Luca Fogale sits in his basement music studio, guitar across his lap, strumming absently as he speaks. He admits he feels more comfortable with his guitar in hand than he would if he were just talking about himself.
The 22-year-old North Burnaby resident is still having a hard time believing that he's hit the place where he wants to be: making music for a living.
Admittedly, it's not quite a full living yet. But with his selection into the top 20 of this year's PEAK Performance Project, the young singer-songwriter is poised on the edge of his dream.
Fogale is set to perform Thursday night, Sept. 26, in the third of five showcase concerts featuring the 20 bands and artists who were selected for this year's project.
The project, run by Music B.C. and 102.7 The PEAK radio, gives emerging B.C. artists a shot at winning $102,700, with other cash prizes ranging from $75,000 for second place down to $5,000 for fifth. More importantly, it immerses the artists in the world of the professional musician through a music boot camp and a series of challenges involving various aspects of fundraising, merchandising and marketing.
The whole thing culminates in each artist writing up and submitting a final report at the end of October, essentially a business plan detailing how they would spend the money.
"You can't just be the best musician, you have to be the best businessperson as well," Fogale says.
He says he's honoured to be included among the talent that's been assembled for this year's project.
"Whatever comes of the project, it's been really incredible and at the same time overwhelming," Fogale says. "Whatever happens, I'm just so happy I got in."
The PEAK Performance Project came at just the right time for the Burnaby North Secondary grad.
He's been working at his music career for the past two years, since opting to drop out of UBC to pursue music full-time.
It was, he says, a decision he felt confident about.
"It was just something I needed to do," he says. "It's been the best two years ever, it was the greatest decision."
At the same time, he confesses, it hasn't been easy. He's been balancing his work as a lifeguard for the City of Burnaby with his music, trying to make a go of it.
"It's been a bit of a grind," he admits. "I've been humbled by the business, because it's tough."
He was just at the point of contemplating whether he should go back to school when, at the last minute, he decided to apply for the PEAK project.
Since his acceptance, the balance of his life has shifted in favour of music - he hasn't worked as a lifeguard for the past four months.
"It's been really surreal being able to do this," he says. "It's interesting and strange just playing music. It's always been a part of my life, but now it's what I do."
Fogale was particularly impressed by the summer boot camp that ran in August at Rockridge Canyon in Princeton. It gave the aspiring artists a chance to learn from professionals in the music business about all aspects of the industry - not just the performance side, but business, marketing and promotion as well.
"It's such a different business than it was 20, 30 years ago," Fogale points out. "Getting signed by a record label isn't what everyone wants now."
Instead, he notes, artists are concentrating their efforts on getting their music known and touring - which is, these days, where the money is to be made. He's hoping that next summer will see him touring and playing festivals.
Right now, he's focusing his efforts on the remainder of the PEAK project. Next up is his showcase performance on Thursday at the Fortune Sound Club on East Pender Street in Vancouver - the show starts at 8 p.m.
At the same time, Fogale is working on a charity fundraising challenge - his will involve performing a benefit and raising money for the Burnaby Boys and Girls' Club music program - and a merchandising challenge. (That is still to be determined, but he's mulling over ideas involving cassette tapes - yes, he's old enough to remember them, and he has a fondness for the old medium.)
He's also getting set to record a new CD - his second, following up on a successful EP, Paths, released earlier this year - and continuing to write music wherever and whenever possible.
He's inspired, he says, by artists like Bob Dylan and the British folk musician Nick Drake, whose songs have stood the test of time because they were honest expressions of the writers' emotions.
"Honesty is something I put a lot of stock in, music-wise," he says. "You feel that connection. ... If it's something you can come back to a lot of times, you know it's honest, it's hitting home."
He wants to write the kind of songs that speak to people in the way a song like Blowin' in the Wind speaks to him, over and over again.
"I've always found a connection with music that you listen to 10 times and say, 'I get it now.' You can listen to it 10 more times and it'll be different every time," he says. "Songs you can listen to 10 times over, 20 times over, 100 times over, and they always have significance for you."
As a songwriter, he says, he's still finding his voice, but he believes he's come a long way in the past few months. His new album will express some of the new directions he's exploring, and it will be more involved - with more voices and more instruments - than his original, guy-and-a-guitar EP.
All along his musical journey, Fogale has been overwhelmed by the support of his community for all his endeavours - including buying his EP and turning out in large numbers for a food bank fundraising concert he put on at his neighbourhood park, Sumas Park, in the summer.
Everywhere he goes, he says, he finds people who are encouraging him in his efforts to make music his career.
"People have been so gracious, so kind, so involved, so eager to help," Fogale says. "Burnaby has been incredible, so supportive. ... I took a chance, and it's going good because people have been so kind. It is a risk, but it doesn't feel like it because there are so many people out there who are gunning for me."
For more about the PEAK Performance Project and the showcase performance on Thursday, check out www.peakperformanceproject.com.
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