NMC Workshop: Feedback from Calgary’s music community

February 05, 2015

Mark Mills_840pxMark Mills performing at the Palomino during Sled Island in 2014. Credit: Brandon Wallis. 

On November 12, 2014, NMC hosted a workshop at our current location and invited members of Calgary’s music community. Over 70 people attended and offered NMC valuable insight and feedback to our staff that were stationed at five stations in the room. Each station asked a question. A summary of those responses is included below.

Describe Calgary’s music scene to someone that’s never been here. What do people need to know about music in Calgary?

  • The local music scene is home to some world-class artists. It’s growing and expanding to become more diverse, and no specific genre leads the scene.
  • It feels like Calgary has “something to prove” — we’re not just an oil town. We are a suburban city with some geographical challenges, but cool things happen here. We need to balance our corporate side against being an arts forward cultural place to get people out to shows and help develop more artists.
  • We are a tight knit community and we’re working together to make a better music and cultural scene.
  • Many feel that the Calgary scene is comprised of isolated community pockets, and that the inner city is a bubble, without a lot of cross over between downtown audiences and suburban shows.
  • However, the general consensus is that people are friendly and communicative, and music scenes intermingle and support one another. This is seen through the close-knit relationships between festivals, music organizations, bands, communities, and local arts and entertainment journalism.

Participants felt the music scene needs to engage the community, so people feel like they are building something together.

Lab Coast_840pxLab Coast at the Golden Age Club during Sled Island in 2014. Credit: Brandon Wallis. 

Where do you go and see music in Calgary? What keeps you coming back? What makes a great show?

  • Good venues are professional, responsible, organized and energetic, and have good communication with bands. They have good staff (bookers, servers, door, security), fast service, and fair prices for drinks and food.
  • The best venues are ones that have live music as an important part of their operations, and not just a marketing tool.
  • Good sound and a good sound tech are a must.
  • Shows need to have consistent ticket prices, and reasonable start and end times, and run on time.
  • There is a rise in new non-traditional performance spaces such as the folk music community attending living room jam sessions and house concerts. There continues to be a lack of venues for jazz, classical and experimental music in Calgary.
  • Venues mentioned included: Broken City, Café Koi, Commonwealth, EMMEDIA, Flames Central, Foothills Acoustic Music Institute, Golden Age Club, Habitat, Hifi, Ironwood, The Legion, Local 510, NMC, Oaktree Tavern, Palomino, Republik, Ship and Anchor, Ten Nightclub, Tubby Dog, Wine-Ohs.

Participants expressed the need for more free shows in public spaces, as well as all-ages shows and venues to support all-ages events. In turn, this helps to mentor young promoters and musicians in Calgary.

CrowdShot-Mainstage_840pxCrowd at the Calgary Folk Music Festival in 2014. Credit: Brandon Wallis. 

What are Calgary audiences like? What makes a good audience?

  • Our audiences are receptive, welcoming, kind, respectful and enthusiastic.
  • Please put away your cell-phones.
  • A good audience member looks out for others, is engaged, happy to be there to enjoy the show, and open to all forms of music. Other musicians are the most reliable audience members, as some audiences can be reluctant to stretch music boundaries.
  • Audiences are actively trying to find new music to listen to.

Participants feel that expanding musical boundaries and fostering a broader understanding of the arts among Calgary audiences would be beneficial. Generally, participants feel that audiences could have a broader understanding of the “value of live music” through paying cover, supporting bands through merchandise, and attending a variety of live music events (at bars, festivals, etc.).

CFMF_Chris_840pxKenna Burima performing with Chris Nevile and Steve Fletcher at NMC’S Stage 6 at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Credit: Wanda Martin.

How do you promote events? What are some challenges? How do you improve music knowledge and promote events?

  • Calgary has isolated community pockets. The inner city tends to be in a bubble, where there is not a lot of crossover with downtown audiences to suburban shows (and vice versa). Some participants stated that there are problems attracting an audience to a show and building a following. There is a music business knowledge gap in Calgary — “What is the best way to promote my band/venue?” There is an overall lack of knowledge about funding and support agencies like SOCAN, FACTOR, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Alberta Music.
  • Musicians and promoters use a combination of traditional media (print and radio) and social media to get the word out. Musicians feel that radio helps grow audiences and development, gives new music measure of legitimacy, and helps drive people to shows.

Participants would like to see a central location for information on bands, shows, venues, etc. that would help market locally and elsewhere (i.e. to other cities/towns).

The High Kicks_840pxThe High Kicks at NMC’s Groundbreaking Shaker event in 2013. Credit: Wanda Martin.

Wildcard! What else is on your mind? What needs improvement?

  • While many more people coming out to shows, there are challenges in getting people to make music a habit, to go out regularly to shows — logistics aren’t ideal, including weather, lacking transit options, high cab costs — making it hard to build a following.
  • Musicians need to tour to gain awareness and legitimacy. Accessible streams of funding are needed to help with touring.
  • Establishing a new music venue in Calgary is difficult — it’s challenging to find space to do it (high lease rates, lots of regulations), and generate enough revenue to cover costs. Who can venues, promoters and musicians turn to for support?
  • Rent and jam spaces are getting harder to come by and more expensive. Not enough creative spaces that we can call our own.
  • There is a need for a centrally located venue for 300-400 people.
  • Need to look into ways to begin activating youth into the Calgary music scene.

Next steps…

1. NMC will be conducting more of these important feedback sessions, and we’re always interested to hear from you.

2. We plan on having another engagement session in 2015, including a workshop about the King Eddy (tentatively scheduled for March 24, 2015 at the Golden Age Club). To get involved or learn more about past and upcoming workshops, please email Chad Saunders at chad.saunders@nmc.ca and by phone at 403-543-5117.

3. If you’d like to know more about how music can support Alberta’s economy, check out the report written by Music Canada on our website: nmc.ca/amci


About the Author

Julijana Capone

Originally from Winnipeg, Julijana is NMC’s senior publicist and the managing editor of Amplify. In addition to her role at NMC, she is the founder of Light of Day Publicity, a company she formed to promote the work of emerging Canadian artists.

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