5 Ways To Grow Toronto’s Music Scene

They should have each worn their favourite Toronto band's shirt (photo borrowed from The Toronto Sun)
They should have each worn a shirt that promoted their favourite Toronto band (photo borrowed from The Toronto Sun)

Last week, a number of city councillor members, including the mayor, along with a few people from the city’s music industry, headed down to Austin as part of an ongoing campaign to promote Toronto’s music scene.

They also went down to learn about that city’s incredible live music scene and see what from it could be applied to Toronto. The Toronto Star’s Ben Rayner wrote a great article on five lessons that Toronto could learn from Austin that got me to thinking about five other ways that the City (or someone) could grow and promote live music.

1. A Really Good Website
It might not be sexy or fun but a simple though extensive website is key to getting the word out there about live music in Toronto. This site would have two sections: One aimed at music lovers and one at musicians/managers/agents/etc. The latter portion would contain info on everything from venues to where to eat cheap to the legalities of touring Canada. The other section would contain, among other features, a massive list of upcoming shows. This list would be completely searchable and highly sortable, and would link off to other parts of the site, like the one that describes the city’s various venues. Ideally this list would be able to auto pull data from existing concert listings but if that’s not possible, well, mindless data entry is why interns exist (interns who I would be happy to supervise).

2. More 4 am Liquor Licenses
Right now, 4 am liquor licenses are only available during a few special times throughout the year. This is silly. I think they should be made available year-round to any establishment with a clean record and the cash the cover the somewhat high price tag that these licenses would have. This new offering would make some extra cash for both the city and venues as well create more performing “slots,” since someone needs to be providing the soundtrack for drinking into the early morning.

3. Ban Bar Bans
Right now, if I wanted to open a new music venue in Parkdale, I couldn’t because of a bar ban that was put in place in that neighborhood last year. While I agree that a club strip in the middle of a residential neighbourhood isn’t a good idea, I completely disagree with an out-and-out ban on any kind of non-industrial establishment. Instead, applications for new bars/clubs/restaurants/whatever should be judged on their individual merits.

Smaller venues are absolutely crucial to develop and grow talent in this city. They’re also necessary if we want artists to stop by Toronto before they’ve made it big.

4. A Suitable Venue for a Major Outdoor Music Festival
I think we can all agree that Fort York works wonderfully for boutique festivals but if we want this city to host a major outdoor music festival – and I certainly do – we need a venue that could accommodate at least 50,000, ideally more.

I would love to see the CNE grounds transformed into something that, for one weekend each June or July, could host an event that would rival Osheaga. The space is already there, I think it just needs some upgrading and imagination to turn it into the perfect festival site (and I’m not just saying that because I can walk to it though I do quite like that aspect).

I know that some people think that Toronto doesn’t need a major outdoor festival but if we want tourists and causal music fans to think of Toronto as a “music city” we need that big, flashy event that should become to Toronto what Lollapalooza is to Chicago.

5. Promote Toronto Music in the US
Last week, the Star ran this article in which the reporter asked 10 Austinites questions about Toronto’s Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 1.33.43 PMmusic scene. One of those questions was this: “Do you know anything about Toronto’s music? As an answer, two people mentioned Drake, two Tegan and Sara (though neither live in Toronto), one person said Rush and the others basically gave non-answers.

Now, I know I live in a bit of a bubble but really, only two people could name a contemporary Toronto musical artist? Clearly, something needs to be done about this. Off the top of my head, I think the easiest thing to do would be to send some people down to major US festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza where they could run some kind of info booth and pass out codes to download some kind of Toronto artist playlist. I’m sure other people can think of better ideas, but whatever those ideas are, I think the key is to get Toronto music into the hands of those who are the most likely to come up here and say, attend the festival I described in point #4.

So that’s it, those are my big five ideas for growing Toronto’s music scene. If you want to help grow it, check out the 4447 website and tell your councillor to “say yes to music” (and of course, go to lots of shows


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