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Music to their ears

Updated, streamlined liquor laws blending in perfect harmony with expected banner year for Manitoba's entertainment industry

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Premier Greg Selinger

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The year 2014 will officially be the Year of Music in Manitoba.

The city will play host to three major awards shows -- the Juno Awards, the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards and the Western Canadian Music Awards -- in addition to more than 30 festivals and large events. Upcoming changes to Manitoba's liquor laws will make it easier for small venues, restaurants and hotels to get in on the action and provide more opportunities for performers and audiences, Premier Greg Selinger announced Wednesday.

The newly minted Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. is streamlining and eliminating a host of outdated liquor licences -- including the cabaret licence, which caused headaches for small music venues. Those venues play an integral role in hosting marquee events like JunoFest and BreakOut West, the music festival that runs alongside the WCMAs.

Under the cabaret licence, music venues were required to have a minimum of 200 seats. "That doesn't help local bands who are in a developmental stage and can't draw 200 people. It was a huge barrier," said Sara Stasiuk, executive director of Manitoba Music, the province's industry association, and co-chairwoman of the Year in Music committee.

Under the new rules, live music venues will no longer be required to have a minimum of 200 seats. The elimination of the cabaret licence will also help electronic musicians and DJs, who are a huge live draw and represent one of the fastest-growing segments of Manitoba Music's membership. Under the old liquor laws, DJs weren't considered live entertainment. "We're hoping these changes will encourage more small live music venues," Stasiuk said.

The Year of Music is part of a year-long strategy to bolster the profile of the province's vibrant music industry, which employs roughly 4,000 music entrepreneurs and 368 music companies. According to a recent economic impact study commissioned by Manitoba Music, the industry generated a total GDP impact of $71.3 million. The Juno awards alone are expected to contribute $10 million to Manitoba's economy.

"By drawing attention to the diversity, depth and maturity of the music industry in Manitoba through a year-long celebration, we will highlight our musical heritage and thriving music scene," Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection Minister Ron Lemieux said in a release. "We are confident this will help attract talent and investment in our music and hospitality industry,"

In order for the province's music industry to remain sustainable, emerging local acts need opportunities to connect with audiences. After all, many of our biggest exports, such as the Weakerthans, the Guess Who and Crash Test Dummies, got their start in smaller rooms.

"As you know, the music industry's changed; you don't make your money off recordings any more, you make your money off live performances," Selinger told the Free Press. "So we're creating more real opportunities for live performances, which allows musicians to make a living in this province. It's about $71 million of economic activity. So it works for them, it works for the public and it creates a better experience for people when they want to go out on a chilly evening."

A mobile app, Manitoba Music Live, is in development and will allow Manitobans and visitors alike to discover music venues. It will be available for download in the new year.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2013 C3

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