Tag Archives: vice president from canada

new normal

Well, Now What?

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The consensus among the leadership and staff of the entertainment-based unions is that the devastation caused by COVID-19 is total and complete. Moreover, if and when business starts to open up and folks slowly return to work, the performing arts will be the last to get the all-clear sign; and then begins the hard part—recovery. Theatres, symphony halls, concert venues and bars are unlikely to suddenly fill with patrons. Indeed, there will be restrictions on numbers and spacing, which means fewer ticket sales and crushed profit margins.

This, on top of a music economy that was already severely weakened by 20 years of digital mayhem, cannibalized by the demonetization of recorded product. For decades, record sales were the lifeblood of musicians, and now have all but totally vanished. From Napster, Pirate Bay, and LimeWire, to the advent of Spotify and the streaming craze, young music fans got used to paying little or nothing for their musical entertainment. For musicians to make a living, that meant constant touring, selling merch and, if they were lucky, a few CDs. Now the venues, tours, concerts, and festivals have vanished, and when the viral dust clears, there will be a reckoning.

An artistic career cannot just be put on hold for months and then just picked up where it left off. The attention span of the modern audience is short, and momentum quickly fades and must be constantly regenerated. While many people will go back to some kind of normal, for musicians there may be nothing to go back to. After all, they are the job, the small business, and it requires hard work, consistency, and luck. The pandemic represents a screwing over of musicians on an epic scale.

There are those that believe that perhaps this virus is a good thing, since the absence of live audiences will finally force the record labels, Google, YouTube, and Amazon to recognize the annihilation, share their windfall, and compensate musicians properly for the content they produce. After all, letting the artists wither away means no creation of content, the very thing these ruthless, global giants have conspired to cheat the artists out of. And, no content, no profits. The hamster will not endlessly run on the treadmill in the absence of food and water.

And now, locked away in self-isolation, a surge in creativity is taking place. Songwriters are inspired, home recording studios are active, and home concerts are springing up everywhere. Is a new model about to emerge, with a new delivery system to audiences? And if it does, will musicians be smart enough to correctly monetize their work? Will they diligently fill out the proper paperwork to cover a streamed performance and ensure their work is union-protected? Or will they simply become online buskers, naively grateful to perform before a handful of Facebook friends, and settling for a few coins tossed in their direction through crowdfunding or virtual ticket sales?

Clearly, the new normal will be nothing like the old, and we may be stuck with it for quite some time. Make sure you have the AFM in your corner. Don’t go out into this new reality alone and unprepared.

going viral

Not What I Meant By ‘Going Viral’

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In 1927, a movie called The Jazz Singer was released. As the first “talkie,” it sounded the death knell for live music work in theatres throughout North America. The phasing out of radio orchestras resulted in a large number of musicians being unemployed. However, 2020 will be infamous in history as a virus now identified as COVID-19 effectively shut down an entire entertainment industry in an extremely sudden and devastating manner. This is not what we hoped for when using the term “going viral.”

On March 13, the Canadian Office (CFM) instituted reduced hours, a rotating but skeletal staff, and proceeded to provide services on a work-from-home basis. On that same March 13, work kicked into overdrive as the true extent of the damage became apparent, and action had to be taken quickly to mitigate the toll taken by a total work stoppage.

A letter from the CFM went out immediately to all levels of government because in the initial Federal response workers not normally eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) were off the radar—meaning 98% of Canadian musicians were excluded. The letter stressed the following points:

  • A waiver of the one-week waiting period for EI.
  • Expanding the benefit to include “gig economy,” or freelance workers.
  • Funding for symphony, theatre, and arts organizations to allow them to maintain payroll.
  • Assistance to stimulate and revitalize the industry once the crisis had passed.

Videoconferencing had begun almost immediately with other entertainment unions. CFM was an active participant, and signed on to a joint letter to government, along with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) and others. We also asked Canadian locals to track, as much as possible, the lost work suffered by their respective memberships. While this was clearly a monumental task, we were able to create a combined spreadsheet, updated weekly, in the event the government was insistent upon having backup data as the only justification for compensation.

