Canadian Musician

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New Coalition, ‘Focus on Creators,’ Launches as 1,100 Artists Sign Letter Urging Canadian Government to Protect Their Livelihood

November 29th, 2016
Graham Henderson ECC

Music Canada Pres. Graham Henderson speaking to the Economic Club of Canada early this month

Nearly 1,100 Canadian musicians, authors, songwriters, composers, music producers, poets, playwrights, film composers, actors, directors, and other members of the creative class have signed a joint letter addressed to the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, urging the government to put Canada’s creators at the heart of our cultural policy. The letter is part of a newly-launched initiative called Focus on Creators, which is a coalition of Canadian musicians, authors, songwriters, and other artistic creators with the organizational support of Music Canada, CIMA, The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Country Music Association, and more.

As Music Canada President Graham Henderson recently pointed out during a speech to the Economic Club of Canada, Canadians are consuming more digital content than ever before, and creators have led the shift – they have digitized their work, mastered the Internet, and become their own social media directors. Yet the laws and regulations that allow creators to monetize their works to make a living are now out of date, according to the coalition. Without urgent attention from government, thousands of Canadian creators will not be able to tell their uniquely Canadian stories, the letter states. The full letter can be read here.

“In an ever-changing digital climate that is working against creators to financially exist, it has never been more important for Canada to be leaders in copyright reform to not only save artists, but the voice of Canada,” says musician Royal Wood.

“Canadian writers play an important role in creating, critiquing, and changing culture. I wish our time and labour was better compensated! Most Canadian writers don’t just create, but publicize and market our work too, using social media and other digital technologies. The vast majority of us need other paid work in order to make ends meet. This means that we juggle multiple jobs, and still manage to produce award-winning novels, poetry, non-fiction, short-stories,” says Farzana Doctor, author and Lambda Literary Award winner. “It should not be this way; legislators must ensure that writers can earn a living from their craft.”

In light of some major federal cultural policy activities, including the Canadian Content in a Digital World consultations, and the upcoming Copyright Act review in 2017, the Focus On Creators coalition was formed to bring focus to the artists’ perspective.

The initiative is supported by Canadian creative industry associations including Music Canada, the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), the Writers’ Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, the Canadian Music Publishers Association, the Playwrights Guild of Canada and the Canadian Country Music Association.

“We’ve seen firsthand the respect that Canada’s music gets in other parts of the world. The support we’ve traditionally given our creators is also well-recognized,” says Suzie Ungerleider, who performs as Oh, Susanna. “But Canada should have an updated system that continues to treat artists fairly, especially as technological changes make it more difficult for them to be compensated for their work.”

“The digital shift has brought a wealth of opportunity to Canada’s writers and readers, but that opportunity is accompanied by serious economic challenges that must be addressed with sensitive, nuanced policy in order to maintain a distinct Canadian cultural identity and to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to Canadian stories,” says John Degen, author and Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada.

The initial list of creators grew to nearly 1,100 individuals in a short time, but is expected to increase now that the initiative is launched. Canadian creators are encouraged to join Alanis Morissette, Brett Kissel, Blue Rodeo, Gord Downie, Gordon Lightfoot, Grimes, Metric, The Sheepdogs, Marie Claire Blais, Rudy Wiebe, Guy Gavriel Kay, Sharon Pollock, Daniel David Moses, Mary Vingoe, Garth Richardson, Gary Barwin, Alice Major, Maureen Hynes and many more Canadian creators in adding their names to the letter at FocusOnCreators.ca.

The Focus on Creators has provided the following information to support their cause:

STATISTICS

Canadian creative works are being consumed in greater volume than ever before. They can be accessed anywhere, at any time, simply by opening an app on a phone:

 Music Streaming is the music industry’s fastest growing revenue source. Not only did the number of people subscribed to music streaming services increase from 41 to 68 million in 2015, there were nearly one billion users of ad-supported upload services like YouTube and SoundCloud.

 In 2008, e-book sales in Canada accounted for 1 percent of the market. By 2015, that number had risen to 18 percent. According to PwC research, by 2018 e-books will generate 52 percent of consumer publishing revenues, and e-books will account for 37 percent of the market share across consumer, educational, and professional segments.
Creators have led Canada in the digital shift, but struggle to earn a livelihood from it. The middle class creator is being eliminated from the Canadian economy and full-time creativity is becoming a thing of the past:

 Independent artists earned an average of $7,228 per year from music-related activities in 2011, not nearly enough to allow them to pursue a music career full-time. On average, most artists spent only 29 hours a week pursuing their music career.

 It is becoming harder and harder for Canadian writers to earn a living from writing. Taking inflation into account, writers made 27 percent less in 2015 than they did in 1998 from their writing. With average writers’ revenues that fall below the poverty line, the Writers’ Union of Canada says that writers will increasingly abandon their craft for other employment.

 The average income of a playwright in Canada, in 2004, was less than $10,000.

Creative works are increasingly used to monetize technology without adequately remunerating creators:

 While consumption of ad-supported music streaming services like YouTube and SoundCloud has grown significantly—by 63 percent in 2014, and 101 percent in 2015—
revenues paid to rights holders have not kept pace. Last year, revenue from these services grew by only 31 percent (versus 101 percent growth in consumption) and accounted for only 4 percent of global revenues. This has resulted in the creation of a ‘value gap’.

 Even though e-books are cheaper to produce than their physical counterparts, the Writers’ Union of Canada has found that the 25 percent royalty rate most authors receive from digital sales is disproportionately low.

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