Canadian Live Music CEO Erin Benjamin Talks 'Creating the Conditions for Concerts to Thrive' Amid 'Interesting Times'
Canadian Live Music Association president/CEO Erin Benjamin took the stage again during Canadian Music Week's Live Music Industry Awards in Toronto to update the room full of agents, managers, club bookers, promoters, and other critical members of the live events world about the state of the industry in Canada, calling them "interesting times" but dedicated to the challenge of educating all levels of government about "antiquated or inadequate cultural and economic policy" and recommending solutions based on evidentiary data.
She also mentioned the launch of safe space workshops and the ongoing webinar series about a multitude of focused issues.
Last year, the fledgling organization, created in 2014, was still called Music Canada Live, and Ottawa-based Benjamin was its executive director. However, it was often confused as being a subsidiary of music industry association Music Canada, the non-profit trade and lobby group representing the major labels and associate indie companies and interests of the industry.
It had 180 members and, with a captive audience at the awards, she encouraged signups; now, she tells Billboard, they have "230 and growing." Its mission remains: "to entrench the economic, social and cultural value of live music -- creating the conditions for concerts to thrive, from coast to coast to coast."
In January, Music Canada Live was rebranded the Canadian Live Music Association and Benjamin was appointed the new title.
"Our successful rebrand has helped us to increase our momentum and expand our reach, making who we are, who we represent and what we stand for, much more obvious," she told the room.
She then provided a recap.
"This past year, we invested our resources to leverage the greatest ROI for members into programs, services, research and action that are fostering more relationships, resulting in greater impact and more highly effective partnerships, right across the country." She said advocacy, on its members' behalf, is at the root of absolutely everything we do," with the goal of "creating the conditions for concerts to thrive."
Benjamin then got down to the research, the hard facts, the numbers in the May 2018 release of an economic impact study done of the live music sector in British Columbia.
"That study gave us numbers we had never had before so that we could a make powerful argument to government. And that's what we did. Less than a month ago, Amplify BC, the BC music fund, was renewed, at $7.5 million [USD $5.57M].
"We lent our voice federally as well," she continued, "working very hard, as we continue to do, to educate the Department of Canadian Heritage about the reality of the ecology of today's music industry. In March, the Trudeau government announced a $60 million [USD $44.53M] increase to Canadian Heritage programs, much of which will go to music-related activities."
Benjamin then went on to talk about Ontario, where the majority of the live industry is based.
"We have championed the importance of strategic investment for live music with the new Government since last June," she said. "We have made an irrefutable business case and represented you passionately to the Premier's office, the MTCS, finance, treasury board and we believe we've been heard.
"I'm going to choose my next words very carefully. Yes, the size of the cut to the OMF [Ontario Music Fund] was unanticipated, however Celebrate Ontario remains untouched and there are other indications that things will continue to shift, and in our favour," she said.
The Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative (PC) government significantly slashed funding to the Ontario Music Fund, but not to Celebrate Ontario, which dishes out grants to support "programming improvements at new and existing festivals and events that attract tourists for longer stays, create great experiences for visitors and support communities across Ontario."
"I suggest to you that right now, we have a very important opportunity, where the modernization of the music fund is concerned," Benjamin said. "As the segment of the industry that's projecting annual growth of 3.2 percent and expected to represent almost 64 percent of total music market revenue in Canada by 2021 – that's over $1.27 billion US dollars -- I am confident that we are in position to help the government to -- and these are their words -- 'focus on activities that bring the biggest return to the province.'"
This summer, the CLMA will release a study on the impact of Toronto's live music venues, she revealed, calling it "another tool for us to cement the critical role of live music spaces and stakeholders, a pilot we already replicating in other cities as well."
"So when your municipality starts talking about noise bylaws, or venue licensing, or any net that might catch live music activity, inadvertently or otherwise, we will be there to educate government and to defend, protect and advance your interests."
That news comes as the owner of the historic Matador told The Toronto Star he had sold the building to a condominium developer, after permits and other red tape made it impossible for him to hang onto the property and revive it as a live event space.
In addition to advocacy, CLMA also offers professional development training, including a free monthly webinar series, "connecting you with experts from marketing to insurance, from security to sponsorship," and the newly launched Raising the Bar, about making venues a safe space.
Another big change since last year is the legalization of cannabis in Canada. "We have been leaning in with Health Canada, making sure they are 100 percent aware that the live music industry champions future legislation that's aligned with alcohol, not tobacco, so that the many cannabis companies who are anxious to sponsor your events can eventually, legally and freely do so," she said.