Calgary live music venues ‘treading water’ as recession continues
Some live music venues in Calgary are being forced to take a closer look at their operations due to increased costs and patron shortages — or risk shutting their doors for good.
“So many live music venues have closed around us,” said Andrew Brassard, the owner of Broken City and the Texas Lounge. “In this industry everyone is kind of treading water and no one has been thrown a life raft yet.”
Brassard points to a number of factors including the minimum wage hike, property taxes and decreased revenue.
“Everybody I’ve talked to in the industry, across the board, their revenue is down about 20 per cent,” Brassard said.
The business owner said he’s had to cut employees hours and benefits, revamp some of the programming and reach out to city officials.
“Being in a subculture, arts community, you’d think there would be some kind of support from the current governments and it’s really been nothing,” Brassard said.
“My business is now paying the city more than I pay myself.”
A few blocks away, the Hifi Club, is celebrating its 13th anniversary in the Calgary music scene.
Talent buyer, Sarmad Rizvi has been booking shows there for several years and said business is trending up but he admits the club has had to make changes along the way in order to survive.
“We’re open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It keeps it really succinct,” Rizvi said. “We’re not trying to open seven nights a week. We used to do that back in the day but it’s not the time for it right now.”
“It’s a tough business to operate, to be honest,” Rizvi added. “You’re relying on people to come out and support your shows and venues all the time.”
At the Ironwood Stage and Grill rising costs mean more work for fewer people.
“I’ve been having to cut down on staff and [come] in a lot earlier,” said Ironwood owner Pat MacIntyre. “[I’ve been] getting all the paperwork done and then virtually bartending and busing tables in order to keep labour costs down.”
“When you run a live music venue, your margins are a lot tighter than any other food and beverage industry because you only have one seating a night. You don’t get any turnover.”
Local musician T. Buckley, has also noticed the list of live music venues getting shorter.
“You just hope that people realize that these are special places and live music is a special thing,” he said. “I can honestly say, as far as making music here in this province, it’s still one of the best places to be doing it.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for Calgarians who love live music. Despite the mounting pressures hitting the industry, Brassard believes things are turning around.
“Last year, this time we were almost going under and now we’re like we’ve got some positivity,” Brassard said.
“Is it feasible? Right now, I say maybe. Last year, I would have said probably not.”
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