2022: Hope From Canadian Live Music Assoc. President Erin Benjamin
"Six-hundred-and-seventy-two days… but who’s counting. The hardest, longest, most exhausting time in the history-of-forever has come with unyielding downs, but also some genuine ups."
By Erin Benjamin
We asked Erin Benjamin, President and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, to write an assessment of the industry she represents, past and future. An ardent, articulate and connected individual representing venue owners and operators large and small that are in the frontline of industries battered by pandemic restrictions, her positiveness provides a compelling reason to believe that the dark days we have been through will provide lovers of live music with optimism that will cascade nationwide when the virus finally subsides and a return to everyday mass gatherings becomes our new reality.
Six-hundred-and-seventy-two days… but who’s counting.
The hardest, longest, most exhausting time in the history-of-forever has come with unyielding downs, but also some genuine ups.
Before I offer my thoughts on how I think 2022 is going to go, I’d like to look backwards for just a moment, because after two years of feverish non-stopping, I feel like it’s important to remember where our starting line was, just before the fan got smeared. In other words, where we were – and where (maybe, hopefully, fingers crossed) we are going.
In the before-times, the CLMA was hard at work telling the story of the value and power of live music. The association was created to (among other things) quantify and build sectoral capacity, to substantiate how fundamental the “systems” that make up live music infrastructure actually are to industry and the economy, and especially to artists. Consensus was that, with the industry behind it, this work would help to stimulate regional and national conversations about what new and necessary strategic policy frameworks could be built. Ones that could prioritize and incentivize effective, innovative business development on behalf of artists and live music companies/organizations – to build toward a more sustainable, healthy, functional industry. This was our job. It was meaningful work. And, it felt urgent. Because, heaven forbid the bottom ever fell out … can you imagine what would happen to the touring ecology, to artists, to workers, to the supply chain in Canada if say, we lost a chunk of live music activity… all at once?
Now, in a gruelling but sort of silver-liney kind of way, the two-year-long throat-punch we have endured has, actually… yes… helped. It’s helped our community come together and for better or worse, tell our story. The pandemic is not (not!) a good thing, and tragic loss is everywhere, but good things are emerging as new paths are being clear-cut and laying way for outright, comprehensive change. As governments around the globe continue to build the airplane while flying it, toggling between politics and public health, the crushing impact on industries and ecosystems like live music - artists, creators and business, is glaringly apparent. There’s no looking away. Covid has held a giant mirror up to our venerable fragility, and underscored how intrinsic our business is to so many others. As a result, opportunity is everywhere – and like in the before-times, it’s going to be up to us to rebuild the kind of industry we know we want, and for the love of live, the one we know we need.
Here are some of the things I think will shape the next year in our business:
This Groundhog Day (aka winter 2022) will come with an early spring, with things improving for live shows, both indoors and out, as a result of the new Covid Pfizer pill, boosters and more; Canadian governments will continue to learn from other international markets and incrementally transition away from restrictions that no longer match the way the pandemic is evolving;
Emphasis on long-term safeguarding of public health (from sanitation to crowd safety) will continue to be a priority for live music businesses – with expanding government supports for transformational infrastructure projects;advertisement
While not for every artist or every venue, hybridity will endure and continue to matter; livestreaming will remain the preferred choice for some, as a supplement to the live and in-person experience, while industry integrates and capitalizes in bigger and better ways on this permanent shift;
Consumer confidence should begin to rebound by summer 2022 (when we open, they will come) as provincial governments lift restrictions and focus marketing efforts beyond ‘hyper-local’ tourism; new and innovative industry partnerships and collaborations in the tourism space and beyond will increase out of necessity. Rebuilding Canada’s tarnished brand as a must-visit destination will become an urgent priority to resuscitate travel, tourism, hospitality and live event sectors – along with efforts to address and solve labour shortages in these industries;
Companies embracing and doing real equity, inclusion and diversity work will survive, those who don’t, won’t, pandemic or otherwise;
The mental and physical well-being of artists and workers will continue to be a priority, as we work together as one community to call out and tackle challenges;
Effective, impactful grassroots advocacy will continue to spur governments to dive deeper than ever before into issues like the universal artist income debate in Canada, but industry will have to keep the pressure on;
Governments at every level will emerge from the pandemic with a heightened sense of how the live music industry works and how essential key components (venue ladder, industry supply chain, commercial insurance accessibility and affordability, appropriate cultural and fiscal policy) are to long-term economic, social and cultural prosperity; new policy and programs will emerge over the next several years to support the regeneration and evolution of live music with an emphasis on venues and their role in artist career development;advertisement
By summer 2022, live music and major events will be driving the (re)ramp-up of tourism – and local economies – around the world. Look out 2023… and the next chapter of the story of Canada’s live music industry.