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SOS: A Short-Term Blueprint For Saving Canada's Live Music Industry

Could the covid crisis wipe out Canada's $2B+ live music industry and push thousands of musicians, actors and those employed in sector infrastructure into permanent retirement from their chosen careers?

SOS: A Short-Term Blueprint For Saving Canada's Live Music Industry

By David Farrell

In the past few days I’ve begun to think about the future, my work, touring, what it means, what I will lose, and what I will gain. Touring is a high-risk business for disease transmission. Airports, airplanes, hotels, restaurants, backstage catering, dressing rooms, stage crews, drivers, meet and greets, equipment—every single moment and surface is risky.


During this reset, along with hundreds of other musicians, I’ve been making music videos on my phone and giving them to various outlets who ask, mostly for charity. The lack of connection with what I assume is an audience on the other side of the screen is unsettling. It has started to gnaw at me. –– Rosanne Cash, The Atlantic (May 27)

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Could the covid crisis wipe out Canada's $2B+ live music industry and push thousands of musicians, actors and those employed in sector infrastructure into permanent retirement from their chosen careers?

Without the rapid deployment of aid to the sector and extended minimum wage subsidies for the many directly employed in live entertainment, the prognosis is bleak. To this end, a consortium of alliances has been feverishly working overtime to poll its constituents and pull data for use in briefs that are being used to educate, update and lobby governments at all levels.

A $500M Heritage Canada relief plan to help arts and culture orgs affected by the epidemic is expected to roll out within several weeks. As much (or as little) as $20M of this is to be earmarked for various businesses working under the umbrella of music, a sector that CEO Erin Benjamin’s Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) represents in part.  

The funding is as welcomed as it is necessary. as recent polling data of the sector's industries alarmingly suggests an overwhelming number expects as little as one to two more months of disruption will lead to failure and collapse. Collectively, these firms employ as many as 70K workers.

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Adding to this glum picture is new data drawn from an April consumer survey of 2500 Canadians (commissioned by Music Canada and conducted by Abaculus Data) that suggests 40% of respondents are unlikely to attend any form of live event for at least six months. Further, the majority state that they are unlikely to go to a live music event even if distancing protocols are put in place and the number of people at the venue is reduced.

Digital platforms are the hot new medium acts are using to connect with fans and maintain exposure, but most are free and use tip jars and pay-what-you-may prods for recompense. Drive-in shows are gaining popularity––but the trend so far has been to use these events to raise funds for those in need, and while commendable and compassionate the fact is that the greater majority of fulltime musicians, composers and songwriters are stretched to the limit financially and stressed out from the worry on how to make rent, pay the bills, feed themselves and angsting over what the future holds for them.

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The economic consequences of the pandemic are truly horrifying in the live sector that was flourishing before CV.

The builder blocks for newer acts look to be decimated, headliners using small to medium-sized halls could be furloughed for at least six months, reduced incomes and unemployment within the general population is going to have a direct impact on the share of dollars the entertainment industries can expect to collar, and governments at every level are going to have to stem the hemorrhaging of red ink by cutting programs.

Expect vastly reduced grant monies to be available in the coming summers for festivals and community events, all of which have a direct bearing on artists' and musicians’ incomes.

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A recent National Post feature interview with Toronto entertainment czar Charles Khabouth has underlined the fragility of the club economy. From the May 21 feature, Khabouth states: “Nightclubs are gone. Gone. One million percent. Until a vaccine is found. Maybe.”

Getting a fix on a go-forward plan for the industry, Canadian Live Music Association president Erin Benjamin has this to offer:

“Live music companies and venues are facing what is their greatest challenge, ever. We’re working hard to demonstrate how sector-specific support and policy-making can and will make a difference…about why their survival matters so much to artists and the rest of the industry.

“For the recovery phase in this country to be meaningful, we need these organizations to survive – from grassroots venues, to independent promoters…from production companies, to talent agencies to tour managers, everyone – we need them to be here at the beginning of the new normal.

