Cameron Friesen is the Co-President of EventLight.ca. He is also a local musician in Winnipeg’s music scene. I admire his balance of the two and got a chance to sit down with him and about it.
MG: What is your business and what kind of events do you do?
CF: We do lighting for various events. I would say we’re unlike most businesses in the event production industry because we do lighting specifically. There’s not a ton of companies that just focus on lighting. And the second portion of that is we kind of cross boundaries, in terms of we do lighting for the larger production side, like concerts and festivals. Larger events that way. But we also do lots of weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, Halloween parties, and music videos from time to time. We take specializing in lighting in its truest form. We do lighting in all aspects, for the most part. We don’t do home-installs or stuff like that, but in terms of event lighting, truly it is event lighting. Any kind of event.
MG: Have you always wanted to own a business?
CF: So I was working in a bank, desk job for a long time, and I was totally fine with that. But in the back of my head it was always like, I want to own a business. But it was more so just kind of waiting or, you know, if an opportunity comes up I won’t take that for granted kind of thing.
Kyle (Heinrichs) [the other Co-President] and I have been friends for a long time. [We] played in bands together, and gone to school together. In his spare time, he really enjoyed doing lighting. It was more of like small concerts and stuff, not weddings. So he would tech local events at Park Theatre. We already had a relationship built with Park Theatre from when we were in a band, so that’s kind of where he got started… Then he did it more and more and more.
In the Spring of 2013, I kept on hearing more and more about how he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m doing lights all the time on the side.’ I was like, ‘Oh that’s cool, that’s interesting.’ The more I heard about it, the more I was like, ‘Oh that’s interesting,’ you know, ‘Don’t people do lighting for other events and stuff to?’ So we’d catch up on coffee, and over a couple coffees it sort of turned into, hey is there actually something here?
So it transformed from some casual conversations, into brainstorming, coming up with some ideas, and into I guess this is happening. Let’s try it out. And it picked up pretty quickly.
MG: Is there a type of event that’s your favourite? And why?
CF: It’ll always be concerts, concert production, and festival production. That’s the reason why we started the company. But you can’t get there overnight, not even close. To get into the concert world… Not talking about small concerts here or there, which are great. I love supporting local musicians. I’ve been there, I still play music locally and love being there… But the end goal is to be able to work with large concert productions consistently. I would speak for me and Kyle in terms of that’s where we absolutely love doing lighting. It can be a lot of work at times and high pressure, high stress, but the end result is awesome.
You can put a lot of your own personal touch into there as well with the design of just where the lights are, to also how you run the lights all over the programming, and all that stuff.
Any business you might run, there’s always something you might not enjoy. I enjoy everything, and it’s fun because we do so many different types of events. But concerts is really where we’re shooting to be, it just takes a lot of time to be there.
MG: Have you had to muscle your way in to be consistently booked for events?
CF: I would say the muscling portion was definitely more on the concert production side. Because you can’t really market in that world so much. It’s a lot about relationships. It’s a lot about getting to know people, getting to know bands, getting to know tour managers, or just people who run venues like the Burton Cummings [Theatre], which sees a lot of larger acts all the time. And it’s a lot about getting respect in that community; people having confidence in you. Because there are a lot of people [who] come and go and don’t know what the heck they’re doing.
You have to earn your way in there. To some extent, ‘muscle’ might be aggressive. It’s more so in terms of networking. Being a little bit patient, while still being upfront and trying to get your way in there with the opportunities that are presented to you. But at the end of the day it’s really just being a little bit patient, along with doing good work, and respecting people.
MG: What’s a major challenge of owning a lighting business?
CF: I feel like our biggest challenge, specifically on the wedding side, is really just education to clients and potential clients, in terms of what is lighting. A lot of people don’t really know that it is a possibility or a thing. What it is, what it looks like, what it can do, how it can transform a room.
We have people who totally get it and that’s awesome, and I see the progression of people accepting it and getting to understand it. But it’s definitely still a luxury item, which I’m totally fine with. But I feel like our biggest competition, on the wedding side specifically, is just education for clients about what lighting is and what it can do.
MG: Does being a musician help with the way you set up and program your lights?
CF: I think it helps a lot. I think there’s a large benefit there, mainly because me and Kyle have been in the music world to some extent. We understand how it is to be on a stage. How to operate with audio techs, how to operate with venue people, how to operate with other people who are in a stage setting or band setting.
