Articles,  Big Ideas,  Events,  Ontario

Music City – A strategy

Music City - A StrategyThe points I’ve included below – headlined ‘A Strategy for Music Peterborough‘ – was created with my hometown in mind, but swap out a few names and organizations and this would be useful in any city to frame the way you approach different sectors with a view to creating a cohesive push to highlight music (or, I think, almost any local art or cultural highlight) and create a Music City mentality. I’ve made a few edits from the original document to make explicit the sort of things that I take as a given, but which aren’t obvious to everyone (like gender parity, inclusion of racialized people, good working conditions, etc.).

A few years, ago, before I moved to Toronto so that I could make a living wage, there was an initiative in Peterborough that got me really excited: Music Peterborough.  I joined the committee that came together to dream it into being, I wrote the Mission and Mandate, and I made it big, because I know that being ambitious is the only way to achieve anything. When I moved away, one of the reasons that I was sad to go was that I felt like maybe we were getting somewhere, and that it was an exciting time to be a part of the music industry in Peterborough.

Then they got some funding, and a job opened up.  I applied, even though it would have meant another move and a 50% pay cut, and started to daydream about how to make it work as an organization.  Those daydreams became notes, and those notes started to take a shape and outlined a really clear strategy with a number of achievable projects.  In the end, I didn’t get the job – I don’t know why, but it’s for the best for my own life and ambitions. A few years later, the org seems to have foundered, but with Toronto moving forward with their Music City strategy there’s discussion happening around these ideas, so I thought I’d post my Music City Strategy Document; it’s easily enough to keep a full-time person or small team busy for the first 5 years, in which time it could do a lot of good for a city’s economy and self-image.

This is definitely a draft, and depends on having a working knowledge of the city.  Someone from outside of Peterborough would have a rough time putting it into practise in Peterborough.  I might not have been able to make it work – god knows, I’ve antagonized half of the media in the city, for starters – but I think regardless of who puts it into action, if they are acting in good faith they ought to be able to make a lot of good things happen.

Imagine, my small-town friends, if something like this had taken root and grown in your city.

Imagine what Peterborough would be like today if this plan had been put into action three years ago.

None of these ideas are Peterborough-specific, and could be used by any Canadian city with a strong music community to engage and promote their music industry.

A Strategy for Music Peterborough – or any Music City


– Emphasize and strengthen the roots, and the whole industry will flourish

– Create a policy of paying for all work, and not asking that people work for free

– Create a policy of delivering a good work environment, including job security, benefits, and reasonable expectations

– Consider Peterborough County to be the limits of ‘Peterborough’ to define artists, though the scope of our work will focus on the city of Ptbo, and probably downtown fairly specifically

– Always be asking ‘Who is your favourite Peterborough musician?’ This can create a sense of needing to have a favourite local musician, and also a sense that their opinion is being solicited. Everyone should be asked, and asking, this question.

– Create an excitement and a sense of celebrity around the local music scene (while avoiding a sense of hipster-exclusivity, which tends to make people outside of a very specific scene or demographic feel unwelcome)

– Educate the public about artists who’ve come out of the Ptbo Music scene, and artists who speak highly of the Ptbo scene

– Educate artists about ways to move their career forward, assist them in becoming more knowledgeable about grants and opportunities, and encourage/assist them in capitalizing on the available opportunities

– Ensure a Music Ptbo presence at all major music events in Canada/etc.

– Capitalize on the substantial efforts of the PKT (Peterborough and the Kawarthas Tourism) team to reach out beyond our borders and tell a new story about Ptbo that will reach previously-untapped audiences

– Utilize the funding provided by the Gov’t of Ontario and other arts/music orgs to create a substantial and lasting institution in Ptbo to support the music industry

Advisory Council or Board of Directors

– Be inclusive and representative – aim for gender parity, and ensure that there are racialized and Aboriginal members

– Try to have a strong cross-section of the local industry, but include a majority of grass-roots members, very small venues, small festivals, promoters, etc. Culture starts at street level and moves up; your org will be a waste of time if it’s just a bunch of big players at the table – they will siphon up any available cash and energy and that will create rage and division in the community. You’ll be cooked before you get a chance to do anything productive.

– Involve few or no members that don’t work specifically in the music industry – bureaucrats, tourism specialists, etc.. Their input can always be requested as needed, but having them at the table will slow you down as you have to explain every damn thing.

Artist Members

– Industry Education, Knowledgeable assistance

– Ensure that artists buy in – that they feel represented and respected, listened-to and considered, and that they understand that this organization exists to help and promote them (it’s easy for artists to get resentful due to misunderstandings, and then spend a lot of time undermining your efforts to help them)

– Consider any artist member of Music Ontario or Folk Music Ontario a member of Music Ptbo, and offer all perks

– Find the things that aren’t covered by Music Ontario or Folk Music Ontario and provide those services

– Ensure that local musicians see the benefits, not only of Music Ontario and Folk Music Ontario membership but also of Music Ptbo

– Consult on promotional materials – run some workshops, but create ‘office hours’ where artists can drop in for help and advice on their bios, website, photos, etc.

