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Future of Ottawa: What’s the future of our music scene?

By Apartment613 on April 25, 2015





This is part six in our week-long series The Future of Ottawa (arts and culture edition).  In this guest column, Lesley Marshall from Kelp Records provides her thoughts on the future evolution of Ottawa’s music scene.  Twitter users: use hashtag #futott if you want to discuss this series on Twitter.

To preface, although I do come from a long line of “seers,” I alone cannot predict the future of Ottawa music.  I can make guesses based on my industry experience as a consumer, presenter, manager, pr agent, media outlet, researcher and emerging artist.  (I am also an extreme enthusiast and a local-ivore).

Ottawa will continue to be a strong city for music talent.  Wahoo.  #samesame.

What we can expect and currently observe in Ottawa music is more connectivity, collaboration and mentorship, which will breed a larger talent pool and economic activity for artists and music businesses.  Hopefully healthy competition will follow, and ideally critical engagement with it. Basically, more, more, not good, more, and then excellent.  Below I offer some more specific thoughts.


Venues greatly influence development of local music and music businesses – if you build it will they come?  With the reopening of Lansdowne, we will begin building larger shows downtown, hopefully bringing more people from the suburbs and increasing demand for music and entertainment.

These shows will be presented by larger conglomerate companies like LiveNation but there is room for local development if the project is right.  It will provide opportunities for technicians and crew and hopefully local musicians as opening bands (or bar staff! I joke).  However, there will still be a scale gap between the shows and the artists seen presently in Ottawa – “Hey let’s go see One Direction,” says Someone. “I don’t know what that is,” says Lesley.


Photo of Sadie Hell by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

Fortunately, Lansdowne will also provide smaller 500-700 venue spaces that open up the possibility of pop-up or ground-up shows.  On the downside, without a standalone venue of that size, we will still be overlooked for mid- to large performers like Sleater Kinney, St. Vincent, etc.

Ground-up shows are very expensive: booking agents don’t want to do them, they take a lot of person power and are unsuited to tours.  So we will see some of those artists at festivals, at Ritual and at the Bronson Centre via Spectrasonic.

I do think that if people want a real mid-sized venue enought it will come – if the City can make it easier, investors take some risk, and the general public get into live performances again (quit Netflix already).  The market needs to be steadier, i.e. we need more sellout shows first. See how I did that and didn’t mention Barrymore’s? (whoops!)

New small venues seem to be doing well.  Bookings are solid at Mugshots, Pressed, Raw Sugar, and House of Targ.  Targ is celebrating its one year anniversary now and has emerged as a go-to for artists and patrons.  This kind of space provides knowledge for musicians operating in a bar/club and a regular job for technicians.  We will see how Live on Elgin fairs.  All of this looks like good, sustainable organic growth to me.


Photo of 8th Ottawa Community Record Show by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

Photo of 8th Ottawa Community Record Show by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

More value will be realised in community radio.  Popular radio will continue to operate as if Ottawa music doesn’t exist until an Ottawa artist makes a hit single in the U.S. or U.K. (maybe).  As the FM dial becomes more fragmented and digital radio becomes more mainstream, I hope it will push people desiring tap into the pulse of the community to listen to local radio.

Community radio stations are valued in many other cities around the world like in New Jersey/New York City (WFMU) and Los Angeles (KCRW) where it is a tight game, and it is a very cool thing to follow and be a part of.  Artist and music business engagement with community radio should be a necessity to their success. We must teach the coolness of community radio.


The future of funding is also important.  Access to Canadian funding for musicians in Ontario is lacking.  It is very, very difficult to rely on and there should be more “breaks for artists.”

Subsidies, multi-year and multi-level project grants, plus bursaries for housing, education, studio space and business mentorship would be helpful and would spur more professional music activity. I had an Ottawa artist write me last week saying they are “leaving for Berlin where I have already received a grant to make an album and I can live for cheap. Guess I’ll come back when I am popular enough to qualify for Canadian funding.”  Think about it.


Performance opportunities will increase to a point and we will likely see changes from the festival market.  As shocking as it is, I think we will see a couple more festivals pop up and expand, e.g. City Folk, Arboretum, Ottawa Explosion, MEGAPHONO, etc.  However, I also see some quitting (hopefully none of those four!).

We’ve seen some BIA investment which resulted in things like Glowfair, and the flipside with withdrawal of BIA support of Chinatown Remixed leading to its subsequent postponement.

“We live, we learn,” – Ottawa celebrity musician, Alanis Morissette.  Businesses must take a valued interest in local music, it benefits us all.


Photo of Catriona Sturton by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

Photo of Catriona Sturton by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

There has been a strong effort to work collaboratively and investigate the organizational benefits of music entrepreneurs.  The Connecting Ottawa Music profile has been excellent exercise in knowledge sharing and has the City tapping into the needs of artists and their support systems.

Major challenges in bridging the industry brokering gaps will hopefully begin to close as people learn more about these activities and create their own ventures as booking agents, publicity and marketing firms for artists, artist managers and record producers.  Check out #MusicMondays to meet these people in the local biz.

Artists will realize they have more resources than they thought, and will employ them.  We have seen an influx of new promoters from the Promoter’s Coalition and a lot of new touring bands.  We also see a demand for more representation of women, queer and all-ages music events.

The response to the demand – shows at Gabba Hey, Fryquency at Mugshots, and house shows are popular and profitable. I hope more shows and venues see this and become more inclusive and supportive. #Represent!

Naturally the underground will continue to be the best place to discover talent.  It will also reflect the (often trite) response to the perceived mainstream.  I hope to see touring, performance and recording taken more seriously from Ottawa-based artists. With increased production there will be more competition, and people will have to use some critical thought in choosing where to put their dollars.


Photo of The White Wires by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

Photo of The White Wires by Ming Wu (Apt613 Flickr pool)

The number one thing though is that more people have to (re)connect with the value of music and artists. People will always be passionate about creating music; it is unfortunate that our capitalist supply and demand chain under which it exists is grossly disproportionate. However, we must not despair but rather rejoice in that music is something we can share in together and that it will never ever go away.

To close, here are a collection of local music fans and artists responses to the question: what is the future of Ottawa music?

“Tapdance noise.” – Pierre Richardson, Bruised Tongue

“Young people and more queers!” – Alanna Yaraskavitch, CHUO, Musician

“I laugh at the future.” – Patric Egan, DJ, Musician

“Amazing.” – Paul Granger, Owner of House of Targ, Musician

“Nice Punks.” – Travis Boisvenue, City Slang Radio

“Queer/trans/feminist punk revolution.” – Rachel Weldon, Debaser Fryquency, CKUT, Weird Canada

“Needs more word of mouth.” – Ming Wu, Photogmusic, CHUO

“Garlic Poutine.” – Dave Aardvark, CKCU

“Strangled by bylaws.” – Stephanie Vincent, Herd Mag

“Undisguised, self-sustaining, and endlessly imaginative.” – Ottawa Showbox

“Psychobilly showgaze.” – Tyler Reekie, patron

“Metal. This city created metal, and metal is our future!” – Blake, Graphic Designer, Wizard House of Targ, Musician (WW4)

“Pixie Haircuts.” Danielle Printup, Club SAW

Lesley Marshall is, among other things, the editor of a monthly counter-culture zine, an award-winning filmmaker, promoter, booker, musician, and performance artist under the name LesleyDemon.  You can follow her on Twitter @Lesleyelora666.