Music-industry types mingled with arts funders and a few musicians at the Yukon

Transportation Museum on June 15 for a different kind of brown-bag lunch event – a team from the Polaris Music Prize was in town to announce its long-list of 40 candidates for this year’s win.

The prize aims to recognize “artists who produce Canadian music albums of distinction,” according to its website, looking across all genres and without regard for sales.

The long-list will become a short one in July followed by a September gala that will reveal who is to be honoured with the title of Canadian album of the year, and receive the $50,000 that accompanies it.

Three of the prize jurors – a group of Canadian musicophiles including journalists, broadcasters and bloggers – were in attendance to help with the announcement, along with founder and executive director Steve Jordan.

While music-lovers across Canada might have been waiting with anticipation for the announcement to see if their favourite band made the cut, perhaps the most impactful part of the event for Whitehorse may prove to be the listening stations set up by Music Yukon. These provided Yukon musicians with the opportunity to share their music with the jurors and Jordan himself.

The dozen or so musicians in attendance were grouped into fours and rotated after their allotted time with each listener. The whole thing was orchestrated by Music Yukon executive director Kim Winnicky, who also assisted with the long-list announcement.

Whitehorse musician and composer Jordy Walker admits that he was a little skeptical when he learned he was to have only five minutes with each juror. In the end he was pleasantly surprised with the experience. He said the jurors were friendly and approachable.

“It was a strange combination of relaxed and comfortable along with some excitement and tension,” he says.

At each listening station, each juror had a laptop and a set of headphones with which to take in the offerings provided by each musician on a USB stick.

“They gave some critical feedback, but seemed to look for things they liked,” says Walker. Comparing notes with other participants confirmed that the responses were very individualised and indicative of “highly-educated music appreciators”, despite the short time available.

In addition to the positive feedback he received, especially on his work-in-progress Sauna Music (the response included a request that he send them the album once it’s complete), Walker tells me he found the whole process demystifying. Other music prizes and competitions, like the West Coast Music Awards are very “mechanical,” as he puts it. But he has always found the way in which Polaris nominees are selected to be a bit of a black box – the website specifically says you can’t submit a recording to be considered for the prize, but have to more or less wait to be noticed by a juror.

While he acknowledges that attaining a place on the list isn’t an immediate goal, he now has a much better understanding of how the jurors comb the airwaves and music scenes of the country throughout the course of the year. Exactly what that je ne sais quoi the jurors seek is impossible to know, as it’s unique to each one.

Perhaps one day we’ll see a Yukoner grace the stage of the Polaris gala. In the meantime, look and listen for Walker applying his skill behind a drum kit or a guitar this summer. Among lots of other gigs, he’ll be gracing local stages at the Atlin and Dawson music festivals in July.