Despite being a huge country in land mass, it is relatively small when it comes to population and yet huge in terms of travel logistics. That may be why so many Canadian artistes have broken out to become global stars, such as Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Arcade Fire, Shawn Mendes and Michael Bublé. Christopher Barrett reports
Among the country’s most successful musical exports have been Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and Rush, while acts such as Drake, Arcade Fire, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, Broken Social Scene and Michael Bublé are making sure the worldwide profile of Canadian music remains high.
Alongside earnings from exports, its domestic music industry is benefiting from a relatively robust economy, high consumer spending, and GDP growth of 2.1 per cent so far this year.
Music Canada Live (MCL) was launched in 2014 to champion the Canadian live music business and counts concert promoters, festivals, venue operators, agents, ticketing companies, service providers and industry associations among its more than 150 members.
In August ,MCL issued the findings of a survey of the live music industry in British Columbia (BC), which includes the city of Vancouver. Here, The Beat: The Economic Impact Of Live Music in BC report found there was sector-wide optimism.
Eighty per cent of the Province’s live music companies expect growth in revenue and attendance in the year ahead, according to the survey. In BC alone the sector supports 12,000 full-time jobs and contributes C$815.8 million (US$ 627.93m) to the provincial economy.
Also with a score of around 80 per cent, is Live Nation Entertainment’s share of the concert promoting market, accompanied by subsidiary Ticketmaster’s activities across the primary and secondary ticketing sectors.
Live Nation Canada (LNC) chairman Riley O’Connor has been a major player in the live music business for more than 45 years, working with artistes such as AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Billy Joel and KISS along the way.
O’Connor says the industry is benefitting from unemployment at a historical low and consumers of all ages spending money on non-essential goods.
“The 2018 season is shaping up to be a spectacular year – we are producing more than 1,400 events across Canada with an attendance of around 4.3 million people,” he says.
“Venues are the cornerstone to an engaged community and live music is a contributor to a healthy community – venues are our cathedrals,” says O’Connor. “The Government needs to recognise the depth of the economic impact venues have in our communities.”
Along with tours, LNC promotes eight festivals ranging in capacity from 15,000 to 40,000. One of its most recent acquisitions is the Rockin’ River Country Music Festival (cap. 40,000) in Merritt, BC.
“Despite a very short season confined by the number of summer days, there is an active festival scene here,” he says.
Kevin Donnelly senior vice-president of venues and entertainment for True North Sport & Entertainment says that the exchange rate with the US dollar is the single biggest issue slowing the flow of talent across the border.
“It is a continual effort to encourage US talent to spend time in Canada, the economy is strong and the market is very responsive, but it is still a battle to encourage acts to come here due to the exchange rate,” he says.
True North owns and operates the Bell MTS Place (17,000) arena in Winnipeg and the city’s 1,600 capacity Burton Cummings Theatre.
Among acts that True North has attracted to Bell MTS this year are Metallica, Paul McCartney and Keith Urban.
“The audiences behave differently here, the weather is different, playing Canada is a unique experience, so we try and make the conversation more than about the currency rate.
“The market responds very well to shows, it is just a matter of convincing more acts to come,” he says.
Julien Paquin, president of the Paquin Artists Agency, which has offices in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, represents more than 150 acts spanning a broad range of genres.
They include Randy Bachman, The Sheepdogs, Serena Ryder, Old Crow Medicine Show and Josh Ritter.
Paquin says business is buoyant, and the company has recently appointed more agents. Among acts keeping him busy are The Sheepdogs and Randy Bachman.
“We try to have a broad portfolio of acts and it is working out,” he says.
More broadly, Paquin says the strength of the Canadian live music differs by region, with Toronto in rude health while Vancouver and Alberta tend to lag behind.
While some arena operators are using curtaining systems to reduce capacity in order to host theatre-size shows, the lack of large theatres is a real issue for Paquin.
“An arena is still an arena, no matter how you dress it,” he says. “They can make it financially feasible to sell 3,000 tickets in an arena, but then you miss out on the vibe of a real theatre show.”
Paquin is proud of Canada’s reputation for producing global artistes.
“It has been happening for so many years that the Government recognised it and has put support systems in place for music, including grants for albums and tours. That has allowed the creativity to thrive. Emerging artistes, in a lot of cases, can’t afford to pay rent, and so the grant helps them stay on the road for that extra tour or album that might see them break through.
“That has gone a long way to help Canadian music thrive.”
Stronger than ever
Leading talent bookers, The Feldman Agency has been working the territory for 45 years, with offices in Toronto and Vancouver, and a diverse roster.
Jeff Craib, president of the Agency, whose clients include The Tragically Hip, Nelly Furtado, Alessia Cara, Paul Anka and Barenaked Ladies, says he expects its acts to play more than 5,000 shows this year.
“Right now I feel like Canada is as strong as it’s ever been for talent development,” he says. “There currently seems to be a bright light shining on this market – there is a tremendous amount of great artistes coming out of Canada and having an impact here and globally.”
Despite the widespread optimism and economic stability, Craib says there are challenges, with the weakness of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar and other currencies, making it difficult to provide artistes with the same fees they are able to attain in Europe or the US.
“Although a market like Toronto has incredible artiste development and is the third largest touring market by volume in North America, Canada is a really large land mass so there are a lot of long drives in between many tour stops here,” he says.
While Craib is largely content with the venue network, he says there is a dearth of theatres with capacities ranging from 2,700 to 4,500.
