The Just For Laughs Museum will be closing its doors on Jan. 1, and this means the loss of two respected music venues in the Plateau neighborhood.
The building has been consistently losing money since it was founded in 1993, according to managing director of the Just For Laughs Museum David Heurtel.
The news may come as a shock to Montrealers, but not to those who work in the music industry.
The Just for Laughs Studio and Cabaret, located on Saint-Laurent Boulevard just below Sherbrooke Street, have a capacity of 200 and 350 respectively, and although the venues are frequently booked, founder Gilbert Rozon has had to fork out $10 million over 17 years to keep the business afloat.
“[Music venues] rely on the people going to their [shows],” said Patrice Caron, operations manager for the M For Montreal music festival. “And hopefully these people are drinking beer. Usually you never make money off the door.”
Concerts gain their biggest revenue from bar sales. These, Heurtel explained, weren’t generating enough revenue to support the whole building.
So what does it take to keep a music venue open in Montreal? “You have to have lots of money and some good friends to make it happen,” said Caron. When operating a music venue that is open year-round, some months will be busier than others. If the owner doesn’t have the money to get through the slower months, it can be very difficult to stay open.
Caron emphasized that people who operate a music venue do so because it’s their passion, and not for the money.
Eventually however, it doesn’t make sense to stick with a business that isn’t turning out profits. “That’s the name of the game. You have to make some money and if you don’t, you close and that’s it.”
Caron believes that there are two primary reasons why music venues struggle. The first is that they receive no government support, either in the form of funding or promoting local acts. The second is that there simply aren’t enough people going to shows. The latter, he fears, is a cultural trend; people would rather download a band’s music for free than pay $10 or $15 to see them live.
So although the loss of Cabaret and Studio is a significant blow to both bands and festival organizers, it is but a small symptom of a greater struggle facing Montreal venue owners.