How a year without concerts, festivals and conferences could hit B.C.'s economy
Events generate hundreds of millions of dollars in communities across province every year
Tyler Bancroft spends upward of seven hours a day inside a small, wooden recording studio in his backyard, mixing music and contemplating the future of his band Said the Whale as the global music industry wades into unknown waters.
The summer usually means big shows and outdoor festivals. But not in 2020.
"The impact is severe revenue loss, our bottom line is pretty tight," he told CBC News. "We're sweating a lot, and we have no control over it."
The global COVID-19 pandemic has put the live music industry on hold. Mass gatherings — from block parties to international conferences — are likely off the table for the rest of the year.
For bands like Vancouver's Said the Whale, it's a would-be touring season now spent in search other revenue streams.
For communities across B.C., it's a summer of financial losses in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The province is moving toward a phased reopening of its economy since shuttering swaths of businesses and industries in March. And while restaurants and hair salons will soon open their doors, crowds won't be flocking to live concerts or festivals any time soon.
On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said those events are conditional on a vaccine or successful medical treatments.
"Until these things happen, B.C. won't be hosting rock concerts or conventions," he said.
On Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she doesn't anticipate any large gatherings for the rest of the year, pointing to the infamous Vancouver Dental Conference in early March that yielded more than 80 COVID-19 infections.
"These are the environments where we know this virus can take off, and often it's young people who may not actually realise they're infected, or have very mild illness, and then we bring it back home to our families, and to our communities," she said.
In Vancouver alone, live music and festivals generate nearly $700 million in annual revenue across sectors, according to a 2018 music ecosystem study by the Music B.C. Industry Association. The dollars support nearly 15,000 jobs in the city.
In 2017, live music gatherings generated upwards of $800 million in GDP to the provincial economy, and nearly $80 million in provincial tax dollars, according to a Creative B.C. report.
Meanwhile, international conventions generate upwards of $300 million in economic benefits, according to the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Missing out on these dollars through mid-2021 will mean big losses for businesses — and municipalities, according to live events consultant and former Music B.C. director Alex Grigg.
He says neighbourhood events, like Car Free Day in Vancouver, and destination festivals outside the Lower Mainland provide an economic boon that will be non-existent this year.
"Our province has the most festival content out of any province," said Grigg. "With all those things not on the plate, it's going to be very quiet ... for small towns it will be a greater impact, financially. A lot of those events drive their economies."
Can it rebound?
While the timeline on a return to mass gatherings is still unclear, Grigg says it could be even longer before people feel comfortable going to a live show, ultimately prolonging the economic impact.
"Are we going to be able to sell that experience in a different way? No one knows the answer to that yet, but people in the industry are crafty," he said.
He expects there could be a trend toward more intimate shows with a higher price tag once restrictions open up.
In the meantime, bands like Said the Whale are experimenting with ways to connect with even more fans — and still sell some tickets. Bancroft and his bandmates recently put on a streaming concert.
"It was one of the most uplifting experiences I've had as an artist," said Bancroft. "It was kind of like plucking the front row from every Said the Whale show that's ever happened, put them all in a digital room, and it felt really connected."