Opinion: The government must make good on its promise to independent musicians

Posted on
March 21, 2024

Funding Canadian music has never been a handout. It is an investment in Canada’s economy and in our culture, and it has paid off handsomely.

Article by CIMA's President & CEO Andrew Cash

Contributed to The Hill Times.

The Weeknd, Blue Rodeo, and Alanis Morissette—now, that would make an eclectic fantasy music festival lineup. While their respective genres are quite different, they share an important element in common besides being highly successful Canadian musicians: a non-profit foundation invested in them at a crucial point in any artist's career—when they were largely unknown.

Andrew Cash is the president and CEO of the Canadian Independent Music Association, and was a Member of Parliament from 2011 to 2015 representing the NDP. Handout photograph

This angel investor is FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings, founded in 1982 with financial contributions from Canada’s private radio broadcasters. Shortly after its founding, FACTOR and its French language equivalent Musicaction took on another key investment partner: you, the citizens of Canada.

That investment is made through what is known today as the Canada Music Fund, housed inside the Department of Canadian Heritage. Canadians have done well on this venture. In short, you fund the Canada Music Fund, which funds FACTOR and Musicaction, which invests in artists and the Canadian-owned companies they work with.

Today, artists and music businesses invested in by FACTOR and Musicaction win Grammy, Juno, and Félix awards. They generate billions of streams around the world, fill venues from basement dives to stadiums. They create thousands of jobs in every region of the country and pay hundreds of millions in taxes to governments. For a public fund with a budget in 2023-24 of $36-million, that’s pretty good bang for your buck. It has been nothing but a groundbreaking, industry building, cultural and economic success story.

And it is all at risk of unravelling if the Liberal government does not make good on a promise it made to the music community.

In 2021, the Liberal government committed in both in its election platform and mandate letter to the Heritage Minister to increase the budget of the Canada Music Fund to $50-million by 2024-25—an increase of $15-million compared to the current fiscal year.

The music sector continues to face almost constant disruption of its business model due to changing technology, the latest being artificial intelligence. Canadian-owned companies must also reckon with the market imbalances due to decades of global corporate consolidation of foreign-owned record labels, ticketing and concert promotion, streaming services, and social media platforms. Now, throw in Canada’s close proximity to the biggest culture exporter on the planet. Yup, these new funds are going to come just in the nick of time.

Unless they don’t come at all.

With rumours that the Budget—to be announced in a matter of weeks—will include significant cuts, many in the sector are sounding the alarm that if the government does not make good on its promise, overall investment in the music sector will fall off a cliff. That includes the organization I lead, which also receives funding support from FACTOR.

If that happens, Canadian-owned companies will close, others will lay off staff and release fewer artists. This will result in fewer shows across the country, harming an already precarious live music sector.

Local economies will be squeezed, and tax revenue to government will fall. And, perhaps most significantly, while artists like Charlotte Cardin, Jessie Reyez, Les Cowboys Fringants, William Prince, Fouki, Cadence Weapon, Patrick Watson, Tanya Tagaq, July Talk, George Canyon, Haviah Mighty, Serena Ryder, The Tragically Hip, and the Barenaked Ladies received crucial support to help build their careers, some of Canada’s future stars may go unnoticed and undeveloped without these investments.

Here's why.

Contributions to FACTOR and Musicaction from Canada’s private radio broadcasters and the Canada Music Fund are about to plummet at the same time. A $10-million portion of the current $36-million Canada Music Fund budget is set to expire at the end of March. That is a 28 per cent cut right there. Radio contributions, which were $14-million in 2022 could be as low as $2-million in the 24-25 fiscal year—a staggering 85 per cent loss. Radio contributions are calculated as a percentage of annual revenue and the value of mergers and acquisitions both of which have fallen to a trickle.

This is a perfect, devastating storm.

Even if the government does make good on its commitment, that money will just barely be enough to continue FACTOR and Musicaction’s current programming. However, it falls short of helping support new programming for the live sector. That’s why music associations across the country have called for a funding increase to $60-million.

Some may say, look, we have families that can't afford groceries, we have seniors who can't afford care, and workers who can't make the rent every month: why should we give handouts to musicians?

It is a fair point. So let’s look at it. Musicians, and those that work with them are part of your community. They are your neighbours. They work their asses off every day and, like other Canadians, many struggle to pay their rent and grocery bills. Notwithstanding the sector’s success, too many working musicians still live under the poverty line. And yet, every time you see live music or put your ear buds in and listen to a song for which you may have paid pennies or less, you can trust that hundreds upon hundreds of unpaid hours went into the training and apprenticeship of everyone involved in making that music. For you.

This has never been a handout. It is an investment in Canada’s economy and in our culture. And it has paid off handsomely. Music is a major contributor to the cultural sector’s $55-billion in GDP. The Canadian-owned music sector is an industry leader in intellectual property creation and ownership retention, which The Globe and Mail’s editorial board described recently as the “the economic currency of this century.”

These benefits though, are dwarfed by the overwhelming centrality of music in everyone's life.

Music is one of the few, truly common shared human experiences of whose physical and mental health benefits we are only just becoming aware. The creation of this music takes time, talent, resources, and a market. This is what we have built together—and this is what we are at risk of unravelling if the promised modest increased investment to the Canada Music Fund is not fulfilled in Budget 2024.

Andrew Cash is the president and CEO of the Canadian Independent Music Association, and was a Member of Parliament from 2011 to 2015 representing the NDP.

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