Tag Archives: Canadian Music Industry

Strategic Streaming

Published 02/26/2020

By Chaka V. Grier

Do you listen, really listen, to your favourite artists? I mean intense listening over great swaths of time. Repeating the same track like you’ve just been dumped, and streaming Adele’s “Someone Like You” again and again is the only way to drain every tear from your body.

Many of us have soundtracks to our lives. A song that defines a phase, a moment, or a routine so deeply that hearing them instantly evokes that experience. During a trip to Costa Rica, I created a bare playlist that consisted solely of Laura Sauvage’s “Alien (Anything Like It, Have You?)” and the Weeknd’s “Hurt You.” Two years later, whenever I hear either song, I’m transported back onto that dimly-lit Costa Rican bus, as it speeds down narrow roads, amidst a downpour that made the skies prematurely dark.

I’ve recently converted that kind of dedicated – and organic – streaming into strategic streaming, deployed to support artists, particularly lesser-known ones. Like organic streaming, strategic streaming is an intense “play that song or album for 10 days in a row” strategy (where there’s wi-fi there’s a way). I do it to give a deliberate lift to songs that I feel are under-appreciated or under-played. I do it because streaming is growing more powerful, with algorithms built to favour the giants in music, not those who are new or lesser-known. It’s a David-versus-Goliath type of battle, and the gigantic ball of money is in Goliath’s court.

A few weeks ago, Selena Gomez became the poster child for what strategic streaming looks like in the hands of Goliath, after posting an Instagram video of herself and friends hopping from store to store in order to buy out, and boost sales of, her latest album Rare. As if that wasn’t enough of a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” to her army of 168 million Insta fans, she went further by asking them to stream the album as much as possible to hoist it up the charts. That they did, catapulting it to Billboard’s No. 1 spot. The success of the campaign apparently left Gomez feeling icky. “I was a bit embarrassed asking so often for you to stream or buy my album,” she later wrote on a post celebrating the win. “It felt inauthentic.” Yet it’s also made her the first woman of the decade with a No. 1 album, and a big paycheck to boot.

To be fair, she’s not alone. Justin Bieber was accused of trying to do the same for his track “Yummy.” Taylor Swift kept the band Tool at bay from the No. 1 slot she held by summoning her fans to strategically stream Lover. And I assume many artists strategically stream to help build plays on their music. Some may say, ‘What’s an enormous fan base worth if not to support the artists they claim to love?’ Yes, but when used so aggressively, it puts lesser-known artists (without massive fan bases, promotion machines, and big labels with the money, to sway the algorithms in their direction) even further behind.

Speaking of algorithms, they have a great deal to do with what pops up “randomly” in your feed, helping determine what becomes popular, or even gets the chance to be discovered and heard. Greater exposure and discoverability often leads to greater audiences and success; that’s why it matters what we hear and what we don’t. And like the proverbial “secret sauce,” only those on the back end of these platforms know what the exact algorithm ingredients are. And unlike Instagram or Twitter, “gaming” the system – learning when to post, what to post, what hashtags to use – is a challenge on music platforms.

It’s worth noting that a recent final report from the federal Broadcasting & Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel recommended that the government of Canada introduce new legislation that includes a provision making it mandatory for online streaming companies to contribute to Canadian content. Since streaming customers’ viewing choices are guided by algorithms, the report recommends enforcing “discoverability” obligations to ensure Canadian streaming content is visible and easy to find. Post-report, Canadian music rights organizations are meeting with streaming services to advocate for algorithms that put Canadians more in the forefront.

Still, that may not help new and lesser-known Canadian artists. Without an army behind them, we who care about music thriving organically must fight fire with fire. That means purchasing the physical copies of albums. Supporting live music. Buying merch at shows. That also means strategic streaming: When you get free wi-fi, deliberately pick an artist whose work you respect or enjoy, hashtag it #SSD ( for Strategic Stream Day), and play the heck out of their song or album.

By the way, these aren’t “pity plays”; it’s the exact opposite. Strategic streaming celebrates and supports under-appreciated artists making music we love. (That music looks, or should I say sounds, different for each of us, which makes it random and exciting.) Since strategic streaming, I’ve added thousands of plays to numerous artist tracks. I’ve also chronicled the counts as the days go along, and will purposefully pick a single song to focus on, making it easier to gauge if it makes its way into their top tracks.

And I don’t just focus on new artists. there are beloved artists whose careers have since died down, or never made it to great popularity, but still rely on revenue from past music. So, I send some love their way by strategic-streaming favourite tracks as well, especially artists who’ve re-recorded music to get out of limiting contracts. When Fiona Apple pledged that all the royalties from her song “Criminal” will go to refugee organizations for the next year, I streamed it to support the cause.

