The music world has been hit hard by the coronavirus. And while famous artists have the financial resources to tough it out, the vast majority of musicians aren’t just struggling. They’re hurting. Bad.
With the demise of physical music sales, there’s very little money to be made in selling CDs or vinyl and unless your songs stream millions of millions and millions of times, there’s not much to be earned there, either. Musicians’ incomes now rely heavily on touring and live performances. But now that the concert industry has been shut down, that source of revenue has dried up. Sure, you can maybe make a few bucks through a live stream, but it’s hardly enough to pay the rent and buy food.
There’s been much talk recently of the benefits of a universal basic income for everyone, especially since the plague set in. Now a new B.C.-based organization has come up with a specific proposal for Canadian musicians.
The Canadian Musicians Coalition, headed by executive director Steve Sainas, a winner of the MusicCounts Teacher of the Year award, has been thinking about what can be done to provide our musicians with a guaranteed living wage and to rebuild the country’s music economy.
The federal government’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislation Review Panel is currently looking at ways to revise the woefully outdated Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act, a set of rules and regulations that haven’t been touched since the days before Facebook, YouTube, and the smartphone. The panel is faced with trying to figure out how a domestic music industry can not only survive but thrive in the era of borderless streaming platforms. The CMC has a few ideas.
First, a little history.
Back in the day when we bought blank cassettes and CD-Rs by the truckload to make mixtapes, the Canadian Private Copying Collective was established. The goal was to compensate artists for when people copied their music onto blank media.
Each cassette and CD-R had a tiny levy attached to it, which was then distributed to artists. Frankly, the money collected was a pittance. Plus, it annoyed a great many Canadians who didn’t use cassettes and CD-Rs for copying music. It also explains why Americans could buy a spindle of blank CDs for a dollar while Canadians were on the hook for much, much more.
The CPCC is still around, but when was the last time you bought some blank CDs or a cassette?
Then there was discussion about extending the levy to other recordable media, most notably computer hard drives and devices like smartphones in what was called an “iPod tax,” but that idea never went anywhere, largely because of some very vocal opposition from the general public.
The CMC’s idea reaches far beyond that to something “more socialist than capitalist,” according to Sainas. It proposes a collecting a $4 levy on all internet and mobile data plans for something called the Canadian Musicians Support Fund Levy (CMSFL). The thinking is that because everybody (well, almost everybody) listens daily to digitally-provided music in some form usually at little or no cost, it’s necessary to augment the income of the creators of this music for their labours.
That’s $48 a year tacked on to your mobile phone bill and your internet service “in exchange for unlimited streamed music,” as the CMC outlined in a letter. Based on the number of internet connections in the country, that would create a fund of just over $2 billion annually.
Once collected, music professionals and original music creatives (vetted through applications and with help from various music associations) would see their incomes topped up to an annual wage of $30,000. Other money would go to subsidies for professional scale paid music performances disbursed through music venues. Additional cash would go to “Creative Grant Funds” designed to support new creative works. And money would also be allocated for public music education.
Then there’s the tax exemption part of the proposal. Ireland and Germany both have tax laws that exempt all income earned by artists and musicians. This, it is hoped, will not only encourage Canadian musicians to stay in Canada but perhaps tempt international artists to relocate here.
These are all ideas worth discussion, especially considering the health, educational, and economic benefits of a vibrant national music culture. And without any protection, we run the risk of being overrun by American culture. After all, we don’t want to become a Kardashian nation, do we?
But is this plan politically palatable? Canadians, already heavily taxed, might balk at having to pay even $4 a month. ISPs and the telcos might recoil at the idea, too, given how much Canadians pay for data plans. And there will always be those who say, “I don’t listen to music. Why should I pay?” Or better yet: “Can’t make a living as a musician? Well, then you must not be very good. Go get a real job!” And so on.
But something has to be done to protect Canadian music. Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube are draining huge amounts of money out of the country without putting anything back into Canadian culture. Most provinces don’t even collect sales tax on those subscriptions.
If you’re interested in learning more about CMC’s Keep Music Alive in Canada campaign, go here to learn more. If you like its ideas, sign the petition.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.