A Music City: What does this really mean? Nashville claims the official title, and rightly so – as the home of The Grand Ole Opry, with a rich musical history that includes a seemingly inexhaustible wealth of hit songs, seminal records, and iconic venues such as The Ryman Auditorium (“the mother church of country music”).
Recently, more North American cities are adding this designation to their marketing and tourism efforts — realizing the economic, social and cultural impact that music has on a community. Opening a Music City office, as a liaison between bureaucrats and the industry, is one way to formalize these efforts. In Ontario, as with the cities of Toronto and Hamilton, London is one of these trail-blazers.
In recent years, London has mapped out a strategy and hired a music industry development officer, Cory Crossman, whose main roles are to make connections between the music industry and City Hall, and to educate and advocate on behalf of the local music industry.
“It’s not just about the musicians, but the industry and all of its elements… all the jobs within the music sector,” says Crossman. “I compare the music sector in our city to an iceberg: there are small bits that float above the water – the artists – but there are dozens of people behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. To make a Music City you need all of those elements.”
FUEL is the acronym summarizing The London Music Office’s goals. It stands for:
- Foster music education and incubation
- Unite the music business
- Engage the musicians and artists
- Liven events and venues.
Some early successes Crossman credits to his office include the Music City Exchange, a program allowing London artists to perform at marquee events in Toronto and Hamilton; it also helps artists from those two sister markets to perform in the Forest City. September of 2016 marked the first time that London hosted The Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA), bringing in more than $8.4 million to the city. That was led by Tourism London, but other successful events that the London Music Office organized and hosted include the Canada’s Music Incubator (Coalition Music) Bootcamp and the city’s first-ever music career day. One hundred people were projected for this free event, and 190 registered. Topics included songwriting, production, music synchronization, publishing, royalties, radio tracking, music promotion, venue management, social media, public relations, industry development, and incubation.
Behind the scenes, The London Music Office is working, on an ongoing basis, to make changes to the by-laws governing amplified/live music on patios. Crossman is hopeful by the time patios are open for business in 2018, they’ll have a revised by-law that helps local artists.
To truly understand a sector or an industry, one needs to first understand the demographics that drive its growth. In the summer of 2016 The London Music Census captured figures from the 2015 calendar year. Over the six-week timeframe, 1,536 surveys were filled out. A major focus was to determine barriers that exist to music in the city, so that the London Music Office could look to potential solutions.
At a high level, the census results show the majority (45%) of musicians in London are between the ages of 20-34. Most musicians (89.5%) perform popular music genres such as; R&B, Roots, Country, Rock, Pop, Alternative, Jazz, Folk, EDM, Indie, Punk or Metal. Of the surveyed musicians, 83 per cent reported identifying as male. The Forest City’s musicians are a young, emerging demographic. Another key census finding showed that London’s music industry businesses aren’t applying for funding grants. The reasons vary, but a common theme emerged: London businesses largely don’t have the ability to submit for granting opportunities, citing the lack of time and low past success rates as major contributing factors.
SOCAN member Poesy (a.k.a. Sarah Botelho) is one of London’s rising stars. She started playing music in the city about three years ago, and from the outset noticed a diverse and supportive scene.
“The more London is becoming a music city, the stronger those bonds and those communities are,” she explains. “The city itself is dynamic musically, because London is a city that really feels like a town. It’s possible to play at every venue in London, and get to know all of the people involved: sound engineers, bookers, club owners, other musicians, etc. And it’s a much more personal exchange than I’ve felt in other music cities.”
Poesy says another way The London Music Office has really benefited London as a music city is through their involvement in helping new talent get established.
“Before I started getting involved with various London Music Office opportunities, hardly anybody in London knew who I was, or had heard my music,” she says. “Getting selected to play at London’s Canada 150 Sesquifest event [a Music Office initiative] really helped get my name out there… having support from the city you’re in really lights a fire under you.”
Chad Price, a London singer-songwriter, agrees. He says the music scene in London is alive and well, “bursting with talent” in so many genres.
“There’s definitely something good going on here right now, and I’m proud to be one of the people contributing to this momentum,” says Price. “What makes London so special and dynamic is that there is a real musical community beginning to take shape. As artists, we’re doing everything we can to help each other find success and not just be thinking about ourselves. I will be out there rooting for acts like Texas King, Poesy, Ivory Hours, Jessica Allosery, and Genevieve Fisher, just as much as I will for myself. We support each other, and it’s also great to have an organizational body and advocate for London music in the London Music Office.”
Price adds that the support from the city is also helping to inject some new life and confidence into London’s music scene. On a personal note, it has helped the songwriter better disperse his music. “I was the recipient of a grant from the London Arts Council’s Community Arts Investment Program this year, and used those funds to create several videos bringing awareness not only to my music, but also to culturally and historically significant landmarks in the city.”
Live music venues are key to supporting and incubating any music scene. With 53 live music venues, ranging from large-scale arenas (Budweiser Gardens) to more intimate spaces with varying capacities (The London Music Club, Call the Office, Aeolian Hall) the London scene is healthy and growing.
Looking ahead, numerous exciting initiatives are underway in London, led by Crossman’s team and supported by partners such as the London Arts Council, the city’s Culture Office, and Tourism London. The London Music Strategy, which Crossman inherited, aims to promote culture as a key part of economic growth and quality of life as identified in Council’s 2015 -2019 Strategic Plan and the Cultural Prosperity Plan for the City of London.
“When I was in high school I was asked by my guidance counsellor, ‘What do you want to do for a living?’” says Crossman. “I was 16 years old, and told her I liked hockey and music. She replied, ‘There’s no career in those, so go find something else!’ That conversation always stuck with me. What we’re trying to do is show that there are so many opportunities to get involved in the music industry, and arm students and the public with the message that these opportunities do exist.”