– Look into costing on hosting websites for artists

– Host ‘Listening parties’ and ‘songwriters circles’ that encourage constructive criticism and foster a community spirit

– Host feedback and consultation nights every two months or so in the beginning, less frequently as we go on.

– Make a deal with one of the local papers, a local radio station, and CHEX (local tv station) to feature local artists once a month

– Create a database of local artists – visual, video, photo etc. – who create album artwork, posters, band photos, music videos, etc.

– Assist with grant-writing for artists – become well-versed in grants available to artists, recording studios, etc., develop relationships with granters

– Assist artists with understanding SOCAN and other professional orgs

– Assist artists in understanding how mechanicals/etc. work, possibilities with publishing and other revenue streams

– Encourage artists to apply for grants and awards – let’s see every local artist who releases an album submit it to the JUNOs, the Country Music Awards, the Cndn Folk Music Awards, etc.

– Encourage local artists to put themselves forward to sit on juries (helps educate artists about the process, and also means Ptbo tastes and ideas are represented on provincial and national juries)

– Host Music Peterborough rooms at all major music conferences, showcasing acts as appropriate (some cost borne by artists, some funded by grants or corporate sponsorships)

– Touring assistance – help with routing, media – create databases of friendly venues, media, etc across Canada. Meet with artists when they come off tour to get their impressions, places they loved, people who were great to work with, and reach out to the good ones to strengthen the association between Ptbo and great music/people

– Request that artists include Music Ptbo logo on their posters/promo materials, and also put Music Ptbo on guestlists where possible/as requested

– Request that artists mention that they’re from Peterborough when they’re on stage (this request has to be handled very sensitively!)

– Create annual juried digital compilations of local artists (juries should be a mix of Ptbo people and out-of-towners, artists and industry people, and should include one ‘name’)

– Electronic newsletter with upcoming grant deadlines, music news about Ptbo, opportunities, workshops, upcoming Music Ontario stuff, conferences, submissions deadlines.

– There are always going to be artists who want to be involved but just aren’t – artistically or business-wise – going to be the artists who will be beneficial for the organization to push. Finding a sensitive way to make them feel included without putting them front-and-centre will be a challenge. Establish what their goals are and find ways to support them, but also set firm boundaries.


– Value, something for (almost) nothing

– Feature venues on Music Ptbo website – tell stories of the venues, write articles about their legendary status (more possible for some than others, but most have some kind of story)

– Host a consultation with venue owners/runners or set up individual meetings to hear their concerns and thoughts on what they need from MP

– Gear membership price to venue capacity!

– Add value – more thought needed


– Create a central resource for Ptbo promoters/bookers to submit their listings to, one place dedicated to providing listings for people looking for music.

– Provide resources – a Photoshop-equipped computer, a good-quality photocopier – that promoters can access

– Meet with Promoters and Bookers, perhaps in a group and/or as individuals, to hear their concerns and what they need from us

Edited to Add: Bookers and Promoters are often treated like the sleazeballs (Which, duh, everyone knows is actually the agencies!) (jk)  of the music industry, but they are absolutely essential to live music.  Encouraging a sense of community, respect for the work, and engaging them on what support they need or want is important.

Local Media

– Knowledge, Welcome, Inclusivity/Exclusivity, Celebrity

– Host schmooze nights twice per year (Spring and Fall) with local media to remind them of major upcoming shows and festivals, to highlight local venues that don’t get a lot of coverage, to introduce them to local artists

– Create a feeling of inclusivity – make the media feel like they’re in with the cool kids, in the know about local music, create a sense of celebrity – be sure it’s an invitation-only event, invite bloggers (Electric City, PTBO Canada) as well as traditional media – this will translate in the way they speak about the local music scene

– Make sure reporters are always welcomed – speak to venues about finding ways to welcome media, ensure that media have a Music Ptbo contact they can talk to is unsure about something

– Find out what media require in order to easily, effectively feature or talk about Ptbo artists and ensure they get it.

– Reach out to media quarterly to thank them for their support, highlight upcoming events, ensure smaller venues are being featured

Out-of-Town Media

– Connect with Music media – NOW Magazine, Exclaim, CBC, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, etc. – introduce the idea of Ptbo as a music community, highlight some of the acts coming out of Peterborough that are currently exciting, pitch it as a story or feature and make it easy to say yes by providing everything they need

– Connect with general media to talk about Ptbo as a destination and origin point for musicians – great musicians come from here, great musicians go there to hang out, record, relax – pitch stories on Ptbo as a music city

– Advertise – advertise Ptbo as a destination for people who want to get away from Toronto but still eat well and see great music; work with excellent artists/studios/engineers/producers/facilities

