Musi-crats fumble away golden opportunity at SXSW in Austin

SXSW is happening this week

SXSW is happening this week


As reported this week by Toronto Star and other sources, it seems Toronto may as well not have bothered going through the motions of setting up a Music City Alliance Agreement with Austin, Texas back in October 2013, for all the promotional value it’s giving this city’s talent at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival taking place there this week.

Likewise, what was the point, nine months ago now, of industry association Music Canada setting up the fancy (and no doubt, when the costs have been tolled, expensive) and ridiculously named “4479 Toronto” marketing campaign aimed at promoting TO as Music City if it couldn’t be ready to seize the opportunity presented by this event?

In the same vein, the 30-member group of musi-crats (industry association reps, city officials, politicians and a few so-called actual industry players) known as the Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council, which was established by Council last month in the wake of the October signing of the agreement with Austin, has no official presence in Austin and appears to be mired deep in institutional and organizational gridlock.

Does anyone reading this doubt for one minute that if Brian Gladstone, Pete Otis and myself were teamed up to be in charge of any one of these above initiatives —with even a third of one of their budgets— that Austin would not be full of people talking about “those amazing musicians from Toronto” right now? Hell, any one of the three of us could have done a better job alone. You could have asked us two weeks ago and it would be happening right now.

When Pete Otis took a group of musicians from his SongTown recording label and promotions enterprise to Nashville with him for the first time a few years ago, for example, everyone ended up playing gigs, Otis hooked up with various local promoters and subsequent return trips have seen the SongTown contingents featured at local indie festivals and kept busy with performing and recording in various venues while they were there.

Setting up his now-annual SongTown Toronto Music Festival and his Honouring Our Own series of over a dozen concerts now were accomplished the same way: Otis didn’t require a fancy Toronto office, glossy promotional material or official-sounding title to get things done. He just did it.

Similarly, when Brian Gladstone started his now iconic Winterfolk Festival shortly after the dawn of the new millennium, he created it by actually getting out on the street and talking to clubs about sponsoring and hosting it and actually meeting with and promoting local musicians to be featured.

To be sure there are many other local promoters who could also teach these groups (whose idea of a “street level” industry player is Horseshoe impresario Jeff Cohen –a guy who has excelled in making  “pay-to-play” gigs the norm in downtown Toronto) a thing or more. Signe Miranda of the Music City North group, Russell Leon of Songwriters Unite and Nelson Sobral of Songwriters Circle of Jerks are just three who pop to mind.

What, in the meantime, aside from pad the resumes and puff up the egos of the participants (and no doubt create jobs for a few friends or nephew/nieces) have either the Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council or the increasingly lame-looking and invisible 4479 Toronto initiative done for the local music scene?

-Gary 17