by Diana Wilson

Two years of booking and promoting all ages indie concerts for ALL CAPS taught Ryan McLaren some hard facts: it’s hard to make money in the concert booking business when you can’t sell alcohol.

After hitting 19, most music lovers forget how hard it is to make the scene. They forget to question why art and alcohol are so often consumed in tandem.
McLaren ran the monthly all ages series at the Whippersnapper art gallery. But without the float of booze sales, the overhead was high and he had to cover some of the costs himself. The cost of promotion, PA rentals, sound technicians, and band fees added up fast. “For a show to be a small and intimate experience, you can’t charge somebody $20...I rarely broke even,” he explains.

McLaren moved to Toronto in his 20s, so he had no experience of being underage in the big city. He met a few music-hungry youngsters at his other booking gig, Wavelength, just before they were booted out for being underage. Bars that are caught serving teenagers can lose their liquor license, so they guard their door closely. But McLaren saw an opportunity: “I just kept thinking that there are all these people that want to come to our shows and we’re actively saying, ‘no, you can’t come to our shows because you can’t drink.’”

When you separate alcohol and music, a truth about how art is valued in the free market becomes apparent. What is typically available to teens are industry acts that can afford big venue rentals and have no qualms about charging $20+ cover. Big Music preys on teens for their disposable income, without engaging them in local culture.

For the local music scene to include younger audiences, we need a business model that is affordable and alcohol free. And more people like Ryan McLaren who are passionate enough to make it happen, whatever the costs.

Underagers young and old can check out the next ALL CAPS Island Show on August 8th at Artscape Gibralter. Audio junkies can hear the full interview with Ryan McLaren at coming in July.

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