Michael Murray, executive director of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), was instrumental in the creation and administration of an online petition containing several recommendations to the government for response to the crisis. A joint letter from CFM and Local 149 was sent to Heritage Minister Guilbeault on March 26. In short, the recommendations were:

  • Ensure that all musicians would be eligible for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
  • Implement Live Arts Labour Tax Credits and Live Arts Labour Rebates.
  • Consider allowing arts and cultural industry companies, including small, medium, and large for-profit, not-for-profit, and charitable companies, to have access to the Business Development Bank’s working capital loans and that these loans are fully forgivable.
  • Consider providing significant targeted funds of at least $50 million to CBC/Radio-Canada to be put towards the wages, production, broadcast, and streaming of live performance studio recordings, within the bounds of public health guidance both during full COVID-19 restrictions and at a time of recovery.
  • Grant a reprieve on the remittance of Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
  • Consider a contribution to each of the AFC, Fondation des Artistes and its affiliated funds, and Unison Benevolent Fund to support their Emergency Financial Assistance Programs at this time of high demand.
  • Consider advocating to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for visa extensions and provide refunds on visa fees.
  • Consider the payout of all grants and subsidies from the Department of Heritage and waive the requirement for completed activity for those who have provided cancellation fees to musicians and other artists.
going viral
AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert recently had a Zoom meeting with the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada Council. Pictured is a screen
shot of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking during the meeting.

Rosalyn Dennett, who is an Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD) staff member at the Canadian Office, has been instrumental in posting updates for available subsidies, as well as all things COVID-19, in our social media outlets. In addition, she has created a one-stop centre for all information in the Canadian section of the AFM website, located at www.cfmusicians.org/resources.

The CFM was also asked to participate in a task force, spearheaded by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA). This has proven useful because the employers of the entertainment industry are also shut down, and they have many of the same concerns as the musicians whom they employ. A united voice to government, on behalf of the industry as a whole, is far more likely to be a credible barometer, wherever our objectives are not contrary.

We are also participating in a separate coalition of entertainment unions, specifically IATSE, CAEA, AFM, and Associated Designers of Canada (ADC). Again, as one voice, we are in the process of creating a letter to government to identify long-term issues, and make suggestions for the industry to re-energize, once clearance to return to work is given. These issues are:

  • Income earning thresholds should be implemented to allow live performance workers/artists to generate a reasonable level of “gig” income while still in receipt of Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) support.
  • Seasonal and contractor workers/artists who would have generated income from live performance work in the spring and fall of 2020 but for the health crisis should be entitled to the CERB.
  • The duration of the CERB for live performance workers/artists needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all regular full-time, part-time, contract, and/or seasonal workers/artists.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all workers/artists irrespective of whether those workers/artists are engaged as traditional “employees” or in a self-employed capacity.
  • The duration of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for live performance employers needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.

In addition to the foregoing, we propose the following additional support initiatives for the federal government’s consideration to assist the arts and culture industry in its health crisis recovery:

1. Specific Arts and Culture Emergency Economic Support

  • Increase funding allocations to the Canada Arts Council and various provincial arts bodies that will allow those bodies to utilize their expertise to allocate additional funds to arts and culture organizations to assist them in attracting live audience attendees—using an organization’s previous years’ ticket sales averages as the eligibility criteria for funding amounts (i.e. providing organizations funding equal to 50% of the average of the previous five years’ ticket sales so that the organization can attract audiences with reduced ticket prices).
  • It is our understanding that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy does not include municipally/provincially run venues if they are owned by a provincial and or municipal entity. We therefore ask for the inclusion of municipally/provincially run venues in the CEWS or commitment of separate funds earmarked exclusively to assist in the recovery for municipally and provincially run venues.
  • Amend the Income Tax Act on a temporary basis so that live performance ticket purchases are treated as charitable donations for tax purposes for 2020 and 2021.
  • Devise and implement federal tax credit incentives for live performance organizations similar to the types of provincial tax incentive policies that have given rise to record-setting levels of film and television production across Canada.
  • Identify and implement longer-term financial assistance initiatives that recognize the recovery of the live performance industry will take much longer than any other industry.

2. National Marketing Campaign to Rediscover and Support the Arts

  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders to design, implement, and fund a national marketing campaign aimed at encouraging Canadians to return to the various arts and culture venues as patrons and audiences.
  • As part of any marketing campaign, allocate funding to provincial and municipal organizations to enable them to use their expertise to design and implement more focused localized campaigns collaboratively with stakeholders.

