Best Way for Musicians to Survive Amid Pandemic Is to Be Able to Work, Promoter Tells Committee

Best Way for Musicians to Survive Amid Pandemic Is to Be Able to Work, Promoter Tells Committee
The Montreal Symphony Orchestra performs in a parking lot at the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on Aug. 5, 2020, during a socially-distanced "drive-in" concert amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (Eric Thomas/AFP via Getty Images)
Isaac Teo

The best way for the music industry to survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic is “to work,” a music promoter told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Nov. 27. The committee is studying the challenges encountered by the arts, culture, heritage, and sport sectors during the pandemic.

“To work, to have an album, to promote it, and after that, you make concerts, do shows, because the money … goes back to the artist, the musician, the technicians,” said Solange Drouin, vice-president and executive director of public affairs at Association québécoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo (ADISQ)

ADISQ is a non-profit organization established in 1978 whose mission is to support independent music production in Quebec.

As of Nov. 27, Quebec remained categorized as red—level 4 maximum alert—which means performance venues, theatres, cinemas, and museums are shut down.

Drouin said artists need direct access to the Canadian public, while ADISQ needs to be able to promote the activities and companies that they work with.

That would be the best way for people to make a living, Drouin said. She acknowledged that the emergency funds artists receive from the federal government provide them “some predictability” until March 31, 2021, but the future becomes uncertain beyond that.

In mid-May, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault committed to giving $500 million to Canada’s arts, sports, and cultural sectors to help them weather the pandemic.

Patrick Rogers, vice-president of corporate affairs at Music Canada, a non-profit organization founded in 1964 that promotes the interests of the music recording industry, told the committee about the findings of a study that surveyed over 700 professional musicians.

“Professional musicians perform on average nearly 100 times a year, typically, travelling across Canada and the world to do so. Revenues generated from live performances in turn help support an average of 11 other people such as band members, technicians, and other industry jobs,” he said.

“And a staggering 85 percent of musicians agreed that without live performances, they will have difficulty earning enough to pay the bills.”

Alex Mustakas, the artistic director and CEO of Drayton Entertainment, said the pandemic has impacted theatres in three ways.

“Firstly, the loss of all programming has caused significant hardships not only on us, but also on our municipality, tourism, hospitality sector partners, who rely on us as a major driver of regional economies,” he said.

“Secondly, what we do is communal by nature and this makes recovery a daunting prospect for any business. Thirdly, despite the lifeline of the emergency wage support and emergency response benefit, with no revenues to cover our fixed operating costs, we’ve been forced to terminate all artists’ contracts and lay off the majority of our staff. It pains us to be in this position.”

“Our 2020 losses will be close to $3 million,” said Mustakas, who heads the non-profit organization that operates seven theatres in Ontario.

“And next year, moving into 2021, if there is no programming, just the fixed costs alone, with just a very small core staff left, it will be over a million dollars in losses.”

Ontario’s Waterloo and Hamilton regions have been in the red zone as of Nov. 27; Mustakas has theatres in these locations, but they are only allowing a maximum of 50 people in the venues.

“Restrictive measures such as operating to a maximum of 50 audience members has the same net effect as a complete shutdown for us,” he said.

The mental health of artists is also of utmost importance, Mustakas said, as he shared a recent conversation with a musician who had tears in his eyes, saying, “being a musician is all I’ve ever done in my life,” and an actress telling him, “I’ve trained for this all my life.”