Thursday, October 1, 2009
A RESPONSE TO JAMES MOORE’S COMMENTS ON CBC’S Q (SEPTEMBER 24, 2009) RE ELIMINATING THE CANADA COUNCIL’S CANADIAN MUSICAL DIVERSITY FUNDING
by Tony Reif
I run a small record label, Songlines, producing and releasing music that has received support from the Canada Council, but not FACTOR. My comments reflect a knowledge of the creative music scene in Vancouver and more generally across Canada, but I’m also interested in and familiar with other genres such as world music, singer-songwriter, folk, and classical. Over 15 years I’ve received grants to do recordings with jazz pianists Andy Milne, Paul Plimley and Chris Gestrin, guitarists Gordon Grdina and Ron Samworth, Indian percussionist Trichy Sankaran, Persian musician Amir Koushkani, and the world music group Safa. A few musicians such as Quinsin Nachoff and Michael O’Neill also received CCA funding for their recordings on Songlines.
I think it’s important to look at the facts of the matter and not be swayed by rhetoric and generalized justifications. Let’s start with James Moore’s words:
“There are still other funding envelopes available, the Canada Council amends and adjusts its funding envelopes all the time to reflect where they think the other government programs have altered and changed and where they might want to fill gaps and fill holes, there’s existing funding at the Canada Council for this kind of thing.”
I think the Minister’s being disingenuous here. The only way to fill the $1.35 million gap would be to take away funding from other programs. The total amount of grants to individual artists in all disciplines in 2007-2008 was $23.4 million (2,369 grants), which is about 15% of the total CCA funding, the other 85% went to organizations. The total funding for music (to musicians and organizations) was $34 million - 15% of that is $5.1 million. So that means the Council would probably have to take some 20% of its funding away from other grant programs for musicians (career development, work and study grants, touring etc.) to make up for the $1 million in funding for recordings it’s lost (the other $350,000 cut was for the specialized music distribution program). Does the Minister really think the Council’s funding is already so ample that this would be easy?
“It’s not my job as a minister to make judgments about what is artistic merit or not, nor is it yours, nor is it anybody’s - this is the essence of it, isn’t it. So, it’s not my role. But what is my role as a minister responsible for spending a lot of money for the creative economy and the creative community, is to listen, is to LISTEN - and these changes were asked for, these were
requested by independent producers in the country who have written me since this decision saying “Thank you, don’t relent and don’t buckle, this is the right thing that you’ve done here.” So my responsibility is to spend the money, spend it effectively, to listen, and that’s what we’re doing.”
I guess it all depends on who you listen to. The Minister listened to the music industry but he obviously didn’t listen to a lot of musicians, producers and labels that are creating music in genres that are not commercially-driven and therefore not served by the industry.
Something else that’s very self-serving and also quite ludicrous here is his assertion that it’s no one’s business to make judgments about artistic merit. Of course, this is consistent with the Conservative position that it’s their job to support the music industry rather than people who actually make the music.
But would he dare make this argument about the visual arts, theatre, or dance? Of course not. It’s only because music is a popular art and that records need to compete with other entertainment products in the marketplace that he can trample on the interests of artists in this way, and justify it with purely economic arguments.
When James Moore talks about the independent producers who are supporting his decision, he’s talking mainly I imagine about the indie rock world, because that’s where most of the government funding to FACTOR and its Quebec counterpart Musication goes. This is a very contentious, potentially divisive decision, because it is causing resentment among musicians working at the creative edge, pitting their interests and indeed their livelihood against those of musicians working in more commercial styles and in a more industry-connected way. This is not to say that of course that there is no artistic merit in the indie rock world - that would be equally uncalled-for. It’s just so unbalanced and irresponsible to prioritize commercial viability in this way, at the expense of innovation and long-term cultural development. (By the way I’ve heard that the industry is warning its members not to criticize this decision…hmmm.)
I think we should ask this question: just how commercially viable IS the music that FACTOR for example supports, the music that will mainly benefit it seems from the new programs that are being set up with that $1.35 million?
I want to present some facts about FACTOR, to try to fill in the picture a bit more. I’ve taken them all from FACTOR’s 2008-2009 annual report, which anyone can download at their website.
