Suggestion 1: If you’re a music fan, ask yourself how often you go and see local live music shows, and how often you complain about ticket prices or try to get in for free.

I have met people who have paid $400 dollars to see the Backstreet Boys (that’s an actual figure; they were silver-level backstage passes) and who will complain about paying $15 to see four bands in one night at one venue. I abused my familiarity with bands and venue owners to get into shows for free until I made a conscious effort to stop.

This is not about guilt. This is about making a mental connection from your sadness over losing a venue to the fact that venues run on money, which comes from you. I don’t want to promote overdrinking to support venues either, but there are a number of ways to financially support venues and bands and have a good time doing it.

 

Suggestion 2: If you are a musician, give people a show that’s worth paying for.

Let’s be honest, Edmonton musicians: There are times when some of us really phone it in. Like getting blackout drunk before you go on stage. Or having the approach that it’s the crowd’s job to get into your performance, and all you have to do is show up.

No. That’s your job.

Or showing up late, or giving venues crap for not paying you enough behind their backs instead of making a contract, or taking up more than your allotted time so fans of other bands have to wait two hours to watch who they came to see, or talking while other bands are playing, or not knowing the business side of music and expecting the venue to provide you a full wallet when you don’t bring in anyone to their venue.

But mostly, put on an amazing show for people. Something that people see once and know they have to see again.

 

Suggestion 3: Pay attention and support things like the ELM Initiative.

Thom Bennett is a local musician. Including performing, playing, producing, and recording, Thom makes his living off of music. He’s put something together that could sober up Edmonton by getting the music scene off its alcohol dependency, help venues keep some of the money they make, while providing a fair wage to musicians.

If you are not familiar with the economics of music scenes, what I just told you is the equivalent of creating a perpetual motion machine.

“It’s called the ELM initiative, or Edmonton Live Music Initiative,” says Bennett. “It’s designed to help existing or new or temporary venues get grants for a small period of time early on in the start of the business, and some tax incentives to aid with the cost of paying musicians a living wage.”

By partially taking the responsibility of paying the musicians off the venue, the general operations can be covered by door and alcohol costs, making it so everyone is supported.

There are numerous aspects of the initiative to still figure out, and at this point the plan is still in ideation phase. However, public servants have taken notice — such as Councillor Scott McKeen — and, more importantly, the Edmonton Arts Council, Alberta Music Foundation, and The City have all agreed to partner with the program should it go through.

“Basically, it’s a low cost way for the city to avoid artist erosion and help small businesses,” says Bennett.

This would mean that businesses could look at music as entertainment and not a liability. Artists could play and get paid for it. And people could go and see music and know that their money is going towards a good thing.

Continued on page 4.

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7 Responses

  1. Terry Evans

    Excellent article…Holding EVERYONE accountable. I am very interested in the ELM and would love to be a part of the process. One suggestion? VLT’s killed LIVE music but VLT’s can be the rebirth. All revenue from VLT’s should be legislated to paying quality performing musicians so they CAN have a living wage by performing and reaping reward from their trials and tribulations. I fucking hate VLT’s. I will learn to love them if they pay the band fairly for their efforts and PERFORMANCE. Not just standing there playing an instrument. And PEOPLE!! Get off your fucking wallets and pay to see live music! This is the best economy in North America and most certainly can support the music industry. People have no problem paying $200+ for a fucking hairdo but you won’t pay $15 to see three bands. SHAME!! Holy SHIT you got me fired up on this!!

    Reply
    • CBWCASWELL

      Not a bad idea. But personally, as a musician, I would rather take money from someone who is there to enjoy my performance rather than someone with a possible addiction. And yeah, the $15 thing is annoying beyond belief.

      Reply
  2. Randy Reichardt

    .: Great article, and much needed at this time. In addition to the great venues you listed that we have lost over the years, let us not forget the City Media Club and the Power Plant, two fantastic venues no longer functioning. I work on campus, and remember the days when the Power Plant was packed every day. I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation as to why the Students Union shut it down. It angers me to this day.

    I agree with your three proposals. I’ve been in at least 8 different musical projects since 1986, and never once have I “phoned it in.” But it’s important to point that out to those who do. Nothing deflates crowd energy more than a band or act that appears bored or distant on stage.

