Calling all aspiring Toronto music documentarians! Join our Wikipedia Jam February 19.

Ever noticed that our local music history isn’t that well-documented? Online encyclopedia Wikipedia, in particular, has a lot of blind spots when it comes to Toronto musical artists and institutions, such as the almost-60-year-old live club The Silver Dollar Room, which we recently learned will close this spring. Someone who deserves a Wikipedia page is Joe Strutt, a beloved figure in Toronto’s music community – the city’s unofficial sonic archivist, creator of the Mechanical Forest Sound blog and live recording series, curator of the Track Could Bend music night, and now the instigator of Toronto Music Wikipedia Jams, the second of which takes place Sunday February 19, from 3-6pm at the Gladstone Hotel, as part of the 17th annual Wavelength Music Festival. This guest Wavelog by Joe will answer the question, “What the hell is a Wikipedia Jam?” and tell us what led him to lead the charge to fill in the online gaps in our civic and musical history.

There was no Wikipedia article for CCMC.

I don’t remember why I was looking now. Often when I’m writing something, I’ll pull up the appropriate Wikipedia article to fact-check something or even just to make sure I have a name spelled right.

It was pretty surprising that there was no CCMC page, given their longevity and essential contributions to free improvisation in Toronto — they even founded the Music Gallery, for goodness sake! Three of the group’s current members had their own Wikipedia pages, and there was that dreaded red link in each of them to a page that Does Not Exist.

I let that float in the back of my mind for a while, while also noticing some other important bits of T.O.’s musical history that were missing. After a while, I decided to do something about it. With the help of the 416 Creative Improvisers Festival, I put together an afternoon “Wikipedia jam” to bring together people with first-hand knowledge of what should be on Wikipedia with folks interested in doing the digital legwork. We came out of it with a list of pages to create and another of existing pages that could use some improvement. We talked about the community aspect of Wikipedia, of growing and pruning pages like patient gardiners, and keeping an eye out against vandalism and other menaces.

We talked about notability — what does Wikipedia think is relevant for Wikipedia? And about valid, verifiable sources, which are essential for a proper Wikipedia article. (For CCMC, we found good stuff in Mark Miller’s invaluable Companion to Jazz in Canada and Canadians in Jazz plus some back issues of Musicworks.)

I put all that in my back pocket, waiting for a gloomy day when I wasn’t overwhelmed by other work. And then, in darkest January, I sat down and started plugging away at My First Wikipedia Article.

And lo and behold: CCMC has a Wikipedia page!

It’s far from perfect — there’s a lot to be added about the history and development and importance of the band. But now I could go to the Music Gallery (and Michael Snow and John Oswald and Paul Dutton) and point those red links to a living, growing page.

The best part is, now that it’s Out There In The World, it’s not just me plugging away at it. People want to help and to make it better! Within 24 hours of posting it, a retired software engineer from Australia went through it and tidied up my internal links. Within 48 hours, an academic librarian working on a research project about the 1960’s music scene in Yorkville added some links and re-styled the citations. And that’s even before members of the Toronto Experimental Music Project get at it to add more content.

The main lessons:

  • it’s not hard!
  • a little bit of prep work goes a long way
  • people want to help

So we’re going to put this into action during the Wavelength Music Festival with a Sunday afternoon Toronto Music Wikipedia Jam (February 19, Gladstone Hotel, 3-6pm, Free!). We’re not going to spend much time sitting around talking about what should be on Wikipedia — though we’ll be talking about that some during the festival leading up to the Jam. (The Silver Dollar doesn’t have a Wikipedia article? Are you kidding me?!)

Instead, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and deal with practical matters. Have you ever wanted to edit Wikipedia but felt too nervous to dive in? We’ll talk about setting up an account and the basics of wiki-editing. Are you ready to write an article? We can talk about finding sources and writing from a neutral point of view. Do you already have the basics down? We can talk about templates and other next-level topics.

And if you already know about some of this stuff, you can come and share your skills with others!

This is an all-ages and inclusive event. Bring your laptop if you have one; we’ll be meeting in the Melody Bar after the Drone Brunch. (Personal recommendation: you don’t want to miss the Drone Brunch!) There will be cozy seats and wifi. Come and hang out!

– by Joe Strutt