Tag Archives: Canadian Music Industry

Digital revolution fosters more hurried, less skillful creative process

Published 10/12/2017

By Miranda Mulholland

Classically trained on violin and in voice, Miranda Mulholland is in high demand as a fiddler and singer covering a wide range of styles. She’s a member of the duo Harrow Fair, and the fiddle trio Belle Starr, and makes select appearances in the violin show Bowfire. She runs a music label, Roaring Girl Records; founded the new Sawdust City Music Festival in Gravenhurst, ON; is a member of the Board of Governors of Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall; and sits on the board of the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA).

I love looking at drafts of artwork. I love early versions of novels, songs and poems. I love sketches of paintings. I recently saw an early oil sketch of John Constable’s “The Haywain” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

You can see the skill, of course, but comparing it with the final version that hangs in the National Gallery, you can clearly see the thought, decision and composition that he worked through to arrive at the end result. I almost prefer the sketch.

There’s an art economist, David Galenson, who talks about the process of creation. He differentiates between the flash of lightning versus the arduous creative process. We hear a lot about the first type, what he calls “conceptual innovators”. The songwriters who wrote a song in minutes and it went to number one. The painters who sat at a canvas and with deft strokes completed a masterpiece. This idea goes back to ancient Greece, and the muse visiting with ideas of brilliance. But the notion that this is how it always transpires pays short shrift to the actual grueling and painstaking work and revisions that most artists’ work undergoes. These are the “experimental innovators”.

Leonard Cohen took six years to write “Hallelujah.” Bruce Springsteen took six months to work on the lyrics to “Born to Run.” Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write Gone with the Wind and our own Alistair Macleod wrote his stunner No Great Mischief in 13 years.

Creating art is the use of skepticism for what’s come before, and the application of curiosity, which leads to the imagination arriving at something utterly new, through skill. In an increasingly hurried world, it’s important to use long-term thinking. Governments, funders, publishers and labels need to remember that most artists need time to develop, grow and realize their visions.

For instance, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell, when asked about the pressure the publishing industry puts on writers to write quickly, said, “Quality work takes time. As a writer, my principal observation about why other writers fail is that they are in too much of a hurry. I don’t think the problem with writing in America right now is a failure of output. I think it’s a failure of quality.”
Our current social climate has been moving further away from time and skill. The notion that anyone can record an album in their bedroom and upload it for free is in theory a democratizing one, but it begs the question: Just because you can, should you? There’s a whole “amateurizing” movement which is exactly the same concept – a democratizing idea, but put into practice, what does it amount to and how does it translate to the consumer?

When I was in Grade 7, I was in a string quartet that would play for weddings. The cellist had put the group together and managed the bookings. She was the most inexperienced member of the quartet musically, and didn’t practice enough. For the last wedding I played with that quartet, the bride had requested Pachelbel’s Canon – which is right at the top of the Wedding “hits package”; I’m sure you’ve heard it many times. The cello part has eight notes in it – the same pattern, over and over. She didn’t ever get through the sequence without a mistake, and the piece came off as pretty amateur affair. I tried to be diplomatic after the wedding and suggested that perhaps “we,” as a quartet, should practice more before we accepted any further payment for our services.

Her response was that the bridal party seemed perfectly fine with it and didn’t notice the mistakes. But this is my problem with that: we were hired to notice. We were hired to be the experts, the arbiters of taste and skill. When this contract gets fuzzy, quality suffers. Trusted tastemakers have been eradicated by shrinking budgets and replaced with algorithms.

I’ve had some wildly sub-par service with Uber and Airbnb, and read some pretty poorly written “news stories” and blogs that just regurgitate press releases – or what’s known as “citizen journalism” – and I wonder when we got so afraid of skill and expertise.

True tastemakers are becoming endangered. There has been a vast and exponential growth in output and content in the last 20 years. While reviewers and consumers are drowning in choice, paid arbiters of taste are being laid off and replaced by amateurs.

