Tag Archives: Canadian Music Industry

PR During Protests

Published 10/1/2020

By Dalton Higgins

During these last number of months, it has not been just another day at the office for me. As an African-Canadian owner of one of Canada’s leading boutique PR companies, that just happens to specialize in Black music (i.e., rap, R&B, electronic), long before the social protests, posting of Black squares, and sharing of hashtags, I have pretty much seen, heard, and witnessed all kinds of repulsive anti-Black racist acts that would make your head spin like a helicopter. Right here. In Canada. While being based in “multicultural” Toronto.

When we talk about structural and systemic racism in Canada, it means looking at what’s around you, looking at facts (and not feelings), and looking at real measures of equality, like representation. There’s no hard data that’s been collected or compiled in Canada (yet) to spell out how companies are faring as far as hiring and retaining Black staffers in the music and entertainment PR field. (The U.S. has always been 20 steps ahead of us when it comes to compiling race-based data.) According to Data USA, only 7.15 percent of publicists are Black  (non-Hispanic).

But you don’t need to rely on statistics at this juncture. Our industry is small. Just go to all of the major awards shows, industry confabs, music festivals, and conferences, like I do, and you’ll see that our presence is scant to non-existent. JUNO Award winner Jessie Reyez, who isn’t Black, was so offended by the lack of Black representation at Canada’s major labels, that she listed out all of the woefully low percentages of Black staffers who were gainfully employed, on a recent CTV special, Change and Action: Racism in Canada, and said, “That’s not acceptable.”

Given that the numbers of Black management companies, booking agents, entertainment lawyers, commercial radio Program Directors and Music Directors, music presenters, venue owners, etc., in the entertainment industry in Canada are minuscule, and because all of these jobs have a naturally symbiotic relationship (i.e., “65 percent of my clientele comes from referrals”), you can see that the playing field could never be even here.

I’ve also always been a strong proponent of the idea of “building your own table,” and business ownership – serial entrepreneurs move a certain way – but that has more to do with the fact that I grew up reading about the exploits of the late Afrocentric business titan Marcus Garvey, who insisted that Black people need to own businesses, properties, the means of production and distribution, to have a more self-fulfilling existence.

Also, the facts are that if I hadn’t been a long-time media practitioner in both Canada and the U.S., my company would be dead in the water. I won’t lie. We’ve been in demand, and busier than ever over the last five years, but that might be more because we deliver results, and oftentimes have to work five times as hard as the perceived competition. (Many Black kids are told by their parents that due to anti-Black racism they have to be 10 times better than whites, and may still only get one-half the results.) And I ain’t talking about competing PR companies either.

The journey of the Black publicist in Canada means sitting idly by, as all kinds of mediocre rock, indie rock, country, and folk acts generate more local media attention at home than some of our world-class rap, R&B, and electronic music clients. Ironically, they’re able to generate significant media attention in far larger media outlets in the U.S., including Billboard, SPIN, or Hypebeast, and who are streaming more, have larger socials, and who have a lot cooler cachet.

The sheer dominance of contemporary Black music (e.g., rap, R&B), from a streaming and sales standpoint, stands in stark opposition to what gets covered in Canadian media. It’s the pink elephant in the room. If we were to treat the music media world like a genuine meritocracy, and base it on sales, youth culture, market penetration, growth potential, the cool factor, and whatever other metrics you want to use for what’s relevant in music or the zeitgeist, you would be seeing and hearing a lot more Black music on TV, radio, in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. But the facts are, you just aren’t in Canada.

I don’t even want to get into the normalized micro-aggressions I have to endure while running my company and doing my job. Is there a reason administrative staff (or security guards) in mainstream media houses and corporations who hire us always ask me in this distrusting way, “Can I help you with something?” when I land in their lobbies, intimating I don’t belong there, when it’s clear I’m there for a meeting, or to assist my client? If I were a white guy, there’s no way they would be walking over to me, and asking me these asinine questions. Maybe the next time I get that “Can I help you?” routine, and I will respond “Uhhh, yes you can help me, by moving out of my damn way, as I’m here to tend to the needs of my Grammy-nominated/JUNO-winning/best selling client, please and thank you.”

As a Black publicist, I also sadly have to spend an inordinate amount of time educating people in general about race, ethnicity, and music history. Because I’m Black, it doesn’t mean that I only represent Black artists. I represent the interests of all kinds of white, Asian, Indigenous, South Asian, and  Latin American artists, largely because there’s a genre hybridity that has been happening over the last 20 years. Many good contemporary musicians, across cultures and racial designations, don’t really believe in being stuck in genre silos.

