No money, no resources: City's music strategy falters as marketing becomes focus
5 people have resigned from the city's music industry working committee in just a month
While Hamilton tries to brand itself a "city of music," members of the music scene are bailing en masse from the city's music industry working committee over frustrations from a lack of money and resources.
In the last month, five people have resigned from the committee, including its co-chairs: artist manager and promoter Madeline Wilson and Jeffrey Martin, the president of Quorum Communications.
Core Entertainment General Manager Scott Warren, F2 Events Corp Co-Founder Lara Farcasan and singer songwriter Dan Medakovic have also left.
The city says its music strategy has accomplished a lot, pointing to several initiatives developed in recent months to help foster Hamilton's music scene. But without proper funding and resources, its focus has largely been on branding, committee members say.
It just always felt like piecemeal.- Madeline Wilson, former committee member
The music industry working committee is described on the city's website as designed to advise the city on the goals and priorities of the music industry, as well as on marketing strategies — but lately it has been spinning its wheels, said Madeline Wilson, the owner of Front Room Entertainment and a former committee member. Wilson says the committee was supposed to be an implementation team, not an advisory team.
"There's just not a full commitment from the city in resources, funding or staffing," she said. "I don't know that anyone is specifically at fault for that, but that's just how it feels."
Wilson says she signed on with the committee three years ago to have a role in building up Hamilton's vibrant, pre-existing music scene, which is bursting with talent.
Instead, it often felt like the city's priority was PR and marketing over tangible help for artists and musicians, Wilson says.
"I was quite opposed to that," she said. "I wanted to actually do something for the community."
Music office closes after just a year
The city's music strategy 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 could not 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.
Jason Thorne, Hamilton's general manager of planning and economic development, said the music office closed because the city didn't have the money to keep it open after the initial funding jolt from the Junos.
"With the resources we've got, we're doing as much as we can," Thorne said. "Unfortunately we don't have the resources for a dedicated full time person to focus on just that sector, but we do have staff resources dedicated to this, and frankly I'm pretty pleased with what's been able to be accomplished on the strategy to date."
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."
Since then, the city has launched a "city of music" website containing artist listings and news, and started a branding campaign with a new logo.
But tangible efforts for artists have been much harder to come by.
Core Entertainment General Manager Scott Warren told CBC News that he doesn't believe the city wanted to solely focus on marketing, but "that's what you're left with when you just can't do the other things you want to do," he said.
Warren says he joined the committee to really try to make Hamilton feel like a place that has music embedded in its DNA.
"The reality says — we don't really have money for that, and we don't have the resources for the city," said the former committee member. "Hamilton has the foundation to be a great city of music, but we don't have the resources."
"There's a frustration that comes with that. I'm not blaming the city, that's just what it is. It was a bit deflating with the reality of what we have to work with."
'If they're dropping like flies, we need to regroup'
Ward 2. Coun. Jason Farr originally pitched the music strategy alongside former councillor Brian McHattie. He told CBC News that it's "never good" to have several volunteers resigning from a committee like this.
"There's some very talented music strategists around that table, and if they're dropping like flies, we need to regroup on both sides," he said.
Both Wilson and Thorne say similar initiatives spearheaded by the committee — including a live venue survey and alliance and micro loans for musicians — were positive steps brought on by the committee and the city.
Farr says he also has plans to draft a motion directing city staff to conduct a study on the benefits of a full music officer staff position.
But in the meantime, there remains an impasse between the music committee and the city itself.
"It just didn't feel like our priorities were aligned. A music city is a city that lives and breathes music," Wilson said.
"It just always felt like piecemeal."