– When Ptbo musicians are on tour, send out press release/invitations to local media in the towns they’re playing in (this means creating and maintaining lists of local media, but can be developed over years and become a useful resource for artists – may also become a saleable service for non-Ptbo musicians). Include a paragraph on Ptbo’s importance as a music city, other artists coming out of Ptbo

– Again, some kind of cool Music Ptbo swag that can be sent – laminates, patches, buttons – with artists when they go on tour to give out, primarily to local media and promoters

City Hall

– Advocacy, inclusivity

– Request to present a report to council about the impact of the music industry in Ontario, highlight some of the major artists from the Ptbo area, begin to create a sense of excitement and celebrity

– Meet with individual councillors to explain to them in exciting terms the influence of Ptbo artists on the Canadian and international music scene (Karen August did a very similar thing to get councillors on board for Market Hall renos, and her guidance would be invaluable)

– Ensure that any successes are trumpeted at City Council – grants, Juno noms, etc.

– Keep Music top-of-mind for councillors – quarterly report on music industry activity in Ptbo, brief performances at City Council meetings

– Find out what kind of music Councillors like, and introduce them to local/Ontario acts that work in that genre, ask them their opinions

– Emphasize the way that Peterborough’s national reputation as a great city to live in/visit comes in large part from artists who’ve lived here or played here

– Reach out to thank Councillors for their support, invite them to upcoming shows/events, ask for their feedback

– Ask Mayor to declare a ‘Ptbo Music Week’ (in March or April?) and get as many local orgs on-board as possible – from an exhibit of album cover art at the Gallery in the Attic to musicians showcasing at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, the Peterborough Farmer’s Market, and Lansdowne Place and coverage by all local media (would take a tonne of coordination, but would be worth it as an annual effort to educate about local talent; could grow to be something very substantial and become a driver for tourism)

Touring Artists – Out-Of-Towners

– Welcome, inclusivity

– Create a (digital and physical) welcome package which lists places to eat breakfast, yoga studios, health food stores, record stores, vintage clothing stores, and other things artists on the road are interested in; create opportunities for MP corporate members to advertise/offer discounts

– Create a package of some kind (needs more thought) about recording/rehearsing in Ptbo – list local recording studios, rehearsal venues, etc.

– Create some cool, usable swag that can be distributed to artists inexpensively – for example, artists at the Ptbo Folk Festival love the volunteer shirts, and often request them, and we give them away to artists for free because it’s excellent advertising – PFF shirts can be seen on artists across Canada (try to source it ethically and make sure it’s very high quality!)

– Work with local business members to offer discounts on hotels/etc.?

– Provide a list of local venues and the contact info for their bookers (I get email asking for this all of the time)


– Inclusivity/exclusivity, celebrity

– Create a Ptbo Music fan membership (maybe call it something else – ‘insider’? ‘Fan’ isn’t inclusive enough – we want to make people feel like they’re cool for supporting Music Ptbo)

– Work with local venues to offer early ticket sales or discounts to MP insiders; maybe instead of a membership card, we give out a membership laminate that looks like a backstage pass?

– Quarterly newsletter? Works with members to announce big shows or lineups, offer discounts, artist profiles

– Exclusive events like receptions with visiting artists

– Contests – venues/festivals like Showplace and Ptbo Music Festival could help


– Create a Music Ptbo welcome package or app, or ride along with PKT or DBIA efforts, to introduce those already in Ptbo to the idea

– Friday/Saturday evening music guide – a physical person, maybe in the DBIA trailer, who can consult with people looking for music entertainment and tell them what’s on that weekend. Perhaps hire local musicians to do this, as they’ll know the most, and it will have a ring of authenticity – though not ornery musicians, obviously. Not just students; people who actually know the city and the scene.

– Music Ptbo kiosk – downtown, at Lansdowne Place, at Ptbo Music Fest and other local festivals. Sell CDs by local artists, MP merch (t-shirts, buttons, patches, stickers), publicize upcoming events, hold contests, etc.

– Ensure that hotels, restaurants, etc. are on-board – find ways to educate owners and their staff about the benefits of music, the financial rewards of a thriving music community.

– PKT – Capitalize on their expertise and bring our own to the table – what are music fans looking for? And how can we partner with PKT to ensure that they’re highlighting Music as a strong reason to visit the Ptbo area? Look for ways to make Ptbo stand out – no generic crowd photos, but pictures of specific artists and venues.


Like I said above, this is a lot of work, and primarily possible for someone with strong knowledge and connections in the community, a good work ethic, and the capacity to push through the sorts of teacup tempests that happen when you try to make changes – especially positive changes! – within an established community.  But if even a quarter of these aims were realized, it could have a tremendous positive impact on the local music scene, and by extension, the whole damn country.  We’re strongest when our roots are strong. A good Music City starts with the artists, the small venues, and the people who support artists, and then works on up.

I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback – if you’ve got thoughts, please leave a comment below!

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