One of the purported benefits of the digital revolution, that we’re all by now very aware of, is targeting. Because of the vast amount of data collected from all of us, we can target our exact audiences. We can be precise, allowing niche-market music to find its consumers.
The trouble is, niche isn’t easy. Because the streaming system is built on market share, the miniscule fraction of a cent you get per stream decreases wildly if your music isn’t in the mainstream. The less it’s streamed, the less it finds its way into the playlist algorithms, and then the less it’s ever played again. Niche becomes an ourobouros, a worm swallowing its own tail. Not only that, but because it’s financially such a small part of the market, it’s sometimes erased altogether.

But fostering niche is important. Why? When you look at language, there are words that are rarely used. They’re not mainstream words. They are able, however, to capture a sentiment absolutely and completely. Did you know that the word groak means staring silently at someone while they eat? That’s not a word you use on a regular basis, but I’m glad it exists.

When we limit and hinder access to these words we actually limit thought. Remember Winston Smith in 1984, a novel that gets more timely by the day. His job was to get rid of words from the dictionary to limit and control thought, creating “newspeak.” Things like spell check and text predictors are speeding up this process.

I believe algorithms threaten to limit and control as well. The calculations are based on decisions you, and those with similar taste profiles, have already made. This is limiting to imagination, and to those surprise discoveries, and against-type choices, that radically change thoughts. And changing thought patterns is one of the most powerful things about art.

So, what key piece are we missing here? We can find it in the artistic process. It’s the key to creativity: imagination. Imagination leads to skepticism, not in doubt but in curiosity. It allows us to not accept absolutes and givens, and to envision new perspectives, solutions and realities. We can employ the tools “skepticism” and “curiosity” to take ownership of our decisions, and unlock new and exciting thoughts, discoveries and inspiration.

News, music, book suggestions, products we might like popping up in our targeted ads is easy. But easy isn’t always good. We need to be more skeptical than ever, and reclaim the power of being our own tastemakers.

A Crisis, Not A Career-Ender

Published 05/30/2017

By Unison Benevolent Fund

In 2009, The Unison Benevolent Fund was an idea scribbled on the back of napkin. Inspired by a catastrophic accident that had left a brilliant musician in dire straits, music industry veterans Jodie Ferneyhough and Catharine Saxberg saw the incredible compassion and generosity that poured out of the Canadian music community – but knew more could be done to provide members of the industry with a safety net in such situations. Eight years later, Unison has developed into a truly robust resource for Canadian music industry professionals in times of crisis.

All of Unison’s services – counselling, wellness support and emergency financial assistance­are provided for free, and with the utmost discretion. That’s why Unison is so grateful when someone chooses to come forward with their experience, and publicly acknowledges its role in their life. One of the artists to have done so recently is Kaleb Hikel, the composer and musician behind The Sun Harmonic. Below, you’ll find his reflections on what brought him to Unison.

How did you discover The Unison Benevolent Fund, and why were you looking?
I found Unison by recommendation, through a friend of mine in the music business. We were talking at lunch about my recent discovery of the pain in my wrists while working at my day job and music simultaneously. At that point, I was unaware of what it meant, and where it was headed. I would be diagnosed with tendinopathy in my left wrist in August 2015, and in my right wrist two months later. I would need some sort of support to quit my work and transition into a long-term recovery period. If I had to let go of my day job as well as playing, writing, and recording music, I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

What support was most valuable to you?
I spent my downtime in a focused recovery from the repetitive strain injury that was persistent in both of my wrists. I was going to a clinic in Toronto weekly, while paying my basic expenses at home with the support of Unison. Without Unison’s support at that point, the only other option would have been dismantling my home studio and abandoning entire recording projects. It was a confusing time.

What resources do you think the Canadian music community could have provided to support people who find themselves in situations similar to yours?
I think it’s taboo to talk of injury, and mental or physical sacrifice, in the career of a working musician. The scene is all about inspiration, perspiration, and determination, but all of these come at a cost to your body and your mind. I think there could be more resources available to the music community to prevent injury from happening at its root! More presence at conferences, festivals, online, anywhere that they can reach active musicians who haven’t yet been injured.

