canadian music festivals

How Will the Weak Canadian Dollar Impact Music Festivals This Year?

THUMP spoke to six organizers across the country to find out what a hurting loonie means for concert-goers.

by Rebecca Krauss
Mar 2 2016, 5:55pm

Ben Ruby

In January 2016, THUMP reported on how the weak Canadian dollar was making it difficult for homegrown music festivals to book non-domestic acts, after the loonie dipped below 70 cents US. While it's rebounded slightly in the weeks since, many economists have predicted it will continue to remain volatile throughout the year, with the exchange rate affecting the live music industry in more ways than one.

To get a better sense of what this might mean for Canadian concert-goers, and international tourists, we spoke to six festival founders across the country to find out how they're adapting their bookings and if there are any silver linings to a depreciated dollar.

The Players:

Michael Hollett - Co-founder, NOW Magazine and NXNE Music Festival (Toronto, ON)

Jimmy Bundschuh - Founder, Shambhala Music Festival (Salmo River Ranch, BC)

Michel Quintal - Co-founder, Piknic Électronik and Igloofest (Montreal, QC)

Andrea Graham - Founder, Bass Coast Festival (Merritt, BC)

Cameron Wright - Vice President of Operations and Live Programming, Canadian Music Week (Toronto, ON)

Jonas Colter - Artistic director, Evolve Festival (Antigonish, NS)

Igloofest, photo by Cindy Lopez

THUMP: How is the Canadian dollar's continued slump affecting plans for the 2016 edition of your festival?

Wright: It's definitely been a struggle. At CMW this year, we're going to be holding a town hall meeting where we're going to be bringing together promoters from across Canada and internationally and discussing the issues that come from currency problems and buying talent internationally.

Bundschuh: Obviously top talent is paid in US dollars, so there's been a significant price increase. Aside from the dollar, DJs are getting paid more every year. Both situations make it difficult for us to keep up with where we were before.

Hollett: The thing is, with festivals, you're always dealing with something. In a way, I was counting on it being like this. When we had Iggy Pop at [Toronto's] Yonge-Dundas Square in 2010, we had to deal with G20. We're a discovery festival. We're going to book the best bands, regardless.

Graham: The change in the US dollar is primarily challenging for the booking aspect of the festival. It's slowly been going in that direction since last year. We're used to being creative, so it's forcing us to be innovative and make it work. We're really excited about this year's lineup and we've found ways to put [more of] the budget towards it.

Quintal: DJs don't always choose to go where the money is, but at some point, you can't compete. For Igloofest, for example, the depreciation of the loonie cost us about $50,000 [CAD] more than we expected at first because we counted it as 80 cents per dollar and it dropped to 69 cents.

Colter: It's definitely decreased the amount of American artists we've picked this year. That being said, we still probably spent half the budget on American or foreign artists.

Shambhala, photo by Leah Gair Photography

THUMP: What's been the response to the situation from the American companies you work with?
Bundschuh: We've built relationships with many artists over a lot of years, so we've been able to maintain some decent prices compared to other festivals. But some artists have been pushed out of the reach.

Quintal: We are very lucky with Picnik and Igloofest—they're very different, so DJs love to play these events. They will sometimes accept less money to play for us. I think the agents start to realize that they can't just ask for more and more money.

Colter: It's not like they'll drop their price by 30 percent so that they can get their artists out here. I find it's more of the Canadian agents who have been kind to Evolve.

Evolve Festival, photo courtesy of festival

THUMP: Are you booking more Canadian acts as a result?
Hollett: Not as a result, but we were kind of going that way anyway. There's going to be a lot of hip-hop at NXNE and where's the best hip-hop in the world coming from right now? You could arguably say Toronto.

Graham: Actually, no. We've booked more international acts than we've had in the past, but I think that's also because our ticket sales are showing more interest from the States. Ideally, the community of Bass Coast is going to extend across the border.

Quintal: The booking for Picnik is not done yet, but almost. We've already booked 20 local artists. Maybe instead of booking a DJ from LA, I'll book one from Vancouver. But even with the Canadian artists, we tend to talk in US dollars.

Bundschuh: There's been some of that, but we always have quite a few Canadian acts. I wouldn't say it's changed that much.

Wright: We always have a focus on Canadian talent. The whole purpose of what we do is to help the development of Canadian bands so that they can make international relationships. That's been the focus for 30 plus years.

Colter: What we've done in the past is book American artists that nobody knew. We got Pretty Lights in 2010 when he wasn't well-known. Evolve is a festival that's driven by experience. Word on the street is it almost doesn't matter who plays at Evolve. I think that people come mostly for the community.

Danny Brown at NXNE, photo courtesy of festival

THUMP: Are there any benefits to the loonie's drop?
Hollett: It's a huge opportunity to market to Americans. They can get a pass for probably 60 bucks American. Their hotel is probably going to be a little over 100 dollars. It's a cool byproduct if Americans get to see Canadian bands that they wouldn't have otherwise seen.

Graham: I would say the benefit of the dollar's change is the opportunity for Americans to come out and try any of our Canadian festivals. At such a saving, they could come and do multiple festivals. That's becoming a trend.

Bundschuh: Our percentage of ticket sales in the States have gone way up. A couple of years ago, we were maybe five percent US sales, and this year we're between 20-25 percent.

Piknic Électronik, photo by Miguel Legault

THUMP: What type of festivals do you think will be hit the hardest (i.e. grassroots vs. corporate-sponsored events)?

Quintal: The festivals that are owned by big corporations, like Osheaga or îleSoniq already have the power and the money to buy with American dollars, so they're not his as hard as we are in the short term.

Bundschuh: The bigger ones that rely on million dollar acts are going to feel it the hardest. Either they find more money, or what they're able to offer in the Canadian festival industry might not be as impressive as a couple years ago.

Wright: I think the festivals [that sell 20-30 thousand tickets] will be the ones that suffer the most. A lot of these deals were bought a long time ago. Right after one event is finished, [the festival organizers] are already locking down headliners for the next year.

Graham: I think the Canadian-owned festivals will have the hardest time. I think it's all in how the festival approaches their marketing and booking. They need to find that balance between making the change in the dollar work for their own budget.

All interviews were conducted separately by Rebecca Krauss.