the newspaper chats with City of Toronto Music Sector Development Officer Mike Tanner about representation in the music scene and what we need to do to embrace our potential as a music capital.

If you were in possession of a few free weekends and a diverse palate of musical tastes, Toronto had plenty to offer this summer. It’s a crucial indication of a much larger shift in Toronto’s music scene. It’s an evolutionary move towards a city that can have the potential be a landing site for new investment and a launch pad for incredible talent, but is still in the process of figuring out its identity. Mike Tanner, past NXNE visionary organizer and Toronto’s inaugural Music Development Officer, is the individual tasked with leading us there.


Illustration/Joyce Wong

“I came here 25 years ago because the music here then was better than what I left behind in Vancouver. It’s better now than when I arrived here.” More than a year into his tenure in the position, Tanner has been an unrivaled advocate for the music industry at city hall and has made strides in terms of helping musicians navigate city policies in order to better support their work. Tanner envisions his role as a liaison between “the music community and large organizations all the way down to small venues, individual artists, and small promoters.” In a city where ideas become events through the spirit of collaboration, Tanner is a necessary adhesive. While Toronto has been aligning itself with Richard Florida’s controversial creative cities model, encouraging Torontonians to think of their city as a music capital remains a heady task. It is a reshaping process that Tanner thinks City Hall has assisted with: “We have a mayor and city council that are very music friendly, they understand the value and importance, are big fans of music in their personal lives, so it’s a really good time to be having these discussions in the city.”  

When asked about his suggestions on how to open up the genre-specific spaces that tend to be racially homogenous, Tanner admits to not having an answer. The solution is not easy, and when it comes to the capacity for Toronto’s music scene to mirror the diversity in the city, the lack of equal representation points to a crucial fissure in our ability to grow. In light of Toronto’s unofficial rechristening as “the 6ix,” Tanner recognizes the need to support our hip-hop scene: “One of the things that strikes me is that if you go anywhere around the world and you say Toronto, people will say Drake and The Weeknd and yet it is something not that easy to find—urban music shows, live shows in Toronto. And I’m interested in this question. One of the things I wonder about is what role the city might be able to play to bring together private sector partners to develop an entrepreneurial group of people who are interested in and have the facility, ability, and access to put on shows in these genres that are currently a little underrepresented.”

As the discussion turned to Toronto’s ability to engage in dialogue that critiques shortcomings in its own music scene, it remains an area that the city needs to work on; for every productive panel discussion I’ve attended, I have also witnessed ones with damaging repercussions. Tanner’s response was refreshing and firm. He attributes the success of events like these to “acceptable industry discussions” and “having the appropriate people on panels whether it deals with gender stereotypes or racism or whatever the subject it, it really helps if you get people who are actually engaged with or affected by or share different perspectives on the issue.”

As we come to a conclusion, Tanner muses, “Seven or eight years ago, in the city of Toronto there was an event every weekend and now it’s more like three events every weekend.” Of those festivals, only a single one is OVO, and while Drake may be internationally recalled when people say the “6ix,” he’s certainly not the only thing we have to offer. “Toronto’s music scene is fantastic. There are live venues all around the city; we have a fanbase that’s really engaged; a sophisticated, well-developed media in different platforms; great venues, and most of all, an unrivaled group of artists all calling Toronto home. It is a question of how people who are engaged in the city and those who are not recognize what we’ve got here and understand its value.” It’s an optimistic view, and while we may not be there yet, we’re well on our way.

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