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interview

Sean McManus

Manitoba Music

Sean McManus is executive director of Manitoba Music where he oversees training, export, business development, and Indigenous and francophone music development programs for artists and music companies. Sean is the president of the Canadian Coalition of Music Industry Associations and vice-president of the Western Canadian Music Alliance.

Sean McManus

Where are you based?

Treaty One Territory, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Where do you work? What do you do?

I’m the executive director of Manitoba Music. We’re a member-based not-for-profit music industry association and I lead a fabulous team that serves and develops the music industry in Manitoba.

What are you listening to?

Listening to lots of faves from 2020 – Lianne La Havas, Moses Sumney, Phoebe Bridgers, Faye Webster, Julia Jacklin. Here’s my ‘Bittersweet Lockdown’ playlist.

Ready for some new music though, checking out new tracks from SZA, serpentwithfeet, Arlo Parks, The Weather Station, Fruit Bats, Adrianne Lenker. 

How do you discover new music?

My rhythms for discovering new music, and the whole cycles of new music being released, have been pretty disrupted by COVID. Normally, I travel to music conferences and music discovery festivals as part of my job. I’m often supporting and presenting Manitoba artists or supporting our Indigneous or Francophone music programs. I’m meeting with industry folks from around the world to learn what they are working on and to connect with potential partners with our artists and companies. As part of that, I’m hearing a ton of new music. I’m listening to the rosters of the companies that I’m meeting with and listening to the line-ups of the festivals. I generally scour festival line-ups and playlists in advance of each event, SXSW, or The Great Escape, or Reeperbahn Festival, or M for Montreal, and make lists of the artists that I want to hear. I discover so much music this way.

Usually these playlists and live festival showcases set the tone of my listening for the year – hearing artists as their records are coming out or before. Or other times catching up on something that I’d missed and discovering music that is new to me. This year SXSW was back, all virtual of course, but it was still exciting to dig in and search for new music. This is what I found.

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

I still have hifi stereo with a CD player and I was a holdout for a long time, but I admit it’s been quite a while since I listened to a CD. I recently packed up several boxes and carted them to the thrift shop. I know most people did this years ago. I skipped the MP3 phase of digital music in that I never ripped my CD catalogue into a computer and didn’t have a complete collection of MP3 music. I’m just young enough that I didn’t really have an original LP collection. I had some cassettes but really mostly CDs. So it was hard to move on. Now I collect vinyl of the artists and albums that I really love, and it is a thrill to hear music on vinyl on a nice stereo.

I mostly listen to Spotify, and I love it. I listen to so much new music all the time. I love streaming as a music discovery platform. I keep ongoing playlists of favourites and use the curated and algorithm playlists. I also really like the Apple music playlists that are all curated by their staff of music lovers. I have so much respect for the programming staff at the streaming music companies for the amount of music that they listen to and program.

Where do you do most of your music listening?

I listen to music while working, most of the time. I generally find it energizing and focusing. I have studio monitors in my office at work and a decent old Yamaha stereo in my workspace at home. I have AKG on-ear headphones for walking around. I have a Sonus One speaker that is convenient but I don’t hear the fidelity that some claim to hear. My stereo at home is most often commandeered by my 9 year old daughter, who thankfully listens to a fair amount of good music, if on frequent repeat. It’s a simple Cambridge Audio amplifier with Acoustic Energy cabinets and a basic ProJect turntable, and I love it. I have it wired directly to a laptop and use Chomecast audio to cast to it. I’m so happy listening to music on this sound system. 

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

I have the pleasure of receiving pre-release music from a lot of Manitoba artists, and it’s always a great pleasure and joy to hear. And of course it’s super useful for my job to know what’s coming for local releases.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

I am constantly listening to music digitally. I don’t really deal in MP3s at all anymore, only links. But I do like having metadata or credits in some way so I can see who is the songwriter, the producers, the musicians. The frustration is keeping tabs of things, as they come in all different formats and platforms.

“The frustration is keeping tabs of things, as they come in all different formats and platforms.”

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

I’m terrible at this and I really should have a better system. I build playlists for myself for the most part.

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

I generally flip spotify links to people.

Anything you want to “promote”?

Yes! Go listen to some Manitoba artists. You can find local Manitoba new releases here (and below) plus an ongoing updated new release playlist here. Our new Black Professionals in Music (BPM) playlist here.

"Usually, playlists and these live festival showcases set the tone of my listening for the year - hearing artists as their records are coming out or before."

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