If you’re familiar with Ottawa’s music scene, you’ve probably heard of MonkeyJunk – an energetic blues-rock trio boasting two Juno Awards. Before the pandemic, the band had been touring internationally, from the Caribbean to Europe.
Then, the pandemic hit.
“To be blunt, it’s been very difficult financially,” says drummer Matt Sobb. “The whole industry basically grinded to a halt.”
For Sobb, it was a double whammy. In addition to a forced pause on MonkeyJunk, the music venue where he worked booking and promoting shows – Overflow Brewing Company – had to pause live entertainment for the duration of the pandemic.
While Sobb has a supportive spouse with a stable job, their mortgage still has to be paid, forcing him to take up odd jobs.
“I work really hard all day, I go home – I don’t have the energy to be creative,” he says.
That’s where the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC) comes in: a member-based non-profit organization, working to grow the local music economy by bringing together artists, venues, festivals, businesses and more.
Supported by the City of Ottawa, OMIC is working tirelessly to help musicians like Sobb get through COVID-19. The organization is providing professional development services, such as teaching artists how to monetize music online, as well as administering microgrants through the $25,000 Ottawa Music Development Fund (OMDF).
To showcase Ottawa’s musicians, OMDF recipients are invited to perform at OMIC’s virtual concert series, Encore Ottawa. Since February 2021, OMIC has hosted two online concerts every Friday, pre-recorded at the Shenkman Arts Centre in partnership with Rogers TV and Apt613, and funded by the City of Ottawa. The performances are broadcast to a potential 300,000 homes.
“We have a ton of talent within our membership,” says OMIC executive director Jamie Kwong. “We try to create as many opportunities as possible to showcase them.”
In the first round of Encore, OMIC paid approximately $40,000 in artists’ fees. MonkeyJunk is being showcased in round two, giving the band the chance to perform together again.
“Through the pandemic, (OMIC) spurred us to start thinking about creating new music,” Sobb says. “We’ve already started writing new songs for a new record.”
The second season of Encore Ottawa premieres June 11, kickstarting 23 concerts featuring more than 60 local musicians.
Revitalizing Ottawa’s music scene
For Kwong, the pandemic showed how vital the arts are for mental health – and now, as vaccines start rolling in, a crucial part of Ottawa’s economic recovery.
Just before COVID-19 struck, OMIC commissioned a report detailing the economic impact of Ottawa’s music industry. It estimated that consumers spend approximately $138.2 million annually to attend live shows, and that the industry’s contribution to Ottawa’s GDP was $115.6 million overall.
While the music industry is taking a hard hit during the pandemic, OMIC is working hard to make a difference. Kwong estimates that OMIC paid out $70,000 in artists fees overall in 2020.
“That’s the reinvestment that we’re putting back into our city,” she says.
Additionally, the organization is working directly with venues, helping them sift through COVID-19 information by “making sure that they can ask (us) questions that we can bring back to the city,” as well as exploring the possibility of measures such as so-called “vaccination passports” that would allow music fans to safely attend concerts again.
Kwong adds that a healthy music industry is important for Ottawa businesses looking to attract skilled employees who have a choice of cities in which to work.
“Young talent wants to know that Ottawa is a vibrant place,” she says.
To help kickstart Ottawa’s music economic recovery, OMIC is crowdfunding for the next round of the OMDF grants. The city is investing $25,000 and this time, OMIC wants to match it, “so that we can continue to help invest in our local creative talent in Ottawa,” Kwong says.
OMIC is looking to partner with Ottawa businesses. In return for their sponsorship, the organization is offering branding opportunities, corporate concerts and more.
“Any support people can provide to our local musicians is always appreciated,” Kwong says.