    Where is there information about the Edmonton Live Music Initiative? A ‘net search reveals nothing so far.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful and articulate essay.

    Reply
    • CBWCASWELL

      Hey Randy. As mentioned, the ELM initiative is just getting figured out — like, no timelines/money amounts have been figured out at this point. But I’m talking with the leader of the initiative and they are meeting soon (next week) to discuss. Wheels are turning at least.

      Reply
      • Randy Reichardt

        .: Thanks for the additional information on the ELM project, Caleb, much appreciated. I look forward to learning more about it soon.

  3. Martin Kerr

    Thanks for writing about this Caleb, and Thom for getting this new initiative rolling. But what kind of venues should we be investing in? One thought I have is that many, if not most small music venues only cater to a certain sliver of the population: grungy 20 and 30-somethings, mostly without kids. Many if not most in this age-group prefer more polished night-spots with DJs and fancy food and decor, where they spend 100s of bucks every weekend. Older folks also pay plenty of money for live entertainment at bigger, more comfortable venues, like the Winspear and the Jube. Sadly, most local acts will never have the profile or draw to play this size of venue on their own bill. Whilst there’s certainly a place for small, grungy venues like the Artery and Wunderbar, their aesthetic is never going to appeal to the vast majority of Edmonton’s population. What is missing is something inbetween the two extremes. ie. venues of about 100-200 capacity with a soft-seat area where people can come and catch a show, and a separate social area serving quality refreshments for those who want to hang out, perhaps divided from the stage by a big glass wall so they can still see the bands but not disturb the show. Instead of putting on a show a month like a folk club, the venue would have bands on 4-5 nights a week. It needs to be in the right place of course, street level on Whyte Av or downtown would be ideal. The Haven came kinda close to this, but was definitely in the wrong part of town. You need a location with foot-traffic, where people can stop in and see who’s playing tonight as they walk by. There also needs to be quality-control as to the bands presented, perhaps each night (or each venue) could be sponsored/curated by a different agency – Alberta Music, AFA, Edmonton Arts Council, CKUA, CBC, MacEwan….people who already have their finger on the pulse of the local music scene, could draw a crowd and would benefit from the partnership. The radio stations could even have a live broadcast from the venue. Scheduling and paying the acts could be taken out of the hands of the venue, who would just focus on creating and maintaining a welcoming, beautiful space with great refreshments. The artists could also focus on putting on a great show, rather than having to spend much of their time promoting/spamming their friends to drag them out to see them play at a venue that never draws its own crowd.
    Ok, that was more than one thought, but any response would be appreciated!

    Reply
    • CBWCASWELL

      1. The start-up costs to craft this room would be enormous. As in, beyond the scope of reality.
      2. While the Artery and Wunderbar cater to a certain sliver of the population, they can sustain themselves on that sliver. The venue you’re describing wouldn’t be able to sustain itself on the similar sliver of soft-seater appreciators, because the costs would be through the roof from the rent alone. That’s why you see a lot of Artery’s and none of the venues you’re describing.
      3. The only place in Edmonton with real foot traffic is Whyte Ave., and that demographic is 18-25 who are interested in bars, not venues. Things might change with the new downtown but we’ll have to wait and see. Also, we’re a winter city, so relying on foot traffic means death for any establishment.
      4. I have no comment on the radio thing as I don’t know the realities of having a venue with several frequencies competing with radio frequencies. I’ve seen it be a nightmare. But more importantly, where’s the money coming from to do this?
      5. While I understand the logic behind the glass wall, my gut reaction is to be offended by it. It’s essentially turning live music into television (you can talk over it and not offend anyone) which isn’t the point of live music and destroys its strengths and what makes it unique. And I’ve heard enough stories about bands in soft-seater situations being talked over that it’s a behaviour we need to reeducate people on, not encourage.

      This kind of thinking is really entrenched in the “artist-first” mode. It doesn’t take into consideration any revenue streams for the venue (how do you ensure that people are drinking? Also, soft seater crowds don’t typically drink more than two drinks a person, so is that going to be enough to sustain the venue? Are the “refreshments” going to have to be priced so high that no one will pay for them?). Professional musicians can’t just look at these issues from their own side anymore. We need musicians with business degrees who understand how this industry functions and can work inside the box to expand it. It’s what Tommy Banks and all the guys did in the ’60s. They made their own opportunities.

      Reply

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