I’m the first to admit that this is just a drop in the bucket – there are millions of artists vying to be heard. And even when strategically streaming, it may only result in pennies, revenue-wise. But over time, and with many others doing the same, it may mean that the gap between the lesser-knowns and giant stars isn’t ever-widening. It may also mean that those mysterious algorithms will begin including more voices in their secret sauce.

More about Chaka V. Grier

Rescind the Digital Exemption

Published 10/17/2019

By Ed Henderson

In February 2007, believing that nothing major would ever become of Internet broadcasting, the Canadian Radio and television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced an exemption order (C-58) – now referred to as the Digital Exemption – for Internet delivered content. This exemption meant the Internet would not be treated as a broadcaster and would pay no taxes. Foreign ownership would be unregulated and there would be no requirement to feature Canadian content nor make financial contributions, as all other broadcasters do, to the creation of Canadian content.

Internet broadcasters have laughed all the way to the bank ever since.

The Canadian government has long recognized our proximity to the USA as a threat to our cultural existence. Since the early 1900s, government sought ways to protect Canada’s unique culture. In 1936, the federal government introduced the Broadcasting Act, which established a place for Canadian voices to be heard in every part of our country. Since 1957 the Canadian government has regulated the allowable percentage of foreign ownership of Canadian broadcasting entities at 20%.

Canadian content regulations in television (enacted in 1961) and radio (enacted in 1970) have helped build our culture, so much so that artists from the 1970s onwards were able to establish their careers in Canada. Before those regulations were created, many aspiring Canadian artists were forced to leave the country to find success.

Today, the presence of an increasingly dominant and unregulated Internet means history is repeating itself. Once again, we are seeing Canadian artists leave Canada to establish their careers in the arts.

The result is that we are losing jobs in all media and arts. We are also losing Canadian content and programming.

Creators, artists and publishers in Canada are not the only sectors affected by the unregulated Internet. As Internet broadcasting has grown, traditional media in Canada have suffered: newspapers, TV, radio and cable have seen their advertising revenue drop year after year. Conventional TV revenue fell from $1.984 billion in 2011 to $1.411 billion in 2018 – nearly 30%. This has resulted in financial losses every year, beginning in 2012, with $7 million to last year with $144 million (total deficit in only seven years is $675 million). Commercial radio revenue peaked in 2013 at $1.6 billion falling to $1.49 billion in 2018 (a loss of 7%).

The result is that we are losing jobs in all media and arts. We are also losing Canadian content and programming.

Such losses of revenue have caused less spending on production. Producers have less to pay creators. Producers increasingly demand creator copyrights and the royalties that are due to them – surely, an unintended side-effect of the Digital Exemption.

Meanwhile, the Internet broadcasters, mostly located in California, are making billions. Over the top (OTT) revenues have gone from $115 million in 2011 to $1.3 billion in 2018 (a 1,130% increase), and projections for 2022 are $2.351 billion. Almost none of this revenue stays in Canada.

Richard Stursberg and Stephen Armstrong in The Tangled Garden (published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd., 2019) provide a simple fix for this problem: rescind the Digital Exemption.

They write: “Culture is an enormous business in Canada. It is worth, by the government’s reckoning, almost $54 billion per year and employs 650,000 people. This makes it almost twice as large as agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries combined. It accounts for double the number of jobs in mining and oil and gas.”

Stursberg and Armstrong vividly describe the swift pace of the losses to Canadian culture: “Beginning around 2010 . . . much of what had been accomplished began to erode. The once mighty newspaper industry struggled to survive, shedding journalists and closing bureaus across the country. The vastly profitable television business began to lose money. CTV, Global and CityTV, the powerhouses of the private news business and the biggest commissioners of Canadian drama and comedy, were all under water by 2012. The magazine and film businesses were also swept into the downdrafts created by the FAANGS.” (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google)

Action by government is urgent.

Rescinding the Digital Exemption will likely cost Canadian citizens and government nothing. According to Stursberg and Armstrong, “Extending the sales tax, abolishing the tax credits for foreign offshoots and eliminating the loophole on the application of C-58 will generate sufficient funds” to protect Canadian Content in the digital marketplace.

“The measures are neither novel nor strange. They are, in fact, simply extensions of the rules that have historically governed broadcasting and newspaper businesses. They require that the FAANGs be subject to the same tax regimes as the traditional media, that they make the same contributions to the production of Canadian content and respect the same standards of civility and truthfulness that bind the newspapers and broadcasters.”

Action by government is urgent. The authors warn us: “these changes in policy . . . must be made now. The financial situation of the traditional media is so fragile that they can not wait much longer.”

