It seems like an eternity since we had live concerts. Who could have predicted that something 10 times thinner than a sheet of paper would wipe out so many lives, businesses and alter our normal lives?
I believe that music is an ESSENTIAL SERVICE FOR THE SOUL. So many artists I have interviewed use music as a form of therapy, and fans find peace in the words and emotions they could not express for themselves.
The live concert venue is the vessel that holds that communal experience for us all. But it won’t be for long unless there is help.
What is the future of our Canadian music venues?
Without access to Federal Government support, 96% of Canadian Independent Music Companies and 90% of Canadian Independent Venues are predicted to permanently close within the next 6 months.Support Canadian Venues
Montreal Rocks spoke with Jon Weisz (Indie Montreal/Franconnexion/Les Scène de Musique Alternatives du Québec/#supportcanadianvenues), Mauro Pezzente (Casa del Popolo/Sala Rossa/La Vitrola) and Olivier Corbeil (The Fairmount Theatre/Bar Le Ritz PDB/Newspeak).
The challenge, according to Jon is: “How to keep small venues alive, when they have no revenue and their costs are not covered by the economic measures put in place by the government? (…) Without independent venues, the house that is the industry will start crumbling, if the foundation is taken from under it.”
We want the government to recognize the value that independent venues bring to the live music ecosystem. By independent venues, I mean those that do not currently receive government funding, which includes almost all venues across Canada except theatres and performing arts centres. We need to communicate the dire situation we are in as a community and the fact that only government is able to step in on a large enough scale to help solve this problem.”
They are looking for emergency funding to cover the fixed costs, not covered by existing measures. Also, help the venue business model survive in the time of social distancing and help them provide personal protective equipment to all who visit the space. Lastly, it’s to put in place a Federal economic relaunch program for the sector.
“We will be suffering well into 2021, even if there isn’t a second wave.” fears Jon. “We will be haemorrhaging money. We will need medium and long-term support. We will need the attention of government and a solid scaffolding for the venues to survive.”
The need for a long-term solution is crucial because why support a business now when it will go bankrupt later?
What would happen if venues disappear? Oliver imagines: “I’ve played in venues with bands my whole life. For that to not exist, would be just as strange as for schools to not exist anymore. If they go away, I don’t know what I would do?”
Local Venues in Dire Straights
Take Mauro’s La Vitrola that has now shut its doors. The reality is that since the landlord would not apply for the rent subsidy, Mauro was left with no alternative but to shut down. When asked about how hard it was to make that decision, Mauro said: “It was pretty easy, mainly because the landlords were not interested in negotiating with me the amount of rent I had to pay for the previous months and what they wanted me to pay for the future months.”
The stage has been removed at Casa de Popolo, and Mauro has been hard at work to reopen as a bar, complete with booths for social distancing, and a terrasse. “All this to help me sell some beer, to help me pay some bills.” As a bar, Casa de Popolo is yet another victim and one less place to hear live music.
It’s more personal for Olivier, who was a previous member of The Stills.
Speaking of his musician friends who are focused on writing, Olivier says: “For the time being, it’s not as catastrophic for them in the immediate because they can do something. In terms of the venues, we can pretty much do nothing.”
Some artists are still getting retroactive SOCAN or SoundExchange checks and they are doing somewhat OK. “I don’t get a residual check from Evenko from something they did last year.” Shares Oliver. “We are applying for as many programs as we can and getting as much relief as we can because there is really no other choice.”
With Les SMAQ (Les Scènes de Musique Alternatives du Québec), that represents small venues in Québec. “Every single one of them is the cultural hub of their community. Many that are not based in Montreal are the only venue in town. If they close, people won’t get to see music.” warns Jon.
The Venue Challenges
Events bring in rent, ticketing fees, coat check and the bar, but even when venues were open, margins were fairly low.
How can a venue like Casa de Popolo, that can fit 55 people in normal times, operate with social distancing in place? If everyone was 2 meters apart or in plexiglass booths, it’s just not feasible.
“The reality is that for any sized venue, from 50 to 3,000 people, it doesn’t work.” shares Olivier. “For a promoter to rent a venue and for the budget to make sense, you need at least 70% of the people in the room. With the current restrictions, it doesn’t work.”
“We make money by being open. If the government is interested in helping us and keeping us alive, great. If not, we will slowly fade away.”
Ancillary Economic Impact
Most of the income, for Indie Montreal, comes from live shows. Their booking agency works with approximately 25 artists. “If there are no live venues, there is no booking agency. There is no income for the artist.” Jon says.
The economic impact will ripple through the communities, an impact hard to predict and far-reaching.
Impact on Artists
“In order for artists to perform at the Bell Centre, big festivals, or any number of cultural events, you have to have small, mid-sized and large independent venues. It’s part of the equation. It’s the foundation of the live music industry.” reveals Jon.
Take Mitski. I first caught her performance at Casa Del Popolo (capacity 55) in 2015. In 2016, she performed at Bar Le Ritz (capacity 300). She returned in 2018 to Club Soda (capacity 975), upgraded from L’Astral (capacity 320).
Every venue was a step in her career to prepare her for a larger stage, larger audience. Artists need the smaller independent venues to gain that experience.
“We don’t want to be responsible for “des nouvelles éclosions” (new outbreaks). There was a show at Fairmount and 100 people got sick and 17 of them are in the hospital (fictional headline). I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to live with that on my conscience.” Olivier confesses.
In the news recently, 5 guests, likely asymptomatic who attended a house party, visited Mile Public House in Dix-30 and all tested positive. While the location does everything it can to stop the spread, the reality is that some guests might break the rules and show up regardless of security measures.
Responsible venue owners will not take that risk, but the risk they face is losing the business they worked so hard to establish.
What Can You Do?
Jon’s goal is to “Get people talking about why venues matter and are special to them?”
How? Talk about it on social media with the hashtags #supportcanadianvenues and #souteneznosscenes.
Artist like The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Mother Mother, Broken Social Scene and are taking part in the conversation.
Sign the Change.org petition.
Write a letter to your elected official. You will find addresses and letter templates on the site.
These are hard times, and many are feeling isolated. We need independent venues to continue to exist. We need that hope that we will again commune and feel the beat hit our chest. We need musicians to hone their craft on the smaller stages, so they can rock the larger ones.
I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in seeing a live show at a Drive-In. I mean, the mosh pit alone would totally dent and scratch my paint job!
Let’s do our part and support the Canadian Venues. All it takes is a few clicks and when it comes to the government…the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so who better than a bunch of musicians and fans to make the loudest noise that Canada has ever heard!
Article: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs.Share this :