'It's a fiasco': Hamilton shuts down 'City of Music' website as criticism mounts

Just one year after its creation, the city is shutting down its “City of Music” website — marking the latest setback for Hamilton’s beleaguered music strategy.

Music advisory team says it has 'refocused' its efforts away from marketing and branding

The city is shutting down its "City of Music" website. (Sheryl Nadler)

Just one year after its creation, the city is shutting down its "City of Music" website — marking the latest setback for Hamilton's beleaguered music strategy.

That strategy has been widely criticized for focusing on branding over actually helping Hamilton's musicians in any tangible way.

The city's music advisory team says it is working on a new approach and wants to improve resources for Hamilton's music community — but new revelations about how money linked to the project has been spent shows how branding has been the city's primary focus.

"This has been a disaster from the beginning," said Jeffrey Martin, former music industry working committee co-chair. "There has been very little effort from [the city]."

Here's how Martin says the bulk of the money from the music strategy was spent last year:

  • $30,000 for a marketing plan and branding.
  • $10,000 to $15,000 for merchandise like branded buttons, T-shirts and stickers.
  • $15,000 to sponsor a Supercrawl stage that fell through without signage.
  • $3,000, plus additional hosting costs, to set up and run a website for a year.

All told, that's close to $60,000 spent in a year, and none of it going directly to musicians.

"It's a fiasco," said Martin, who resigned from the committee out of frustration last year, alongside several other members. "I believe they are going to shelve the entire thing."

But Mark Furukawa, the current chair of the Hamilton music advisory team (HMAT), which is a renamed version of the same committee, said that isn't the case.

"The whole purpose of HMAT's existence is to help build Hamilton into a City of Music using Hamilton's Music Strategy as a guideline, and that is exactly what we are, and will continue, to do," he said in a statement.

Questions about funding remain

Furukawa said the "city of music" website was a one-year pilot project, and when faced with costs of renewing and maintaining the site, it just wasn't worth it. The site featured concert listings and posts outlining what local musicians are doing — things that are readily available elsewhere online.

He said the website's traffic and metrics were "disappointing" and did not meet "projections, hopes or expectations."

"We also found that there ended up being quite a lot of duplicated content between the City of Music site and the pages and information accessible via the main City of Hamilton, so I think this was a very prudent decision both logistically and economically," he said.

It's difficult to determine exactly how much money the city has committed to its music strategy. It first launched back in 2013, with $50,000 in city funding.

A considerable amount of those funds were used to open a "music office" in the Lister Block before the 2015 Juno awards. Just over a year later, that office was closed. City staffers have not been able to say exactly how much it cost to set up the now-shuttered office.

One staff member now oversees Hamilton's cultural industries, with a portfolio that includes music, television and film.

In 2016, the music industry working committee was granted a $25,000 "budget enhancement" that was referred to the 2018 budget process to "fund marketing efforts that establish Hamilton as the City of Music."

Advisory team refocusing away from branding, chair says

Debbie Spence, who works for the city as the business development consultant in creative industries, told CBC News in a previous interview that the money that supports music comes from a "few different budgets."

She said that about $50,000 was earmarked for the city's music strategy in 2018, but that didn't include other projects and initiatives from which musicians and artists can find funding.

A city spokesperson could not say exactly how much money the city has invested in the music strategy each year.

Furukawa said the music advisory team has "refocused our concentrated efforts away from a marketing and branding focus, and onto what we feel is the most important and crucial element of making Hamilton into a music city: providing and improving local music industry infrastructure."

He pointed to the city's ongoing "music Mondays" concert series at city hall, musician loading zones outside venues, a live music venue alliance, a forthcoming local music archive and several other initiatives as evidence of those improvements.

Furukawa also said the group has also "established several goals that we are working on for the 2019 year."



Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.


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