We caught up with K-Days Talent Search contestant Benjamin Williams to see how things are going for the talented musician who competed in 2016.
Alberta is full of people who are bursting with talent—both hidden and cultivated. The K-Days Talent Search is devoted to providing a platform for these skilled individuals and aims to give gifted entertainers a chance to earn the public attention they deserve.
For over 25 years, the K-Days Talent Search (KDTS) has been a place where singers, dancers, pianists, jugglers, and more come together to showcase their passion, learn from industry professionals, and connect with others.
Benjamin Williams: Since my last run in the KDTS in 2016 where I was crowned the 1st Runner Up, my musical career grew in what you might call a rolling barrel effect. One thing lead to another, and I essentially became a professional musician with the vast number of gigs and the farmers’ markets I was playing in the years that followed.
Some highlights I’d like to mention are that:
- I released my solo debut EP Handshake To The World the month following my appearance in KDTS (August 2016),
- I hosted a Gordon Lightfoot tribute concert in February 2017 where fellow local Edmonton singer Martin Kerr opened for me,
- In October 2018 I started my first official position as an open stage host every Wednesday for 14 months at Sherlock Holmes Pub in West Edmonton Mall. And speaking of which,
- Through that open stage I met a singer-songwriter originating from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario named John Hewitt – and promptly after crossing paths with him I joined his band The New Americans, where now I am a harmony vocalist, guitarist, mandolin player, arranger and producer for the band. The other 3 official members are keyboardist Jazz Nipp (Edmonton Oilers’ organist, 2016-present), bassist Nigel Gale (Boogie Patrol, Bobby Tenderloin Universe), and drummer Jordan Dempster. We released our debut album American Hotel in March 2020 shortly after the onslaught of our provincial lockdown, and as we speak, we’re getting ready to release our “quarantine EP” called Hollywood Reality.
- Shortly after the Sherlock’s WEM open stage got discontinued, in January 2020 I was lucky enough to slide into the host position every other Monday at downtown Edmonton’s Cask & Barrel, trading off with James Murdoch of the country band The Dungarees, both of us replacing Chris Wynters of Captain Tractor fame so he could focus on his managerial career with Six Shooter Records, managing The Dead South in particular. And on top of all of that, before lockdown that is, I was gigging and busking constantly making a living doing what I love to do in the city I love.
Q: What did the KDTS experience mean to you? What did you learn?
Benjamin: I feel I need to explain a bit of my history with the competition first in order to illustrate my point the best way possible, so bear with me. I first heard of the competition in 2012 through another competition that I won second place in earlier that year, Parkland’s Got Talent in Spruce Grove. It was Linda Sellick I believe, who had seen video footage of my performance at the PGT finals and recommended that I entered something called The Northern Star Talent Search (which would be renamed to K-Days Talent Search the following year). When I first entered in 2012, I made the semi-finals. In the semis, my main goal was to meet other singers/musicians and gain experience performing to a large audience on a huge stage (mission accomplished!) I didn’t move on to the finals, but that’s okay. Later on when I entered in 2013 & 2014, I made the semi-finals both years, but when I got there, the competitive aspect did get the better of me this time and I wasn’t satisfied with my experience because I fell victim to self-sabotage. So, I took a year off to work on myself personally and musically before getting back in the ring, so we speak.
Fast forward to 2016, I hesitate to enter again, but I take the plunge. I make it to the semi-finals, wasn’t so surprised this time. When I made it to the Finals though, I had this feeling of “wow, I made it” and I was perfectly happy to leave it there. Then when I performed at the finals, I had this extreme pit of nervousness like I hadn’t felt before up to that point, and it was announced that I had been crowned the 1st Runner Up (2nd Place). I was over the moon, not only for that feeling of validation, but that $2,000 prize was pretty sweet (I invested over half of it into a looper pedal and other pedals to experiment with a one-man-band, Paul Woida-esque sound for a short period). And it’s not just that either, I struck incredible connections through the whole competition with 2016 Winner David Jay, and other competitors over the years like the Thursdays band, Andy Lillo, Asim Chin, Ariana Whitlow, and countless others.
