The port city of Saint John, New Brunswick has a booming music scene. With big events like Area 506 and Quality Block Party, there are more options than ever to perform, record, and promote music locally.

That is, unless the music falls into the urban genre, a catch-all term for historically black music genres including hip hop, R&B, jazz, blues, reggae, dancehall, and even some world music.

Urban music has largely been left behind in the mostly white, blue-collar maritime town. But an upcoming music conference this weekend, Urban East, is hoping to change that.

Urban East runs from November 9 to 11, and will feature showcases and panels by artists and music-industry insiders from across Canada and the United States.

Organizer and founder of Musik Iz the Motive Entertainment, Dwayne Marcial, was inspired to put together this conference by speaking with other artists in the city about their own experiences.

“What we lack has really been the infrastructure,” Marcial told Civilized. “There hasn’t really been an infrastructure for the guys to perform, master their craft, you know, work with other people."

DJ Slim Thunder Studios

Dwayne Marcial a.k.a DJ $lim

"I wanted to host an event to showcase artists and bring in talent buyers in the industry to help develop and get our scene to the next level,” Marcial added.

“It was hard for us”

It’s a labour of love for Marcial, who grew up in Saint John, trying to make a name for himself as a DJ when there were no supports in place for people like him.

“It was hard for us, coming up, to create our own lane and for people to take us seriously,” he says. “We did it ourselves, from booking and promoting our own shows and tours with bigger artists and putting ourselves on as openers, to hosting our shows locally here in Saint John, Fredericton or Moncton.”

Since then, he has made a career out of helping urban artists to record, produce, and promote their own work through Musik iz the Motive. This conference is just another step in that overall direction.

Marcial also believes that it’s important for the community to step away from the negative connotations often associated with urban music, into something more universal.

“When people hear urban,” he says, “people automatically think hip hop, and they think bad, and the negative stereotypes of what’s seen on American television or what they see on BET or something like that.”

Because of this, the community is rebranding itself as Global Soul, and the next iteration of the conference might be called something different.

“Double-edged sword”

One of the panelists at Urban East is Debbie Egel, a lawyer and founder of Bronx Most Wanted Entertainment in New York City. Egel has experience in all facets of the music industry, including production, A&R (artists and repertoire), promotion, recording, and publishing.

She says that the main thing she sees from new artists is a lack of knowledge about the business of music.

“I really believe that artists work from a place that is very creative, and they don’t have the space in their creativity to work on the business,” she told Civilized. “Unfortunately, because they don’t always understand the business, that hurts their opportunities to make money, and sometimes they make decisions based on the wrong set of facts.”

Marcial is eager to have her on board because she comes from a city with a large urban music scene, but Egel says it’s not necessarily better to have a larger urban community.

“You have access to things that people don’t have,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of the major labels here, you’ve got a lot of the major publishers here, you have events here, where you can get in and network with people, but you’re competing against thousands of people, so it’s a double edged sword.”

But no matter where you’re trying to make it, Egel says that all artists need the same things.

“It all begins and ends with great music,” she said. “If you have great music, you have a better shot, because you could post it on Youtube, and it could go viral, and you could win.”

“You have to be a champion, because this is a very tough game, and there’s a lot of competition," she added. "So I think you have to find the champion inside yourself to persevere. Never quit, never give up.”

Urban East takes place November 9 to 11 at various locations around Saint John. Tickets are available here.