FACTOR received $18,107,000 in income in that fiscal year, of which $8,466,000 came from Canadian Heritage through the Canada Music Fund; $6,968,000 of that was for the New Musical Works program, i.e. went to supporting recording, promoting/marketing and touring through loans and grants to musicians, labels, producers and managers. FACTOR’s breakdown of of their distribution of funds for these programs is: recording loans, $4,668,000; video grants, $462,000; marketing/promotion loans, $3,931,000; touring and showcasing grants, $2,467,000, for a total of $11,528,000. In other words, approximately 60% of FACTOR’s funding for these programs apparently comes from the government; another approximately 36% would in that case come from the radio industry, mainly as the result of CanCon regulations and a recent CRTC decision allowing ownership of more than one station in a single market. Less than 4% ($434,000) comes from repayment of FACTOR recording and marketing loans.
This last figure is interesting because, using it and the statement that FACTOR-supported recordings sold in excess of 1,000,000 units in the last year, and the number of FACTOR-supported recordings in the previous year (1327), one can assume a rough average sales figure per record of 1500 units in the first two years of release (which is the period during which loans are to be repaid, at $.50/unit sold).
That’s not so impressive, considering that some records supported by FACTOR have sold 50,000 copies. No doubt about it, the industry (as well as art) needs support.
One can also divide the government’s $6,968,000 contribution by 1534, the total number of projects offered support last year, for an average of about $4,542/project. Or, looked at in terms of a subsidy to the music business per unit sold, if you divide 1,000,000 by the previous year’s New Music Works funding of $6,367,000, you get $6.36. As that actually represented 73% of the funds FACTOR offered to record projects in 2007-2008, the total subsidy per unit would be around $8.50.
Some more figures from the latest annual report, showing support for particular genres:
Of total grants/loans of $14,985,000 offered, $245,000 went to classical (17 out of 37 applicants), $664,000 to jazz (54 out of 154), $396,000 to world music (34 out of 134). The total amount offered in all genres was $14,985,000, to 1534 applicants (out of 3648).
Note however that only 77% of this total actually went to directly support sound recording, videos, promotion/marketing, and touring/showcasing. The other 23% went to industry support through the Label, Manager and Distributor Business Development program, the Domestic & International Business Development program (travel support), and Collective Initiatives, which supports music business and non-profit organizations. So one can conclude that the total amount of support for jazz, classical and world music recording, marketing and touring was probably around $1,000,000 for these 105 projects, or under 9% of the total of $11,528,000. And of that amount, almost half would have been awarded to 34 projects under the Direct Board Approval program rather than by juries. To qualify for DBA, applicants must have previously sold at least 5,000 units of a recording (2,500 for classical). Obviously that further reduces the support going to less established artists and more innovative/less popular types of music.
Compare this with the $1,045,000 that the Canada Council awarded in 2008 to 103 projects in its specialized music recording program - which of course only covers recording and marketing, not touring (that program’s money comes from the Council’s core funding, not through the Canadian Musical Diversity program) - and you see how significant, indeed devastating, the elimination of this program will be in these genres, as well as for some aboriginal music, avant-rock, folk/singer-songwriter, and other non market-driven types of projects supported by the Council.
There are no sales figures available for Canada Council supported recordings, but if the average were 1,000 units over the life of the record, that would make it about $10/unit sold - not much more than the average FACTOR support for records that, for the most part after all, are considered to be more commercially oriented and more capable of generating sales. (To be fair, this doesn’t take into account the additional CCA touring funding that a CCA recording recipient might receive.)
It’s also important to realize that a larger number of applicants to FACTOR are funded than are funded by the Council’s sound recording program - on average about 1 in 3 or better it would seem compared to 1 in 5 or 6. Also, the Council has typically not been able to fund all the applicants “highly recommended” for support by its juries, even with across-the-board reductions in the amounts actually awarded. And if that were not done, I’ve been told that the number of successful applicants would be more like 1 in 8 or 10. FACTOR on the other hand does not reduce funding requests in this way. In short, the industry supports itself, largely through government funding, far more generously than the Council can support deserving artists with the funding the government has provided it.
This separation of art and commerce in favour of commerce at the expense of art is contentious in another way. It implies (as the Minister recently asserted) that artists/Canada Council recipients are not business people and are not doing their best to market their music just like everyone else. This is unfair and in general I think quite unjustified.
