Sam Grosso, the owner of the Cadillac Lounge and the El Mocambo knows more about the live music scene here in Toronto than pretty much anyone. When Sam speaks, we all listen. In a recent issue of The Varsity, a University of Toronto publication, Sam speak eloquently of why he thinks live music is struggling.
Ann Sheng, the author of the Varsity article writes:
"In an interview with Sam Grosso, a veteran of the Toronto live music scene and owner of the El Mocambo and Cadillac Lounge, he spoke about the issues threatening live music venues in Toronto. Grosso suggests that combatting venue closures requires appealing to the local government and the community to lend a helping hand.
“People don’t want to pay a cover charge,” says Grosso, “and that includes those who have money and those who don’t and I don’t know why.”
Grosso stresses the importance of paying musicians and artists. Venues can’t survive if they cannot pay their overhead costs and their entertainers. For those who don’t own their own properties, it’s especially difficult: “The rent for some of these venues is incredible and if you don’t own the property yourself you are at the mercy of the market and the landlord. Local government should be doing something to help out so we can keep Toronto’s live music alive,” says Grosso.
Grosso suggested venues should reach out to a younger, under-aged crowd with disposable income. He stressed that having young patrons is key to prosperity and longevity, — but risking a coveted liquor license in Toronto is not worth the trouble for most owners and patrons. The bar, in many of these venues, is what covers overhead costs and keeps the door open. Losing that revenue, Grosso stressed, is often the last nail in the coffin for a venue.
Anyone who has been to a show at a smaller venue can attest to how they build a closer relationship between artists and fans. It likewise builds community among local artists who help to grow and progress Toronto’s diverse and innovative artistic landscape. It is these communities that are under threat, and that may find themselves without a hall to meet and play."
As a band leader, this is on my mind every time I drive to a gig. Will there be anyone there to hear the music we'll be playing and laugh at our witticisms? Did all our emails and Facebook postings inspire anyone to walk or drive to see us play? Will the club owner sell enough beer to make some profit? In many cases, our remuneration is directly related to attendance so naturally that's another reason a small audience can add to the stress.
When I think about it, that is the only criteria that matters when booking a gig. If we can't attract a crowd or sell tickets, THERE IS NO GIG! When Bob and I are putting together a show, our main concern is being able to sell tickets. We have the songs and the experience and the great band behind us but... it always comes back to "can we sell tickets?"
As I was reading Sam's comments, I couldn't help but reflect on the City Hall initiative that financed the Mayor's visit to Austin Texas many months ago. The trip was to learn what Austin is doing to encourage and enhance the local live music scene. Last time I looked, nothing came of this.