Also, Black music and culture influences the music creations of everybody. Always has. Where do you think the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” got his direct musical inspiration, guitar-playing style, and dance moves from? C’mon now, are you telling me that you don’t know (Bo) Diddley? Don’t ever judge a book by its cover, as I quickly learned while working for a few years with the so-called “world” music scene in Canada. It’s a scene that might arguably be the most problematic, when it comes to dealing with issues around race, representation, colonization, and other questionable employment practices, but I’ll save that for another column.

What does the future hold for PR professionals of my ilk? We essentially want nothing to do with the old boys’ network. Why? Because homogeneity bores us. And my time is, quite frankly, better spent building a New Boys (& Girls!) network that’s a lot more interesting, and that will represent contemporary demographic and music realities. Despite what some of the few remaining gatekeepers are doing (we see you), the music forms you’re supporting are dying a slow death. Not because of anything I’m writing here. It’s because of the people. Music consumers. They want more hip-hop, R&B, Afro beats, electronic music. Or maybe it’s a hip-hop world, and you’re just living in it?

Despite all of these daily anti-Black industry annoyances, I’ll always be working with my talented clients to get their stories out. I still get a great high landing a major media hit for my clients, both big and small. And it’s true that you’ll likely always catch me hanging out and partying with both my emerging and celebrity clients. Even while Paris is burning.

About Dalton Higgins

Canadian ingenuity conquers self-isolation with adaptation

Published 06/24/2020

By Howard Druckman

More than three months have passed since self-isolation was imposed by public health regulations in necessary response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s been a hard 100 days for music-makers.

In an era where digital streaming is already the predominant form of listening to music, with meagre royalty rates, live performance was one of the most reliable ways for those who make music to make a living. With live concerts shut down, music creators have turned in full force to live-stream online concerts to survive – whether through digital “tip-jar” contributions, tickets for the performances, or royalties from the SOCAN Encore program.

Even as restrictions begin to ease in some regions of the country, the first wave isn’t over yet, and the possibility of a second wave still looms. So the scarcity of live performances may last longer than initially expected.

The good news is, Canadian ingenuity is conquering isolation with adaptation. A handful of musicians have applied their creativity to the challenge of presenting actual safe, in-person shows during the pandemic. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the solutions they’ve come up with are pretty elegant.

Drive-In Concerts. The first planned drive-in concert (a live performance at a drive-in theatre ) in Canada that I heard about was by Québecois duo 2Frères. Then July Talk and Brett Kissel announced theirs, and more have followed, including Ottawa’s RBC Bluesfest with the NAC. It sounds like a  good compromise to experience music live in-person, from the safety of your car. I love that it’s rejuvenating drive-ins, which had been languishing in quaint, nostalgic memory. A similar rooftop “drive-in” rock concert was planned for Prince George, British Columbia. Also in a similar vein, new organization Hotels Live is launching the first-ever hotel balcony concert series in Canada, not unlike  Martha Wainwright’s balcony singalong in Montréal.

Micro-Concerts. Musicians can safely play to one person, or household clusters of two or four people, at a time. The Festif! Festival in Charlevoix, Québec, undertook a “doorway tour” series where musicians play one song in front of someone’s home, then move on to the next house. Calgary’s Matt Masters is booking curbside concerts for fans from the top of his mini-van to people in front of their homes. His fellow Calgarian Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is opening up his backyard for four-people-at-a-time micro-concerts.  In Esquimalt, British Columbia, Jeff Stevenson stands on the bank of the Gorge Waterway, and serenades groups of boaters. Stéphanie Bédard, in Québec, is doing something similar with her “Lake Tour.” Montréal’s Dear Criminals played 72 one-song live shows in three days, at the Lion d’Or club, to two people at a time.

Mobile Stages. Musicians can actually tour, using portable venues that will maintain physical distance. This Fall, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald also plans to play farms across Canada, to 10 people a night, in a travelling open-air venue he built, “The Greenbriar.” Similarly, The Io Project is a new “anti-COVID” mobile stage that can safely allow live shows for up to 250 people, watching in household clusters of two or four people, isolated by plexiglass.

Some Other Ideas.

* How about a series of courtyard concerts, where musicians play in the courtyards of designated apartment buildings, while tenants enjoy the music from the safety of their own balconies?
* Or the inverse of that, where the musicians in a band each occupy a separate balcony in an apartment building, and play together, for an assembly of safely-distanced tenants in the courtyard?
* Perhaps solo musicians could be booked to play at regular intervals along hiking trails, or pathways in public parks, safely distanced, so people getting out for exercise during the pandemic might stop to hear some live music, enhancing their journeys.
* Municipalities across the country might allow restaurants to host patio performances, to further improve the outdoor dining experience (although Toronto ruled against them during its recent relaxation of regulations to combat the pandemic).
* Why not allow live shows at any central gazebos in public parks, as long as the audience maintains (moderately enforced) social distancing?

