This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the people that support and bring you the artists you love—what venues, labels, and promotion is like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Rachel Weldon on the future of concert promoting, or read posts from Jordan David on indie labels and Paul “Yogi” Granger on venues.
Rachel Weldon (she/her) is a queer white settler living on Algonquin Anishinaabe territory in so-called Hull. She is the founder and producer of music presenter organization Debaser, and a programmer and administrator for artist-run centre SAW. Rachel has 10 years experience working in music curation, arts admin, community media and event production, and has produced and/or programmed over 300 events and programs. She DJs under the moniker Pink Veil.
Apt613: What is the current landscape for concert promoters in Ottawa?
Rachel Weldon: Frankly, not great! Unless they are part of more established organizations with access to funding, things are pretty grim for DIY show organizers. It’s very hard to make any revenue with online concerts, and because you don’t need to be in proximity to the artist to watch their performance, those organizers who do try to do online shows are in competition with event organizers worldwide. Plus it’s just hard to present something impactful online without facing major barriers, financially or with access to equipment or production expertise. Live music is at risk of becoming exclusive and expensive. In my opinion, it is better to lean into the new reality and explore new ways of presenting rather than trying to replace the feeling of a live show.
With the vaccine rates where they are and the province’s latest reopening plans, I am hopeful that we will start to see live performance return later this summer and in the fall, but it will quickly become very competitive to book the venues that are still operating, and DIY organizers will probably have difficulty carving space out for their niches. It will certainly not be a return to normalcy right away, or maybe ever. The closure of smaller rooms like Pressed and Cinqhole, and a mid-sized room like Babylon, are major losses to indie presenters and emerging artists. It is going to take a while to rebuild things. But I think venues will come back and so will DIY organizers. It will just take some time.
If you care to make a prediction… Where is live music going in Ottawa in 2021?
By late 2021, I think we can expect to see some in-person shows happening again, most likely starting with open-air events. Once the colder weather hits, indoor capacity will probably remain limited until 2022. Someone will have to pay for the shortfall in ticket revenue, and for now, government funding is filling that gap, but I don’t know if it will be there forever. Most likely audiences will eventually have to pay more; that’s better than artists and cultural workers taking half the pay to do the same job they did in 2019, but that will also mean that attending concerts in-person will be exclusive to those who can afford the premium ticket price. I predict that in the mid to long-term, concerts may adopt a “freemium” model—shows will still be live-streamed for free or low cost, and the in-person experience will be available only to those who can afford it. That bums me out, but what is the alternative?
Where in your wildest dreams could the local concert industry grow in your lifetime?
I don’t dream about the growth of the concert industry. I dream about artists being able to make a middle-class living off of their work without having to run themselves into the ground or compromise their work for success. I dream about a revolution in the way people value and invest in the arts.
What is the best innovation to take place in live music since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
The best innovation to take place in music since the pandemic started is surprisingly not technological, but economical. Bandcamp Fridays! A simple idea, to once a month waive the service fees that the platform typically takes from the sale of music, has stimulated so much direct support of independent artists. I hope they keep it up forever.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in music.
There are NO RULES. The music industry changes every second, and whatever the old guard says is “simply not done” just means that they haven’t thought of your way of doing it yet.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.