On Nov. 4, 2023, Her Campus had the opportunity to attend Grounders, a one-day music festival put on by a team of media production students at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). The event showcased local Toronto artists and vendors and was held in The Junction area in Toronto.
The festival consisted of nine acts from many up-and-coming Toronto musicians in addition to a multi-camera recording. Grounders was completely student-run and brought together audience members from all over the city. Guests enjoyed drinks and new tunes from a range of genres while supporting local vendors.
Helen Chen and Sofia Shahbazzadeh, both fourth-year RTA students, put on the entire event as a professional scale festival, which originally started as an idea for their practicum project for their program.
Through Chen’s love of audio and Shahbazzadeh’s passion for multi-camera production, the dynamic, co-producing duo successfully celebrated the city’s independent art scene by combining a live event with an exemplary production recording.
The event offered three types of tickets, including daytime, nighttime and full-day options. Guests were able to access the festival regardless of whether they made the full-day commitment or not.
I attended the night set and was blown away by the scale of the event. I immediately checked in and received a complimentary drink and coat check ticket — something I found very convenient for someone who is a commuter. The event was located in The Junction’s OBJX Studio, which added to the artistic vibe and elevated the Toronto-centered value of Grounders with its large windows that looked into the city.
As I walked around the venue, I scoped out the vendors selling appealing and affordable merchandise, including clothes, jewelry, crochet and tooth gems. Some of the vendors were Magicraftsdesigns, Smaybeeeee, Spacey Maizie Vintage and Crushy Crochet.
Once I made it to the stage and secured my free beverage, I enjoyed a range of performances from four local artists: City Builders, The Beans, Jules Auckland and Heavenly Blue. Each set was unique to the artist and really amplified their voices, making them stand out in the vast Toronto music scene.
Her Campus spoke to one of the very talented artists, Jules Auckland, about her experience playing at Grounders, which she agreed was a highlight of her career so far.
“I really appreciated that it was about spotlighting Toronto artists who are up-and-coming and don’t have as much of a following as some of these other festivals,” she said.
Auckland expressed how other festivals tend to claim they promote rising artists but often select mid-level artists with a solid following compared to those still “underground.”
“Toronto is a huge city, and there’s a very rich music scene, but I feel like a lot of people just don’t know it,” said Auckland.
She appreciated the need Grounders was able to fill for Canadian artists who often feel unseen in the music industry and said, “Grounders created that opportunity for people to see that there are artists who are really out there working by themselves. They’re not signed, they don’t have people backing them, like this is them really putting themselves out there.”
Auckland was also excited that the environment of Grounders was highly professional and clearly showed that it was made to support the artists.
“The fact that they could film everything is so awesome for the artists because how many times do I get to do one of these gigs or festivals and have a professional recording?” Auckland said. “That is just a dream come true, especially for an artist like me who doesn’t have a lot of experience.”
Chen and Shahbazzadeh wanted to not only create a hub to bring the community together but also provide independent artists with something that could help them elevate their careers beyond Grounders.
“We wanted them to have documentation of their performances because, especially at this stage of their careers, that is what they need the most, having something to show for their work,” said Chen.
Since the music festival, Auckland has been able to connect with other artists she met at Grounders and expand both of their networks by collaborating on future projects.
What began as an assignment for their thesis project grew into something beyond their curriculum as Chen and Shahbazzadeh realized they were doing a much larger project than what was expected of them. However, they didn’t let that stop them from making Grounders anything less than what they had dreamed for it to be.
Although the team was entirely led by a group of female and non-binary student executives, Grounders was not your typical student event experience.
Given that most of the attendees were outside the TMU community, the industry-level production was shocking for some attendees when they heard that this was for a school project.
Co-executive producer Shahbazzadeh shared how she and Chen were often told throughout the day that “this doesn’t feel like a school project.”
“That feels like such a good compliment because we didn’t want this to come across as like, ‘Oh, we are doing this for our project.’” said Shahbazzadeh. “It was like, ‘No, we are actually doing this project, to do a project, and it happens to be for a grade for a course.’”
The title of being a student often created barriers for Chen and Shahbazzadeh as they established themselves in the real world. Being associated with a university didn’t make them eligible for a lot of funding, which made producing an event like this difficult for them at times.
Additionally, producing a multi-camera live-to-tape of a nine-hour music festival is not the traditional thesis project for the RTA community. Shahbazzadeh and Chen often felt in the dark about how they could achieve their goals of Grounders.
“You put two 20-year-olds in charge of figuring out how to do this whole thing by themselves. There was some guidance from our advisors, but the majority of it was me and Helen being like, ‘Is this right?’ ‘Does this make sense to you?’” explained Shahbazzadeh.
Regardless of the challenges, the Grounders team was able to pull off a professional scale music festival within a few months of preparation and record their artists using industry-level multi-camera production to show off the talent and skills that come out of TMU’s RTA community.
To keep up with the release of performance footage, follow Grounders on Instagram. You can also tune into their Spotify playlist that highlights some of the songs of the fantastic artists who were showcased at Grounders.
Also, if you want to join me in being one of the first Jules Auckland fans, make sure to follow her social media accounts to stay in the loop when her music comes out.