Being in a touring band, travelling across the country, and playing in small bars and venues has never been the most profitable venture, but it has always been romantic. Thanks to new legislation passed this summer, making a living from live music has gotten even harder, especially for venue owners.
The new laws were quietly passed over the summer, and came into effect on July 31. This new legislation deals with hiring foreign workers to work in Canadian venues, and places a fee for each crew member of the touring act, added on top of the usual work visas and other paperwork required to enter the country.
The problem with this is that it actively targets small venue (venue owners or venues in general?) and club owners, making it much more difficult for a promoter or booking agent at a club to book a band from outside of Canada. A small tour for a moderately popular band requires playing at several different venues, in many different towns and cities, just to break even.
Under the old system, the band members and crew had to pay a one-time fee of $150 to enter the country. Also, the fee would top out at $450, so an act with multiple members and crew wouldn’t be penalized.
Once the band was in, they could play as many shows as they wanted with no additional fees. This meant that booking agents and club owners had a relatively easy time getting bands to play. For the entire tour, all the venue bookers and owners who hosted the band would equally share the one-time fee of $450.
Even for small independent coffee shops and restaurants, this was a pretty manageable cost to pay to have live music at their establishment.
The situation now is a little more complicated. The new law was passed by the then Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, and appears to be a direct attack on small businesses and the arts. For example, a small four-piece American band coming up through Ontario for a tour now has to pay an additional $275 per person, including crew members. This fee also has to be paid for each show.
That means that this four-piece band, assuming they also have at least a sound tech or manager with them, has to pay the $450 to enter the country, as well as an additional $1,375, per show. Needless to say, no small band is able to come up with that kind of money, and if you are an owner of a club or coffee shop, this is an impossible cost for one night of music.
Considering that most bands that play in the kinds of venues hit hardest by this law barely make enough to cover their gas money to the next show, the law seems confusing at best.
Supporters of this law are quick to point out that these fees do come with exceptions to let acts get around them. However, these exceptions are based entirely on the kind of venue being performed at. For example, bands are allowed to get around these fees, but they “must not perform in bars and restaurants.”
This means that a concert at a huge arena or stadium with seating for twenty thousand people is exempt, but if you and your friends go to one of Peterborough’s countless cafés or venues, the show there might be playing to the tune of several thousand dollars out of the owner’s pocket.
Considering Peterborough’s vibrant music scene, these new regulations come as a blow. This city has dozens of coffee shops, clubs, venues and bars, each fully capable of putting on an event that might now cripple their livelihoods. Moreover, it’s an attack on the entire independent Canadian music scene. This law will have serious repercussions not only for students music lovers today, but for subsequent generations.