These simple changes would nearly double the amount of support for our Canadian cultural industries and provide increased tax revenue for Canada. Stursberg and Armstrong hypothesize that, if the Digital Exemption was rescinded and the Internet broadcasters were treated as what they are: broadcasters, – the $100 million that Netflix spent on production in Canada in 2017 would have been $230 million and would rise to $320 million by 2021.

The European Union has taken action. It recently passed legislation to support its thriving cultural economy by applying the same regulations that all non-Internet broadcasters are subject to all Internet broadcasters.

Canada must do the same. Treat the Internet as the broadcaster that it is. Regulate it, require it contribute their fair share of and support and broadcast Canadian content.

Canada’s cultural existence depends on it.

A version of Ed Henderson’s editorial was published in the October 15, 2019, edition of The Globe and Mail.

About Ed Henderson

 

Using Copyrighted Music in Podcasts

Published 09/30/2019

By Alan Cross

Since its debut on January 25, 2017, my Ongoing History of New Music podcasts has been downloaded 5.9 million times by people in virtually every country on the planet, save French Guyana, Western Sahara, Niger, Chad, South Sudan, Eritrea, the Republic of the Congo, and North Korea. That’s 188 out of 195 countries.

Not bad for a documentary program that goes deep into the music, despite not being able to play the songs – copyrighted commercial music – about which I talk. It’s a music documentary without the music because, well, them’s the rules.

When an artist signs a deal with a record label, the label is granted the sole and exclusive right to distribute that artist’s music. When a podcaster includes a song in a production, the podcaster becomes a de facto distributor of a digital file of that song. That breaches the contractual rights owned by the label, opening the podcaster to charges of unauthorized duplication of a copyrighted work. Piracy, in other words.

The most we can do without getting into any kind of trouble is offering short clips to illustrate points made by the narrative. But even this is officially verboten. (More on that risk in a moment.)

There’s no licensing mechanism by which podcasters can legally include this sort of music for distribution in their programs. No matter how much money you want to throw at the situation, there’s no one that’s empowered to help you.

You may have done some research that says it’s permissible to use commercial music in podcasts, even if it’s just a 15-second clip. This is not true. There is no minimum duration that makes using the clip of a song okay.

Some people will justify their use music based on the concept of “fair use.” But if you dig into the Berne Convention, you’ll see that the applicable copyright law is in the country where the podcast is available and consumed, not where it’s hosted.

For example, the U.S. has fair use in its copyright law. But that only applies to the United States. Canada, the U.K., and Australia do not (we have something called “fair dealing,” by the way). Many countries haven’t even got that far. And even then, “fair use” (or its local equivalent) is something you’d only use if you’re hauled into court, which means you’ve already spent a gusher’s worth of money.

Does it matter that your podcast doesn’t make money? Nope. Irrelevant. Move on.

“What if,” you say, “I have the permission of the artist to use their music?” That’s fine, but the artist is just part of the chain. You still need the okay from the label, the publisher, and the composers (if different from the artist).

Chances are, too, that the artist has signed up with a performing rights organization. You’ll need permission from them, too. Currently, anybody can license the performing rights for music in their podcast by getting a Tariff 22F license from SOCAN, but that’s only for the performing rights, and only in Canada. They’d still need to license the master recording, and the reproduction rights.

Confusing matters are that some broadcasters – the BBC and U.K. commercial broadcasters leap to mind – have spent millions on music licensing, as part of all these do with music. About a decade ago, they negotiated a 30-second limit for songs within podcasts heard within the U.K. only. Everything else is supposed to be geo-blocked to avoid copyright infringement in non-U.K. territories.

Some people have tried to skirt the rules by placing their podcasts on YouTube. Nice try, but then we’re talking about a stream, not a podcast, so different rules apply. And even then, the chances of YouTube’s ID algorithms flagging the podcast for a copyright violation on music are pretty good. Spotify, which had gone deep with podcasts, also appears to have some copyright bots searching for similar violations, and have kicked off a few podcasters.

To be clear, there’s been no takedown of a major podcast for running afoul of these rules. That would require time and expensive lawyers. But it’s also possible that rights holders are just waiting for things with certain high-profile podcasters to reach critical mass before pouncing on violators with a big bill.

There’s no doubt that a lot of money is being left on the table, so why can’t someone just come up with a blanket license for music in podcasts? Various proposals are being floated, especially since the U.S. podcast market is predicted to exceed US $1 billion by the end of 2020. The new medium is exploding, and the bigger things get, the more difficult it’ll be to keep things orderly and legal.

But first, there are endless negotiations that need to be conducted with rights holders around the planet.

