Monthly Archives: August 2019

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?


The many unpredictable steps that help a song succeed

Published 08/7/2019

By Patricia Conroy

It isn’t just a great song.

It’s getting that song to the perfect artist, who it was meant to be with.

Then there’s the magic that happens, once in awhile, in that studio, on that Friday afternoon, with a bunch of wonderful, inspired musicians who instantly “get” the song, and how it should sound.

And a producer who knew that would happen when he chose the players.

And the engineer is terrific, and the song sounds just like it should.

Then, by some stroke of luck, it’s the next single, and it gets played on a few radio stations.

And it gets heard by someone driving away from home for good… or someone about to walk into a motel room to meet someone they shouldn’t… or a single mom with nothing left to hold onto but this song.

And it gets to each of them in a different, strange, and powerful way, and next thing you know, it’s catching fire and climbing the charts.

And it becomes a hit.

Then you pick up your guitar and write another song.

Songwriting is a passion, and these days I’m all about creating something with soul.

But some days, the magic just isn’t there, and you can’t just manufacture magic.

Perhaps the key is consistently going to the well.

Listen to music that nurtures your passion.

Ideas can start from anything: A melody, a phrase, a movie, a billboard, a sticker on the pick-up truck in front of you at a red light…

Search for stories. Make one up. Keep looking and listening.

Ralph Murphy told me a story once about Harlan Howard. How almost daily, around happy hour, he’d sit at a local bar and just listen to people’s conversation. That’s where he got a lot of his great song ideas… from real life, real people.

It isn’t just a great song, but  that’s the best place to start. Good Luck, and have fun!