Peterborough’s Music Community Sounds Off

Last Wednesday night, members of the local music community gathered at Market Hall for the local leg of the Sound Off! Ontario tour. The tour, which run by Music Ontario, a new province-wide music industry association, is traveling to communities all over Ontario to find out about the local music communities across the province. It was a spirited discussion about our local music scene – what we’re doing well, what we need, and how we can make things better.

MusicOntarioThe first time Electric City Live heard about MusicOntario was about six months ago, when we got an excited email from the newly formed organization’s executive director, Scott Honsberger. He told us that Ontario was actually the only Canadian province without some group to speak for the music industry (there’s MusicBC, MusicNL, Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo in Quebec, and more). The group was just getting underway, and now, Scott wanted to hear from us.

The Sound Off! Ontario tour, which is the very first initiative ever set up by the organization, is designed as a fact-finding mission to discover what the needs are in Ontario’s musical communities by traveling around Ontario and asking them. “We have a blank slate for MusicOntario,” explains Honsberger. “We’re growing this from nothing. So we’re really here to answer the question, what are MusicOntario’s services going to include? We have some ideas, but we have to be aligned with the communities’ needs.”

Wednesday night at Market Hall was a chance for the local community to have our voice heard about what makes Peterborough a great city for music, and what our community (and our industry) still needs. The group in attendance was small-ish (about 25 people), but diverse (including musicians, promoters, songwriters, representatives from venues, media people, people already involved in industry advocacy, and fans) and quite lively.

The meeting started off with a discussion of what works well in Peterborough music. Many mentioned how much music there is in town: lots of bands, lots of shows, and lots of fans. It’s a town with a strong indie DIY ethic and long musical history. People in town seem to care about the town and its musical culture, and that’s reflected in the priorities of our local government. (Bragging time: someone specifically mentioned Electric City Live as something good about Peterborough – and not just in the version of this meeting that took place inside my head.)

After the event, Honsberger added his own expert insight: “My perspective is that Peterborough’s very organized. I think people are very passionate.” He specifically mentioned how many venues there are in town. Many communities, like Guelph and Ottawa, struggle to find places for shows, but our vibrant downtown puts us at a distinct advantage. “In my mind,” he said, “I think, OK, if that part of the infrastructure is there, how can we leverage that? There’s a lot of opportunity here.”

After that, the meeting shifted to a discussion of the challenges for artists, both ‘global’ (challenges for the industry as a whole) and ‘local’ (Peterborough-specific). Many, many topics were brought up – both large, such as a long discussion of whether live music is overall in decline, and specific, such as one artist who brought up the troubles scoring gigs at larger venues. There was a long discussion about ‘fair trade music,’ the idea that most live music is dramatically undervalued ($5 cover for 4 bands?) and that musicians deserve a fair wage.

It became clear that there’s a real role that something like MusicOntario could play, too. Many of the problems discussed were ones that could be solved with educational programs, such as helping musicians with stage-craft, tour booking, grant writing, legal issues, and more. Artists often encounter problems when touring away from home, and so MusicOntario could serve as a communication bridge between communities. There was discussion of multi-day, multi-venue music festivals that have helped bring in tourism in other towns, as well as the possibility of MusicOntario hosting their own concerts featuring local music, and creating endowment funds to support musicians.

MusicPeterboroughThe meeting also featured a short presentation from Joel Parkes, chair of Music Peterborough, a group that’s totally separate from MusicOntario, but is coming at the same problem from a local angle. Parkes noted that the manufacturing sector that used to be the basis for Peterborough’s economy has started to fall away. He called music “this thing that’s been under our feet for years, but that we’ve not tapped.” Music Peterborough’s idea is to promote Peterborough as a destination for music tourism with an “international brand.” Parkes even (half-seriously) shared his vision of a future Peterborough as a “New Orleans of the North.”

The evening featured a lot of great discussion, but we have yet to see what, if anything, MusicOntario or Music Peterborough will mean for local musicians. Both organizations are still in the building phase. MusicOntario hopes to roll out their first programs in the next few months, but there’s still more fact-finding to do. If you want to get in touch with the group, Scott Honsberger says he encourages anyone with comments or suggestions to send him an email. The group will also be setting up a survey on their website soon, and there will be more meeting across Ontario in the months to come.


We here at Electric City Live would also like to hear from you. What do you think of the local music community? What’s working well? What sucks? And what do we need going forward? Speak your mind in the comments below.

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From Electric City Live

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