‘It’s a Good Start’: Canada’s Live Music Industry Gets $20 Million From Feds

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Frontman of the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, centre, leads the band through a concert in Vancouver, Sunday, July, 24, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Independent concert venue owner Jeff Cohen simply wants his famed Horseshoe Tavern to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past four months, the legendary Toronto stage that’s been rocked by the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Police and the Tragically Hip, has been dark. And like most live music venues across the country, it doesn’t look as if there will be a return to regular business any time soon, making the future anything but certain.

“The live-venue industry right now in Canada is on the verge of bankruptcy,” Cohen said.

“We’re not opening, probably, until the end of this year — maybe next year… We have no income coming in whatsoever. It’s a bad scene.”

Along with several other indie concert venue owners, Cohen has been making noise about the troubling years ahead for Canada’s live music scene in hopes the federal government will take more action.

There was a glimmer of hope on Tuesday when Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault outlined a program that lets owners of for-profit venues apply for a piece of the $20 million promised to support the live music sector.

The money will be divided among numerous corners of the industry, including venues, concert promoters, booking agents, managers and music festivals. The funding is part of the second phase of support in the $500 million emergency support measures introduced in May for Canada’s arts and culture organizations.

Anyone who’s granted approval will receive a minimum contribution of $5,000 that’s supposed to last until the end of September.

But while Cohen says any amount is welcome, he’s skeptical about how much it’ll actually help the Horseshoe.

“I’ll be able to pay two weeks of rent,” Cohen said, pointing out it’s roughly $40,000 a month for the downtown location.

“It’ll be something, and we’ll be grateful for it… but I’m skeptical until I actually see the payments.”

Beyond the live music business, the federal government has earmarked $5 million for the recording industry that will be administered by Factor and Musicaction, which specialize in developing and supporting Canadian music talent.

Erin Benjamin, chief executive of the Canadian Live Music Association which advocates for the industry, called the move by Canadian Heritage to support venues “a good start” that needs to be built upon in short order.

“It’s better than nothing,” she said.

“It’ll help some companies for a very short amount of time…but we’re not done here. We can’t be done.”

In Halifax, Karen Spaulding reopened the Carleton Music Bar and Grill in the final days of June, but it hardly feels the same to her.

“It is at half capacity for three days a week, instead of normally five to seven, and it’s acoustic shows only,” she said.

“Just the world, the audience and the guests, all feel different.”

The Carleton operates as a restaurant, which helped Spaulding’s attempt to get the business back on its feet, though she said overall revenues have dropped somewhere between 50 to 75 per cent.

But as much as she’s concerned for her business, she’s also worried about local Canadian musicians who relied on these venues to make a living. That’s motivated her to look for solutions as she faces a long winter that brings a whole new round of questions.

Spaulding said she’s been in conversations with lenders, while also tapping into other government programs that help support her staff. She’s also looking into whether it would be worthwhile to launch streaming online concerts that would “put more money in the artists’ pockets” over the coming months.

“I’m going to personally go out on a limb to keep the venue going,” she said.

“We’re huge believers in live music.”

David Friend, The Canadian Press

 
   

© The Canadian Press

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