Red Deer musicians are hoping to benefit from a new $2-million provincial grant program to help Alberta’s live music industry.
But many are questioning why the $1,500 grants made available for musicians are for future projects and can’t be used to cover the many expenses they have already incurred during a pandemic year of lost revenues.
Musician Curtis Phagoo said it’s wonderful to have government investment into Alberta’s live music industry. But he noted this isn’t a relief fund, but money towards ensuing endeavors.
It’s only available to musicians who have earned 55 per cent of their income from music-related activity for a minimum of two consecutive years. Phagoo said, “I would have liked to have seen a larger amount available to individuals who have lost a minimum of half their income in the last two years…
“That being said, I truly hope that all who are eligible (will) receive the full amount,” Phagoo added. “An influx of $2-million into the Alberta music industry is definitely something to be thankful for.”
Musician Mike Szabo has similar concerns about the program’s criteria and timing. He said, “It’s better than nothing for an industry that’s been decimated… but it is far too little, far too late.”
While Szabo’s glad the Alberta UCP government is offering support, he feels the $1,500 will only cover a fraction of future production costs. Szabo noted many musicians have meanwhile already spent their savings during the pandemic to release albums and singles and “invest in mobile platforms to get out to neighborhoods.”
He questions why the grants can’t be used to help cover some of these costs?
But musician Alecia Aichelle said she welcomes the grant program because “any finding is helpful, regardless of the timeline.” She released a single in March, and didn’t think she could afford to get back into the studio again this year. One of these grants would make it possible, said Aichelle.
Musician Jesse Roads is “cautiously optimistic,” he can also get one of the grants from the Alberta government in partnership with Alberta Music.
After releasing music for 23 years, Roads said, “I’ve never once been selected or approved for any type of official support.” He plans to apply, however, saying “It’s been a crazy year. I hope this helps relieve the stress of the very deserving music community.”
The Alberta government is also offering grants up to $25,000 for for-profit music venues that are planning “innovative projects” to help Alberta’s music industry relaunch.
It’s “definitely a step in the right direction,” said Brennan Wowk, owner of Bo’s Bar and Stage and a member of the Alberta Hospitality Association.
“We welcome anything that comes in to help for-profit venues continue,” Wowk added — for the more music venues permanently close in Alberta, the less viable this province will be for future concerts and music tours.
Wowk plans to apply for a grant because he has experienced revenue losses as live music events have been suspended. While experiencing a fourth pandemic shut-down, Wowk said his venue at least has had bar and restaurant proceeds periodically coming in. Wowk had hoped to see some financial assistance offered to clubs that depend solely on live music to draw customers for the months they have been unable to operate.
He stressed all music venues need a clear picture as to when enough of the population will be vaccinated so that things can return to normal. It’s hard to sign contracts with bands for 2022 without knowing how many tickets can be sold, he added.
Leela Sharon Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, said live music is important to Albertans and the province’s cultural scene. She believes these grants will help to “maintain the sector’s viability in these uncertain times.”
But the NDP’s culture critic Nicole Goehring also noted venues and artists cannot apply this grant for operational costs or retroactive projects during the pandemic.
“We’re fourteen months into the pandemic,” Goehring noted. “Venues and live event spaces have already been pivoting their projects, platforms and services to respond.”
In 2017, Alberta’s live music industry generated a direct economic output of $709 million and 5,440 jobs and 92 per cent of surveyed Albertans indicated that the arts, culture, multiculturalism and sport are significant contributors to their quality of life.