How has your life as a music industry professional changed, or evolved, since you first contacted Unison?|
Life has regressed, re-invented itself, and maybe even re-invigorated itself since I first reached out to Unison. I went from releasing my own indie projects, and touring across the country, to not being able to play my instruments at all for three months straight. My songwriting was heavily affected – but ironically, inspired (writing lyrics only, very little playing). I still haven’t performed an official show – no more than three songs on any stage – since August 2015, when I played on the beach in Grand Bend. I hope to get shows back up and running this year, to share all the emotions and songs that I’ve written in my long, yet creative, recovery.

Would you have words of advice or encouragement for someone reaching out to Unison, or programs like it?
The hardest part for me was to be able to take it very seriously so quickly. Struggles are constant in the field of live performance, and in the lives of independent musicians, but the injury came on too fast for proper planning. I had to take a hard look at myself and say, “This could be the end of your music,” and then convince myself that a break from it all was better than a finale. I would encourage everyone who’s on the verge of an injury, or in recovery, to keep their eyes on their art. And continue creating –  without furthering your injury, of course. It has been one of my most creative times, and that’s a considerable positive to arise from an unwelcome negative in my life.

To find out more about Unison’s free, confidential programs for Canadian music professionals, or to make a donation, please visit unisonfund.ca.

How can struggling live-music venues and musicians move forward?

Published 02/14/2017

By Shawn Wilson, CEO/Chef de la direction, Muzooka

Smaller live music venues across Canada are struggling, and the climate for local, small-scale live music in Canada is challenging. It’s hard for venues to remain profitable enough to stay open, and to hire and pay the best musicians for their venue. It’s also hard for musicians to find places to play live, with fewer venues at their disposal. This is especially important for musicians, because with the bulk of music sales lost to streaming, live performance has become a crucial component – some would say the most crucial – in their ability to earn a living. And this is especially true for those who play smaller, local venues.

Some would say that without the right support and tools, a full-scale crisis could emerge, with a trickle-down effect on local economies, neighborhood culture and community pride. Both venues and artists need better tools – faster, easier, cheaper, and more effective – so that they can spend more time doing the things they’re expert at, like making music and running an establishment, and less time with niggling and often expensive details that, more often than not, are simply bypassed, with fingers crossed that everything might work out.

Muzooka recognizes, understands and is working to solve these problems.

The nucleus of the Muzooka digital platform is the Artist Page, which serves as a valuable link between musicians and venues or festivals, where each party can find the other and explore the possibilities of working together. The Artist Page is a great way for SOCAN members to find live gigs, and for venues and festivals, Licensed To Play by SOCAN, to source great new talent. The Artist Page serves up all the content needed for a festival or venue lineup, and Muzooka’s Demo Submission tool streamlines the booking and programming processes. Artists, managers, and agents can update their information instantly over multiple venue and festival websites. Artists can keep their online content up-to-date, no matter where it’s shared or embedded online.

Another tool that’s useful to both musicians and venues is the Digital Gig Poster. Like a physical poster for a gig, it announces all the details for an upcoming performance. But the digital version can include live videos, songs, and all of the artist’s social media, so venues, festivals, artists, and fans can all quickly and easily share the posters online.

Muzooka Digital Gig Posters are automatically added to a venue’s Facebook page. Potential ticket buyers can listen to featured songs and watch live videos to get a taste of what the artist’s live show is like. Fans can invite their friends to have a look and listen, and most importantly, they can actually buy tickets. One click adds the Muzooka Gig Poster to Twitter, tags the artist(s) and venue, and posts it as a media-rich Twitter Card. Fans can play featured songs, learn more about the event, and buy tickets, all inside of Twitter. Muzooka also e-mails the artist an Instagram-friendly video that plays 15 seconds of the featured video with a text overlay of the show’s details, as well as copy/paste text with proper @mentions.

And it’s all 100% free for participating musicians and venues.

In another initiative aimed at helping musicians – and music publishers – Muzooka is working directly with SOCAN on strategies for their application program interface (API) portal. SOCAN’s APIs have the potential to enable a marketplace of new innovative apps, that could revolutionize how writers and music publishers work with SOCAN, to get paid when their music is played.

