Hamilton: The city of music

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There is no doubt that the city of Hamilton has a cultural vibrancy that is recognized by those involved within its various creative industries. In particular, the city is home to globally recognized and independent musical talent who drive the local arts and culture scene, celebrating Hamilton’s long and resilient legacy of music.

The Hamilton Music Strategy is an initiative that began nearly four years ago. It seeks to put Hamilton on the map as the “City of Music” through strategic goals and objectives. But with a lack of money, resources and personnel, the initiative is slowly losing its edge.

City of Music Initiative

In 2013, the city’s economic development department launched the Hamilton Music Strategy. The initiative celebrates “all things music” in Hamilton with the vision of a thriving music industry, creative music community and eclectic music scene.

The main goals of the initiative ultimately lead to making a more accessible music scene within the city by strengthening the local music industry, growing audiences and appreciation of music within the city, increasing access to musical experiences and to cultivating music creation and talent. The strategy’s municipal document is loaded with objectives, actions and a reasonable timeline for these goals to be accomplished.

“[The Hamilton Music Strategy’s goals] sound great on paper, but none of these go into what creates a music city,”


Daniel Dell

Host
Listen Closely

The project was initially backed with $50,000 in funding from the city’s economic development initiatives budget and led to the opening of a “music office” in the Lister Block before the 2015 Juno Awards. Since then, the music office has been switched through a variety of hands, and is now being handled by a Tourism Hamilton staff member, who is also the point person for combined creative industries, including television and film, within the city.

In late 2016, an enhanced music industry group was developed in partnership with the city. The Music Industry Working Committee is a group of local music industry representatives from various backgrounds within Hamilton’s music scene who assist with the Hamilton Music Strategy.

Within the past month, five members of the MIWC have resigned, including co-chairs Jeffrey Martin, president of Quorum Communications Inc., and Madeline Wilson, artist manager and concert promoter of Front Room Entertainment. In addition, Scott Warren, the chief executive officer of Core Entertainment, which operates FirstOntario Centre, F2 Events Corp Co-Founder Lara Farcasan and musician Dan Medakovic have also resigned from the committee.

“There’s a difference in opinion between the city’s priorities and the speed of things,” said Martin, noting that the volunteer committee has put thousands of hours into this initiative.

“Things need to get done and we need to reach out to the music community,” he added. “We need… musicians, studio owners and producers have ownership in this brand and this whole endeavour. If they don’t have ownership, there isn’t anything there.”

According to the city, several initiatives have been developed in recent months to help foster Hamilton’s music scene, but the lack of proper funding and resources shines a light on the Hamilton Music Strategy’s focus, which has largely been on branding Hamilton as the “City of Music.”

Daniel Dell, a local musician and host of Listen Closely, a CFMU radio show that discusses what goes into creating a music scene, notes that although the strategy’s goals are strong in theory, creating a brand should come after supporting those who are living and working within the Hamilton music scene.

“[The Hamilton Music Strategy’s goals] sound great on paper, but none of these go into what creates a music city,” said Dell. “That involves creating a livable city for people who are involved, whether that be for musicians moving to the city and actually finding places to live, having affordable housing or making it so venues who want to host events have less barriers and restrictions in order to have all ages shows or outdoor events. If you want to be a music city, you have to be able to embolden your existing group of show-goers, venue owners and musicians.”

The issue with development

It’s clear that the city of Hamilton has been going through a continuous phase of development. Historically, property costs within the city were fairly low in comparison to neighbouring cities, leaving developers and investors to look towards Hamilton for new opportunities. This has changed significantly within in the past decade.

The cost of buying a home in Hamilton has spiked over 88.3 per cent over the past ten years. With that, the city has seen the cost of rental units shoot up more than any other city within Ontario within the past year, making it difficult to find adequate, affordable housing units for those in need.

The wellbeing of musicians who live in the city is a critical aspect to building a thriving music scene. The lack of affordable rental units and rehearsal spaces, in addition to the affordability of a work-life balance, leaves several musicians to their own devices and ultimately overthrows the main objectives behind labelling Hamilton as the “City of Music.”

Further, the aspect of affordability in attending and supporting live music events on a regular basis launches a chain reaction that can complicate the entirety of a city’s music scene overall.

As costs to operate live music venues increase, general attendance is continuously decreasing, ultimately raising the question of how the city can maintain its cultural vibrancy while supporting spaces that are, for the most part, responsible for creating this scene to begin with.

Within the past year, two of Hamilton’s major live music venues have closed down. Homegrown Hamilton and the Baltimore House fostered up-and-coming talent within the city, booking young musicians, hosting open-mic nights and ultimately nurturing the Hamilton music scene. Both venues were located along King William Street, which has been named as Hamilton’s vibrant new entertainment district.

As costs to operate live music venues increase, general attendance is continuously decreasing, ultimately raising the question of how the city can maintain its cultural vibrancy while supporting spaces that are, for the most part, responsible for creating this scene to begin with.

Lee Reed, a local hip-hop artist and activist, has actively spoken out about the lack of affordability and increase in development that the music scene has faced in recent years.

“Young people are the heart and soul of a city’s music scene,” said Reed. “So, if they cannot easily afford to live and play music in your downtown, if they cannot afford the life-work balance that allows a few nights a week for music practice and gigs, then your music scene is on life support.”

Moving forward

Wilson and Martin, alongside the Music Industry Working Committee, are working to transition their team into an independent, not-for-profit association in order to actively work on both short and long-term goals.

The goals, which are the same as the initial strategy’s goals, maintain a focus on musicians’ wellbeing, education and networking opportunities. With access to greater funding and resources as an independent association, the new, independent committee will work alongside the city in order to see these goals through.

“Musicians make a lot of money for other people but not a lot of money for themselves, and that’s been the same for decades,” said Martin. “We’re trying to make it better for musicians. The bottom line is that it’s all for the musicians because without them, you don’t have music industry at all, and our musicians are great.”

The spirit of Hamilton’s music scene is still entirely community-focused. Musicians and industry professionals within the scene are constantly supporting one another through various endeavours. Hamilton’s Music Industry Working Committee is looking to encapsulate that attitude into initiatives and strategies, moving forward.

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Author: Emily O'Rourke

Emily is a fourth year Honours Communication Studies student. She enjoys PR, meme culture, black coffee and dogs. Emily was also voted biggest klutz in her high school's graduating class. Find her riding around Hamilton on a white Sobi bike.

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