Canada’s Independent Music Scene Lies in Serious Jeopardy

Canada’s independent music scene lies in serious jeopardy, particularly smaller clubs and live venues, as the scene is facing potentially devastating fees for bringing international musicians to their venues. The new rules quietly came into effect July 31, which will double, triple or even quadruple the cost of bringing in international artists to perform at bars, restaurants or coffee shops across the country.

New regulations state that any venue with a primary business other than music but also books bands or performers must now pay an application fee of $275 per musician and those traveling with the band (tour manager, sound person, guitar tech, etc.) when it applies for a Labour Market Opinion, or LMO, to allow those outside workers to perform and work in their establishment. Not to mention an extra $150 for each approved musician and crew member’s work permit. If the application is rejected, clubs would not receive their money back and would have to pay the fees all over again should they reapply.

Prior to all the changes, the fee was simply $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, and that was a one-time fee for them to simply enter the country, which allowed venue owners across Canada to share the nominal cost or book them separately at no extra charge.

Spencer Brown, the longtime booker for downtown venue The Palomino — called the new regulations, “Anti-arts and culture” and “Anti-small business.” He was surprised by the changes as he went on to say that there was,

“No consultation, no warning, nothing of the sort,” and only learned of them when an agency he works with “called him in a panic” at the beginning of the month in regards to an upcoming show.

“If I have a one four-member American band at the Palomino, I’m looking at $1,700 Canadian just to get them on the bill — and that’s on top of paying out a sound tech, paying for posters, gear rental, paying the other bands, staffing,” Brown says, explaining there have been tweaks to the LMO in the past, but nothing this drastic or, in his eyes, damaging.

“Concert promotion at this level is, in itself, a high-risk occupation. So this has just put it through the roof. There’s no way to start already $1,700 in the hole and break even. It’s impossible.”

The publications received a response from the government by saying there are exemptions to the fees for touring musicians “performing several tour dates in Canada” or “performing at festivals.” But the huge stumbling block for club owners and bookers is they “must not perform in bars and restaurants.” Brown and others noted that other venues that exist exclusively for concerts or other events such as the Saddledome and MacEwan Hall, or larger festivals, were not being penalized despite having a greater opportunity to recoup financial investments. Brown continued on by saying,

“They are targeting the little guy, they’re targeting small venues, they’re targeting small business,” he says. “So, me, as the promoter at The Palomino, which will hold 200 people at the best of times, is paying out $425 per band member whereas a guy from a huge promotions company putting on a 20,000-seater for Elton John in the stadium is tax free.

“I don’t know if they think small venues are raking in the cash putting on bands that not a lot of people have heard of or they’re trying to keep small-time foreign bands out of the country for whatever reason,” he says, disregarding Citizenship and Immigration’s assertions that the new rules were designed, in part, “to ensure that owners and managers of those types of establishments look to hire Canadians first before hiring temporary foreign workers.”

“Me bringing in (American act) Redd Kross (Aug. 31) is not going to devastate Calgary’s garage rock scene. It’s not going to put anyone out of work. It’s going to inspire people to pick up a guitar and put out an album. The same thing when we bring in Orange Goblin from the U.K. in October, it’s not going to destroy the city’s stoner metal scene.”

Leanne Harrison, owner of locally based artist management and booking company SIN Agency, says the opposite just might be true. She says the more liberal LMO was actually a benefit to the indie artists of the country, providing them opportunities for greater exposure by performing as an opening act for mid-range international bands. She states,

“I have bands that tour the U.S all the time,” she says. “If the U.S. started doing that to us, they’d never cross the border.”“There’s only so many Canadian artists, you can only tour your country so often,” she says. “If you’re limiting the international artists that we can bring in, well, to me, music is global. It shouldn’t have those kinds of doors on them.”

These change may not only harm the artist but also those who support and appreciate live music, no matter the origin of the performer. News of the changes sparked a petition on protesting the impact the changes will have. “This will inevitably cripple small music venues and small business talent buyers,” reads the petition, started by Carlyle Doherty. As of 1pm EST Thursday morning, over 63,000 had signed the petition including artists such as Kittie, Cadence Weapon, Dan Mangan and Lamb Of God. Be apart of the movement by signing the petition here.