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‘The envy of the world’: How public funds boost Canadian music

Agent Jack Ross, the newly appointed co-head of APA in Canada, has hailed Canadian authorities’ support for music businesses as being key to the health of its thriving live music industry.

Speaking to IQ for issue 74’s Canada market report, Ross identifies the grants provided by federal, provincial and municipal governments for events where live music is a major component as a significant contributor to the success of Canada’s concert market, which at US$711m (C$907m) is the world’s seventh largest (see PwC figures from the ITY 2017).

“That support,” he says, “really makes the Canadian music business the envy of the world, quite frankly.”

“It’s robust,” agrees Jim Cressman, president of Pentiction, British Columbia-based Invictus Entertainment Group, which books and promotes 500–700 concerts per year at multiple venues. “The right artist at the right price,” says Cressman, “almost always does predictable business.”

Though no national study has yet been done on the live music industry, an economic impact analysis of the business in Ontario – Canada’s most populous province and home to the music hub of Toronto – illustrates how important it is to the Canadian economy.

“The right artist at the right price almost always does predictable business”

The Live Music Measures Up study showed that the industry was responsible for 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2013 and that spending by live music companies and the tourism activity generated by music festivals together contributed just under C$1.2bn to Ontario’s gross domestic product.

While optimism was expressed by most people interviewed for the market report, the Canadian live music industry isn’t without its challenges. These include the secondary ticketing market, which the Ontario government is trying to curtail with new (albeit not universally supported) legislation, and the low value of the Canadian dollar compared to its American counterpart, which can in turn work to the advantage of homegrown artists who get paid in ‘loonies’.

“Every time we put an offer in for a US artist, a dollar is costing us C$1.35,” says Louis Thomas, president and owner of Sonic Entertainment Group, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based concert promotion and artist management company that also owns a record label and recording studio. “That has a big impact on ticket prices, at the end of the day.”

Read the full market report, which focuses on Canada’s major promoters, venues, festivals and more, here.

 


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O Canada: market report

Canada’s economy has led G7 nations in growth in 2017, and that momentum seems to have carried over to the live music industry to a large degree.

“It’s robust,” says Jim Cressman, president of Pentiction, British Columbia-based Invictus Entertainment Group, which books and promotes 500-700 concerts per year at multiple venues. “The right artist at the right price almost always does predictable business.”

Though no national study has yet been done on the live music industry, an economic impact analysis of the business in Ontario – Canada’s most populous province and home to the music hub of Toronto – illustrated how important it is. The Live Music Measures Up study showed that the industry was responsible for 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2013 and that spending by live music companies and the tourism activity generated by music festivals together contributed just under C$1.2billion (€0.8bn) to Ontario’s gross domestic product.

Those numbers have likely increased, and can be extrapolated across the country, according to Erin Benjamin, executive director of Music Canada Live, which was created in the fall of 2014 to advance and promote the live music industry’s many economic, social and cultural benefits.

The concert industry received an extra boost in 2017 due to Canada’s sesquicentennial, as communities across the country often included live music in their celebrations of the nation’s 150th birthday.

While the Canadian recording industry has benefited from national sources of funding – including the Canada Music Fund, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR), Radio Starmaker Fund, VideoFACT, PromoFACT and the SOCAN Foundation – and broadcasters being legally obliged to play a minimum amount of Canadian content, the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government also provide grants for events and festivals where live music is a major component.

“That support really makes the Canadian music business the envy of the world, quite frankly,” says Jack Ross, who heads the newly opened Canadian office of the Los Angeles-based APA talent agency along with Ralph James.

The concert industry received an extra boost in 2017 due to Canada’s sesquicentennia

But that’s not stopping Music Canada Live and its more than 125 members – including concert promoters, festivals, presenters, venues, agents, ticketing companies, industry associations and suppliers – from advocating for policy advancement and increased funding, public awareness and research.

“Live music hasn’t effectively told its story with a united voice, and it’s my job to do that,” says Benjamin. “When we’re truly united by this association, whether it’s with me or ten executive directors from now, we will be the most powerful piece of Canada’s music industry because of the connection between artists and fans.”

