Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s that spark to find a solution for a problem that drives many of the industry-disrupting startups and scale-ups in Waterloo Region.

That spark to create solutions isn’t reserved for the tech scene. Artists, musicians and small business owners are finding new ways to connect with customers locally and across the country.

Locally, musician Jay Leonard wanted to find a way to connect venues, musicians and audiences – and the result is a mobile app called Social Kindred. The app gives music lovers a quick rundown of where bands and musicians are playing across Waterloo Region, plus details on the acts and the venues that host them. It’s a project close to Leonard’s heart and one that, like most things over the last 18 months, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leonard originally started the project as a website in 2014 when a friend suggested working together on something completely different – a music festival.

“He said he wanted to start doing music festivals, and I said it was a terrible idea. There’s not a lot of money in it. There’s a lot already going on to compete with. I told him that if you want to help the community, what we need is something that centralizes what’s going on in town,” Leonard said.

The two began working on the idea, which turned into the Social Kindred website. Leonard provided insights on acts and venues while a rotating group of friends built the site. After it launched, Leonard started to think about connecting with more people in the community.

“I felt that technology was changing and that it really needed to be in the form of an app,” he said.

Building an app with full-time support is a challenge; making one part-time with volunteers even moreso. It took longer than Leonard hoped, but the Social Kindred app launched in December 2019 as a beta for Android devices. Word spread quickly, and Leonard decided to make it an official launch with the iOS app launching shortly afterward in March 2020 – just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was just brutal timing,” he said.

With the app launched and restrictions now easing, Leonard hopes to connect more people with live events happening around the region.

“I called it Social Kindred because I wanted it to be more than just live music,” said Leonard. “It can be anything that gets people off of their phones, out of their house and doing something.” He sees Social Kindred having listings for everything from theatre to sports and more.

Image showing screenshots of the Social Kindred app

Social Kindred can also help connect visitors to the region with our growing arts and culture scene, he said.

“If somebody is traveling to do a tech conference here in town, they can look ahead to see what’s in Kitchener and start making plans about bands they want to see or see what restaurants are out there that could be exciting to them.” 

News of performances at Centre in the Square, Maxwell’s Concert & Events and other local venues returning in the fall has people excited. Leonard sees that excitement as an opportunity to build a vibrant and thriving local music scene. Like tech, it’s a chance to create an ecosystem where everyone involved supports and promotes each other.

Leonard said that building that thriving music scene will take more than cities getting involved or music festivals.

“You can’t fabricate an industry success,” he said.

While music festivals bring in crowds for a short period, Leonard said more needs to be done to create a year-round scene with international, national and local acts – and the work needs to involve bands, venues and audiences.

While a few local music venues have closed during the pandemic, Leonard hopes the ones that are reopening can work to bring in big names and pay up-and-coming local musicians and bands decent rates to help support the music scene.

“It’s hard to motivate people who work really hard to go out and play if there’s not a lot of money involved in it,” he said.

TV shows like America’s Got Talent and The Voice have created an unreasonable expectation of what live music should look like for audiences, Leonard added.

“People have this idea that’s what music is. There’s this giant, high-produced thing on this massive stage. When people go out now, that’s what their expectation is. They’re just disappointed in what it is that they get.”

Putting on a great show is something Leonard wants other musicians to take to heart, too.

“What happens over time is, people walk in, plop down their amp and just play their tunes. Great player and great singer, but not delivering a show,” he said. “It’s tough without financial support. If we as artists really want people to be out at our shows, we need to give them one. We’re all guilty of doing the minimum, even if it’s still pretty good. But if we want to win over the public’s perception of night life, then when they come through that door to finally check it out, we as artists have to give them the best we’ve got.”

When all these things come together – unique venues, passionate musicians and excited fans – magic happens.

“When they give a little flicker of life, hopefully everybody else follows suit. You can’t just have one good venue or one good band, you know. Everybody has to be awesome.”

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While you’re making your weekend plans that include masking and physical distancing, I see and hear that...Make it Revaine Productions is taking over TWB Brewing Co-operative for Drinks and Drag on Friday, Aug. 20. Get a virtual taste of the African Caribbean Cultural Diaspora at LINK Picnic Festival with performances, art and online activities this Saturday, Aug. 21. Also on Saturday in Midtown, The Belmont Village Bestival has Amplified Midlife Crisis on at 4:30 p.m. and Beggar's Banquet on at 7 p.m.