The biggest takeaways from my entire experience with this competition (2012-2016), is that for competitors, it’s not necessarily all about competing: the whole process should serve to inspire you to be a better version of yourself on stage and off stage. And you yourself are also a vessel of the process, if you allow yourself to be. The more positive outlook you have on yourself and what you do going into it, the more positive you’ll come out of it whether you win or place or not. Plus, out in the real world, music is not a competition by any means – art is subjective. It’s up to you to prove yourself and accept whatever rejection comes your way. Competitions like this for aspiring professionals, along with open mics/open stages I might also argue, are crucial to this process.
Q: What is your favourite thing about K-Days?
Benjamin: I always looked forward the most to the Crazy Mouse and having giant refillable root beers every year I went.
Q: What is one thing you can’t live without?
Q: During COVID-19 have you picked up a new hobby, or found a favourite show on Netflix?
Benjamin: Not necessarily. I’ve always been very career-oriented, so you can find me practicing my vocals or playing guitar/singing songs at home most of the time these days. When I’m not doing anything career-wise, solo or with John Hewitt & The New Americans, I hang out with friends socially distant as possible or ride Lime Scooters. Lime naish, y’all.
Q: During COVID-19 have you had to alter how you practice your talent?
Benjamin: It’s made me PRACTICE more, that’s for sure. To stay IN PRACTICE for performing, that’s another thing. Live music in Edmonton hasn’t really been a thing since the onslaught of the provincial lock-down in March, so you could say work has been sparse for me since. So the pandemic has definitely altered how I PRACTICE, if you catch my drift, as I’ve resorted to posting videos on my social media of me singing to keep some sort of relevance and every now and then I’ve been doing solo, socially distant gigs outdoors.
Q: What steps did you take (contests, bootcamps, joining associations, hiring managers, etc.) that you would recommend to others looking to become serious in their chosen talents? If you attended specific camps/lessons or are a part of associations, please state them for viewers reference.
Benjamin: If I could recommend anyone who would be a solid potential resource to set any aspiring professional in this city or province in the right direction, Rhea March is the first person who comes to mind. She has a high reputation in this city for helping especially young aspiring singers and musicians, no matter what race, colour or creed.
I first met her in 2014 when she was a judge in the final year of Parkland’s Got Talent (where I coincidentally won 1st Place). She invited me to come perform at her open stage (which she hosted at a place on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton called Cha Island at the time), and since she gave me the opportunity to prove myself out in the open like that for the first time, she’s put me in touch with other professionals in the scene such as other musicians, talent buyers and such, who lined up work for me over the years to the point that I established myself as a professional.
Q: What would you recommend to aspiring artists/musicians/dancers who want to further their presence in the industry locally?
- Find out what you’re good at, a sort of niche, if you will. Once you do, run with it.
- Go and perform at open mics/camps/any space where new faces are welcome to showcase themselves, where you’ll hopefully get to meet like-minded people, aspiring and seasoned alike, and potential mentors like Rhea March that can point you in the right direction artistically and/or professionally.
- Build a thick skin (I’m still working on this) where you can take constructive criticism, dismiss “the haters” and still know your worth as an “artist”. Personally, I hate using the word “artist” most times as I believe that word to be thrown around too loosely these days, but collectively speaking, artists need each other to encourage each other in their practice. Speaking of which,
- Build your professional network of people in the industry by going to as many open mics as you can, registering for competitions such as K-Days Talent Search to get your name out there, etc.
- As you do all of the above, keep working on bettering yourself constantly – build your brand, invest in your career artistically and financially, start putting your name out there for professional work – but above all else, don’t lose that sense of who you are as a person aside from your career. Take time off as needed, because too much of a workload too soon will put your spark out quickly with no chance of rekindling the flame. And the rest is up to those who come across you doing your thing.
Best of luck, and I hope to meet you one day, whoever may be in this position and is reading this!
Looking back and catching up with past contestants gets us even more excited to see Alberta’s talent next year!
Be sure to check out K-Days.com for updates on the competition and how to apply.