Shawn Sakamoto, vice-president of Lethbridge, Alberta-based live event production and management company Sakamoto Entertainment, would like to see Canadian content regulations introduced to the domestic live music sector, which he believes has suffered due to “monopolisation of the touring market by entities such as Live Nation” and other multinational companies. He advocates Canadian artists being added to national tours by international performers in order to give them further exposure.

Confidence in Canada from American companies was shown this summer when, after LA-based United Talent Agency closed its Canadian office, APA and LA-based Paradigm Talent Agency both opened up shop in Toronto. They join the Feldman Agency and Paquin Artists Agency as Canada’s largest, while several smaller domestic agencies are also active.

“That competition is going to be a good thing for Canadian artists, and it will be a good thing for the music industry overall,” says Ross.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74:

4 ways blockchain can disrupt the live industry

While much has been made of the potential for blockchain – the technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – to revolutionise the recorded music industry, the same isn’t true in the live sector.

Articles by the major tech and business publications (ForbesFortuneTechCrunch et al.) have largely focused on implications for the online streaming of recorded music, citing the benefits of ‘smart contracts’ wherein the owner(s) of songs will be paid automatically for their usage. However, while wider adoption of blockchain may, as Imogen Heap suggests, throw a much-needed lifeline to musicians struggling with paltry Spotify pay-outs, it could also radically transform the (comparatively more lucrative) live industry…

 


Tout-proof ticketing
In the same way blockchain databases monitor where a music recording has been used, the technology can be used to track the ownership of a paperless concert ticket.

Chris Carey, founder of Media Insight Consulting and the recent FastForward conference (at which IQ news editor Jon Chapple chaired a ticketing panel), suggests blockchain can facilitate the “legitimate resale of tickets by having a clear chain”. Speaking to IQ’s Eamonn Forde, Carey says by tracking secondary sales, ticket agencies could provide artists and promoters with a cut of each resale: “Tracking the ticket through its journey could actually create revenue at different steps. There is an argument to say that if you can monitor transactions through technology, the artist could get a share of the upside at every step of the way.”

Several yet-to-launch start-ups, including Amsterdam-based GUTS and the UK’s Lava, are already using the technology to bolster the both the data-gathering and anti-touting capabilities of paperless tickets.

GUTS Tickets founder Maarten Bloemers echoes Carey’s suggestion that blockchain can be used by artists to track ownership of a ticket, saying the technology “makes it possible to follow the lifecycle of a ticket from A to Z”. He tells Dutch paper De Telegraaf he had the idea for the company after hearing a discussion about black-market tickets on a radio programme. “Someone [on the show] said no one can guarantee the authenticity of tickets,” he explains, “and I immediately thought of blockchain.”

“We’re looking at a world where knowing the complete provenance of the ticket is a good thing,” adds Benji Rogers, co-founder and CEO of dotBlockchain Music (dotBC). “Unless, of course, you’re trying to hide something…”

 


Levelling the PROing field
Perhaps the most important live application of blockchain could be to give PROs a shot in the arm at a time when an increasing number of rightsholders are choosing to bypass collective licensing altogether in favour of collecting public performance royalties directly.

Rogers – unlike, for example, Mark Knopfler – believes there is “still a place for PROs to make large deals on behalf of artists”, but says they face the challenge of “not [being] competitive today”. (Little surprise, perhaps, when many are more than a century old: the UK’s Performing Right Society was founded in 1914.)

“They’re using tech not built for the size and scale of what’s coming at them,” he explains.

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (Socan) recently became the first PRO to partner with dotBC. Eric Baptiste, the CEO of Socan – which represents more than 135,000 rightsholders and recently saw collections from live performances grow to a record high – said last month: “We are convinced that it is possible to address payment and rights inefficiencies […] that have been a drag on the entire ecosystem for far too long.” He added: “The encouraging work of dotBC has the potential to unlock enormous value for our members”.

