International

With Venues Closing, Canada’s Live Music Sector Pushes a Recovery Plan

The Orbit Room
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Orbit Room at 580 College Street in Toronto.

A #ForTheLoveOfLive campaign seeks to ramp up support for the beleaguered industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of 80 music venues in Canada, and another 15 -- the majority of which are in Toronto -- are in “imminent” danger of shuttering, according to the Canadian Live Music Association.

The closures include Toronto’s Orbit Room (co-founded by Rush lead guitarist Alex Lifeson) and Hugh’s Room Live, a dinner theatre style venue with legacy bookings such as Gordon Lightfoot, Maria Muldaur, Buffy Sainte-Marie and John Hammond Sr.

Accompanying the closures are an “alarming” loss of jobs and businesses in the supply chains that “underpin the ecology of the industry,” the industry association says in a press release.

In response, the Canadian live sector has launched a #ForTheLoveOfLive share-a-concert-memory campaign to ramp up public support, while the government assesses the organization’s recently delivered recovery plan.

"Our revenue and employment losses are staggering and unlike other sectors of the economy, our reopening is not forecast until the fall of 2021 or later, followed by true recovery which at this time – is simply unknown,” the association says in the plan.

Prior to the pandemic, the live music industry contributed upwards of $3 billion (USD $2.26 billion) to Canada’s GDP and supported 72,000 jobs, according to the CLMA. But by the fall 2020, a CLMA member study found live music businesses had lost 92% of revenue and depleted their cash flow.

Music venues “need to lean-in where they can regarding innovation [and] pivot to provide different services where they can,” Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the CLMA, tells Billboard in an email. “For those that can’t, they need to shutter or hunker-down and sadly, wait – hoping that emergency measures will be enough, which is why targeted, sector-specific support is so crucial right now.”

Benjamin criticized governments from shifting away from emergency support. “We will not see true recovery for many, many months,” she says. “How is that not a state of emergency?”

To get the industry up and running this fall, Benjamin says the government needs to extend existing federal measures “for as long as necessary” and says the industry needs to “plan ahead to help these companies manage the huge amount of debt they will have taken on just to survive.”

The industry recovery plan also asks for financial assistance for “pandemic retrofitting capital investments” in live performance venues. The investments will include help for venues to manage the cost of implementing public health measures such as installing new HVAC systems, plexiglass barriers, cleaning supplies and the hiring of personnel related to standardizing best practices -- retrofits that could help long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“We want to ensure that all venues and facilities will be better equipped in the future to mitigate the spread of germs and viruses,” Benjamin says.

More than 120 members of Canada’s live music industry met on a video call last week to discuss how to help build momentum for the new campaign.

The CLMA is hoping to engage the public to bring ongoing awareness to the damage COVID-19 shutdowns have caused Canada’s live music sector by asking them to post a photo or video of a live concert on their socials with the hashtag #ForTheLoveOfLive, but the group is not asking people to tag government officials or policy makers.

Coronavirus