How artists and musicians are controlling their own fate.

If the music industry were a crowd of people, that crowd would be standing on the very edge of a large cliff. Their current future is an utter haze, as they face an ever growing sea of fans open to all the possibilities that extremely limited financial support can provide, while in their wake lies piles of money on fire. Today's music industry needs to figure out a way to make the best out of the situation and work together on this, or else they're going to have something a whole lot more chaotic than it is now.

Ever since the introduction of free file-sharing services with Napster in 1999, and now with the growth of music technology, record labels have been in a constant panic to create cash-grabs from artists. And so the 360 deal was introduced, a record contract that allows the record company to which the artist is signed to take a share from every profitable venture from a band, including touring and merchandise sales, even publishing royalties from physical album sales and iTunes profits. By signing artists to 360 deals, the labels aim to reap more profit from the artists, though the amount made does not compensate for that which was lost in CD production. Furthermore, it enforces the mind frame that we, as music fans, do not need to pay for the music we want, because the artist won’t get much of it anyways.

The Rise of Digital Technology
Today, digital recording and online distribution are now the viable practices, and have been for most of the past decade, which have opened up the industry to anybody with a computer. Recording at home has gotten even easier with the development of Digidesign’s Pro Tools, which has now become the standard program within the recording industry.

As someone who has worked in the industry long enough to witness the rise of Pro Tools, Mike Rogerson, a producer working at North Vancouver’s Bakerstreet Studios, shares the sentiments of many working in the industry towards digital recording: “In the past, you would have to get very good at playing your songs before you could record them. Now you can make things sound pretty good by not learning to play properly and just fixing everything in the computer.  I think this has also led to the general public placing less value in music these days and seeing it as more of a product - because it is now being created as a product.”

A Pro Tools teacher at the Harbourside Institute of Technology, Rogerson is one of only two Pro Tools experts in Canada, earning his certification at the DigiDesign headquarters in San Francisco. Despite his skill with the program, he says that he doesn’t let it influence his creative process. “I try not to let the computer program dictate the way the music sounds; I will use tricks to enhance a good performance, but if the song doesn't have some kind of life of its own, I am not interested in working on it,” he says. An important process of recording with a professional can be in the artistic collaboration, though Rogerson reasons, “Every artist is different. Some just sing and some do it all: write, play, arrange, produce ... I believe great producers know when it’s time to step in, and also when it’s time to stay out of the way of the magic and just let it happen.”

Rogerson’s fellow producer and frequent collaborator, Sam Ryan, creator of SOS Music Recording in Vancouver, also feels the new shift in the music industry thanks in part to the technology available today. “I have noticed a huge change in the industry, as it has caved in from top down with the advent of Internet and new recording technologies. Big studios are almost obsolete these days. You can get the same results with way less overhead with new digital technology.”

What was once an industry fueled by avid fans pre-ordering albums and waiting in line on the release dates, is now that of a person gasping for breath after an unexpected plunge in cold water. The development of digital distribution of music has made the act of purchasing physical CDs unnecessary (unless you’re like me and cherish the album in its entirety and consider it half-done without the artwork), which has in turn lost money for both major and indie record labels on their CD sale investments.

Jonathan Simkin, co-founder and owner of the successful independent Vancouver-based label 604 Records sums up the general problem: “Independent labels face some of the same challenges that majors do, people don’t buy records. People feel that they don’t need to pay for records. You have a whole generation of children and young people to whom music is free. They don’t think they’re stealing; they are, but they don’t think they are. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change, I think it’s too late.” 

Rogerson shares the same outlook, and presents an often-thought-about concern among old faces and new hopefuls in the industry, asking, “In a time where music is free, how do any of us make a living?”

The Canadian Side
Canadian Content (CanCon) was created to protect Canadian talent from cultural bombardment by requiring Canadian radio and telecommunication services to broadcast at least 25 per cent Canadian-made music. However, the top 10 songs in Canada this week, according to Billboard's Canadian 100, are predominantly American pop, featuring two Katy Perry songs, Usher and some guy named Taio Cruz.

As album sales charts now include iTunes as well as CDs, it's hard to know for sure how many were bought in-store, but not hard to guess that the percentage is low. No matter what your personal preference of music is, it’s evident which bands are surviving purely on their ability to be marketed. The are the bands that can be digitally enhanced with excessive auto-tuning and borrowed talent from backup groups, artists that don't need you to buy their CD in it's physical form to understand their whole message. It is no longer necessary for an artist to have true, raw talent. All that's needed now is digital vocal editing abilities and an expert that can market them to a wide audience, using their physical appearance, style and interpersonal skills to make up for all that’s missing.

Vancouver’s current claim to pop-rock fame, Marianas Trench, boasts a major difference from the aforementioned easily-marketed teenyboppers. This group not only writes a majority of their own material, they are also all classically trained vocalists and, more to the point, worth-while live performers. Oddly enough, this group has previously tried to break into the USA by way of seeking an American label, but with little luck.