Rogers says PROs making use of blockchain technology will be able to compete more effectively by offering a better service to their membership. Comparing PROs to trains running on different gauges of track, he prophesies that in future collection societies will “need to work on a common rail”: “If we build the perfect sound format [.bc], we build the rail and everyone can ride on same track.”

DotBlockchain Music, then, “allows [PROs] to work together while remaining competitive,” says Rogers. “They can then compete based on how good their accounting is, how good their data side is…

“We’re looking at a world where knowing the complete provenance of the ticket is a good thing”

 


Safe streaming
Another potential application of blockchain in the live space is to enable artists and promoters to broadcast their shows live safe in the knowledge copyright owners are being paid.

Writing in IQ last year, Sziget Festival’s András Berta was enthusiastic about live streaming as a way to reach more fans, but said there are concerns about the complexities involved in licensing live streams. “In 2016, I think we still face a grey [area] when it comes to clearing streaming rights,” he wrote, “simply because the industry is far from being homogeneous. Different players hold different cards, and this can result in a losing hand in many cases.”

By using dotBC’s codec (.bc), which binds writer metadata to the track, for music files, Rogers explains festivals like Sziget will be free to live-stream on sites such as Facebook and YouTube – and artists able to sell recordings straight after the show – with the writers receiving owed royalties automatically.

Rogers, also a musician, relates an anecdote about his experience licensing live recordings. Following a concert in which his band played two covers (The Cars and Gram Parsons), he paid the Harry Fox Agency to purchase the rights to distribute a recording of the show. “We said we’d sell maybe 1,000,” he explains. “We gave them $2,500 and never heard anything else.”

There was, he says, “no itemisation or monetisation” on the bill – theoretically, the band could have sold 10,000 copies and Harry Fox might never have known. With blockchain, conversely, there is a “bulletproof digital asset” that ensures ownership of songs is always “anchored back to the writers”.

 


A new rights reality
Like live streaming, filming and distributing shows in virtual reality (VR) is being tipped as a new revenue stream for the promoters of the future, with recent research finding early VR adopters outspend the average American 2:1 on live events.

However, Rogers says VR is also currently a licensing nightmare, with a traditional sync licence – which grants the licensee the rights to synchronise music with visual media – insufficient for a live VR gig, where the setlist is liable to change.

“How do I license a VR concert,” asks Rogers, “if I don’t know what songs are going to be played?”

Rogers says that, “right now, sound recordings” – master recordings, typically owned by labels, as opposed to the copyrights to the compositions themselves, usually administered by a publisher – “hold supremacy”, but in future “PROs [performance rights organisations] are going to have to do a deal with the publishing side of things” to offer more flexible licences for new experiences like VR shows.

One company leveraging the blockchain to do just that – again backed by Imogen Heap – is Ujo Music, which aims to provide a “shared infrastructure for all music services”, independent of the traditional label/publisher/licensing axis.

“If we build a common language for music, we can scale the business infinitely”

 


While blockchain offers tremendous opportunities for promoters, artists, ticketing companies and PROs, Gregor Pryor, co-chair of the global entertainment and media industry group at legal firm Reed Smith, told IQ in issue 62 its actual take-up in live may stymied by the fact most people at the top end the top end of the concert business are actually making money.

“Live has probably been the place that artists have been running to when their digital revenues have been dropping,” he said in late 2015. “The live industry has been nowhere near as disrupted by digital as the record industry has – in fact, it has probably benefited. There has to be a reason for them to adopt it [blockchain].

“In the world of streaming royalty payments,” Pryor suggests, “there is much more of an incentive and impetus to adopt change. There is not any driving force behind change in live.”

However, as underlined above, much has changed since then. With growing unease around the state of the secondary ticket market, and the emergence of direct licensing and new, non-traditional PROs – such as Germany’s GWVR, which gives concert promoters a cut of the royalties from recordings – technology, as in so many other walks of life, may indeed provide the answer.

As it stands, music has “no common language,” concludes Rogers. “Email has POP3, Skype runs on VoIP [voice over IP]… If we build a common language for music – the perfect sound format – we can scale the business infinitely.”

