YEG Live Music Program: Case Study

YEG Live Music Program: Case Study

Local music scene depends on innovative businesses and community organizations to take the lead

Change is the only constant, it is a cliché that we have heard a thousand times but nowhere is it more true than with the current challenges facing emerging artists. Social media, digital streaming and globalization were already impacting local culture and identity when along came the pandemic which isolated us, ingraining these new habits that drew our attention away from our immediate community. So where does this leave a young emerging musician who needs a local audience to develop their skills? Fortunately, progressive organizations like Edmonton International Airport are providing innovative opportunities for musicians to learn, earn and move forward in their career all while improving the experience of travelling through the Airport. 

YEG Stage: Edmonton International Airport Music Program 

Edmonton International Airport (YEG) launched its music program in 2004 and has been a staple of the passenger experience program ever since.  The program was paused in 2020 because of the pandemic but they relaunched in July of 2023 and were recognized by the International Airport Review as one of the top 10 passenger experience initiatives in 2023. It is interesting to note that they are the only Canadian airport to be recognized and one of only two North American airports.  

YEG hosts 60 paid performances by 20 local artists every single month. That is 720 professional development opportunities for emerging artists every year. The program provides local musicians with the opportunity to hone their skills in front of a live audience while improving the experience for travelers at the airport. When I talk to musicians they also tell me about other benefits like unexpected encounters with people at the airport that lead to additional gigs and new opportunities. 

Liz Dwerynchuk is YEG’s Director of Passenger Experience and she recognizes that YEG is not the biggest airport but she takes pride in their innovative and can-do culture. “A seamless airport experience is now expected of a modern airport. The bar has been raised and if you really want to improve passenger experience you need to introduce an element of surprise and delight.” Liz talks about the importance of embracing the local community and how artists create an authentic sense of place in what otherwise might be seen as a sterile corporate venue. “YEG is striving to be an airport for everyone, a welcoming and accessible space for all who journey through the terminal. Travel can be stressful for many people and live music throughout the airport can provide a welcome distraction and a calming ambiance while waiting for a flight.” 

When we asked about the challenges of running a music program in a bustling airport, Liz was quick to point out that budget and staffing are always at the top of the list. This is where technology like Stagehand can help. I recently met with the administrator of the program, David LeGrow, and asked him how much time he spends managing the program. David indicated that using the Stagehand platform he can manage the program in 3-5 hours per month. In other words, only 2-3% of David's monthly workload goes to managing 60 performances. YEG does an open call for artists annually and they admit that this is the most challenging part of the program. They have so many applications from so many talented artists that it is almost impossible to choose. Here again, they lean on enabling technology and the community to help with decision-making by convening a jury of artists, airport staff, and community members. Once a roster is chosen, artists are integrated into a process that empowers them to book their own performance times and locations. David maintains final approval and payments happen automatically through Stagehand once a performance has been confirmed. YEG also uses Stagehand to automate data collection from the audience and the musicians. Closely monitoring data helps YEG understand the impact of the program on passengers and the satisfaction of their partner artists.   

Some interesting stats from a recent artist survey indicate: 

  • Overall satisfaction with performances: 4.71 (out of 5) 

  • 91% of artists indicated these performances help them move forward in their careers

  • Artists' state of mind improves from 3.87 before their performance to 4.56 after

Carrie Day is one of YEG’s featured artists, she had this to say about the program “...sometimes after my shift at the airport, I cry the whole way home. The good kind of cry. Where I feel like this crazy thing of being a performing songwriter at times has meaning and creates connections greater than I ever could have imagined. And sometimes I feel just pure joy. But I always feel grateful.”

David proudly shared some unsolicited feedback from a YEG traveller “The musician playing in the vicinity of Starbucks this morning is absolutely amazing. His music is relaxing to the point of hypnotic, and everyone stopped to listen and smiled at each other before moving on to their gates. The tones just imparted good vibes to all who heard it. By far the best musician and choice of music I’ve ever seen in an airport. Incredibly well done to him and to the YEG staff who selected him.” The musician the passenger was referring to was Josh Williams but we have heard similar feedback on so many talented local artists.   


Stagehand is proud to have helped make live performance a seamless part of daily operations at Edmonton International Airport. But this is just one way to support emerging artists and build local culture. We have worked with downtown associations to revitalize the downtown core and cities to improve safety by activating troubled parks, we have brought joy and healing into hospitals and we have made public transit more welcoming. Successful programs start with the desire of a business or institution to improve customers experience in their spaces and they leverage pride in local community as embodied by local artists. When you make those two things easy and cost effective it creates new career development opportunities for emerging artists. Hats off to everyone at YEG for taking a risk on this industry-leading music program.