When a School Project Becomes a Business Adventure
What began as a school project, evolved into something much bigger for these University of King’s College Journalism classmates
By: Azim Ahmed, Staff Writer
When 24-year old Jonathan Briggins and a group of his classmates at the University of King’s College Journalism program embarked on their final project, they had no idea that it would one day evolve into a promising Canadian business venture.
What started as a student assignment is now Mixtape Magazine, an insider’s guide to the Canadian music industry, showcasing new talent while giving fans an intimate and unique look at the Canadian music scene. With a sneak preview unveiling this summer through its summer festival guide, the first full issue is set to release in September 2013.
“This is information you’re not going to get from a press release, this is stuff we can only get because we’re spending a lot of time with the artists,” explains Briggins in an interview with Arbitrage. “We really know them, and spend time with them and where they’re working.”
“We’re also going to have a lot of outside contributors with featured bloggers, industry pros; not necessarily musicians writing columns about stuff you normally wouldn’t hear about,” Briggins, a Halifax native, adds. “On top of that we’re also going to look at fashion and technology trends and specifically how they relate to music in Canada.”
A promising beginning
A big part of the transition to an actual business venture was in January 2013 when Briggins – an award-winning music blogger since 2010 – attended a music industry mixer in Halifax. Many people from the Nova Scotia music industry saw the copy of the issue he brought with him and subsequently gave it positive reviews. He now had the validation and professional encouragement needed to make it real.
One of the individuals that Briggins met that night was Scott Long, the Executive Director of Music Nova Scotia, an association that promotes local artists and the city’s music scene. Long directed Briggins to a provincial government funding program called the Emerging Music Business Program.
At that point Briggins and his fellow classmates/co-creators Samantha Chown, Hilary Creamer, Ryan Hemsworth and Chelcie Soroka already had the talent, the will and the ambition. They now just needed a more experienced hand; enter Bill McEwen.
McEwen had been an engineering officer in the Navy for nine years, and had attended Military College in Kingston, obtaining a B.Sc in Computer Science. He had been deployed in parts of Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. However, his true passion was writing, so he left the military to attend journalism school, ultimately winning an Atlantic Journalism Award for his coverage of Occupy Nova Scotia.
“I didn’t have a ton of business experience myself, but I love the entrepreneurial spirit so I was really game to help, and I’ve always been really big on trying to create journalism jobs,” McEwen tells Arbitrage. “If we can create jobs where people are happy doing what they’re doing, then why not?”
With McEwen’s guidance and his new role as Publisher and Business Manager, the group applied to the provincial grant program and eventually were approved, receiving $4,000.
Though it has only been a little over a year, some members of the original group have parted ways as life and careers have drawn them elsewhere.
[pullquote]“If we can create jobs where people are happy doing what they’re doing, then why not?”[/pullquote]
“One person who helped start the magazine was Ryan Hemsworth, who left to pursue his own career and has been quite successful as a musician,” recounts Briggins, who is Mixtape’s Editor-in-Chief and Publisher. “Another contributor/editor went to medical school, and another moved to Paris. So the team kind of went in different directions in life. Except for me and Creative Director Hillary Creamer, who is based in Calgary.”
Other creative talents have since joined the team, and many are scattered throughout Canada, giving the venture a more national brand. In addition to Creamer in Calgary, there are team members and contributors in Montreal, Saskatoon and Ottawa.
However, in terms of subscribers, the initial foundation will be in the Halifax area before ultimately establishing strongholds in other regions.
“To start, we’re focusing on building a base in Nova Scotia and the Martimes for the first six months or so, then I see in the following half-year we’ll stretch from our base to the Montreal and Ottawa markets,” outlines McEwen. “By the end our first year to 18 months in, our plan is to be across the country in select retail stores. With a real presence throughout Canada as well.”
The business plan
The group started to hammer out a business plan in February, and with the help of Scott Long, pinpointed their market niche. Their strategy calls for a focus on attaining and retaining subscribers for an affordable price and then building upon that healthy base to attract advertisers.
With that spirit, they decided to get creative and run a crowd funder, which promotes subscriptions and has give-a-ways to help fund the initiative. Originally, the crowd-funder was going to be a backup in case the grant funding did not come through. When they found out it did, they used the money to fund the printing costs of the summer festival guide, a teaser that promotes the crowd funder.
“In order for advertisers to see real value we need a strong subscriber base, and to attract that base, we’re also forming partnerships with advertisers to offer unique, subscriber-only benefits like retail discounts, free tickets, and other products and services for free or reduced pricing,” McEwen explains.