Music Canada Live's Erin Benjamin Pushes for Greater Support for Concert Industry at Canadian Music Week

Grant W. Martin Photography
Erin Benjamin at the Live Music Industry Awards during Canadian Music Week 2018.

At the Live Music Industry Awards during Canadian Music Week in Toronto on Friday, Music Canada Live executive director Erin Benjamin took the stage amid a night of trophy giving to address a captive audience of agents, bookers, promoters, venue management and more. 

Speaking on behalf of her non-profit, which counts more than 180 members nationwide and offers a voice for Canada's live music industry, advancing and promoting its many economic, social and cultural benefits, Benjamin encouraged crowd members from across music's realms to further participate in the future of Canada's concert business. 

Benjamin said she hoped her annual speech would inspire listeners to do two things: "The first is to join Music Canada Live as a member if you haven't yet. Production companies, promoters, agents, festivals, suppliers, venues, we need you. Why? Because, number two ... It's for me to help you see yourself as part of the bigger picture of this industry, where you fit, imagining what's possible and how you can help us to ensure that every single facet of your work is valued and respected by governments at every level, by taxpayers and by other industries."

She then went on to share one of her "favorite new ideas," a concept called cultural parity, which she first heard from Mark Dayvd from the U.K. grassroots music venue non-profit Music Venue Trust

"Live music, generally, especially from a policy perspective, is not equal here either," she said. "Despite growing clarity around how and why live is critical to artists, to neighborhoods, to cities and towns, despite all of the economic and tourism impacts, the success of the Music Cities efforts, despite all of these things, live music simply isn't equal -- not in planning, not in development, not in resource allocation and not in policy." 

Benjamin, who is based in Ottawa, pointed out that music industry policies and funding in Canada for the past 40 years have "been focused through a lens that sees live music stakeholders as important, absolutely, but not important enough to be regarded with true parity." She continued, "based on much of today's cultural and economic policy, you, the people behind live music, are more often regarded as indirectly impacting the music business."

While Benjamin praised the government's Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, which in partnership with The Ontario Live Music Working Group (OLMWG), recently launched The Vision For Ontario's Live Music Sector, and name-checked provincial organizations Creative BC and the Ontario Music Development Corporation "who are part of the solution," she also noted programming "gaps." She said, "Especially federally and with regard to small clubs, venues, DIY spaces, and, frankly, the concert sector in general."

"We haven't achieved cultural parity and we must, if we are to reach our true potential as a sector," she added.

Read key points from the rest of her 10-minute speech:

As Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly begins the timely exercise of reviewing the Canada Music Fund, we will be there demonstrating how our members are directly helping to create, and are essential to a thriving and healthy domestic and international scene. The priorities of a contemporary Canada Music Fund must reflect the way today's music industry actually works. 

It's a vitally important fund and crucial to those it currently serves, as well as those it should serve to ensure the greatest impact for our artists. 

In order to change attitudes and entrench your priorities in the nation's culture policy framework, Music Canada Live has been planting seeds and building relationships that are making a difference. The renewal of Amplify BC at $7.5 million means that live music stakeholders of all shapes and sizes, non and for-profit, small venues and big, indoors and out, are able to access support. 

In the next few weeks, Music Canada Live will release our very own economic impact study called Here, The Beat, the economic impact of live music in BC, which will paint an incredible picture of the industry in that province for the very first time, with statistics that matter and are central to the story that we are telling. 

Now I know you don't all work in BC but this isn't just about one province; it's about facts and knowing there's a certainty, like our contribution to GDP [gross domestic product], and job creation, is about pounding ourselves, and putting numbers in front of eyeballs that illustrate the collective size and scope of this room, and we are unmasking the evidence that we need, to move the Canadian live music industry towards cultural parity. 

It's clearly been a transformative year in the industry, from #MeToo and the really positive things that are happening as a result of incredible organizations like Women's Music Canada, Across The Board, CARAS, Keychange, and the 46 music industry associations who signed onto the recent nation wide anti-harassment code of conduct including Music Canada Live. 

We saw Manchester; we saw Las Vegas; we've seen a loss of key venues, and festival attrition, changing trends in tickets sales and legislation and you have seen Music Canada Live respond and lead at the grassroots across industry and with government. And as a direct result, governments are learning why strong ties with the live music sector makes sense. 

Music strategies, Ottawa has one, Vancouver's is about to be approved, Barrie-Simcoe is getting ready, Halifax is working it out, Fredericton is on it with many many other cities, beginning to leverage the value of their own live music economies. This is all very meaningful stuff for you to know because it represents a convergence of thinking and demonstrates how we are creating the conditions for your concerts, and your artists, and your rooms, and your companies to thrive, from coast to coast to coast. 

We started this conversation about cultural parity because no one else is going to start it for us, it takes time and resources and support… 

You are the ones who created the opportunity for our story to be told, and you are absolutely instrumental in helping us to achieve what we set out to do with you, only three years ago. 

And while we've just scratched the surface there can be no doubt that when the smallest DIY popup and the largest concert promoter and everyone in between are viewed as equally important to the career development of artists and the quality of life in our cities, when we see all of your needs reflected, and entrenched in funding programs and in policy, when the stages, upon which, our artists stand are recognized as the heart and hope of this business, and community, we will have achieved cultural parity and with that heightened our ability to do what we are best at, which is putting incredible artists in front of fans and changing lives through live music.