All artists, composers, and those associated with a song deserve to be compensated for their labour. The situation with music in podcasts is one of the most challenging things the industry has had to face since the blanket licenses that came in with radio almost a hundred years ago. Except, like, about a million times trickier.

About Alan Cross

Three Reasons Why SOCAN Members Should Rejoice

Published 09/16/2019

By Diane Tell

1 – Drake is a SOCAN member.
An article titled “Three reasons why,” ending with the name of a superstar is, I admit, a bit of a tease, but I needed to get your precious and sometimes fickle attention. I did it, right? Maybe you know that famous Groucho Marx quotes, “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” Conversely, I would totally be a member of a society to which Drake would agree to give the management of his copyrights! With an average of 20 million Spotify streams daily, 19 million subscribers, and 7 billion total views on YouTube – to mention just a few metrics of his immense success – the Toronto-based artist could have easily let himself be lured away by the American siren song, but instead, he’s one of us. I’m not privy to secret information, but I gather that means that, at the very least, he’s satisfied with this arrangement. And what’s good for Drake is good for me, and good for our organization as a whole.

2 – SOCAN belongs to us.
I wrote “our organization” because SOCAN belongs to us. SOCAN is not a government agency and doesn’t belong to shareholders: SOCAN is a co-operative, or in other words, a society, that belongs to its members and, more specifically, an economic group based on the principle of co-operation, in which all participants, equal in rights, are associated to carry out activities with the goal of satisfying their work, or consumption needs, by being freeing themselves of the rule of capital.  In 2017, the Blackstone group acquired SESAC, one of the oldest collective rights management organizations in North America, which is itself the owner of the Harry Fox Agency, a mechanical reproduction rights management society founded in 1927. Did you know that? I’m perfectly fine that my modest business capital doesn’t belong to one of the planet’s most powerful investment firms… How about you?

3 – SOCAN, the devil’s advocate, is in the details.
In Canada, there’s a small detail worth knowing: copyright falls under the purview of two devilishly opposite federal departments. Heritage Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED). To avoid any potential faux pas, I’ll quote the official versions of their mission statements, available publicly on the Canadian Government website. Canadian Heritage and its portfolio organizations play a vital role in the cultural, civic and economic life of Canadians. Arts, culture and heritage represent $53.8 billion in the Canadian economy and more than 650,000 jobs in sectors such as film and video, broadcasting, music, publishing, archives, performing arts, heritage institutions, festivals and celebrations. The Copyright and Broadcasting acts, according to this web site, fall under the purview of that federal department. OK, but…  Innovation, Sciences and Economic Development’s portfolio is composed of the following departments and agencies: Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Copyright Board Canada (CB), etc. That department is also responsible for the regulation of broadcasting and telecommunications – broadcasting, distribution and spectrum licences, telecommunications standards, certification and more. And more? No thanks. I’d like someone to explain to me how Mr. Industry and Ms. Heritage manage to agree on the custody of their children, namely content and creators. But then again, I’ve got other fish to fry. I’ve got songs to write, a show to put together, an Instagram post to publish… I leave the SOCAN experts to deal with this puzzle, that I’d call “the paradox of the Canadian context for copyrights.”

For these reasons and many, many more, I’m incredibly proud to be a member of SOCAN, as well as one of its directors. SOCAN is democratic, has gender parity, it’s innovative, and it’s one of the least expensive rights management organizations in the world. Bold new tools are already in place, or being developed, to achieve the highest possible efficiency when it comes to collecting and distributing our royalties. A new member portal will be live online before year’s end. You won’t believe your eyes when you see it! The music industry, having been completely transformed by the digital revolution, is having a hard time letting go of its old business models. But SOCAN is constantly re-inventing itself, and giving everything it has to offer new and improved services, such as the addition of mechanical reproduction rights – thanks to the acquisition of SODRAC. I’m really happy to be part of the SOCAN family. And you?

About Diane Tell

 

The “Business of Music”

Published 08/29/2019

By Widney Bonfils

Ever since I started working at SOCAN, I’ve had the opportunity to meet countless emerging songwriters. What all of them have in common is a deep desire to “make it” in the music industry. I’m fascinated by their desire to share their art, and the courage that requires, just as I’m fascinated by their contagious passion.

Throughout all of the captivating conversations I’ve had with them, I’ve noticed that many of them had no idea of what they were getting into. I realize that many of them totally ignored the amount of work, and the knowledge, required in order to navigate this industry. Merely saying “All I want to do is make music” is, I believe, totally obsolete and – dare I say it – ludicrous. How can one hope to succeed in an industry one doesn’t understand? Can you imagine a budding banker who doesn’t have a basic understanding of economics or finance? The same goes for music. Making good music is the start, of course, but that alone doesn’t guarantee success.