Simkin, who represents Marianas Trench as the head of their label, 604 Records, and of their management group Simkin Artist Management (SAM) says:
“That band’s had a lot of success in Canada in the last couple of years, and as often happens when a band starts to have some success, US companies start to sniff around, and that was no exception here. We had a couple of offers from major labels ... they were basically low-commitment deals where the labels would agree to nothing more than put out a couple of singles, and if things went well, basically they’d turn it into a 360 deal. So in other words, the best-case scenario was a 360 deal. And that’s not a great scenario ... we all kind of agreed that after all of these years of working so hard to just sort of give it all up like that, to somebody who we barely know; it just didn’t feel right. And that band’s history in Canada is also very independent; they didn’t get a lot of support in the beginning. People thought the band was weird and too quirky, too this and too that. So this is a band who’s already used to doing it on their own. So we decided that we’d rather sell 30,000 records in the US on our own, and not have to be giving up bits and pieces of everything, rather than sell 100,000 records and have to give up all that stuff. So we all ended up deciding 'let’s do it independently,' and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

In 2009, the single “All To Myself” from Marians Trench’s last album Masterpiece Theatre went platinum in Canada (10,000 singles sold), as did “Cross My Heart”, earning the group two Independent Music Awards for both favourite single and favourite video of the year. It seems doing it yourself is pretty profitable these days.

Before the influx of modern indie labels, however, major record labels dominated the music industry. Many bankruptcies, scandals and company-mergers later, the majors exist in the forms of “the big four” record companies: EMI, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. These major labels now also act as distribution affiliates for indie record companies, making it possible for smaller, less well-known groups to get their albums advertised and sold in larger markets than they are capable of reaching themselves.
604 Records is distributed (though only for physical CDs, not digital albums) by Universal Music Group, Tooth & Nail (Underoath, MxPx, The Classic Crime) is distributed by EMI, and Sub-Pop (Nirvana, Fleet Foxes, The Shins) is under the Warner Music Group distribution banner, to name a few examples.

Cam Thomas, lead guitarist of Vancouver-based Static in the Stars acknowledges the change in the music industry and suggests that this is “the new age to find cool new ways to market yourself as a band. You have to look at it as a complete business ... the Internet is a great tool for marketing and getting your music and yourself out there.”

Paired with a home-built studio at their practice space, Static in the Stars have the help of producer Tommy Mac (most well-known as the bassist in Hedley), and Audio Engineer Dean Maher of Hipposonic Studios (Rise Against’s Siren Song of the Counter Culture, Slayer’s God Hates Us All and Marianas Trench’s Masterpiece Theatre) to create their current upcoming album. Thomas states, “If you’re working with the right people, the right professionals, they can get the right sound out of any place, anywhere. We’re using all of Tommy and Dean’s equipment, it doesn’t matter if we’re in a huge massive recording studio, or that we brought all of our gear to our place. Ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference to us; it’s going to sound great.”
A great concern with unsigned musicians still remains in funding projects for recording albums, tours and start-up costs for merchandise and gear, says Thomas. “You need to have funding for an album, so my best advice is to keep applying for grants for bands and playing shows. Networking is the biggest thing in the industry. As long as you have great management, a booking agent to get you shows, and networking skills, it really helps fuel your career.”
A well-known example of successful self-promotion is Tennessee-natives, Paramore, who entered band contests and won slots on the Rockstar Taste of Chaos Tour and the Vans Warped Tour, finally getting them noticed and signed by owner of indie music label Fueled by Ramen, John Janick, in 2005. As a group, Paramore have won over 17 different awards and received nominations for over 45 awards globally, including the Latin American MTV Video Music Awards and MTV European Music Awards.
Make It or Break It

Former Capilano University Arts & Entertainment Management (AEM) student, Mike Given, has tried and triumphed in many ways. Beginning his industry education at the Art Institute for Audio Engineering, and then in AEM, Given now works for Nettwerk Music Group-based Frontside Promotions.

“The best way to get a job in the music industry is by volunteering your time with someone who is already involved in the industry. The saying 'it's not about what you know, it’s about who you know' holds true to a certain extent. This is the type of industry where you need to prove yourself before you are given a job, and being an intern is the best way to prove that. You need to show that you are interested in the industry and in what you are working on. Taking some courses can also be an asset, but there is only so much that you can be taught in a classroom setting.”

The aforementioned Sam Ryan agrees this, saying, “I teach music production part-time at the Harbourside Institute of Technology in North Vancouver. I really try to make it clear that it isn’t about memorization. Music is dynamic and emotional and you need to be very sensitive to that to make good music. We aren’t scientists here ... I think education can definitely give you a head start in the industry, but the biggest factor is that you need to be hell bent on succeeding ... getting into the music industry I knew that I wanted to be a music producer, and knowing that no company would hire me without a significant track record, I started my own business, SOS Music, to establish myself”.

Management programs for the arts are offered at very few post-secondary institutions in Canada, the most well-known being Grant MacEwan’s Arts & Cultural Management in Edmonton, the Art Institute’s Event Management, all over North America, and Capilano’s own Arts & Entertainment Management diploma and certificate programs.

As a student of the latter I’m probably biased, but I know it provides students with the opportunity for hands-on experience, through volunteer possibilities in industry socializing galas (like Schmusic and CreativeMix), working volunteer (and possibly even paid) shifts at the Capilano Performing Arts Theatre and the required second-year internships, which are a total of six months and can be taken anywhere in the world. Past successful internships placements from AEM include Mike Given at Frontside Promotions, Keri Gilleard at 604 Records and Whitney Townsley at Nettwerk Music Group.

The future of the music industry is foggy, by all means, but it is in no way bleak. The industry isn't dead, it's changing. The music industry is standing on a cliff faced with impossible standards and chaotic happenings, but in the end, it will make it work.

//Meagan Bibby

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