Under Benjamin's direction, the CLMA has created a detailed blueprint that maps the sub-sectors involved in live (talent, promoters, agents, ticketing agencies, production companies and other support orgs) with suggestions on how government might set parameters on who receives what and how. The contents of the brief were delivered to Heritage Canada on Monday of this week.

What follows are the Canadian Live Music Live Association recommendations shared earlier this week with the Department of Canadian Heritage and Minister Guilbeault to determine an appropriate approach to the dissemination of Phase 2 support.

An applicant’s ability to access other relief measures should not exclude their consideration (consistent w/ Phase 1 recipients). The document is a companion piece to the “Saving Canadian Live Music” deck.

Supplementary to this is The City of Toronto’s proposed live music venue eligibility criteria.

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Individuals and businesses can also apply for grants through Heritage's Canada Music Fund via FACTOR and Musicaction.

Guiding Principles

• The goal is to ensure the live music sector in its entirety is positioned to survive the crisis and be positioned for success at its conclusion;

• Efforts should support companies who derive the majority of their revenues from the presentation of live music;

• The protection of cultural infrastructure and talent is critical;

• Support should be based on need & impact without regard for existing funding relationships, corporate structure;

• Support should be results-oriented;

• Support must be directed where it will result in sustainability even if it requires difficult decisions about how many companies receive support.

Who Should Be Supported

• Venues

o Professional staging infrastructure;

o Employs professional staff in typical roles;

o Generally recognized as a live music venue.

Presenters / Promoters

o Demonstrated track record of professional live music presentations;

o Employs professional staff in typical roles;

o Generally recognized as a presenter of live music.

Booking Agents

o Majority of talent roster is music;

o Has a demonstrated track record of professional booking in live music;

o Employs professional staff in typical roles.

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Managers

o Majority of talent roster is music;

o Has a demonstrated track record of managing professional artists;

o Employs professional staff in typical positions.

• Live Music Production Companies

o Demonstrated track record of working on live music events;

o Employs professional staff in typical roles;

o The majority of clients are live music companies.

Ticketing Companies

o Must provide ticketing services for recognized live music venues and presenters/promoters;

o Must employ professional staff.

• Suppliers (staging, security, concessions, technology, etc)

o Must provide services for recognized live music venues and presenters/promoters;

o Must employ professional staff.

Live Music Support Organizations

Eligibility Criteria (all must apply)

• Applicant must derive the majority of their revenue from live music (or have a distinct business unit dedicated to live music);

• Applicant must demonstrate a significant loss of income as a direct result of COVID-19;

• Applicant’s primary line of business must be identified in the above list of businesses and meet category-specific criteria;

• Applicant must provide a business plan to demonstrate the impact of support to ensure sustainability;

• Applicant may be an existing client of federal programs and receiving support through Phase 1 so long as that support does not address the priorities that a Phase 2 could support.

Assessment Criteria

• Priority should be given to those organizations having the most significant impact in the ecosystem for every dollar spent;

• Funding must support the entire ecosystem - large & small, for-profit & non-profit, all regions, all business types participating directly in live music;

• Priority must be given to those companies with a strong track record of responsible fiscal management.

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Neil Young and Crazy Horse
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Neil Young's Love Earth Tour Will Take Him Throughout Canada

The Canadian icon is bringing his Love Earth Tour with Crazy Horse to Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Burnaby. He's also added a second date at Toronto's Budweiser Stage, accompanying the release of his new album, FU##IN' UP.

Neil Young is showing some love to Canadian cities on his Love Earth tour. While his original tour announcement featured just one stop in his home country, in Toronto's Budweiser Stage, he's now announced dates in Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., as well as a second show at Toronto's Budweiser Stage, in response to "incredible fan demand."

The original tour was set to kick off in San Diego at the end of April and finish in Chicago in May. These five new dates pick things back up in July, with stops in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Young's hometown of Winnipeg. The tour finishes at Deer Lake Park in Burnaby B.C.

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