Devastating. That’s the word Scott Maynard uses to describe what 2020 was like for the music industry. Maynard, executive director of Music Yukon, says his organization’s already-existent problems were only amplified by the pandemic and the complete shutdown of all live music events. When Maynard took over as executive director two years ago, he inherited an organization with lots to fix, chiefly an unsustainable financial plan. Still, the past few years have brought some highs for the organization, which hosts Arts in the Park each summer. Music Yukon also helped facilitate the award-winning 2019 edition of BreakOut West that took place in Whitehorse.
“It really showed the strength of the community we have here,” Maynard says of BreakOut West. “People came together to celebrate the music community.”
Though BreakOut West ultimately turned out to be a very successful endeavour, it took nine months of planning. The pandemic hit soon afterward, throwing the future of live music events into uncertainty for an indefinite amount of time. Nearly a year into the pandemic, things have hardly gotten better. Music Yukon has been forced to seriously rethink its future and make plans to stay afloat in a changing industry and economy. One of those changes includes moving out of the Smith House, the little blue house in Lepage Park that Music Yukon has called home for nearly a decade. In the meantime, Music Yukon staff are working remotely. New options will be explored once the company’s budget issues are sorted out and a new strategic plan (currently in the works) is completed.
“We were already underfunded and over-budget for a couple of years, knowing the crunch was going to come at some point,” says Maynard. “The crunch came along with the pandemic and the pandemic sped it up a bit. The pandemic itself presents a whole new set of problems, in addition to already existing problems.”
Though Music Yukon had been spending more money than it was bringing in for quite some time, the organization was able to justify keeping the building, as many of the community’s musicians relied on it as a rehearsal space. That changed at the onset of the pandemic. With rehearsal space closed and the staff working from home, the building essentially lost all its use and became a financial burden.
“It became increasingly difficult to justify paying for a space nobody could use, especially when we were already operating at a loss,” Maynard says.
When Music Yukon officially said goodbye to the Smith House early this winter, the organization found a storage unit for the essential gear, including music gear and office furniture. Some of the older items were given away to community members. Because the Smith House had come to be known as Music Yukon’s home, it was difficult to have to leave it behind. Maynard is adamant, however, that this is not the end of Music Yukon. He says the company will be able to emerge from these dire times and build something new.
“It’s not over for Music Yukon, but we’ve kind of turtled in and made it as bare-bones as possible while we get through this pandemic,” Maynard says. “We can begin to rebuild in a way that is relevant to a post-pandemic world and a strong music community with very specific needs.”
The Yukon definitely has a strong music community, but in Maynard’s view, the scene doesn’t receive the support it needs to branch beyond the local level. He praised the talent of the Yukon’s musicians, but said in order for many of them to reach their full potential, there are industry services the territory needs, including publicists, management companies and more.
We have some very specific issues up in the Yukon,” Maynard says. “There’s no shortage of talent, but we have no real industry and we’re miles away from any recognized industry centre.” Maynard says he would love to see his organization be part of this, but these services will require much more funding and a better budget plan. “I want to help everyone, but we don’t have the funding to serve everyone as much as we want to,” he says. “We need to figure out how to distribute resources in a more equitable way.”
Despite the troubles Music Yukon and the music industry are facing right now, Maynard is looking to the future with cautious optimism. He wants to see Music Yukon’s focus shift to helping artists make names for themselves outside of the territory. The one thing Maynard isn’t worried about, however, is the idea that music might disappear.
“I think people will make music anyway,” he says.
“But people who want to have a career doing it need to be able to get out of the Yukon.”
To keep up to date with Music Yukon, visit MusicYukon.com