Pandemic leaves local music industry devastated…but not dead

05.04.2016 - Karnataka, India. Klinsvin Gilbert performing at a sold out college campus event. - Photo Courtesy - Klinsvin Gilbert.

The year is 2016, Klinsvin Gilbert is performing at a college campus in Karnataka, India. As soon as his band starts to play, the crowd rushes towards the stage. He can see people lined up cheering for him and his band, waiting to take photos. Gilbert describes the moment as intense happiness, magical and very rewarding for him.

Gilbert is a local musician who has been turning heads in the Durham music scene. Having graduated from the Music Business Management course from Durham College, work was never scarce for him. He says the emotions that run through him while he is on stage are beyond comparison and some of the best memories he has are of him performing.

“To be honest, I really miss it. I miss it so much,” says Gilbert.­

Ever since the pandemic hit, the economic repercussions have been growing at a rapid rate. Musicians have been left to fend for themselves.

Some are struggling to stay afloat, while others are migrating to other fields of work to make ends meet and using the time off to get their creative juices flowing.

Recent data from Statistics Canada reports that performing arts, festivals and events sectors contributed almost $3 million to the economy and over 70,000 jobs in 2019, most of which were lost to the pandemic.

The City of Oshawa, along with performance venues, have taken some initiatives to aid local artists.

Catherine Richards is the manager of culture and centralized recreation services for the City of Oshawa. Her role focuses on the implementation of the city’s cultural plans.

Her focus right now is to find ways to help local artists find work.

Richards says, “We obviously want to assist with their performances being continued and to expose their great talents and abilities to the wider community. And it is difficult, this year has been very difficult.”

Gilbert says, “You’d never expect that such a thing would happen in life, that you can’t do shows anymore. It breaks the concept of being talented.”

Before Durham Region went into the red zone of COVID control, Gilbert could still manage to find a show here and there but not now. “It’s technically against the law,” he says.

2018 - Oshawa, Ont. - Klinsving Gilbert performing at The Music Hall Concert Theatre. Photo Courtesy - Klinsving Gilbert.

Gilbert was not short of work before the pandemic hit.

“I used to do at least six, seven shows a month,” he says, “even the big-time artists can’t do shows. That’s one of the weirdest feeling in the world.”

According to Richards, the city has had to make choices on which events can be moved online and which can not. The events that can not be moved online. “We unfortunately have had to forego,” says Richards.

One of their main summer events, Concerts in the Park Series, where the city hires multiple local artists to perform was cancelled. “That saddens us,” says Richards who says the city has done initiatives over the past 10 months that have engaged local talent.

“Our Canada Day event, which was a partnership with all of Durham Region’s municipalities saw us engage local talent to create the Canada Day virtual experience,” she says. “We’re also right now in the process of developing our Oshawa Celebrates event, which is a New Year’s Eve event, and it will be virtual this year. We’ve been able to work with some local talent for that as well.”

Kevin Arbor, General Manager at the Regent Theatre, says live venues shutting down was tough for local artists.

“Technicians and artists, there’s no work, you know, for people in theatre it’s been rough,” he says.

He explains that artists are independent contractors and not employees and thus, have been going through challenges getting grants from the government. “There is no money available at the entertainment industry. So as a whole, it’s really hurting,” says Arbor.

The Regent Theatre is making a return in the new year with shows lined up all through 2021, which will help local artists bounce back and find work.

Gilbert says in the meanwhile, musicians must stay optimistic if they want to survive the pandemic. “I’ve seen musicians who have been sucked into negativity because of this whole thing,” he says.

According to Gilbert, musicians need to maintain a positive outlook and try to branch out towards other avenues of the music business and try to stay busy.

“I’ve seen some musicians who teach music now, online. They’re trying their best to keep up.”

For musicians who have ‘made it,’ life is a vacation right now. “They don’t need to do another job because they already have millions of dollars,” says Gilbert. But for musicians like him, who are working hard to make a name for themselves, branching out to other avenues to earn a living is inevitable.

Gilbert had been teaching music in the Durham Region. He visited his students’ houses and gave one-on-one music lessons while taking all the necessary precautions. He even tested negative before he started the lessons.

Gilbert says he enjoys helping others learn to play their first tunes but is taking a break, using this free time to create.

“I’m working on new music, you know, post-production and stuff, working on new materials, releasing videos and all that. So that’s been going pretty good.”

To help local artists like Gilbert, The Regent Theatre has been renting their space to individuals for their personal shoots.

“[There have been] a couple of private video shoots where the doors are locked and there is just a camera man and a couple of performers where they can prerecord something,” says Arbor. “So later, if they do a live stream, they could incorporate stuff from the shoot instead of just broadcasting from their living room.”

Gilbert says these are trying times and musicians should keep their head up.

“I think the most important thing is that you keep making music,” says Gilbert.

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