“As a result many of our artistes are doing doubles or more in the smaller existing theatres,” he says. “The jump up to arenas for these artistes involves a lot of increased production and operational costs, and so for many artistes it’s not feasible.”
Value of Gold
With more than 50 years’ experience, primarily promoting country music shows, Gold & Gold Productions founder Ron Sakamoto has worked with Shania Twain since her first shows.
Two years ago the company begun organising the Stars And Thunder festival (25,000) in Timmins, Ontario, which takes place in the city’s Hollinger Park and runs over eight days.
Sakamoto describes himself as a boutique promoter who is focused on quality not quantity. Among artistes Sakamoto is busy promoting are Johnny Reid and Keith Urban.
“You have to be careful nowadays,” he says. “I am not interested in promoting everything under the sun, we cherry-pick who we work for, it is no good assembly lining groups across Canada. We want to be sure the artistes are going to the right buildings and will do well. We did 46 shows in 35 cities with Johnny Reid and sold them all out, because we are 100 per cent focused on each act.”
Canada’s love of ice hockey means that almost every sizeable conurbation boasts an arena built to host what is widely considered to be the country’s national sport.
“We have some great arenas but we could do with more large theatres,” says Sakamoto. “The ENMAX Centre [7,100] in Lethbridge, Alberta, recently introduced a curtaining system that can cut down the arena to a 1,200 capacity. I would like to see more arenas do that.”
Headquartered in Toronto, INK Entertainment launched in 1982 and presents one of the country’s largest dance events, VELD Music Festival (30,000), which it co-promotes with LNC. and also has diverse lifestyle business including restaurants and night clubs.
Taking place over two days in August each year in Toronto’s Downsview Park, acts at VELD this year included Martin Garrix, Marshmello and Migos.
“Three-quarters of the way in, and 2018 is one of our busiest years to-date, and our Q4 shows are all performing well, which will mean a very strong year for us,” says INK director of live music Jonathan Ramos.
He believes the homegrown music market, specifically Toronto, is very strong and there is a new generation of acts coming through that he is confident will achieve global success.
However, Ramos believes Toronto is failing to keep up with demand when it comes to venues.
“There’s a shortage of venues to service the increase in demand by fans for shows,” he says. “I can’t speak for other cities but the
venue shortage is an on-going issue in Toronto.”
Despite LNC’s majority market share, Ramos says it isn’t an issue that bothers him.
“Live Nation is the dominant promoter but with the increase in touring acts, there are plenty of shows to go around.”
Label to live
Tim Potocic co-founded Sonic Unyon Records in 1993 when he was a member of the band Tristan Psionic. Since then the business has branched into a number of areas, including artiste management and festival production.
Its Supercrawl Productions arm oversees the running of multi-venue free music festival Supercrawl, which takes place every September in downtown Hamilton, Ontario.
Launched in 2009, the festival’s attendance has grown from 3,000 to more than 150,000. Among those playing the event are Broken Social Scene, Arkells, Monster Truck and Spoon.
Supercrawl celebrated its 10th anniversary in September, and was stretched across four days for the first time.
Potocic also oversees the 150-capacity Mills Hardware club in Hamilton, and says the company is perfectly placed to develop fledgling acts.
“We nurture young talent through our small venue space and then put them on at our festivals, we then rent bigger rooms and put on bigger ticketed shows for them,” he says.
The company focuses primarily on Canadian talent, and among the current crop of promising artistes it manages is Terra Lightfoot.
“Things are going extremely well for her and we expect her to take big strides in the US in the next few years,” he says. “Canada is a large country geographically, but it is a small market for the size of our country.”
Banking on music
In July, a C$800m (US$616.8m), 20-year, naming rights partnership between Scotiabank and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) saw Toronto’s 20,000-capacity Air Canada Centre rebranded Scotiabank Arena.
The MLSE-owned arena opened in 1999 and has proved to be a major player on American arena circuit. Among acts to have played multiple nights there in recent years are Roger Waters, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.
“The venue transforming into Scotiabank Arena is beyond the name change and is a re-imagination of the building as well as the surrounding neighbourhood,” says MLSE chief venues and operations officer Nick Eaves.
MLSE also operates a handful of Toronto venues, including BMO Field (40,000) and Coca-Cola Coliseum (9,250), which have occasionally hosted concerts.
One of Canada’s most technically advanced stadiums is BC Place (43,000) in Vancouver.
Boasting one of the largest retractable roofs in the world, which can be opened or closed in 20 minutes, the stadium is a year-round facility. Among acts who have played there are U2, Metallica, Guns N’Roses and Coldplay.
Owned and operated by BC Pavilion Corporation, the venue can be configured using a secondary roof to accommodate an audience of 22,000.
“Vancouver remains a very strong market,” says senior director Graham Ramsay. “We have two very successful upcoming shows, with Beyoncé & Jay- Z, and Luke Bryan with Sam Hunt. We will also host the Contact Winter Music Festival, a two-day EDM event in December.”
Another first-rate venue is the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, which has a concert capacity of 60,000 and is owned by The City of Edmonton. Among artistes to play the venue are the Rolling Stones and U2.
Commonwealth Stadium major events supervisor Jason Fesyk says he expects to welcome several shows to the stadium next year.
“Edmonton has a very competitive live entertainment market and there are several highly successful venues that are all doing their best to bring in top talent,” he says. “There is a good venue fit for any type of act or tour that is looking for a place to be seen and heard.”