The first question one should ask when they consider entering this business should be, “Is this just a hobby, or do I want to profit from my art?” The answer to this question is critical, as it will determine the future of people who wish to earn a living in this industry. Believe me, a career in music does indeed require you to have the profile of an entrepreneur. And just as with any start-up, you need to proceed step by step, and not try to go too fast. Here are a few points that I hope will help some of you better understand the basics of the music industry.

The Importance of Being Well Informed

Ignorance never was, is, and never will be sexy. The notion of saying one makes music and doesn’t need to grasp the business side of it is utterly crazy, and borders on irresponsibility. One doesn’t climb a mountain without climbing equipment. Just as, one doesn’t enter the music business without knowing the basics. Here are a few essential pieces of information to have in order to understand this environment:

  • Copyright (mechanical royalties, performance royalties…)
  • Rights management organizations and their responsibilities (SOCAN, Re: Sound…)
  • Financing methods, and the institutions that support the music industry (Musicaction, FACTOR, CALQ, The Canada Council for The Arts…)
  • The various players and their responsibilities (music labels, music publishers, venue bookers…)
  • Broadcast platforms and how they operate

It’s a music entrepreneur’s responsibility to familiarize themselves with these sides of the industry, because once that’s done, they can determine their needs, are and start assembling the right team for themselves.

Picking the Right Crew Mates, While Remaining the Captain of Your Ship

One thing I’ve noticed while interacting with songwriters and composers is their desire to find a manager, a publisher, or a record label – without understanding those roles, and the differences between all of those players, and without having taken the time to properly evaluate what their needs actually are. It’s no surprise that some of them end up in difficult situations down the line. However, if you understand those fields, and your own needs, I believe it’s fundamental to build the right team to support you. No one can do it all by themselves. Being able to count on the right team allows creators to focus on what they prefer – creating music – while knowing the business side of things is in good hands. Obviously, that requires a good understanding of the areas outlined above. The artist is at the heart of their project, but they should also be the CEO of the team supporting it.

Managing Rejection and Chasing Your Dream

Many give up when they realize how harsh this the process can be. Many are called, few are chosen. These people weren’t ready for it, or at the very least, thought their hobby was a profession. The music industry can be just as gratifying as it can be frustrating. One has to be prepared to be rejected often before finding success, and that’s not easy. And once you have reached that success, you need to know how to manage it, and again, this is where a good team is crucial. The mental stress of being constantly solicited can quickly devolve into a problem if it’s not handled properly.

I believe that once you’ve become aware of your talent, and have decided to earn a living with it, you also have the responsibility to share it. I believe in the incredible power of music. It unites us, motivates us, heals us… This integral part of culture is critical for humanity, because it’s an integral part of our lives. I also believe in the importance of artists, and I’m saddened when I see some abandon their career prematurely. It is not an easy trade. As I said, knowing how to deal with the rejection, deception, and financial hardships that are typical when you begin a career is challenging. But hang in there, it’s worth it!

As in any other industry, the music industry operates in tiers. Sure, the big names of this industry like Drake, The Weeknd, and others are successful artists making millions, year after year. But there are tons of artists who earn a very decent living from their art. That, to me, is what being successful means.

 

Confessions of a bad feminist

Published 08/20/2019

By Miranda Mulholland

Let’s play “Four truths and a lie.

  • I had a tour manager try to crawl into my tour bus bunk night after night, ripping the Velcro open when I was asleep and laughing when I was startled at the uninvited – not to mention unwelcome – intrusion. After wrestling with whether or not I should say something about this behaviour, I told the band’s manager, only to be told he might not hire him again.
  • I was told I was too expensive to take on the road because I was the only girl, so therefore I needed my own room, and that was too costly (despite the fact that all the married male musicians’ wives made it very clear they would much rather I didn’t share with their husbands).
  • I have witnessed women coming to shows, getting on buses, seeking out my bandmates at after-parties – not just at our shows, but at shows of famous bands we knew and were backstage for, while either opening for them or guest-listed – and being told over and over that “what happens on the road stays on the road.” Lying to bandmates’ girlfriends about what happened, or didn’t happen, on tour was what I was tacitly asked to do. If I told the truth I wouldn’t be in the gang anymore – and by gang, I mean my paid employment: playing the instrument I had studied since I was four years old, and the hard-earned, steady job I had secured in a notoriously unstable industry.
  • Whenever I’m the only woman in the band, I’ve been asked by someone at almost every show which bandmate was my boyfriend.
  • I have had a powerful agent stick his tongue down my throat without consent, and I had no recourse available to me.

