Monday, August 03, 2009

Off-track: Canada's Pop Music Funding Gravy-Train

It’s not very often that someone in the music industry impresses with their passion and candour, but, this holiday weekend I became aware of Greg Ipp, an independent record label owner, based in Toronto, Canada. Ipp gives every indication of being able to stimulate review, and, potentially, reform of some dubious aspects of this country's system of pop/rock+ music subsidies.

Allison and I look to Buffalo, NY-based musician Ani DiFranco and her manager Scot Fisher as models. The true DIY path is arduous, challenging – and it’s fulfilling and doable. In Ani’s words: "If you are disgustingly sincere and terribly diligent, there are ways for any serious artist to operate outside the corporate structure."

In Canada, where folks may be complacent or reluctant to stir things up, it’s exciting and heartening to see there’s a new breed rising. Ipp is among a community of music-lovers and music-makers that sees through, and beyond, the machinations of the status quo.

Two letters published recently on the Daily Swarm blog help frame the issues vis-à-vis pop music funding in Canada (popular, that is, as opposed to the, generally, less-commercial-arts funding that comes from agencies such as The Canada Council).

The first shot across the bow, an open letter from Greg Ipp, co-founder of Unfamiliar Records, argues that the FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings)+ grant/loans system could be implemented more fairly and effectively. Ipp’s letter highlights how funding, (much of it backed by Canadian taxpayers and/or existing as mechanisms to fulfil government licensing conditions for media companies), disportionately supports a group of connected players who are exploiting the system – to the detriment of broader culture and commerce.

A counter position is staked out in the response from Matt Drouin, a principal of Equator Music, and partner to Canuck industry stalwarts Arts and Crafts Productions, lawyer Chris Taylor (Last Gang Records), and promoter/impresario Donald K. Donald (Donald K Donald Entertainment GroupDKD for short) – a network whose acts are among the prime beneficiaries of grant money. Matt Drouin, says DKD, “like Donald K. Donald himself, is rich enough to work for love, not money.” Despite this, Drouin’s organization, from its inception, has been designed to take greatest advantage of Canada’s system of funding for commercial pop/rock music. Naturally, Drouin doesn’t side with Ipp in calling for systemic reform.

Greg Ipp proffers “a few thoughts on potential solutions” in follow-up comments. This section is specific enough to, possibly, hold less interest for general, or internationally-based, readers of this blog, than is found in the Ipp/Drouin letters debate.

Still, the Canadian government has just announced five more years of funding for the Canada Music Fund - to the tune of CDN $27.3-million annually. Historically, reports the CBC, “About one-third of the money ends up in the hands of FACTOR.”

This makes most timely the prescription of Greg Ipp:

“1) Elimination of DBA (Direct Board Approval)
2) Implementation of a tiered level of grants such as what Stuart Duncan suggested… (1,000 units being an initial low-level goal). This will create a barrier of entry for bands who have shown they can be proven viable, or at least, who have shown they can pay back on a small investment. Percentages on the lower level loans would naturally be much higher in order to facilitate a return on investment.
3) Utilizing the tiered system to reward success in much the same way that Starmaker does.
4) Financial caps put on money that is given to both bands and labels, which works on a sliding scale keyed to the rate of return they have provided in the past. Again, rewarding success, but putting a limit on it so as to keep a focus on development rather than welfare-like subsistence. I think this would also limit a DBA-approved labels' ability to use FACTOR for expensive A&R projects.
5) A clear distinction between bands and labels/management/other controlling parties in the application process which allows for in-depth analysis on who the money is going to. This also allows for a percentage system to develop based on how much is given to labels/managers/etc vs. bands.
6) Clear, in-depth auditing of funds once they leave the hands of FACTOR.
7) Stronger representation across the board for truly independent parties.

Each of these are just ideas. This is not a cohesive mandate, but a starting point. I feel we need to start somewhere if we're going to make an attempt to really tap into the quality of artistry we have in Canada.”


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