Also, FACTOR, as well as the Council, supports music based on artistic merit, as they judge it. FACTOR juries are specifically instructed to do so. The difference is that Council juries are small (3 people) and consist of peers. FACTOR’s two juries for each intake consist of up to 10 industry experts (some musicians, some not). Whereas CCA jurors’ names are available for each jury, FACTOR jurors’ names are not associated with a particular jury, so there is less transparency or accountability. Nevertheless, someone is deciding whether your music has merit, as well as how strong your marketing plan is. The Council selects jurors based on the applications actually received, trying to choose people who are qualified to judge the range of music presented. I don’t know who selects FACTOR jurors, but I’ve heard that sometimes one or two strong supporters of an application can convince a jury. This could sometimes be an advantage for some less commercial, more unconventional projects. But in any case the final decision is made by a national “superjury” that examines from scratch each applicant that has made it through the two regional juries (there’s no ranking system, and superjuries don’t look at any comments the regional juries may have made). And if for example there were three similar applicants from different parts of the country the superjury would select one. So it really depends on the value judgments and biases of those jurors.
Direct Board approved funding can’t be value-free either, though presumably artistic merit is not a major consideration. It’s predicated on supporting and furthering proven commercial success. But only 179 of 895 DBA applicants were funded last year, so on what basis were those decisions made? The government would appear to have provided about $1,800,000 of that DBA funding, but only the people inside the system know what the considerations for success are. In any case some of these “Emerging Artists” continue to get funding year after year, in one case at least supposedly receiving everything they’ve asked for. Here are the top 10 earners since 2005:
Metric - $377,207 - Last Gang/Universal
Trews - $309,193 - Bumstead/Universal
Midway State - $249,865 - Interscope/Universal
Young Galaxy - $215,508 - Arts & Crafts
Sophie Milman - $214,431 - Linus/Universal
Most Serene Republic - $212,807 - Arts & Crafts
Justin Hines - $209,486 - Orange Lounge/Universal
Aaron Pritchett - $192,636 - 604/Universal
Stills - $191,491 - Arts & Crafts
Dears - $188,071 - Arts & Crafts
A musician friend comments: “Independent artists? Hmmmmm.....Indie as a genre perhaps...look how many artists were on Arts and Crafts, which could bankroll their entire roster with revenues generated by Feist alone, I suspect.”
There’s another reason that has been used by Canadian Heritage to justify “streamlining” support through FACTOR by eliminating the Canadian Musical Diversity (CCA) program. Heritage claims that 60% of Council recipients have also received FACTOR funding. This is quite incredible on the face of it, even if Heritage is including recipients not only of the specialized sound recording grants but also of CCA touring and showcase funding, correlating them with FACTOR recipients of funding for recording/marketing, marketing alone, video grants and/or touring. One would like to see the list. In its own commissioned study, Summative Evaluation of the Canada Music Fund (October 2007, its consultants write that Canadian Heritage “stated that few applicants apply to both programs.” (section 5.3.2 Overlap and Duplications). This study can be found here:
or can be downloaded as a pdf:
You can make up your own subjective list by searching on recipients’ names at the FACTOR and CCA websites. Based on that you can decide for yourself whether FACTOR has offered much support to the innovative, visionary cutting edge of Canada’s music culture. And it’s clear that without additional funding for FACTOR’s Cultural Diversity program - about half of whose support goes to jazz, world, classical and aboriginal recordings - there’s no way that would increase. (In 2008-2009 Cultural Diversity accounted for 19% or $2,863,000 of total FACTOR support, and the largest category, accounting for 38%, was Urban music. But remember, only about 77% of this funding would have actually gone to recording projects.)
Finally, what are we going to get for that $1,350,000 the government is redirecting to the new programs? $500,000 is going to international market development and showcases - which used to be funded I believe by programs such as Trade Winds and PromArt that the government eliminated. $900,000 is going to music entrepreneurs and businesses for digital market development - it remains to be seen what form this will take. But when anyone who can get their record to CD Baby can also thereby get it on iTunes, and small labels like Songlines have no trouble getting international digital distribution through an aggregator such as IODA, what’s really needed are new ways of promoting Canadian music on the internet and getting it noticed (not just the industry’s music, all of it). How about for example a centralized Canada Music website and clearing house for information, with interesting features and links to labels, artists, videos, whatever?
First though the music has to be recorded. The Summative Evaluation concluded that 42% of Canadian Musical Diversity (CCA) funded recordings “would not have gone ahead without this funding, and another 34 % would have gone ahead but significantly reduced in scope.” (section 5.2.1, sub-heading “New Music is produced, marketed, distributed”).
Are you listening, Minister?