Seasonal shopping supports local artists at Holiday Music Merch Market

The second Music Merch Market will take place at Musiikki Cafe on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Image via Tourism Kingston.

After the first-ever Music Merch Market was held in Kingston this past September, organizers have been hard at work putting together the second one, which will take place on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 9, 2023, at Musiikki Cafe in downtown Kingston.

According to James Mulvale, who helped plan the first edition of the market, that initial event was a success.

“The event in September went very, very well, and everyone turned up,” he remarked. “All the bands seemed to be loving it. It was a really lovely atmosphere going on there.”

The market provides an opportunity for local musicians to sell merchandise in an accessible and open environment, away from the hustle and bustle of concerts. Local music lovers can browse the market and connect with musicians and fellow fans in a more laid-back atmosphere than typically found at a live show 

For the second Music Merch Market, Mulvale has been able to draw on support from Tourism Kingston, who have helped make the event even bigger than before. Moira Demorest, Music Commissioner for Tourism Kingston, said she has been trying to support similar initiatives through other music-related events in the past.

“We had tried to do this on a larger scale through Spring Reverb… to kind of have a merch area dedicated to all artists. And so, when James came up with the idea for the Merch Market at [Musiikki]… I reached out to him pretty organically to say ‘I’d love to help,’” she said. 

While Demorest was out of town on business during the first edition of the market, she was able to send some volunteers from her office to the event, helping Mulvale and the artists promote the experience. Mulvale said he appreciates the added support: “[Moira] knew a bunch of other artists who wanted to be part of it, and she knows all kinds of people. She’s just been so helpful… She’s got so much experience, and she knows Kingston like the back of her hand… I’m eternally grateful she’s on board.” 

After a successful first endeavour, Demorest and Mulvale continued to look for ways to host a second edition of the market, deciding on a date in early December to coincide with the busy holiday shopping season.

“Everyone is perhaps a little bit more charitable this time of year, and starting to think how we can give back to our arts community,” Demorest noted. “A simple way to give back to artists and musicians is to purchase their goods, purchase their music, purchase their merchandise.”

“Without being a religious thing, it just seemed like a good opportunity to get everyone together. I personally love Christmas markets. To make a Christmas market into a musical theme is a really strange bucket list [item] I didn’t know I had,” Mulvale joked.  

For most independent musicians, merchandise sales make up a significant portion of their profits. While concert tickets and streaming royalties can be quite lucrative, must local artists rely on the sale of additional items like clothing, accessories, and physical media to get by. Demorest remarked, “It’s harder and harder for artists to make money off streaming platforms… It’s a great way to have artists promote their work, but it’s pennies and cents that they’re really making when it comes to streams.”

She added, “Merchandise is still a really viable income stream for artists. That’s for touring people on the road, [and] for people who are hobby musicians who do the odd show every few months… It’s still a really great way for artists to gain that income stream and gain some autonomy with it.” 

Mulvale, a local musician himself, said artists seemed to enjoy the first event back in September, noting, “I think, to start with, everyone probably thought it was a little strange. But when everyone was there and milling about, it was obvious it was going to be a bunch of fun.” 

Given the nature of the Music Merch Market, artists are provided a free space to sell their merchandise and retain all profits, an arrangement unique to this particular event. As Demorest explained, “[We’re] giving musicians an opportunity to have a platform where they can keep 100 per cent of the proceeds, where they can promote themselves, promote their band, [and] maybe do something a little special for the holidays. We will help to give them that space, the marketing, and just get the word out about their music outside of a regular concert.”

Not only does the market give local artists the opportunity to sell some merchandise ahead of the holidays, it’s also a chance for the musicians to connect with each other in a relaxed and supportive environment.

“It allows for some natural networking amongst musicians,” Demorest said. “You get to see what other musicians in your area are doing, what they’re selling, what they’re putting out there in the world. Hopefully [the artists can] collaborate, get some ideas, and build some natural partnerships that maybe wouldn’t have happened.” 

Throughout the experience of planning the markets, organizers have been able to rely on steady support from members of the local music industry, which Demorest said has helped strengthen the bond within the community.

“With each initiative and each event, we’re building this roster of musicians who want to be involved, who want to help to continue to be here, but also continue to help to grow it,” she said.

Featured artists and bands for the December 9 Music Merch Market include Keaton, Nice On, Tiny Horse, Oakridge Ave., The Gertrudes, Julia Finnegan, and more. There will also be other artists taking part whose work is music-adjacent, such as photographer Kate Pichora, who will be displaying prints featuring concert images. 

According to Demorest, the December 9 event will feature a wide range of merchandise options: “We’ve got shirts, vinyl, your traditional sort of merchandise, like beer cozies, all of that. But then we’ve also got some treats that are a bit more custom for this event.” 

While the September market took place entirely in the Musiikki courtyard, for next Saturday’s event, organizers will be taking over the entire cafe, with vendors available inside as well as some social outdoor programming in the courtyard, weather permitting.

“We have some heat lamps; we have some cozy cider and warm beverages that we’ll be serving outside. So people can be inside and outside,” Demorest noted. 

As anticipation builds for the second Music Merch Market next weekend, organizers are already working on planning future events in 2024. Mulvale said the next market will likely take place sometime in the early spring. At the same time, Demorest is also working to find more ways for Tourism Kingston to support local music sales.

“After the Music Merch Market, we’ll have local artists’ albums and some other merchandise in the Visitor Information Centre… [at] no cost to the artist. So they’ll be able to retain all of the proceeds,” she explained.  

The Music Merch Market takes place on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 from 3 to 5 p.m. at Musikki Cafe (73 Brock Street). Additional information is available on the event’s official Facebook page.

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