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Is the Ontario Music Fund a Band-Aid for Canadian Talent?

Are these cash infusions helping to prop up an economy where there’s an inherent risk in being Canadian?

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On Wednesday March 25th, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the recipients of the 2015 Ontario Music Fund (OMF). According to its website, the fund “is aimed at strengthening and stimulating growth in Ontario’s music companies and supporting this growing sector.” So when the announcement was made, there was some surprise that large multinational event organizers were awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government. What part do these multinational organizations play in local music economy and growth?


Though the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) has been awarding grant money to musicians and music-focused institutions since 2007, this is the second of a three-year rollout of funds meant to bolster the music economy in Ontario, an area identified as one with major growth potential. The funds set aside by the Province far exceed previous grants, with 2015’s awards alone amounting to over $14,000,000. The list of the successful applicants announced Wednesday includes acts as disparate as A Tribe Called Red and Silverstein, and indie record labels like Arts & Crafts and Paper Bag Records.

This year was the first time that the OMDC had a separate category specific to live music organizations and festivals, with Hamilton’s Supercrawl and Canadian Music Week each getting $150,000, the Ottawa Bluesfest receiving $200,000, and the Toronto-based Live Nation being awarded $175,000 for their operations.

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Live Nation Canada’s Vice President of Talent, Jesse Kumagai—formerly the Director of Programming for The Corporation of Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall (which received $200,000 of this year’s OMF) and who currently sits on the newly-minted Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council—said over email that even at Live Nation’s size, there are huge financial risks involved in running live music events, making grants like the OMF very important to the company’s operations. Recalling his time at Massey Hall, Kumagai said it was not uncommon to “deliberate over taking a $150,000 financial risk on a show based on whether or not we thought we could make $5,000 and there were of course many occasions when we would simply decide not to.” A venue as esteemed and sought-after as Massey Hall doesn’t seem like it would have difficulty filling seats, especially when they are known to attract high-profile acts. Kumagai explained that the risks were very real. If a show did not go on, not only would the venue be affected monetarily, but that “quite literally hundreds of occasional workers and suppliers, from ushers to stagehands, sound & lighting companies and beer delivery drivers would sit idle.”

Securing the numerous jobs integral to running large events seems to be the reasoning for giving corporate giants grant money, but Kumagai also pointed out that support from the OMF would alleviate the financial pressure that often drives booking agents to weigh bills away from Canadian talent in the favour of the safer financial bet—touring international performers: “one of the projects that will receive support from the OMF is the Festival which for the first time will feature exclusively Canadian talent, whereas previous years have relied on US headliners. That’s made easier through the support of this fund.”

To keep successful recipients accountable to such commitments, George McNeillie, the OMDC’s Manager of Communications and Corporate Secretary, explained that the Ontario Music Office’s staff follow up with grant recipients on a regular basis, and that “all [OMF] recipients sign a contract with OMDC for funding that outlines terms and conditions as well as milestone deliverables and reporting requirements that are linked to grant payments.” Not only does the OMDC monitor recipients of the grant to hold them to their word, they use their reporting to gain insight into how successful the projects were. According to McNeillie, recipients of last year’s OMF are already showing “a growth rate of over 60 per cent, with 2,000 jobs created or retained. Over $24 million in new revenues have been recorded so far, with many more activities still in progress.”

With the benefits of investing in Ontario’s music economy already starting to show, this year’s further investment in numerous live music projects will hopefully follow a similar path. Still, as successful as this endeavour has been in terms of injecting some life into the music industry here in Ontario, it’s hard to tell if any of these improvements are long term. In 2017, when the money is spent and three year commitment from the Province has passed, will pillars of the industry revert to the safer, higher profile billings of musicians from abroad, or will there be a lasting effect felt from prioritizing home-grown talents? There’s a larger issue at stake if these cash infusions are helping to prop up an economy where there’s an inherent risk in being Canadian.

Michael Rancic is a writer living in Toronto - @therewasnosound