Just like anything new to you; a new school, a new job, a new city, busting into an already established music community can be harrowing. But fear not my friends, because you can now learn from my years of seemingly useless experiences and legwork!

Here is the officially unofficial 101-guide to the Ottawa music scene, giving you (the Ottawa music scene newbie) a head’s up about what to look out for and what to expect when enjoying live music in Canada’s capital city.


Just like anywhere else, buy your tickets as soon as possible! Buying tickets early ensures, first and foremost, that you won’t be locked out cold in the streets when your favourite artists are ripping a once-in-a-year gig inside. Trust me, it’s heartbreaking. Also grabbing tickets in a timely fashion gives the promoter/band an idea of what to expect for the show turnout, which can sometimes lead to switching the concert to a venue with a bigger capacity, allowing more people to attend. Tickets can usually be purchased online, from the opening bands or at Ottawa’s legendary Vertigo Records on Rideau Street.


Generally not something your average concertgoer has to worry about, but for those of you looking to get involved with the music community it’s good to know who is running it. The Ottawa music scene belongs to Shawn Scallen and Spectrasonic, a no-nonsense grassroots company that has their fingers in just about every genre the city has to offer. Babely Shades are a more recent addition to the community, run by a group of badass women of colour who were tired of being seen as minorities at local punk shows. Brandon Bird’s the Diamond Mine Agency is also a notable presence in town, recent years having found a niche in bigger rap, smaller metal and TV comic performances. The last year or so has seen the rise of a younger generation with guys like Ryan Fitz putting on local indie and punk shows, and also some venues have in house promoters like Jon Evenchick at Live! On Elgin. Which brings me to my next point…


The bulk of Ottawa concert venues are concentrated in the downtown core, as to be expected in any major city. You have most of the bigger spaces (and names) including the National Arts Centre, Ritual Night Club, Mavericks Bar, and Zaphod’s in and around the Byward Market. But going to shows is a great way to explore the city, with many of the smaller, more intimate performances being held at bars and cafes around town.


After hours weekday parking is free along city streets, definitely avoid paying for lot spots if you can.


If you have yet to experience a winter in Ottawa you have no idea what you are in for, it gets cold, like really cold, and there’s snow, like a lot of snow. Naturally a packed venue can’t have a hundred people standing around in full winter garb so many enact mandatory coat check policies. It’s usually only two bucks (minus tip) so make sure you always come with a toonie or two in your pocket!


Though often late and constantly under construction, OC Transpo is a world-renown intra-city channel and a great, cheap way, of getting to and from your concert. Always plan ahead, be sure which bus you need to take to get there and know when your bus stops running for the night, usually around midnight. Uber is a great resource in Ottawa, to the bane of the city’s cab drivers, and though it’s not technically legalized until September 30 you can get most anywhere, except airports.


All Spectrasonic shows have a strict no stage diving, no crowd surfing, no moshing policy. We’re in a government town and nobody wants to get sued.

That’s it, that’s all! Welcome to the Ottawa music scene and heed my advice, get involved! It’s intimidating but worthwhile, there are some fantastic people making incredible music within the city just waiting for you to find them.