So, which one is the lie? The sad truth is, the only lie is that throughout all of those events, I told myself I was a feminist. What’s even sadder is that a great many other things have happened to me that are much worse, and those I am not ready, or even able, to talk about. I was trapped in the prison of being the token girl in a band, and the whole time I was proud of not being like other girls. And here’s the absolute worst part: I assimilated. I kept quiet, I thought this was the way it was supposed to be. The second wave of feminism had happened in the ‘60s, hadn’t it? I lived through the pop-powered Girl Power movement of the ‘90s, didn’t I?

Things had changed, right? If I was still a victim, it was my fault.

Truth? I’ve been a terrible feminist. The worst part about this is that I didn’t even realize it until recently. I was sitting in the Grand Assembly Room in Bath, England – which is an austere court right out of Jane Austen’s biography –  listening to Caroline Criado-Perez speak about her book Invisible Women, and she hit a raw, raw nerve by describing herself as a young woman not wanting to be like “other girls.”

If you haven’t encountered Ms. Criado-Perez’s work yet, I advise you to stop reading this right now and order her book. Preferably from your local bookshop, but I’m not going to get picky here. I’ll wait… Great choice. You’ll love it. It’ll fill you with passion, rage, and understanding, but in a good way. Moving on.

I was basically born boy crazy. When I was told by boys growing up that I “wasn’t like other girls,” I felt like I’d received the highest compliment.

What were “other girls” like? Emotional, petulant, needy, and gossipy. What was I being praised for, then? Being stoic and tacit, calm and complicit. I am a quick learner, and I molded myself into the girl I thought they wanted. It was my first act of treason against feminism and all womankind.

This continued into University, where I was a prime target for a professor who made me feel chosen and clearly knew I wouldn’t tell anyone about our secret relationship because I “wasn’t like other girls.”  I found out much, much later that he had a talent for finding women who “weren’t like other girls,” and the worst part was, we all fell for it. In this case, we were all just like “other girls.”

I tried out for several musical groups after leaving University – eventually landing with one, a punk Celtic Band, in which the same rules of not being like other girls applied. As I segued out of a more gender-balanced university setting to being the only woman in my working sphere, I got a real crash course in another key component of the “only woman in a band” lifestyle, and what that means. This feeling was described as The Smurfette Principle in a New York Times Magazine back in 1991, referring to the lack of blue female characters in the popular cartoon. (FYI, there are three female Smurfs out of 105: Smurfette, Sassette Smurfling, and Nanny Smurf.) –

I read the Coles notes in tokenism really quickly. Tokenism comes from the Old English word for symbol, and the definition is, “The practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, as in offering opportunities to minorities equal to those of the majority.” I was now an “only”.

Research into the side effects of tokenism was pioneered by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. She wrote a book in 1977 called Men and Women of the Corporation. In it, she cites some negative consequences an “only” can face, in this case an only woman:

  1. You’re highly visible, and therefore intensely scrutinized.
  2. You’re isolated by the majority, who exaggerate their differences, and “onlys” may respond by either accepting outsider status, or striving to become an insider (although obviously never a complete one).
  3. You’re expected to act within pre-defined gender roles. Here “only” women can either fight assimilation (very challenging), or accept some form of “role encapsulation.”

Kanter discovered that women in the study most often did the latter, adopting one of four typically female caricatured roles (the mother, the pet, the seductress, or the iron maiden).  Interesting. Remember the three female Smurfs? I guess they need a Smurfiron Maiden to complete the caricature quartet.

There have been a lot of studies about how many “onlys” exist in various spheres, (not just gender but also race, age, you name it). Two notable examples are Women in the Workplace, and, specifically on the music business, the shocking (not so shocking) Annenberg study

So I assimilated. I condoned the behaviour I witnessed. Even worse, I engaged in it myself, because I wanted to fit in and to belong. I’m not pointing the finger at my male bandmates here, many of whom were, and are, individually great people. It’s just that in the music business, being male was normal and I was “other”.

If I had had even one woman in my corner, maybe I would have seen the system for what it was, broken and stacked against me., But I wasn’t like other girls, remember? I was one of the guys. In my efforts to define myself as “not like other girls,” I had isolated myself from potential role models and allies who could have sat me down with a stiff cocktail and said, ‘’Miranda, don’t put up with that shit.” The Kanter tokenism study speaks about the importance of role models and allies, of all genders. I can say with certainty that in each band I’ve been involved in, the music for the audience and for the musicians was better when I felt comfortable to be the artist I know I can be.

