Toronto Music Officer Mike Tanner Tunes into the Local Scene
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Toronto Music Officer Mike Tanner Tunes into the Local Scene

Toronto's music officer looks to the city's musical community for guidance in a preliminary town hall.

Toronto’s music officer, Mike Tanner. Photo by Michael Rancic.

What does Toronto’s newly instated music officer do, exactly? Musicians, fans, and industry types found an answer at the Garrison’s main room on Saturday, during an informal town hall discussion. Music Officer Mike Tanner fielded questions from the packed room, supported by Wavelength’s Jonathan Bunce (a.k.a. Johnny Dovercourt), BlogTO’s Aubrey Jax, Harbourfront Centre’s Sergio Elmir, and the Garrison’s Shaun Bowring in the third event organized by Wavelength (following their “Toronto Music Moment” series of the past two years).

Tanner’s role seemed amorphous when the position was created last October, following a major push from advocacy group 4479 Toronto. But his role has developed into a key component of City Hall’s initiative to make Toronto a live-music hub. Following in the footsteps of Austin, Texas, council hopes Tanner will help leverage our music culture to the point where our city becomes an industry giant.

More specifically, Tanner sees the job as a liaison between the music industry and City Hall. He was quick to qualify that the music industry is an “ecosystem” that includes not just big players such as Universal and Live Nation, but also the more independent, grassroots realm. His goal is to help the City better understand the needs of the music community, and to help that community get the most support that they can from the City.

Conversation quickly turned to concerns about zoning, licensing, and permitting, which are issues high on Tanner’s list of priorities. Along with a few audience members, Tanner suggested that we need better conflict-resolution methods to address concerns between neighbourhood residents and businesses such as new music venues or festivals. Tanner was able to work out a temporary permit for DIY venue Geary Lane (they’ve been making their ongoing tussle with the City’s bylaws very public), so that they’d be able to host their Sound Séance festival, but added that adjusting property zoning as a quick fix might not be a long-term solution for a neighbourhood in the midst of significant change.

With councillors Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) and Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) in attendance, Tanner underscored the importance of City councillors in any process toward meaningful change, and urged people to reach out to their City representatives to make sure they prioritize music in their ward.

It was evident from the outset that Tanner was interested in making the event a two-way conversation and wanted to know what people expected from him. Comments from the audience ranged from people proposing the City instate a musician’s salary, urging Tanner to ensure Toronto nurtures musical hubs in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, finding consistent ways of bylaw enforcement, and the need for finding ways to measure the Music Office’s successes.

The large turnout on Saturday was a refreshing reminder that if City Hall has an interest in branding Toronto as a “live-music destination,” then those affected by that decision at every level are going to be engaged while the City is still listening.