Getting to know you

Edmonton transplant uses his networking skills to rise to the top

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Getting a job isn't so much what you know, but what you know about getting to know people. It's all about networking, printing up some business cards and putting your face out there. Curtis Santiago knows all that, especially after spending a few years in Vancouver paying his dues. When asked how Van-city's been treating him since his emigration from Alberta, he's effusive about the small burgh on the shore.

"There's amazing things going on for me," says Santiago. "Everything is going really, really well. We've been in Vancouver for the past few years now and we're moving to Toronto with my bandmate. We've been playing New York for a bit. I've been painting. Ever since January, it's been insane."

Santiago first started out in Vancouver not knowing anyone, just trying to make music and getting people to know his face. He handed out red business cards, with his face on the back of them, to whoever he met that seemed like they would be in the Vancouver scene. He did an emcee night at a local club, hosted "In Fashion" on Fashion Television and kept expanding his network. Santiago says this helped him get top-notch directors for his music videos, which helped juice up his career.

"My good friend Todd Dim, who shot REM's last video, shot my video for a song called 'Annabelle,' " he says. "We shot 'Annabelle,' then we started playing in New York and then we got gigs in Los Angeles. We're playing the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on Halloween. There's new management and I just got my first painting show in Vancouver that finished on Aug. 7."

Santiago's music is a blend of indie rock and old-styled soul music, which might be surprising to some, considering his Albertan roots. Growing up just outside of Edmonton, he got his first start playing in a more cliche kind of group rather than a budding independent sensation.

"I started out playing in this kind of boy band, a capella group kind of thing," laughs Santiago. "Boyz II Men were our big influence at the time. The thing with Sherwood Park is, you're either playing sports or you had to find something to do. We were able to find music. There was nothing else to do."

Small town musicians, always hungry for a gig, tend to look to the big city for their next show. Santiago's first group was no different, extending their soul-influenced songs to the comparatively cosmopolitan Edmonton. They called themselves the Hi-Phoniqs and they came to bring the music to Deadmonton's clubs.

"[Being from Sherwood Park] forced us to say, 'Let's take it out to the city and see what's in the city,' " explains Santiago. "It forced us to be eclectic, because you're exposed to so many different sounds and trying to choose one that you want. It was great, there was lots of support there."

Unfortunately for Vancouver, Santiago is beginning to feel the itch to move again. He's planning to go from the west, where he's lived the majority of his life, to Toronto. It's another time in his life where he needs to move on, to a place where he can really use his connections.

"I feel like I've done everything I can possibly do for the time being out here," says Santiago. "I've developed a good name and reputation out here and it's time to take it out east. The heads of Arts and Crafts and all the record labels that we're really into are out there. They should be hearing about me, instead of me just submitting my music to them. They should be hearing, 'Oh, have you heard of this guy? Have you heard of him?' "

Moving to Toronto, though, means leaving most of his Vancouver contacts behind. It doesn't worry Santiago-- he's still got those business cards of his and he's got a few buddies hooked in to Toronto's buzzing music culture.

"It's a mixture of [starting from] square one and networking," he says. "You learn how to network and I've learned how to network better and I've developed contacts. A friend out there is really connected to the Toronto scene. He's set up meetings with EMI Publishing for when I get there, so things like that are already set up. It's still really a matter of going to parties, getting my face out there and handing out more business cards."