The current situation with the Artery is a freak occurrence, in that the city was vying for the spot to increase public transportation. This was not a fight The Artery was going to win. Also, the building was progressively aged, and while I loved The Artery, it is not worth risking someone’s personal health — let alone an entire crowd of people at a show — to keep the building afloat. Fortunately, a venue is not just a building but a community, which isn’t confined within cement and mortar. The Artery will continue to live on, whether in a new venue or in the spirit of the community it mothered.
Sustainability in Edmonton music venues has been an issue in Edmonton since the 1970s at the introduction of disco. Seriously, your suspicions are true and disco wrecked everything.
Imagine for a moment every bar in Edmonton you know today that has a DJ Friday and Saturday night. Now imagine that those DJs were live bands. That was Edmonton in the 1970s. And it was glorious.
Long story short: In the 1970s, the Alberta Game and Liquor Board (it has since replaced “Board” with “Commission”) made it so, should a venue want to be open past midnight, they needed to have live entertainment. This meant every bar wanted to be a music venue, they made more money because they could stay open longer, and musicians were earning a living wage. Everybody was winning. Then disco was introduced — a music movement that was played primarily by disc jockeys — which slowly replaced musicians, because why pay five people when you can pay one? Musicians in turn started to lower their costs just so they could play because they’re crazy like that.
Then bars found out that strippers were included in the terms of what fell under “entertainment.”
Then bars found out that having a single VLT could produce more money than a bar with a full band filled with people. Can you see where this is going?
The live music scene took a serious blow, never recovered, and we’ve been left with the aftershock. The easiest way for a venue to make money is to become a bar with a DJ (for further commentary on this from venue owners, you can read another Marker article on what it’s like to own a music venue here.)
The issue with music venue sustainability is systemic from a number of issues. The first mentioned here is the reliance on alcohol sales. Ticket sales primarily go to the band (rightfully so) and staff that run the venue, and given your average local show often only costs $10 a ticket, there’s little money left over for building upkeep.
I’m going to propose three things that can be done to improve Edmonton’s music scene: The first two are some of those hard truths I was referring to before, and the third actually has a chance of returning Edmonton to its glory days of the 1970s.
Continued on page 3.