Kimberley musician Heather Gemmell has been selected out of nearly 1600 applicants as one of three Fan Choice winners in the CBC SearchLight contest, automatically entering her into the top 100 entries for the grand prize and securing her some prizes that will aid her music career immensely.
“It feels absolutely incredible,” Gemmell said. “I love underdog stories and I feel like this was a major underdog story, because I’m not huge out there and I’m next to some really amazing artists.”
The other two Fan Choice winners are youth band Leave Those Kids Alone out of Windsor, Ont. and Madison Galloway. Both have sizeable online followings, the former having 32,000, the latter 9000. Gemmell said that though she’s still working to break 1000 followers, her friends, fans and family rallied behind her and gave her the support she needed to win.
“I had friends from all over the place sending me messages letting me know that they’re voting every day and telling all their friends,” she said. “It’s just so heartwarming to have accomplished this, I’ve never accomplished anything like this in my music before so this is incredible.”
She added she highly respects and is extremely excited to have been selected alongside those two other artists who were selected.
“I’m stoked to be beside child prodigies first of all, and then Madison Galloway who I totally connect with as a musician and if she lived in the same town as me i’d love to play in a duo with — she’s incredible.”
By securing enough votes to win, this continues Kimberley’s hot streak for contest winning of late, following the city being named B.C.’s Best Small Town and the Kimberley Alpine Team winning the Mackenzie Top Peak Contest.
“I didn’t think I was going to win or anything, so just to be in it is kind of winning enough,” Gemmell said. “Because I got such a great response from all of my friends and family and fans that I do have and I may have gained some new ones in the process.”
Not only has she been entered into the top 100 artists for the next phase of the contest — the other 97 of whom were selected by CBC judges — Gemmell has won a $1000 gift certificate to musical instrument retailer Long & McQuade, a Play MPE Global Music promotion distribution package and a one-hour meeting with a Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI) mentor, which Gemmell said will be “invaluable” to her.
“It’s a consult directed directly towards my personal needs as a musician and where to go forward with what choices I make and what direction I want to go, so the three things that I’ve won are huge for me and I’m so grateful and so thankful to everyone for voting.”
She didn’t have to think hard when asked what she will use the $1000 gift card for.
“I’ve been playing broken down guitars for long enough,” she said with a laugh. Gemmell has been primarily using a couple very cool, but very old guitars for quite some time. They’ve been patched up and one of them is in such a state that she is nervous bringing it out to gigs, so she is going to get herself a new guitar and a proper pedal board.
“The money is going to go towards a good guitar for myself, and then I’ll always be able to play this guitar and remember back that it’s my Searchlight guitar,” she said. “I don’t think I should buy cables or chords or anything random like that, I want it to be an item and it’s going to be a guitar.”
The distribution deal is also going to be a huge asset for her, as she is brand new to the world of streaming platforms — her single “NorthStar Burning” was the first song she uploaded to Spotify.
“It’s the type of publicity and that legwork that’s definitely out of my scope of work, and the connections that they have and stuff,” she explained.
“It will get my album that may potentially have just been collecting digital dust on the streaming platforms, now it might be able to get heard by people, because I’ve got a whole bunch of other songs that need to be heard, that probably wouldn’t have without the CBC Searchlight Contest. That’s huge in itself.”
Now the real contest begins, and the voting component has ended, but Gemmell said that this has been a huge victory already, especially considering she applied for three grants over the past six months, all of which were declined. The prizes she’s secured for herself certainly help to ease the pain of not getting that grant funding, she said.
“You’ve really got to try to get your feet in as much water as possible, because you’ve got to get used to hearing no and getting rejected in this business, it’s a tough industry, it’s so saturated,” Gemmell said. “If you can do as much as you can with as little as you can then something will happen eventually, so that’s the kind of message that I want to spread to young musicians and young artists in general.
“Success, I find, is very subjective so you’ve just got to find what makes you happy and I’m pretty happy right now.”
Gemmell said that following this victory she wants to give back as soon as possible to the community who helped get her here, for example playing music at long-term care facilities or at schools — playing for groups of people who were greatly impacted by the COVID pandemic.
In addition to all those who voted her to victory, Gemmell expressed her gratitude to local videographer and drone operator Lukas Nemeth for creating the video to accompany her NorthStar Burning single.
“He did an amazing job on the filming and editing of the video that I submitted,” Gemmell said. “I highly recommend working with Lucas on all your professional video needs.”