Second of all, speaking for myself, is running the lighting. I’m a drummer, so for me I see lighting as a very rhythmic thing along with being artistic for sure too. But I feel knowing music helps with lighting in terms of rhythm.
When you’re running lights, it’s called busking, so you pre-program a bunch of cues and effects, and as the set is happening you’re running it on the fly essentially. Unless someone is paying you to pre-program their whole show, which doesn’t happen a lot around here…. It’s Winnipeg.
Being a musician helps a ton with [busking] because you understand music, you understand the flow, and can anticipate what’s going to happen to a certain extent. You understand what needs to happen at certain points in different songs, like dynamics-wise that lighting can help with.
MG: Do you think your mindset has shifted to a total lighting buff? Or are you still a drummer buff at heart?
CF: I would say I’m more of a drummer buff still a little bit more, mainly because of how me and Kyle operate. I’m more of the business strength and he was the lighting strength to begin with. And as time goes on, we’ve learned each of our strengths from each other, which is really what you want in a partnership if you’re dealing with someone else. To build a strong business, you don’t want to be stepping on each other’s toes all the time. It still happens from time to time, you have to understand how to deal with it, that’s fine; it’s going to happen. But the fact that we each carry our own strengths helps a lot.
I’ve been learning a lot about lighting, I mean, I know a ton about lighting more than I did three years ago because I literally knew nothing about it three years ago. So we’ve learned from each other. But in terms of the time that I spend on things, I am a lighting buff. At this point it’s about 80:20, in terms of 80 percent lighting and 20 percent music/drumming. I want to get that ratio back and a little closer at some point but right now, where we’re at, that’s where it needs to be, and I’m okay with that. I still get to enjoy music when I can and still do it and pursue it for sure.
In terms of expertise at this point, I’d give it a little bit to the drumming side. In terms of time and focus, lighting side for sure.
MG: If you were given the opportunity to do any band’s lighting (past or present), who would it be and why?
CF: Okay, so I have two answers for that. It’s going to sound really random, but I would say Mutemath right now. I feel like they’re a band that haven’t gotten enough attention for how good they are. Their latest album is super solid, and I think it would be really interesting to run with lighting on that. [There’s] a little bit of an electronic feel [compared] to what they’ve done before, but they’re still Mutemath, it’s still their sound. I think there’s a lot of potential for a lot of different options lighting wise and a lot of different designs, so I feel like it would be really interesting creative.
But I mean, financially I would want to pick Coldplay or someone like that. So the artistic side of me would pick a Mutemath, but the actual business side of me (because that’s who I am in the business) would pick Coldplay or someone like that, because you’d still get a lot of artistic options. That’s the dream job.
Actually, I think some of our lights have been used on a Coldplay tour. I can’t corroborate that, but that is what I’ve heard. The lights were just from a company in the states that did all the tours for Coldplay and those large bands. So there’s a chance. And our lighting console that we have has apparently been used on Linkin Park tours. I actually believe the Linkin Park thing about 98-99 percent. I think we actually bought it from their lighting tech.
MG: Who would be in your dream jam session if you were playing the drums?
CF: This is going to sound super lame I feel like, but John Mayer.
MG: Oh, no that’s not lame.
CF: It depends on who you’re talking to though. Some people are like, ‘Oh… John Mayer, of course you’re going to say John Mayer.’
If you’re looking at him musically, he’s phenomenal. So I think I would have to say John Mayer because that’s the style I’ve been playing a lot anyway. I feel like it would be a dream, because it would be super chill, super groovy, and he’s just so talented. And he’d be able to jam on anything he could ever want.
MG: What is your favourite warehouse jam to work and listen to?
CF: Again, it’d go back to Mutemath, but a lot of Donovan Woods is great. Royal Canoe, The Bros. Landreth. Local guys and stuff, just chiller stuff to work to.
MG: What is your favourite warehouse jam to program lights to?
CF: Sometimes it’s just fun to set up a few lights and fool around with it. Because you do learn a lot from it. I tend to do a lot of EDM, nothing specific though. It’s always on and going, you can just turn it to 12, and it is fun. But I have done a lot of Coldplay stuff too just dynamics-wise.
MG: Last question, Spotify or Apple Music or other, and why?
CF: I’m an Apple Music guy. I don’t know if I have a super solid reason, but my reason is it’s really easy and accessible for me. I can access anything I want at any time. And yeah, it’s integrated with everything, so I’ve just gone with it.