If 2016 was the year the world lost some of its greatest musicians, 2017 may be the year that Toronto loses some of its most iconic music venues. From the closure of Soybomb to the uncertain future of Hugh’s Room, Toronto music venues are struggling to keep their doors open but efforts underway in London suggest ways to safeguard local performance spaces.
On March 13, NOW Magazine and the Centre for Social Innovation teamed up to host a discussion on Toronto’s vanishing venues. The panel included musicians, venue operators, an urban planner and industry organizations while attendees also spoke up and participated over social media.
Erin Benjamin from Live Music Canada started by noting the lack of data about live music in Toronto and mentioned Nordicity’s report on the economic impact of live music in Ontario. Other panelists reinforced the need for numbers and advocated for a municipal registry of music venues. Related regulatory issues raised during the discussion include the lack of licences specifically designed for music venues and the imprecise language of noise by-laws, which lump the sounds of performances in with the roar of leaf blowers.
Many of these issues would be familiar to artists and audiences in London, UK, where 35% of grassroots music venues have been lost since 2007. This dramatic decline has sparked action within the industry and leadership from local government. Nordicity contributed to the Rescue Plan for London’s Grassroots Music Venues starting in 2016 and the report was launched early this year.
The document was prepared for the Mayor of London and provides an overview of the current state of grassroots music venues in London as well as offering recommendations on how to support this vital component of the city’s cultural life.
Based on data from the Music Venues Trust, Nordicity estimated the employment, labour income and gross value added generated by London’s grassroots music venues. Nordicity is also currently working with the London Music Board and boroughs to help measure the impact of increases in property value taxation on grassroots music venues and provide the evidence for local government policy development.
Although the process of protecting and promoting London’s grassroots music venues continues, the Rescue Plan offers approaches to supporting both tangible assets and intangible activities that could inform solutions in Toronto.
First, the Mayor of London appointed Amy Lamé as Night Czar to oversee the city’s night-time economy and act as an ambassador to local councils, businesses and the police. Second, London adopted the Agent of Change principle, which puts the onus for soundproofing on individuals or businesses entering an area such that developers must adapt to neighbouring uses.
The Rescue Plan also includes measures to advance grassroots music venues among both locals and tourists by streamlining planning processes and improving online discoverability.
The vanishing venues discussion was a great way to start the conversation in Toronto but experiences from London show that music venues need coordinated action from across the industry complemented by commitments from local government in order to realize their full economic and cultural potential.
Emily Macrae is a Research Analyst at Nordicity’s Toronto office. She first became aware of the plight of music venues while lining up for shows at different incarnations of 2037 Gottingen Street in Halifax.