These smart adaptations prove that different kinds of in-person live shows are still available to us, and offer a few rays of hope that there’ll be more to come. Here’s to the next wave of creative thinking that helps to get us even further back to live.

About Howard Druckman

COVID-19: This Too Shall Pass

Published 04/2/2020

By Alan Cross

One night in early 1348, a rat scuttled down a street in Florence, Italy. It was a stowaway on a merchant’s cart hauling goods from the port of Livorno. Or perhaps it came with cargo from a ship docked somewhere on the east coast carrying goods from Greece, Crimea, and other points East.

Hitchhiking in the rat’s black fur were fleas infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the trigger for bubonic plague. As a result of Florence’s non-existent sanitation and hygiene practices, the rat population exploded, and with it, cases of the Black Death.

By the end of the year, Florence had become an epicentre of the pandemic. And in just three years, 50,000 people – half the city’s population – had died.

But a strange thing happened. The plague began to change humanity’s view of the world. People began to question their very existence and the reality around them. Instead of being focused only on the church and making it into heaven, people started pondering their current situation as living beings. This new attitude, which we now call humanism, came to dominate the discourse of scholars, intellectuals and artists.

This radical shift in thinking led to the Renaissance, which took stagnant European society from the Middle Ages to the modern age. Florence (and Italy in general) entered a period where much great art was produced, from painting and writing to architecture and poetry. In fact, the term “Black Death” (mors nigra in Latin) first appeared in a poem written in 1350 by a Belgian astronomer named Simon de Covino.

Music, of course, was also greatly affected.

After centuries of creating music based around Pythagorean tuning, a new musical language based on polyphony emerged. The printing press – a Renaissance invention – made it possible to distribute sheet music across the continent. We began to see our first musical stars in the form of composers and performers.

Let’s skip ahead a few hundred years. As the world’s population recovered, Europe was hit with a series of plagues. Henry VIII spent a time in self-isolation as a result from the Sweating Sickness outbreak of 1529. Then a great epidemic hit London in the early 1600s.

Once again, anxious times led to an outbreak of great art. Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra in 1606. And at exactly the same time, composers like Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel began musical experiments that would later be known as the Baroque movement, something that would influence music for centuries to come.

Again, fast-forward a couple of hundred years. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of the unhealthiest cities in the world was New Orleans. The heat, humidity, the swamps, and the constant visits by ships from the Gulf, the Caribbean, and beyond, made it a transit point for disease like influenza (a worldwide outbreak in 1889-90 killed at least a million people), cholera, encephalitis, yellow fever, and more bubonic plague. Yet New Orleans found time to invent both ragtime and jazz, the dominant form of North American music during the first half of the 20th Century.

When jazz spread everywhere in the 1920s, was that a joyful reaction to the end of the Great War, or an expression of relief after the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 burned out? Maybe both.

Consider, too, the HIV/AIDs crisis of the late 20th Century. How much great art – music, theatre, novels, film, dance, and so on – was inspired by that terrible time?

Now think about where we are today. It’s dire for the music industry. No one’s touring. Music venues are closed. Music sales have cratered to their lowest level since the 1960s. Even streaming is down, as people look to other sources of entertainment to pass the time while they’re locked down. Musicians, crew, promoters, agents, managers – everyone associated with the art and business of music has been sidelined from their usual ways of working.

But it might not be all bad. Already artists have found creative ways to reach out to the public through various forms of live streaming. Others are inevitably using this time to write, and experiment, and record at home. How many bored young people have finally picked up that guitar, or sat at a piano, only to discover that they have a natural talent for music? Manufacturers have made synth apps available for free so that people can fool around with them. Will that result in something unexpectedly great? I bet it will.

When this is all over, we could find ourselves with more great music than we know what to do with. The fall of 2020 and the early months of 2021 has the potential to be very exciting. And while virtual concerts and live streams will continue, society wants to be physically present when art is on display. The gigs and the tours will come back.

Meanwhile, if you’re an artist, keep a daily diary. Write down everything you’re feeling and any observations you have of the current condition of humanity. Document what’s going on the best way you know how. Who knows what kinds of creative breakthroughs will result?

Above all, hang in there. Stay safe and stay healthy. Concentrate on what you do best. As in the past, these anxious times will inevitably produce great art. And you just might be the person to do it.

About Alan Cross

Wouldn’t it be great if CBC Music/ICI Musique played all-Canadian music for two months?

