Q’s With Canadian Music Week President Neill Dixon

Canadian Music Week Back On Track

By Karen Bliss

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The live music industry is an integral component of Canadian Music Week, the long-running industry conference held annually in Toronto for the past 41 years. Taking place June 5-10, at the Toronto Westin Hotel, CMW includes keynotes, panels, awards and a festival.

This year, there are live-centered panels on all three conference days (June 8-10), with a densely packed schedule for Friday’s Live Tour Summit.

Of the many keynotes, three are with major players from the live sector: a fireside chat with Marty Diamond, executive vice president and managing executive at Wasserman Music, conducted by Live Nation Canada’s head of industry relations, Joey Scoleri; an interview with Debra Rathwell, executive vice president of global touring and talent at AEG Presents, conducted by agent Stefanie Purificati; and an interview with Australian music industry legend Michael Chugg, also conducted by Scoleri.

Panels include Meet The Agents, Agent vs. Promoter, Event and Artist Safety Panel, and Meet The Festival Buyers.

Andrew Valle is Canadian Music Week’s general manager and festival director, booking the acts and helping secure speakers for live-focused areas of the conference, says CMW president Neill Dixon.

Dixon spoke to Pollstar about the live industry component to the conference, its commitment to diversity, and bringing the music festival back to double the size since last year’s post-covid attempt.

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Neill Dixon

Pollstar: How important is live music vertical to attracting people to the conference?
Neill Dixon: Canadian Music Week is Canada’s longest running and biggest music conference and festival. It covers all aspects of the business — sound recording, songwriting, sync., publishing, live and many other things. So, it’s a significant component and it intersects with the rest of the industry, whether it’s a record company, artist management or agents.

This is the first full year back to a thriving live industry since the pandemic. What are some of the topics being addressed this year?
Last year, we had a hybrid event. Business wasn’t back in full swing, but this year everything’s jumping. There is an entire day dedicated to live, but live is spread through all three days of the conference. Our keynotes are Marty Diamond from Wasserman Music, and Debra Rathwell about the highest-grossing tour of all time, Elton John — and that tour is still going. She’s Canadian, probably the highest-ranking Canadian other than the Live Nation guys here this year. We’ve got Michael Chugg back. He’s one of the biggest promoters in the world and one of the key people Down Under. He loves Canadians; he’s been here many times. On the artist side, we’ve got Chuck D and B-Real for the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

Friday is Live Tour Summit Day starting with Meet The Agents. They’re going to be talking about best practices, about trends in the industry, about business returning, about ticketing. They’ll be covering a large swath of agent stuff. It’s followed by the Live Supersession — A Global Status Report with Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of Canadian Live Music Association; Jon Collins, chief executive of the U.K.’s LIVE organization; and Stephen Parker, executive director of National Independent Venue Association. They’re going to give a view from the top on where things are going and where things are predicted to be by the end of the year.

You have a safety panel again. That’s a topic you do regularly. Do you think that always be necessary or are best practices being implemented?
That’ll always be necessary. I’ve been in the business 40 years and they’ve still got the same problems they had 40 years ago. When you’re dealing with crowds, alcohol and drugs, things can happen. You have to be prepared for anything. It’s a lot better now. It’s a lot more sophisticated. There’s disaster plans drawn up for (every scenario). It goes right from the clubs to major stadiums to festivals. They all have unique problems.

The past few years, CMW has been consciously booking more diverse panels, adding more women and people of color. When you were putting together the panels for the live topics — an area dominated by men — are you seeing changes? Is it easier to find more women to put on the panels?
Yes. We’ve been committed to gender parity for a number of years now. The industry’s changing. There’s a lot more women in this industry. It’s a little more challenging with diversity. Now, everybody feels that they need to do their part to make these things a lot more diverse. It’s in the back of our minds on everything. It still needs to be the right people and, sometimes, even when you find the right people, they may not be available. It’s moving the men and women around on the chessboard because that’s the nature of booking these things. But you will see it; it’s a lot more diverse this year. We’ve got Chuck D and B-Real speaking at the conference. It’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Every day, there’s panels dedicated to hip-hop, and there’s a big show on the Friday night with Jadakiss, The Lox and Kardinal Offishall.

40th Anniversary Of Canadian Music Week
TORONTO, ONTARIO – JUNE 09: Merk Mercuriadis and Chuck D in conversation at the 40th Anniversary Of Canadian Music Week at Intercontinental Hotel on June 09, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images)

How was it booking the festival this year?
The venues really struggled throughout COVID, but most got through it. Fortunately, the industry had financial aid from the government.

At one point, our festival had a thousand bands in it, but that was 10 years ago. We’d already started cutting before COVID, but of course, it knocked everything sideways. The number of venues open now is coming back. There will be about 250 bands at the festival this year; last year there were only 100. That’s a big jump. In the future, it’ll be more.

How many venues?
Minimum 25 to 30 venues. There’s everything from the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to History to the El Mocambo, and all sorts of clubs.

The Live Music Industry Awards are relatively new to your 41-year history.
It’s been going seven years. There are going be some major awards given out that evening. We’re going to be honoring Bruce Cockburn with a Legend of Live award. He’s been going for 55 years. He’s got a new album out and is touring right now. He’s another national treasure, just like Gordon Lightfoot. There might be another big award we’re in the process of finalizing

Did you add any new categories?
Last year, our categories disappeared and turned into ‘What I did to survive and pivot and how do we get through it?’ There were a lot of inventive solutions for unique awards that people did over that time period, surviving, but no, we’re back to all the full awards now. Everything that was celebrated before is back and the show is hosted by Indigenous group Digging Roots.

You also run a cannabis conference [O’Cannabiz] and CMW does have a panel exploring opportunities in music after cannabis became legal in Canada in 2018. How does it intersect with the live industry? Are cannabis companies allowed to advertise and sponsor live music events in Canada now?
It’s starting to loosen up. They have allowed, believe it or not, dispensaries to have live performances this year. So that’s one thing that’s new. The rules are changing. They’re not opened up yet, but they can sponsor certain things. I’m not saying they can jump out there and put their name on a festival right away or sell weed at the festival, but it’s coming. That will happen.