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Musicians and music businesses love Hamilton

Grant Avenue Studio - interior shot

Why musicians and business move and stay here in Hamilton. Hamilton is recognised as seventh in the world for independent musicians per capita.

Music flows naturally from the heart of Hamilton. It rises from the rhythm of the street, reverberates through the city’s industrial past, and blossoms with vibrant textures from scores of newcomers who have more recently moved to the city. It was hammered out in the shadow of steelmaking but it’s evolved into a melting pot of creative expression that reflects a community going through a renaissance and revitalization at the same time. 

And through it all has emerged a city of music with a wide range of business opportunities, ranging from servicing a burgeoning performing population to showcasing talent at musical events, to finding imaginative ways to harness the energy to drive forward any business venture.

Hamilton is recognised as seventh in the world for independent musicians per capita. The Hamilton Musicians’ Guild has more than 700 active members and is the fastest growing local of the American Federation of Musicians. The city has over 20 recording studios, 150 live performance venues and an average of 70 live music shows across the city each month.

“I think there are more good musicians per capita than anywhere else in Canada, ” says Larry Feudo, the president of the musicians’ local, “When you have all this talent, it’s good for the city.  There is a huge ripple effect.”

Evidence of the reach of music in Hamilton can be found at the annual multi-day Supercrawl Festival in September that can draw as many as 250,000 people and has an estimated annual economic impact of more than $20 million.

A survey in 2016 found nearly 7,000 people were employed in music in Hamilton, with the sector accounting for 42 per cent of all creative industry occupations.  More than 540 musical businesses are known to operate in the city.

Birchway Music instrument repair shop
Ed Sculthorpe, owner of Birchway Music sits with guitars inside his business.

Ed Sculthorpe, who owns Birchway Music, an instrument repair shop and musical retail store on Grant Avenue, is one of those local entrepreneurs. He started the enterprise five years ago because he realized a huge population of guitar players needs people to keep their instruments in top form.

“I wouldn’t be able to exist if there wasn’t an overflowing wealth of musical talent in Hamilton,” he says.   These days his business is so busy, he has had to stop accepting further clients for the time being.

His shop sits across the street from the world famous Grant Avenue Studio, that was started in 1976 by Bob Lanois and his brother Daniel Lanois, who went on to become one of the most successful record producers in the world. Daniel Lanois’ production credits include work with U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young. 

But Hamilton’s music story goes much further and has very deep roots. In fact, the lyrics to one of the most famous songs from the 19th century, When You and I Were Young, Maggie, were written here by school teacher George W. Johnson, inspired by the escarpment going through Hamilton. Furlanetto bass guitars, that are designed and manufactured by George Fulanetto, are revered all over the world. And Boris Brott, of the annual Brott Music Fesival, is recognized as one of the most innovative classical music programmers in Canada.

“Art is the lifeblood beneath the surface of any community and Hamilton has that lifeblood,” says Tom Wilson, known for his work with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and Junkhouse, among other bands, as well as being the author of the best-selling book Beautiful Scars. “It’s an important musical town geographically and artistically. Things develop differently here than they do in Toronto or Detroit and Buffalo.”

The city has produced hugely important musical figures over the past several decades. Stan Rogers, who died in an airplane fire in 1983, left a legacy of brilliant songs about Canada that are still sung to this day. King Biscuit Boy (Richard Newell), who died in 2003, was recognized as one of the world’s greatest harmonica players. Teenage Head has been a major player in the country’s punk scene. And who can forget “Oh What a Feeling” by the iconic Hamilton rock-blues band Crowbar?

Tom Wilson holds up art
Tom Wilson stands in a gallery holding up art.
LT the Monk holds up peace sign
LT the Monk
Arkells in decorated room
The Arkells

Today, the city boasts three of the most successful Canadian touring bands. The Arkells, Monster Truck and Dirty Nil fill stadiums around the continent. 

Hamilton’s music scene has jaw-dropping solo performers as well such as JUNO Award winning jazz singer Diana Panton, blues veteran Rita Chiarelli, indigenous artist Iskwe and indie singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot.

And artists from near and far are moving to Hamilton to make the city their home base. Hip hop singer LtTheMonk, 24, left his native England 2 1/2 years ago to make Hamilton his home and base of operations.

“I Googled the city and thought it would be a cool place to move to, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

“Hamilton has a grittiness. It has a raw feeling that a musician like myself can feel totally embraced in. It’s helping me build the sound I am looking for and I want my songs to be part of the long lineage of music in Hamilton.”

Portrait of Michael Marini

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