Published 03/18/2020

By David Myles

Posts on the SOCAN blog Music.People.Connected. offer the opinions of the contributors only, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of SOCAN.

I had just finished sound check, was eating dinner pre-show, when the presenter came to tell us that New Brunswick had just issued a proclamation limiting public gatherings to fewer than 150 people.

Our show was cancelled, as well as every other gig we had planned for the next couple months. I was not alone, every musician I know was in a similar situation. You could see it everywhere.

Touring is our primary source of income. Now, without that revenue stream, the other sources of income become vitally important.

I was thinking about all this, while I was reading everyone’s posts, when it hit me: what would it look like if CBC Music/ICI Musique played all-Canadian/Franco-Canadian content for the next two months? It seemed easy and direct – a simple way to make a big difference.

The infrastructure already exists for SOCAN to collect the royalties and for CBC to program the music 24 hours a day.

CBC Music/Ici Musique’s mandate is already to support Canadian/Franco-Canadian music, their job is already to be engaged with it, and their on-air personalities already love it. And 24-hour Cancon might allow them to expose listeners to Canadian music that they haven’t already heard.

This would benefit Canadian artists, across all scales of the sector. From musicians cancelling a club tour, to Jessie Reyez, who was going to open the biggest tour in the world for Billie Eilish. Imagine how heavily invested she would have been in that tour, “all in,” with all the merch that was manufactured, for example.

CBC Music/Ici Musique taking this kind of action would make a real difference in the lives of all sorts of Canadian/Franco-Canadian musicians. It’s a tremendous opportunity.

Now is the time for them, and us, to rally around our creative community.

About David Myles

Coronavirus cuts into the Canadian music industry

Published 03/13/2020

By Howard Druckman

It’s Friday the 13th, and yesterday Canada launched into its strongest, and unfortunately very necessary,  response yet to the rapidly escalating spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus. The JUNOs were cancelled, the NHL suspended play indefinitely, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into two weeks of self-isolation because his wife Sophie Grégoire has tested positive for the virus. Ontario shut down all public schools for two weeks after March break, MLB cancelled spring training, the Canadian Folk Music Awards were cancelled, and so on.

The JUNOS cancellation, while necessary, is especially hard for the Canadian music community to bear. The nominee musicians lost their chance, at least for now, to be nationally acknowledged for their work; some of the under-recognized performers on the broadcast awards show lost their opportunity to play on a nationally televised stage; performers in JUNOfest lost access to a broad industry audience in the bars and clubs of the host city. And that doesn’t even consider the huge losses of people who work throughout the entire ecosystem of the event — all of the employees at the airlines, hotels, bars, restaurants, taxi companies, ride-sharing programs, music venues, and so on, throughout Saskatoon.

Worse than that, gatherings of more than 250 people have either been banned or censured, with good reason, to stop the spread. For the next two weeks, this is going to hurt touring musicians playing any venues larger than that capacity. SXSW and Coachella cancelled themselves, while major concert promoters Live Nation and AEG Presents cancelled or postponed all of their tours. Many Canadian acts – from Glorious Sons to The Weeknd to Devin Townsend to Jessie Reyez (opening for Billie Eilish) – have had to postpone or cancel dates, at least through the end of March. This not only hurts the artists, but the venues, and reverberates through all of the ancillary local business ecosystems, as above.

All signs point to large numbers of Canadians staying home for the next few weeks at least, both to protect themselves and to help stop the spread of the virus. But smaller gatherings of people, so long as we  wash our hands and keep our social distance, are still viewed as safe.

So I suggest that, for the next two weeks, we – safely and carefully – go out to the small-scale music venues closest to us and support our local musicians, who are most in need of that patronage right now. In Toronto, where I happen to live, that means places like the Tranzac Club, the 120 Diner, the Cameron House, Drom Taberna, the Dakota Tavern, etc. If you’re reading this, you probably know the smaller venues you can support in your own hometown.

And if you’re not comfortable going out at all, or you’ve had to self-isolate, then I highly recommend that you click over to your favourite local band’s website or Bandcamp page and buy a T-shirt, or some limited-edition vinyl, or any other kind of merch that puts a little money in their pocket. Winnipeg musician Leonard Sumner had a great idea that he posted on Facebook – asking followers to hit him up for a Facetime concert. He might have been half-joking, but “virtual concerts” could be another way to actually help see musicians through the current crisis.

If you find yourself at home for an extended period of time, music will soothe your soul and calm your nerves. Everyone streaming and downloading their favourite stuff, all day, every day, will eventually add up to that much more in royalties for songwriters, composers and music publishers.

It’s up to you and me to support our local musicians any way we can, and help them get over the next few weeks, or months, until we can all get back to business as usual.

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