Kingston Music Strategy open for public feedback

February's Music Industry Mixer at the Broom Factory

Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The city of Kingston, in consultation with the firm Nordicity, is trying to build a cohesive music strategy to build on the foundation that already exists in the city’s music scene.

The process really ramped up in February with the city holding a public engagement session and introducing interested members of the music community to Nordicity, the firm that is now leading the charge in crafting what will essentially serve as Kingston’s framework to growth and sustainability of the music sector.

Now, Nordicity has released a draft of the strategy to ensure that their consultation has set them in the right direction, and to see if anything has been missed.

Members of city staff have already reviewed the document internally to ensure that things noted align with where the city is and its overall reach.

In the process of consultation, Nordicity CEO Kristian Roberts said it became clear that Kingston’s music community is passionate and wants to be heard in the process.

“One of the things is how much everyone wants to be part of the strategy,” Roberts said.

“That sort of keen interest in the process and participating and learning about it, that really stood out.”

Homegrown Live – Photo by Kate Pichora

The problem, and what the strategy hopes to in large part address, is that the voices being heard are not necessarily collective.

He says different people want different versions of the same thing, and that can result in a disconnect.

“They’re all kind of doing different things in a not overly coordinated manner,” Roberts said.

“To me that’s not a bad thing, that’s just an illustration of the interest and sort of general passion that the community has in terms of sort of building on the tradition of music in Kingston.”

The strategy as presented is built on four different but connected pillars: music friendly infrastructure, talent investment, spaces and places, and connection and visibility.

The pillars are supported by tenets including equity, diversity, and inclusion and remaining artist centred to guide the decisions made.

Colin Wiginton, Director of Arts and Culture Services, says it’s positioned in a way to allow for progressive action, with the infrastructure pieces being more achievable in the short term before moving on to more complex pieces of a strategy.

“We need to do things like look at the noise bylaw and the parking rules and zoning,” Wiginton said.

“Stuff like that that are levers that we can pull to make things easier.”

In this regard the strategy aims for the city to make bylaws, practices, and policies more music friendly in general, and points to support for events, venues, and other music businesses as a need.

Tax breaks for music businesses, and potentially musicians themselves, could help make running such a business more viable.

The first objective identified in enhancing the city’s music infrastructure is empowering a Music Officer who is familiar with the industry and has the trust of the industry at large.

The Music Officer, and a designated Kingston Music Office, would be an integral part of any strategy to ensure that the necessary steps are in fact implemented and that it continues to remain in touch with the industry it aims to serve.

Ideally, the strategy says, it would be backed by a Music Advisory Committee bringing together voices in the industry – although what that advisory committee would look like is still unclear and Wiginton says that’s one of the pieces really in need of feedback to determine.

Nordicity’s Roberts said finding someone to take on that role is crucial, as the strategy can only be effective in any way if actually followed through on.

“Ultimately somebody has to pick this up and run with it, and that person has to know the music industry and the music industry has to know them,” Roberts said.

“That’s all we’re actually talking about, somebody who has the trust of the community, who knows that music community, and is able to actually affect change in a kind of sustainable manner.”

Right now, Moira Demorest is acting in a version of that role with Tourism Kingston as Music Commissioner.

Both the success of the Kingston Film Office and the Music Office established in London, Ontario have been pointed to as strong arguments in favour of starting a Kingston Music Office.

The strategy also highlights talent investment, which more or less means reducing costs and increasing paid opportunities for musicians.

While standards of pay for musicians are outlined as a key goal, Wiginton admits that it is expected to be a challenge to get every party who influences that on board.

Wiginton says he thinks, or at least hopes, that with the city working with the musicians union to set an example for these standards of pay, other spaces will fall in line.

“Starting with awareness building and understanding of that importance and then moving towards sort of collective pressure that these are the way things need to go,” Wiginton said.

“I’m confident that we have good buy in from our partners like Tourism Kingston and Kingston Economic Development so where we’d need to do some work is with the union and venues.”

While certain factors like market rent and inflation exist beyond the city’s control, the notion of looking at a musician’s live/work space as a category of affordable housing could go in front of council in the near future.

Wiginton says those kinds of attempts could be the city’s way of creating “pockets of affordability” for artists.

Kasador’s Cameron Wyatt says while trying to scale up, musicians are routinely investing days of work to just break even or sometimes lose money.

Support with day to day expenses like rent would make pursuing a career in music less onerous.

“Financial barriers have always been a huge part of it so I think really everything to alleviate the everyday expense,” Wyatt said.

“Something that is an unavoidable expense of just being alive and also to be able to pursue a craft that doesn’t necessarily pay well unless you’re at the real top end… that could definitely be a big help.”

Wyatt and Kasador still call Kingston home as they continue to grow as a band, and he says while it can be limited by sheer population that the appetite for and accessibility to music already beats some larger cities.

He thinks local musicians could use more help finding opportunities to monetize whether that be through grants, session playing, or music synchronization, setting them up to be able to access more funding streams.

“Having people at least be aware or know how to do it,” Wyatt said.

“Because there’s no one really to tell you how to do these things.”

The third pillar, places and spaces, looks at creating affordable rehearsal spaces (drastically lacking in Kingston), a mid-sized venue in the “venue ladder”, and leveraging more opportunities for musicians in public spaces.

Finally the fourth pillar seeks to increase connection and visibility, aiming to increase collaboration across the music industry and with adjacent sectors like film.

Ultimately, this pillar says increasing Kingston’s reputation as a music city should draw more dedicated tourism to the city, and would be a win for artists and businesses alike.

Both the third and fourth pillar also touch on the need to better leverage the student community, and find a way to better connect the local music industry to the massive and ever-changing student population.

The strategy is provided alongside additional reading which provides some added context.

The city and Nordicity are welcoming fairly in depth feedback to make sure whatever strategy is finalized is moving in the right direction for Kingston.

But Wiginton adds that in working with Nordicity, the firm’s tangible examples from other places in Canada and around the world will help make a strategy easier for council to digest.

“It needs to be artist centred, it needs to be relevant and specific to the Kingston context,” Wiginton said.

“But we can also learn and benefit from other examples so that we’re not reinventing the wheel here.”

The City of Kingston will play a big role in implementing policies that allow for music to thrive, but Wiginton says ultimately the music community and public as a whole will be responsible for pushing the agenda forward.

“This is the city’s music strategy and there’s things that we are going to be able to do, but what gets laid out is also then a guideline for the community as a whole so that we’re all moving the needle together,” Wiginton said.

“So when we get into things like talent investment and spaces and places, those are things that we’re collaboratively working on to everyone’s benefit.”

The survey will be open for feedback until Wednesday May 31 at 4 PM.

Homegrown Live – Photo by Kate Pichora