SOCAN has already launched two APIs, for song registration and concert notification. The former enables tech developers to build new workflow apps and software to allow songwriters to register their songs more accurately with their music publishers, labels, digital services and SOCAN, while the latter enables those developers to build apps that allow songwriters and music publishers to more easily register their concerts with SOCAN, to get paid faster and more accurately for their live performances.

SOCAN is leading the transformation of music rights, and Muzooka is proud to support them by helping SOCAN members and licensed venues be more effective and productive, so that they can focus on the stuff that they’re actually good at – like making and presenting music.

How to Survive “No”

Published 12/13/2016

By Savannah Leigh Wellman

It’s undeniable the positive impact that artist development programs, grants, and contests have on the Canadian music scene. Artists being educated on the “how-tos” of the industry begin to see their music not just as an art form, or hobby, or crap shoot – but a viable business, in which they can learn the tools to use in building a career. Funding given to artists is in turn invested right back into the industry around them. Programs that include mentorships or professional introductions offer an invaluable “insider” opportunity to make connections that would quite possibly be otherwise ignored. Being selected for any kind of funding or program is almost always a welcomed leg up and boost of confidence for an artist.

But what happens when being left on the outside of these opportunities creates the opposite effect – a discouragement, a seed of doubt in an already self-critical mind?  It can create divides amongst the very community the programs are aiming to support, or lead to viewpoints of entitlement and judgement.  Not that these programs shouldn’t exist – they’re crucial for building the careers of emerging artists, in a way that record labels generally can’t any more. But how can we help artists come away from such experiences stronger than when they began, instead of defeated?

Anyone who’s ever worked with an artist understands that the creative mind is usually also a sensitive one – that sensitivity is what makes an artist compelling to the public, and what provides a unique insight into the human experience. When your product is so innately personal, criticisms can feel extra severe, and artists in the early stages of their career don’t have the same defense mechanisms as more established acts. They don’t have dedicated fans sending positive messages of support, or successes they can look back on for reassurance, or managers and team members to keep them focused on the positive. To someone who is still trying to make it on their own, blows to your confidence can be real setbacks.

But why is not being selected for something taken as a criticism? Why can’t an artist simply shrug off a “no” and apply for the next opportunity? I think it comes down to the fact that when putting your music on the line to be judged, to be critiqued and evaluated, it’s close to impossible to not take the results personally. It feels like someone is reviewing everything you’ve poured your heart into, and deciding it’s not worthy – when in reality, there’s just not enough funds, or showcase slots, or prizes to give away to everyone who is worthy.

The most important thing to remember when putting your music in a situation where it will be judged in one way or another is that art is subjective. Even though guidelines can be created to try to best measure the tangible components (strong melody, professional production, interesting lyrics), at the end of the day, it still comes down to an individual’s opinion. And when has the music industry ever been unanimous on an opinion of what’s good?! Just because the small sample group of people who had the fate of your application in their hands didn’t think it was better than the one they heard before it, doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

Also, some programs offer feedback for applicants, and if you’re up for taking it in, it can provide great opportunities for growth. Again, the key is to take them with a grain of salt, and if there are suggestions you agree with, then consider following those.

In some cases, instead of spawning insecurities, a “no” will raise feelings of anger, and defensiveness. But I did this, and I have earned that!  Or perhaps a comparative outlook is taken on – but I did this and they didn’t! These mind frames breed negativity and competitiveness within a scene, and can harbour jealousy and resentment towards acts for which there’s no other reason to withdraw support. It’s important to remember that everyone’s working hard, and that someone else’s success does not actually take away from your own.

If the concern is about procedure or policy, making sure that certain standards are being upheld, or that processes are transparent and accessible, then those are fair points to make with whoever is running the program. However, it’s important to bring it up in an un-biased, rational discussion, rather than as an emotional defence. Don’t focus on why your own application wasn’t selected, but rather on the guideline or policy that seems to be counter-productive for a number of artists (for example).

We are so lucky to live in a country that supports arts and culture the way Canada does – it’s unique on a worldwide scale.  While it can be disheartening to apply for various support programs and not be selected, it’s important to remember the real reasons you started making music – chances are it wasn’t to win contests, or record albums only if someone else paid for them.