3. Safe Return for Workers and Audiences

  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders and all levels of provincial and municipal government to design and implement appropriate public health protocols that will provide an environment for the safe return of workers/artists and audiences to the various arts and culture venues.

As you can see, we continue to be involved in many initiatives in an ongoing effort to ease the stresses imposed on our members because of this worldwide phenomenon. But, make no mistake—musicians would have not been included in the CERB without the persistence of the CFM and our sister unions to ensure that “gig economy” artists would be covered, and that any incidental revenue they had because of students, royalties, or other small amounts of income would not render them ineligible. When I pressed him for answers during the CMPA videoconference, Minister Guilbeault stated emphatically that he had heard our message “loud and clear,” and that adjustments would be made to accommodate our freelance players.

While none of us can predict what the short-term future is of the COVID-19 fiasco, please be aware that your union is doing everything it can, along with our partners, to ensure our members are included in all government subsidies, and to provide a positive transition into the world post-virus. For now, please embrace safe practices and distancing, that you and your families remain safe and healthy.

domestic digital royalty

$67 in Average Domestic Digital Royalty Payments—That’s It?

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The Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), Canada’s performance rights organization (PRO) representing more than 135,000 Canadian songwriters, composers, and publishers, has released some numbers on its collection and distribution for 2019. Over $400 million (CAD) was collected, the highest in the 30-year history of the organization, and an increase of 8% over 2018.

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labour

Labour Gears Up for War

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When the gavel dropped to open the May 14 meeting of the Canada Council of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the tone was a mix of elation and trepidation. On the one hand, celebration had begun for the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, an event in history which forever changed the landscape for labour laws across the country. But the elation soon diminished, as provincial reports of Conservative electoral victories—and the bellwether that lies therein—sets the stage for what may become the greatest struggle the labour movement has yet seen in this country.

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directives on copyright

The EU Directive on Copyright

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I recently attended a briefing sponsored by the Canadian Music Publishers Association at the law offices of Cassels Brock. The keynote speakers were Erich Carey, vice president and senior counsel at the National Music Publishers Association, and John Phelan, director general of the International Confederation of Music Publishers.

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Canadian Office Prepares for Busy Season

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As we enter the spring and summer seasons, the Canadian Office will be embroiled in a plethora of negotiations, both for successor and new agreements. Added to that is a very busy conference and convention schedule, beginning with the Canadian Labour Conference’s celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike in mid-May. A significant event in Canadian history, the six-week action resulted in many labour reforms followed by a golden age of prosperity for the labour movement.

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married to the band

Married to the Band

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Bands break up. Even The Beatles were victims of change, whether it’s external, internal, or personal.

When musicians get together and form a band in Canada, the least of their worries is the myriad of legal implications of being in a Canadian musical group. When successful, bands generally stay together longer, but eventually something triggers the split of one member or perhaps everyone. Then comes the hard part: who owns what?

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Changes at the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada/CBC Agreement Update

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I have been advised that long-time employer trustee and chair of the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, Stanley J. Shortt, has retired from the board of trustees for personal reasons. A former senior executive whose corporate associations had included Eaton’s, Simpson’s, HBC, the TSO, and the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts, Shortt was an integral part of the team for almost 30 years and was always committed to serve in the best interests of the membership.

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Streaming Leads to Slim Profits

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In the September 2013 International Musician, I reported statistics that represented the number of streams necessary to earn a minimum wage in the US. These numbers were based on the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or $1,160 per month for a 40-hour week.

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income from recording

Maximize Your Income from Recordings

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I am pleased to report that the General Agreement for Commercial Announcements (Canada) has been ratified. While there have been some delays in editing, I expect printing and distribution to take place shortly. I would like to thank Local 149 (Toronto, ON) Executive Director Michael Murray, rank-and-file members Chris Tait, Jane Heath, and Nicola Treadgold of Local 149, as well as Director of Administration Susan Whitfield and Electronic Media Supervisor Dan Calabrese from the Canadian Office for their diligence, patience, and foresight. Without these folks, such an excellent result would not have been possible.

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