#BehindTheScenes takes a look at the women working offstage in the Canadian music industry – the movers and shakers that fuel the biz. It’s a realm that was once thought to be the domain of men, but now, more and more females are running the show.
Vanessa Arscott started her career as a tour manager for artists such as Hawksley Workman and Sarah Harmer touring Canada and Eastern United States. After a few years on the road, she worked as Sr. Production Manager and Promoter Rep for Live Nation Canada.
Since starting Plan V Productions in 2011, Vanessa and her team have continued to manage the Production & Artist Logistics Departments for WayHome Music & Arts Festival, Boots & Hearts Festival and Field Trip Music & Arts Festival. Other projects include Polaris Music Prize Awards Gala, NXNE at the Portlands, and working as part of the CARAS logistics team for the Juno Awards.
SDTC: Describe your education/career trajectory to this point.
VA: I am a Ryerson grad. I went to school for Radio & Television Arts. I moved from a very small town to Toronto and it was the best decision I could have made for my career. I started working in the television industry while I was at university and would skip class to work on award shows and special events. By the time I graduated, I was getting paid for my work as a production assistant, talent coordinator, and various other glamorous titles in the live TV world.
I left TV entirely after I was offered a tour manager position with Hawksley Workman. After a few years of bus life with good people I took a job with House of Blues Concerts Canada to work as a promoter rep. HOB became Live Nation and for seven years, I worked a ton of shows and this role provided a good solid foundation for what I am doing now.
In 2011, I decided to start my own company. Plan V Productions is my life, literally. I can’t see that changing, I love what I do. Although I do hope that I learn how to take a vacation.
Walk us through a typical workday in your life, from getting up until going to bed.
Currently – it’s the “off season,” which just means I am getting ready for the event season. In 2017, I am contracted to do five festivals between the end of May to the beginning of September. So with all those variables in mind, here’s an outline of my day(s) in the “off season,” with a few side notes throughout.
6:50 – Wake up.
7:00 – Work out – or give it my best anyway. Sometimes I sleep for an additional fifteen minutes instead though, which is also satisfying.
I’ll check emails, respond to things if needed as I am getting ready.
8:30 (ish)– I’ll leave my apartment, head to Plan V Office. My overall day is typically spent bouncing between deadlines, to-do lists and working with my team to get things focused and organized for each event. I am lucky enough to have two of the best friends/colleagues working with me on Plan V projects, Reuben Coward and Brayden Lowery. I’m lost without them.
8pm (ish) – Come home, eat food, continue answering emails and setting up calls for the following day.
10:30/11pm – I’m mentally checked out and on my way to bed.
Biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
I don’t know if I have fully “overcome” this, but I am constantly challenging myself to learn when to say, “No, I am not available to take on that project right now.”
I feel that learning quality over quantity is what I have to keep reminding myself every time I get an offer. It’s really hard for me. I’m used to working so much and I think I can do everything all the time; however, now that I am older and I’ve been doing this a long time, I want to take a breath every once in a while but I’m not sure how to make time for that too. I have to realize that if I have five festivals in a summer, that’s pretty good and I know already there’s very little space to take on anything else in that amount of time.
This industry moves so fast and you can lose your place in it very quickly, so I guess my knee-jerk reaction is to fight to stay at the top by saying yes, I can do all of it.
What was the best advice given to you in relation to your career?
“Don’t forget to use the expertise around you.” It was in a moment on-site where my superwoman powers were ignited and I felt all of the pressure to do things on my own. This person sat me down and reminded me that it’s okay to require help even if I’m in charge of the whole goddamn thing.
It’s because of this advice that I remind myself I am only as good as the crew I surround myself with on site. Good people make good crew and that equals Happy V.
What albums/performers are you obsessed with at the moment?
Well, I am all over the board with music all the time so here goes:
I am always obsessed with Robyn. Anytime, anywhere, all day.
The XX new album is amazing.
LP, her voice and songwriting is blowing my mind.
The head and the heart, Boy & Bear, Houndmouth are all favourites of mine.
The new Tribe called Quest album is still on high rotation for me.
Sturgill Simpson – glorious.
For Canadian stuff:
I am obsessed with the beautiful album Khlebnikov by Danny Michel. It’s moving and emotional and he is my friend. I am happy for him that this album exists now.
TUNS – amazing super group.
Charlotte Day Wilson – duh…
Describe Canada’s music scene at the moment.
The live music scene is a tough one and I can only speak from my experience and my perspective is from the “organizer” mind set.
I think it’s very vulnerable right now. Music clubs are shutting down in our music cities and the volume of outdoor festivals is increasing across the country, but how many are profitable? In markets like Toronto, there are so many outdoor events happening in the summer months that it is hard for the consumer to decide how many they can afford to go to before it snows again.
Canadian festivals don’t have the lengthy history yet that guarantees fans coming back year after year. They are still fighting to be the most anticipated and unique event in their area and that costs a lot of money. Every moment spent on-site costs 10s and 100s of thousands of dollars and that money is spent quickly, with or without those ticket sales to break even. Sometimes I wonder if there are enough people buying tickets across the country to keep these outdoor events alive and to keep the historic music venues open.
I think we need to keep curating cool music scenes throughout the country. Maybe think a bit smaller sometimes, go back to the basics of what it takes for a musician and venue to make this all work financially. We have to listen to the true fans and what they want to see or hear, and not necessarily the first comment from a random unidentified person on social media. Real music, in good venues (both indoor and out) and more appreciation for how much work goes into it all on all sides.
Catch Vanessa in the panel discussion The Ground-Up Round-Up: Turning A Festival From Dream To Reality at CMW.