Every successful musician has their own novel of rejection stories – it’s the ones who persevere through them who have a chance at a successful career.

 

Savannah Leigh Wellman was the program manager at Music BC Industry Association for eight years, performs under the artist name SAVVIE, and is a co-founder of Tiny Kingdom Management & Artist Services.

CIMA’s 2016 business mission to New York

Published 11/18/2016

By Trisha Carter

From Nov. 7-10, 2016, the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) returned to the Big Apple for our second business mission to New York City entitled “Music & the City That Never Sleeps.” Prominent Canadian music business types signed up as delegates and had an intensive three days of one-on-one targeted meetings, roundtable discussions, and insightful tech visits and workshops. The purpose of the mission was to provide participating companies with an exclusive opportunity to undertake an extensive, valuable, structured foray into the New York music market.

After an orientation on Sunday night, CIMA’s delegation kicked into high gear on Monday morning with a roundtable discussion held at the Coffee Shop World Room that targeted live music and touring in New York City. Our participants got valuable tips from U.S.-based speakers Nick Bodor (Cake Shop), Doug Croy (The Windish Agency), Mehmet Dede (Drom), Stephen Dima (Dima Presents) and Gary Fortune (Mondo NYC). From there we visited the historic Gibson Showroom where a session was hosted by the new must-have music sharing app Cymbal.fm, followed by a tour of the showroom – a guitar players fantasy!

At the end of each of the three days, our delegation had targeted one-on-one meetings scheduled by our in-market consultant. These were organized ahead of time for the participants after consultations about their mission business objectives.

It was right back to work on Tuesday morning with another Roundtable discussion on the intricate world of music synchronization and publishing, featuring U.S.-based speakers Keith D’Arcy (Songs Publishing), Melissa Emert-Hutner (Kobalt Music Publishing), Matthew Evertsen (Moondog Music), Jedd Katrancha (Downtown Music Publishing), and Jean Scofield (mcgarrybowen). The afternoon was spent enjoying tech tours and workshops. Delegates visited feature.fm – the only truly native music ad platform –  followed by a stop at the Next Big Sound, an analytics and insight platform held across all social media. On Tuesday night, our Canadian delegation enjoyed a unique experience, as they got the opportunity to watch the U.S. presidential election unfold right in the heart of New York City.

On the final day, our roundtable discussions continued with a foray into marketing, press relations and radio, led by U.S. industry experts Leigh Lust (Pledge Music), Mischa Pearlman (freelance journalist), Perry Serpa (Vicious Kid PR) and Marni Wandner (Sneak Attack Media). The last day of tech visits started with a meeting at BandsinTown, a great app for tour announcements, where our delegates had a focused session on how to make this a valuable tool for their artists, managers and labels. The next visit was held at Soundcloud, where delegates got a first look at the company’s brand new Soundcloud Go mobile app, recently launched in Canada, as well as some insights on how best to use the product to their advantage. On our action-packed Wednesday we made one final stop at Indaba Music, an online music collaboration tool.

To absorb every last minute of knowledge-seeking in New York, we had a special dinner with Matthew Covey of Tamizdat and our sister association A2IM, at the Troy Liquor Bar – where our delegation learned about the challenges and advancements of the VISA process currently being developed with multiple partners, including CIMA.

To conclude an excellent few days of information and B2B meetings, we re-connected with our American business associates at the Speakeasy Industry Mixer at Troy Liquor Bar, an event produced by Sneak Attack Media, Bandsintown, CIMA and SOCAN.

CIMA was excited to once again work with a great team in New York City and pleased to have one of our sponsors, Rodney Murphy of SOCAN, join us for this mission and provide support on the ground.

CIMA gratefully acknowledges and thanks our generous sponsors and partners: Canadian Music Week (CMW), Corus Entertainment, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), the Government of Canada (through the Canada Music Fund), Global Affairs Canada (through the GOA program), Harvard Broadcasting, Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), the Radio Starmaker Fund, Stingray Music and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN).