Ontario government to create $45M music fund

Ben Rayner / Pop Music Critic
Published on Wednesday May 1, 2013

Arts funding is often viewed by governments as something of a frill or a luxury to be cast away during troubled economic times, but the Ontario government on Wednesday demonstrated that, perhaps, it finally understands what Canada’s music industry has been telling it all along: music means jobs.

That slogan, “Music Means Jobs,” was right there on the podium at a Lee’s Palace, rather unduly crowded for 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, as Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Chan announced plans to create a $45-million Ontario Music Fund to support the production, distribution and performance of music in the province and to promote Ontario-made music across Canada and around the globe.

Sousa — one day away from unveiling the Liberals’ new provincial budget — and Chan weren’t forthcoming with specific details of the new music fund, but seemed keen to exploit the potential of the increasingly robust Canadian music industry, 80 per cent of which is headquartered in Ontario, as an employer, a revenue generator and a magnet for tourism.

“You don’t have to go to L.A. or New York, you can do it right here in Toronto,” acknowledged Sousa. “This is what’s going to make us a prosperous Ontario.

“This is going to be money well spent because the ripple effect of this investment, of these grants, is going to enable us to attract more productions, more talent here in Ontario. … It’s going to develop jobs. It’s going to enable our young people to be even more involved and stay at home to get it done. It’s going to attract people from all over the world to want to come to Ontario. And it’s going to make us an even more dynamic and vibrant province.”

Chan, who oversaw the creation of a “live-music strategy” last year that has put $5 million toward music festivals and other events with the potential to draw visitors to Ontario, said the proposed Ontario Music Fund would go a long way to “strengthening Ontario’s position on the world map as a premier music attraction for live performances” and “bring(ing) Canadian recordings to a global audience.”

“Ontario has everything it takes to become a top live-music destination — not just in Canada, not just in North America, but around the world,” he said, pronouncing Toronto “a global music capital for today, tomorrow and beyond.”

This all marked a bit of a victory for Graham Henderson, president of the music-industry lobby group Music Canada.

Music Canada has been relentlessly hitting the government with economic-impact studies and reports on the economic potential of music tourism — including one last year that posited marketing Toronto internationally as a “Music City” akin to Austin, Tex. — since an “advocacy day” at Queen’s Park in November of 2011. On Wednesday, those efforts appeared to have borne fruit.

“Music means jobs. They get it. That’s a big change,” said Henderson after the press conference. “It’s not suddenly, it’s not magic — we’ve spent a year-and-a-half educating — but as a demonstration of the power of music, they got it very quickly.”

Stuart Johnston, president of the Canadian Independent Music Association, was similarly enthusiastic, noting that the government couldn’t really argue with the figures.

A recent CIMA study showed that every dollar of tax money that goes into the domestic independent music industry dumps $1.22 back into the provincial coffers, for instance, while $8.2 million from every $10 million of the industry’s global revenue is “spun off into the general economy” — a higher rate of return on investment, Johnston pointed out, than that of the mining industry.

“This is a sea change. Before, we’ve been talked about in cultural terms. Now, we’re being talked about in industrial terms,” Johnston said. “We’re always the underdog, the forgotten cousin, but music, in particular, is an industry. We create jobs. There are almost 14,000 employed in the independent sector in Canada and 80 per cent of that is in Ontario. Music contributes $303 million in GDP to the Canadian economy.

“This is not a subsidy, my friend. This is an investment in an industry that creates jobs and wealth for Canadians.”

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