win. It’s more for the publicity,” said Orca lead guitarist and Humber Film and Television student Matthew Raczywolski.
It’s worked well for the band so far. Due to their last-minute entry in the contest, they were contacted for an interview with the Brampton Guardian newspaper.
Orca isn’t the only beneficiary of the enhanced exposure at Humber, either.
“Sharing this (on Facebook), you’re basically getting other people to promote our band, not just for (the contest) but also for our music in general,” said Humber School of Music student and The Medicine Hat bassist Elliot Gwynne.
Gwynne said since they joined the contest they’ve been surpassing their average ‘likes’ per day on facebook.
There is history on the side of all those seeking exposure in Searchlight.
One of Lawrence’s favourites from last year’s contest, Toronto-based folk-rockers Inlet Sound never made it beyond the regional rounds of the competition.
That didn’t stop them from getting two songs on CBC Radio 3’s R3:30 for 16 weeks and earning nominations for Most Canadian Song and Rookie of the Year in last year’s Radio 3 Bucky Awards.
“At the core of Searchlight it’s about the joy of musical discovery,” Lawrence said.