After a long pandemic-induced hiatus, Canada’s live music industry is finally starting to come back to life and concertgoers couldn’t be more excited. But even as live music lovers rush to buy tickets, the excitement is tempered by a careful assessment of COVID-19 risks, signalling that the industry’s road to recovery is far from certain.
The live music industry has been among the hardest hit sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the world shut down in early 2020, so too did Canada’s plethora of music venues, from the largest stadium to the smallest stage.
Research conducted by the Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) in June found that more than 100,000 people involved in the industry lost their jobs in 2020 and revenue was down 92 per cent year-over-year. This is a steep drop for an industry that contributed around $3-billion annually to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) and created 70,415 jobs in the quarter right before the pandemic hit, before dropping to 38,620 jobs.
But with the careful re-opening underway across Canada comes a tentative hope that the industry could be on its way to recovery. For live music lovers, it can’t come soon enough.
“Consuming live music is part of our DNA as Canadians,” says Erin Benjamin, president and chief executive officer of the CLMA. “It’s completely entrenched in how we experience life.”
Polling conducted by Abacus Data in 2020 found that over 80 per cent of Canadians are eager to attend a live music concert in some capacity.
This is certainly true for Vancouver resident David Gherghinoiu, 27, who recently bought tickets for a Tyler the Creator concert scheduled for April, 2022. While he admits that it was a tough decision that required weighing COVID-19 risks, live music was a big part of his life prior to the pandemic and he is keen to return to that scene.
“When people ask me, ‘what do you like to do?’ " Mr. Gherghinoiu says, “Seeing live music is one of the things at the top of my list.” So when he thinks about how it would feel to return to that space, “It would be emotional and just a euphoric feeling for me.”
Mr. Gherghinoiu is not alone in his excitement. Throughout the pandemic, Lucas Gergyek, 24, says one thing he has missed the most has been the feeling of “connection and vibrance that you get from a concert.”
“It’ll be really special for me to get back to that environment where there’s all this energy and all this positivity,” he says.
Mr. Gergyek is hoping to attend a Kaytranada concert in Toronto this December with a group of friends and he says he’s keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 situation, particularly as winter approaches.
“I definitely think that my friends are in the same mindset as me – excited to be back in this atmosphere of live music and connection,” he says. “We’ll just … be open about our levels of comfort and how we feel about being in that space again with people.”
Cautious optimism appears to be a running theme for concertgoers, as none of those interviewed have ruled out cancelling their plans if the pandemic worsens as their concert date approaches.
For Tristan Woo, 25, shelling out for concert tickets despite the uncertainty was a risk she “was willing to take.”
Earlier this year, Ms. Woo was one of many Canadians who gave online concerts a try. She split a ticket with a friend to attend BTS’ 2021 Muster Sowoozoo, which broke the band’s own world record of concert livestream attendees with 1.33 million paid viewers. While Ms. Woo said it was nowhere close to the live experience, she still appreciated the chance to hang out with a friend.
Regardless, Ms. Woo is eager to return to live concerts and recently bought tickets for a Glass Animals show in April, 2022. Part of her calculation was that, because it is further into the future, there could be a chance that the pandemic will have eased by then.
“It was kind of optimistic, and I could definitely see how going forward it might not work out. But I was like, why not?”
This willingness by Canadians to take a risk on concert tickets is what gives Ms. Benjamin some hope that live music is coming back in parts of the country. However, she is quick to add that recovery is still a long ways away.
“Not everyone is back. There is live music activity, and this is excellent,” she says. “But it is not a fulsome doors-open situation here.”
Research by the Canadian Independent Venue Coalition found that over 90 per cent of independent music venues in the country are at risk of closing if government support is not extended. For Ms. Benjamin, this represents not only a huge loss to the industry but to the very vibrancy of communities.
“I want people to think about … what their community looks like with no live music venues,” she says. “Because if we’re not careful, we will end up with communities across the country like that.” She especially stresses the need to support small and midsize companies, which are the ones who really fuel the industry.
The danger of further losses to live music is not lost on the most passionate of Canadian concertgoers. Looking at the future of the industry, Mr. Gherghinoiu echoes Ms. Benjamin’s hopes that people will no longer take live music for granted and will especially start valuing smaller venues and artists.
“I just hope that on the whole … people, governments and interest groups realize that this is a part of society that needs a little bit more attention and a little more care,” says Mr. Gherghinoiu.