Exhausted from feeling like an “other” all the time, I started a band called Belle Starr. I introduced Stephanie Cadman and Kendel Carson – two of my favourite people and musicians — and together we formed a trio. It was my first lesson in true social democracy, respect, and inclusion. We discovered our own strengths, and the combined power of being a trio of strong women. This didn’t shield us from the inevitable “where’s the man doing sound?” question, or the constant sexualization, or underestimation of our skills, that we encountered on a regular basis. Still, it remains the best lesson I ever had in being bigger than the sum of your parts by valuing every member’s contributions.

My main project now is Harrow Fair, a duo with Andrew Penner. We work really hard to maintain balance. We talk over every decision, and negotiate, and sometimes argue. But we do it with mutual respect, and with the art that we’re making at the heart of it all. Andrew has been understanding as I regained the confidence I’d lost from feeling diminished and underestimated for much of my career. (Thanks, Pal!)

We all need to be better feminists. Feminist isn’t a dirty word. It isn’t about trying to take anything away from anyone. It means that gender-neutral does not mean male. It means women are not “other.” In order to change what’s become the status quo, we need to open our eyes, and act intentionally. Be aware of language; “Sound engineer” instead of “sound man.” Be aware of who the decision-makers are. Women are more than 50 % of the population; is that represented in your Board of Directors, festival line-up, roster? If not, change it. More voices at the table allows for better discussion, not to mention a safer space for more people to share their opinions, less of all the “-isms,” and with less room for the garbage my female colleagues and I have experienced. I applaud those who are already doing this, and we all need to support them.

For my bit, I started The Muskoka Music Festival (previously Sawdust City Music Festival), and since its inception we’ve been striving for, and making aggressive progress for, gender parity and inclusion. I’m on the board of Governors of Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall, and we’ve made significant moves towards gender parity. I’m the chair of the Music Canada Advisory Council, and I’m so proud that we have wide representation and diversity on that board. There’s much to be done in all areas of representation, and I want to do better.

The truth is, I want to be a better feminist. Won’t you join me?

 

Music venues need to provide non-alcoholic drink options

Published 07/11/2019

By Damhnait Doyle

A shorter, abridged version of this SOCAN blog post, written by SOCAN Board of Directors member Damhnait Doyle, was uploaded to The Toronto Star website on July 10, 2019, and printed in the newspaper on July 11, 2019. Following is the original, full-length version.

I really began drinking when I started in the music industry.

I was a blisteringly shy and introverted girl from Newfoundland, not long out of Catholic high school, finding my feet in downtown Toronto. I was young, scared, and surrounded by people I had admired and idolized my whole life. I felt like a fraud, an imposter.

Straightaway, I had a hit with my first single; suddenly, my video was on MuchMusic several times a day. Anxiety was coursing through my veins at lightning speed. This happens when your greatest fear is people looking at you, and you have to go on stage for a living. I was so nervous, I threw up in a bucket, stage side, before my first headlining gig (no booze was involved). Shortly afterward, someone bought me a shot of tequila before I went onstage, and boom! I had my liquid courage. I could go out there, and the fear turned into adrenalin. It felt like the answer.

Musicians don’t drink like normal people. You drink before gigs, during gigs, after gigs, on your day off, on a travel day, at the airport bar, the hotel bar, in the bus, the back of the van, when the show sucks, when the show is off the hook, when your song is on the radio, when no one’s playing your single, when you can’t get arrested, when you get arrested. In music circles, alcohol is both the journey and the destination.

When you’re doing it, you don’t realize that alcohol is putting a blanket over your intuition. Your body could be screaming out, “What the hell are you doing? Stop drinking!” and you’d be all, “Wow, my blanket is really loving this Rioja.” It creates a lack of communication between your brain and your physical body and spirit. When you suffer from depression and anxiety, as so many creative people do, the alcohol that you think is taking the edge off of anxiety, is actually building a fire around your body, stacking it with kindling, paper, and logs, and setting it ablaze. Add on the logs of a 4:00 a.m. lobby call, a nine-hour drive to the gig, and nothing but Tim Hortons for three weeks, and you have an issue.

I woke up almost a year ago and realized alcohol wasn’t serving me anymore. I was done. I hadn’t even considered it as an option before that. On paper, I didn’t have a problem. People asked , “Why would you stop drinking, I drink way more than you.” It’s as if society says the only legitimate reason to quit drinking is if you get thrown in jail, or you get a DUI. Now, sobriety is catching on. People are having a collective awakening, that they don’t have to drink just because they always did, and because everybody still does.

I’m writing this because I didn’t see many stories of people in my sphere talking about it, and when I did, I rejoiced. Listen, there are some cool-ass sober musicians. I know this because I’ve Googled that exact phrase 100 times since last August. That really helps – knowing you’re not alone is an incredible gift, so I’m adding my voice, and passing it on.

