Is Toronto actually a music city?

Many Toronto music venues have closed their doors in recent years, as the cost of real estate has skyrocketed. Lindsay Dunn looks at what the city is doing to make sure this city’s music scene stays alive.

By Lindsay Dunn

Toronto has been the city where musicians from across the country and around the world move to, to chase the dream of working in the music industry. Whether it be the bright lights, hearing their song on the radio for the first time, or writing a song that one day could be part of someone’s wedding day. Music flows through the city. But, is Toronto actually a music city?

“They talk about music city, a music city, but a music friendly city isn’t a music city unless it’s a musician friendly city,” musician and artist advocate Miranda Mulholland told CityNews. “One of the really big problems that we have right now is housing. A lot of the musicians are being pushed out of the city because they just can’t afford to live where they work.”

The Toronto Arts Foundation recently conducted a study of the arts community in Toronto and it showed some alarming numbers:

  • 80% of artists do not believe they can make a living wage
  • 50% of artists make less than $30,000 per year
  • 73% of Toronto artists have thought about leaving the city.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 artists have been renovicted

“Sue (Passmore) and I do live out of town because it’s a little bit more affordable to live out of town and have a car, but it’s tricky. It’s tricky,” Kerri Ough, of the Juno Award Winning group The Good Lovelies, said about her and her bandmates choice to live out of town.

Much like Ough and Passmore, hundreds of artists who move to Toronto to chase the musical dream are having to move away because it’s hard to make a living and support a family, or even themselves, on the average income of $30,000. And when they want to book a show, the options are getting smaller.

More than 30 music venues have closed in Toronto over the past decade and it’s hurting the growth of artists in the community.

“When artists start out they have to play the venue ladder,” Mulholland explained. “So when you start out you are not playing at the Roy Thomson Hall, you are staring in a smaller place but if those smaller places can’t sustain then you have nowhere to start.”

“There are some challenges around rehearsal spaces in the city, rent is so high and venues closing,” Passmore added. “It’s really hard for us to get our team together and find an affordable rehearsal space to get together is definitely a challenge for us.”

After the alarming rate of venues closing a few years ago, the City launched a Music Advisory Council. But, what have they done to help the music community?

“I think the main thing we can do is provide exposure to the artists,” Mayor John Tory said. “Programs like the one they have at the airport or the program at Union Station and even at City Hall. We are providing more and more opportunities to support the artists.”

“They have been looking into some of the bylaws that go around noise and building permits,“ Mulholland added. “They also implemented a new strategy that when you call the 311 hotline you get to listen to Toronto artists when you are on hold, hopefully not too long, but it’s significant because it does pay the artists.”

It’s not all doom and gloom for the music industry in Toronto. Tory also added that they have created shared work spaces for artists in the city to use and iconic venues like the El Mocambo are slated to reopen this year.

“I want us to be seen not just in our country, but in the world as we have done successfully with film,” Tory said. ”That we are a name that’s listed in the Top 5 cities that are committed to music and have a passion for it.”

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