 


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Industry pays tribute to Leonard Cohen

Industry figures, musicians and politicians have paid tribute to influential Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and writer Leonard Cohen, who died on Monday aged 82.

The news was broken in the early hours of this morning by an announcement on his official Facebook page, which read: “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.”

His son, Adam, told Rolling Stone: “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records [14th studio album You Want it Darker]. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humour.”

Performance rights organisation Socan (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers) described Cohen as one of its “most iconic members”.

“We have lost a cherished artist … He will be missed terribly”

“Leonard Cohen was a legend among legends,” said Eric Baptiste, the organisation’s CEO. “With iconic songs that defined an entire era, he inspired many generations all over the world. Socan was honoured to count him among our most prominent members. He will be sorely missed, but his songs will live on.”

Geneviève Côté, Socan’s chief Quebec affairs officer, highlighted Cohen’s lasting connect with his hometown of Montreal. “One could run into Leonard Cohen at Bagels Etc. on Saint Lawrence Boulevard, in the heart of the Mile End, having breakfast at the counter, a stone’s throw away from his apartment. Montreal was where he was born, and, even though he belongs to the global music community, he was [a Quebecker] and should be remembered that way.”

Trade organisation Music Canada, meanwhile, tweeted simply: “Our thoughts tonight are with the family of iconic Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who has passed away at the age of 82.”

Promoter Rob Hallett, who as AEG Live’s then-president of international touring was instrumental in coaxing Cohen out of retirement, thanked friends for their messages of condolences but said the loss does not belong to me, but rather to the world”. He quoted Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’, saying: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

Neil Portnow, the president and CEO of the Recording Academy, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Grammy Award winner and 2010 Recording Academy lifetime achievement award recipient Leonard Cohen. During an influential career that spanned more than five decades, Leonard became one of the most revered pop poets and a musical touchstone for many songwriters.

“The loss does not belong to me, but rather to the world”

“His extraordinary talent had a profound impact on countless singers and songwriters, as well as the wider culture. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to Leonard’s family, friends and collaborators. He will be missed terribly.”

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Cohen “managed to reach the highest of artistic achievement, both as an acclaimed poet and a world-renowned singer-songwriter. He will be fondly remembered for his gruff vocals, his self-deprecating humour and the haunting lyrics that made his songs the perennial favourite of so many generations.”

He continued: “Leonard Cohen is as relevant today as he was in the 1960s. His ability to conjure the vast array of human emotion made him one of the most influential and enduring musicians ever. His style transcended the vagaries of fashion. […]

“On behalf of all Canadians, [my wife] Sophie and I wish to express our deepest sympathies to Leonard Cohen’s family, friends, colleagues and many, many fans. Leonard, no other artist’s poetry and music felt or sounded quite like yours. We’ll miss you.”

 


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Live royalties hit record high in Canada

Canadian live performance royalties grew to a record high in 2015 in what David Wood, chief financial officer of the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), called “another remarkable year” for the collection society.

According to SOCAN’s 2015 financial report (entitled Step Ahead), ‘general and concert revenue’ increased 4.9% to C$39.6 million last year (up from $37.7m in 2014), demonstrating the “continuing popularity for live music in Canada”.

‘Traditional’ (television and radio), international, internet/streaming and satellite radio revenues also saw strong growth, propelling SOCAN’s total revenue to $307.8m – the first time it has topped the $300m mark.

Concert revenues increased 4.9% to $39.6 million last year, up from $37.7m in 2014

Concert revenues were fifth-largest overall, behind those from cable TV, radio, international affiliated collection societies and terrestrial TV.

Total royalty payments to SOCAN’s members grew 14.7% to $276.2m.

Wood (pictured) says the results highlight “SOCAN’s position as the one of the top music rights organisations in the world. It demonstrates our strength at licensing the performing right, as well as our continued focus on efficient expense management to ensure that more royalties are provided to tens of thousands of Canadian songwriters, composers and music publishers and the millions of rights-holders we represent in Canada via agreements with 105 societies in 213 countries.”

 


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