Next to having my family, quitting drinking was, hands down, the single best thing I’ve ever done. This includes getting up to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Willie Nelson, every night for two weeks, with my band Shaye, on tour. Not drinking is the bomb.

I won’t lie, it was hard to stop.

I had to re-wire all the neural/social pathways in my brain. The first gig not drinking, the first conference (CCMAs), the first writing trip, the first time in the studio, etc. It takes a lot of work and determination to counteract the mindless habit of drinking. I can’t even begin to fathom the struggle that musicians who are in hard-core recovery from hardcore drug and alcohol use have to go through every day. They have to go to work surrounded by the very thing that threatens their lives.

I don’t know of many other careers where you’re not only allowed to drink all the (free, Free, FREE!) booze you want, but you’re expected to do so, to some degree. Still, I was shocked, when I stopped drinking, by the lack of non-alcoholic beverage options (and, no, water and colas don’t count) at bars and venues in Canada. I believe everywhere a musician goes to work (and yes, even though it’s nighttime, and it’s fun, and it’s your favourite band, it’s still work for the musicians and crew), there should be a proper non-alcoholic option. Sometimes, you just want to have something in your hand, something that lets you blend in, without having to explain why you’re not drinking. Not to mention, non-alcoholic (NA) beers are delicious, taste just like regular beer, have only 30 calories, and won’t give you a hangover or a gut.

For bars and concert venues, the profit margin for NA beer could be just as high as their alcoholic counterparts, or higher. They just need to stock one row, one measly row. I’m not saying they should charge as much as they do for real beer, but I’m gonna be so happy for the option, I’m not gonna complain.

So we’ve got the mental health/addiction component, but we’ve also got the #metoo component. #Metoo demonstrated that silently sitting with something awful causes rot – and if you don’t catch it in time, you disintegrate. Thankfully, our industry is having the necessary conversations: How do we fix, how do we prevent, how does this never happen again? We have to look at the facts, which tell the story, with a running theme throughout: Alcohol. Almost 50 percent of all sexual assaults involve excessive amounts of alcohol. You can’t make up someone’s mind about how much to drink, or how to behave; but if you don’t at least offer up non-alcoholic options, sexual assault statistics will stay the same.

I want to thank Allan Reid at CARAS and the team at SOCAN for making sure that non-alcoholic beverage options were available at this year’s JUNO awards, and at the SOCAN Awards Gala. It may seem like a small thing, but it creates a ripple effect. I’d like to see us band together as an industry and make sure that every festival, every club, every bar, everywhere that musicians go to work, has a non-alcoholic option. Until then, I’ll keep on sneaking my NA beer into bars, and having way more fun than I ever did.

The Empowerment of Sitting in a Circle

Published 06/11/2019

By Howard Druckman

Last month, I attended the 2019 Manito Ahbee Indigenous Music Conference and Awards in Winnipeg. One of the first things that struck me was the fact that, for the first day of the conference, all of the 50-odd participants were gathered in a single circle. Sounds like such a simple idea, right? But it’s incredibly empowering.

It places the moderator, and the five or six invited, knowledge-sharing experts, on the same non-hierarchical level as the attending musicians seeking that helpful information. As five or six microphones are passed freely between all participants, everybody who wants to ask a question gets to do so. Every question gets answered, often by more than one of the experts, or fellow musicians. Everybody’s welcome, everybody can see each other, everybody gets to be heard, and everybody – from novices to experts – gets to share their insights.

On the second and final day of the conference, the format was revised into a “goldfish-bowl” style, with an inner circle of about eight seats – each with a microphone – at a round table, and an outer circle of the rest of the participants. Without any specified subject, those in the inner circle discuss whatever issues or strategies are on their minds; anybody in the outer circle is free to move to the inner one and speak their mind, as others who’ve already spoken move back to the outer circle. Again, everybody gets their chance to say whatever they want to, and the content flows freely.

The “big-circle” and “goldfish-bowl” formats are the most effective I’ve seen for sharing knowledge, live, at a conference. They’re practically revolutionary, especially when compared and contrasted with the format of  most music industry conferences.

At almost all other conferences I’ve attended over the past 30-odd years, almost all of the four-at-once sessions involve several experts and a moderator onstage, talking amongst themselves, before an audience of industry hopefuls. The “question-and-answer” section at the end is five minutes long, if that. The audience members rush the stage at the end to try and ask a question or two, and perhaps three or four of them get to do that. Even in the “one-on-one” consultations, each musician gets about five minutes with each expert, and they alone receive the knowledge – it’s not shared among the many. All of this is nowhere near as effective.

There’s so much to learn from how the First Nations music community operates, and I look forward to that process. Let’s start by sitting in a circle.