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Dan Mangan invites musicians and fans to enter through the side door

Indie/folk rocker launches project to help up-and-coming performers find gigs
, Vancouver musician Dan Mangan
Alongside business partner Laura Simpson, Vancouver musician Dan Mangan launched Side Door Access to link artists with smaller, more intimate venues. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Dan Mangan is embarking on an audacious project to bridge Canada’s urban/rural divide.

The two-time Juno winner isn’t doing it with a guitar, nor a mic. Instead, the Vancouverite is standing to the side of the stage to help fledgling artists who are in the same spot he was a decade ago.

Alongside friend and business partner Laura Simpson, Mangan launched Side Door Access in June with the intention of getting upcoming artists — musicians, comics, lecturers, directors and more — in front of crowds that actually want to see them perform in a more intimate setting.

“One of my biggest motivators is that if you play to 20 people in a club that holds 200, you can leave that town feeling like you’ve made no footprint,” Mangan told the Courier. “But if you can play to 20 people in a living room, and then hang out and have a couple drinks, sell a bunch of CDs and perhaps stay with the host, the potential for a great, human and unique experience is heightened big time.”

The marrying of the two worlds happens digitally before it happens organically. Both venue hosts and artists log on to and register who they are and what their role in the service is — artist or host. An app will be launched in the future that connects would-be attendees as well.

Details around location, venue size, city and compensation are exchanged between the various factions, and then it’s party time.

Part of Mangan’s motivation was the lack of party being brought to all corners of the country. Places such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are typically sweet spots for touring acts, but locales such as Brandon, Man., Lethbridge, Alta. and smaller towns in B.C. can experience a serious deficit in live entertainment.

That hunch was borne out in a sprawling Facebook missive Mangan posted in April. He asked the online community what their primary barriers were to experiencing a resonant, live event. Having young kids, ridiculous ticket prices, shows stretching past the midnight hour and even having to stand behind a tall person were some of the responses.

There was also a distinct lack of options in smaller markets. By tweeking the traditional, big-market-only model, driving 12 hours from Vancouver to Calgary could instead become several, shorter drives with daily gigs along the traditional touring route.

“We live in a country with great distances between population densities, so the economics of it become feasible,” Mangan said. “There are little gems all over the place. Many bands or artists would go to places like Kamloops, Creston or Red Deer or even smaller communities than that if they could count on having a great experience.”

Compensation is determined through the host and artist. The service model will soon become such that ticket buyers can see how the agreement breaks down, and what the take-home pay is for the hired entertainment. And while the focus is currently centred on traditional single-family home settings, that’s open to change to warehouses, art spaces, cafés or anywhere that can house a performance ranging from 30 to 150.

And if “that guy” were to show up, keg of beer in hand and with nothing but bad intentions in mind, Mangan said an internal rating system for all parties involved — artists, hosts and attendees — will quickly weed out the bad apples.

The service is, as Mangan describes it, “very beta” at this point. More than 100 hosts have signed up, alongside dozens of acts and it’s intended to be a Canadian phenomenon only to start off. From there, he’d like to see artists be able to tour around the world using Side Door Access.

“Success, to me, would be in a couple of years, seeing an artist who had started on Side Door and built themselves an audience and then got noticed on a higher level and was then able to go and play concert halls,” he said. “That would be a huge win.”

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