The Rambler is a column by Graham Henderson, President of Music Canada. Graham writes from time to time about developments in the music industry, new trends or just about music! Let’s face it, Graham has been around for a long time and has a lot to ramble on about.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting South by Southwest in Austin, TX, as part of the delegation that included Mayor John Tory, Councillors Michael Thompson and Josh Colle, as well as Zaib Shaikh and Mike Tanner from the City of Toronto, Jeff Cohen of Collective Concerts, Sari Delmar of Audio Blod, Jesse Kumagai of Live Nation, and my Music Canada colleague Amy Terrill, and I am pleased to see the mission bearing fruit as this week the Mayor announced the steps the City of Toronto will take to better utilize the terrific competitive advantage that music offers our city.
The mayor ran on a platform that specifically included music, which was an amazing first for Toronto. By choosing to make his first business mission all about music, the Mayor not only demonstrated his belief in the importance of music to Toronto, but he also sent a strong signal to Toronto’s music community that he intends to make good on his promises. Many of the changes that Mayor Tory promised this week are very achievable and will bring swift improvements to the livelihood of Toronto’s artists and others working in the music sector, and in turn, benefit the entire city.
For example, Mr. Tory announced that he will conduct a thorough review of existing city bylaws and the permitting policies that affect music events and musicians. There are many small steps that can be taken to remove red tape, which will have an immediate impact on Toronto musicians and venues. A perfect example: last Friday I attended an excellent show at Hugh’s Room, and was dismayed to learn that the venue received a $490 fine for a poster on a nearby utility pole.
Who does this help? It makes it harder for the venue to operate, certainly. For many venues, it would wipe out their profits for the night – too many of those, and they may decide it’s not worth the hassle and close their doors. Fortunately, Mayor Tory has recognized that this type of red tape counters our efforts to establish Toronto as a Music City. During Monday’s press conference he stated: “We will miss opportunities where our own talent will get impatient with us and go somewhere else.” This is very true, and I am glad the Austin example has impressed the importance of City Hall working in concert with the music sector on the Mayor.
The Mayor also spoke of the need to promote Toronto specifically as a music destination for tourists. This was one of the key recommendations from our Accelerating Toronto’s Music Industry Growth, Leveraging Best Practices from Austin, Texas report, and Music Canada has already started down this path with the creation of the 4479 initiative, which celebrates what makes Toronto one of the greatest music cities in the world: the music, the people, the places, and the city. Mr. Tory identified several opportunities to include a strong music presence in large Toronto events that the City is already taking part in, such as the Pan Am Games, Pride, and Caribana. The Mayor also spoke of looking into public-private partnerships in this space, which presents many opportunities. For example, Tourism Toronto has been a fantastic champion of the power of music tourism, highlighting local music offerings in their 2014 and 2015 editions of their flagship Toronto Magazine. A coordinated music tourism promotion campaign would also dovetail very nicely with Ontario’s Live Music Strategy, which is strengthening the live music scene across the province. At his announcement, the Mayor mentioned Austin’s live music guidebook and smart phone app, which helps tourists find live music easily in the city, helping promote local artists and venues. OntarioLiveMusic.ca, which was developed by Music Canada under contract to the Ontario government, provides a comprehensive listing of live music in Ontario – the Toronto data could be localized and licensed for the City’s use to quickly create a comprehensive listing for Toronto.
Another major point from Mr. Tory’s announcement was how a strong music scene can benefit businesses in other sectors. “The table stakes for economic development in cities like Toronto and Austin is the ability to compete successfully for talent,” said Mayor Tory. “I have been to Austin and I have seen how creative sectors like music, film and technology drive economic growth, job creation, investment and tourism – and help attract and retain young talent. If we’re going to bring more jobs, and attract and keep world class talent in Toronto, we need to focus on promoting and growing our creative sectors and this summit will be critical to that process.”
This is an important point, and something that we learned through our research with the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) last year. The ICTC report, Music – A Catalyst For Technology Hubs And Innovative Talent, found that a strong cultural scene can be a significant advantage for a city looking to retain the creative and innovative workers that today’s creative industries require. Austin has utilized this strategy very effectively, and now makes music an explicit part of their economic development pitch to tech companies. We have also completed research in Alberta, and found that a strategic approach to developing their music sector could lead to economic diversification, and help attract the young, affluent workers that other industries desperately need. Currently, Music Canada is developing a report that examines global best practices for music sector development, which will be released this summer.
Mayor Tory also outlined several other steps and goals in driving economic development through music, including:
- Hosting a summit with business and key music industry stakeholders from Toronto and Austin this fall
- Strengthen the City’s Entertainment Industries Office to assist in putting music on a growth path similar to that of film.
- Explore the opportunity in the initiation/expansion of an interactive conference similar to the SXSW Interactive Festival
As always, it will take both effort and commitment to achieve these goals. But as our research indicates, the benefits will make our efforts worthwhile – both for our musicians and those working in the music sector, and for the community at large. Mayor Tory has shown that he recognizes the opportunities that the music sector presents, and he has sent a strong signal that he intends to achieve these goals. I am glad to have a strong champion of music at City Hall, and I look forward to working together to harness the power of music in Toronto.
Graham Henderson is the President and CEO of Music Canada. He also writes on an eclectic range of topics on his personal blog at www.grahamhenderson.ca.