Paying to Play: Tough Times for Local Montreal Bands



Oh Montreal, hippest of all Canadian cities, bursting at the seams with culture, excitement, energy, and music; I'd like to ask a few simple questions. Why is it so difficult for a band to get a break in a place so well known for its impressive music scene? Why does no one really care to support the local act, the struggling artist? And furthermore, why isn't this great city a larger dot on the musical map of North America? My experience in a band has allowed me to see just how difficult it is to break out in a city like Montreal, and while these may seem like the incoherent rants of a frustrated musician, think of them merely as the concerns of a person who genuinely loves music and feels like the odds in this town are stacked particularly high against budding local talent. Here are some of the reasons why.

Reason 1: Venues

One obstacle any determined young band will have to face at some point is the headache of booking shows around town. Venues are plentiful in Montreal, but it isn't as simple as booking a gig, rocking it out in front of a full crowd and going home with 100 new fans. Most music venues in Montreal come at a cost (think anywhere between $500 and $1500 for a show, depending on the size of the place) and rely on the groups to promote themselves, (at least your friends and family will get to enjoy watching you play...right?). Want to play at a place with a regular circulation of people? Better know a few cover songs, because it's rare to be accepted into one of these popular bars as an original act. Competition to play at these places is also fierce and dominated by veteran groups, leaving almost no chance for a new group looking for exposure.

Reason 2: Audience

I'll be the first to admit, going to see an amateur band that you've never heard before isn't usually the most enticing way to spend an evening... or $12. Professional promoters know this very well and will do everything they can to attract inexperienced bands. Each group sells tickets, they play a big show, marathon style, in front of a decent number of people who are really uninterested in your music because only came to see their friend's band play. Another thing, what happened to all the money from ticket sales? Oh, that's right, it's in the promoters' pockets. This method of playing shows is not for those who intend to make any cash. You do the hard work selling tickets, you bring the crowd, your gear and your best tunes, and you walk away with... usually nothing more than a migraine from the 14 metal bands you just listened to.

Reason 3: Over-saturation

Those 14 metal bands are among thousands of amateur acts in Montreal looking for some spotlight. The problem, essentially, is that no one cares. An overabundance of bands in Montreal has not only created stiff competition for attention in the music scene, but also a sort of numbing effect on the fans. In a smaller town people might be interested in going to see a local rock band on a Saturday night. In Montreal, people would much rather got to the Casino or a strip club. Not only are there way too many bands floating around the city, the majority of them are beginners with no real experience... or talent. In my personal experience as a musician, I find that this creates a kind of stigma against new bands. Montrealers are definitely open to new music, and it is possible to stand out from the sea of amateur groups, but you need to get an audience's attention before you can impress them, and getting the chance to get out there and create a fan base is a true challenge.

For a city that embraces music and culture with such open arms it's really a shame how difficult it is for a band to make a name for itself here. Montreal is the proud hometown of such acts as the Arcade Fire, Sam Roberts and (depending on who you talk to) Simple Plan... But these are few in comparison to Cities like LA, Seattle and New York. Paying to play doesn't simply refer to money, it means being prepared to make sacrifices and to fight for recognition in a place where everyone is doing just that.


Check out a discussion about this topic on

Here's one Montreal club owner and promoter's take on the underground music scene


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