Damhnait Doyle, Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Cash
Damhnait Doyle, Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Cash

Playback 2017: For Musicians, The Current Outlook Is Bleak

Toronto-based singer and songwriter Damhnait Doyle doesn't mince words when it comes to life as a Canadian musician in 2017.

"We're poor y'all," Doyle declared during a panel at Music Canada's annual general meeting held Tuesday in Toronto. "We've been poor for a long time."

Held at the tail end of Music Canada president and CEO Graham Henderson's speech introducing the Value Gap report and how, since 1997, the Canadian music industry  - due to the effect of digitization and the Internet, has lost over $12 B due to the resulting cumulative revenue gap - artists Doyle and Miranda Mulholland were invited onstage to discuss the realities of their day-to-day survival in order to pursue the art that they love. 

It wasn't a pretty picture.

"You’re just wearing so many hats," explained Mulholland during the panel moderated by Andrew Cash, musician, former MP and co-founder of The Urban Worker Project.

"I find my days are taken up with just so much administration and not enough time to write and not enough time to have those moments I’m actually inspired by."

Mulholland noted that because there are so many social media sites to contend with, ranging from Facebook and MySpace to Twitter and Soundcloud, she finds herself spending most of her time immersed in updates.

"I'm trying to get people subscribed to Spotify so that I can be paid $.004 extra cents per stream because if they do subscribe, there’s a difference in that than just ad-based services," she notes. "The turnover is huge, so how much can you invest in each new technological Silicon-Valley-based model that we now have to invest in and sell to our fans. And there is fan fatigue – people are so over-exposed now."

Mulholland says she's also been a side musician "for a very long time" and laments the lack of neighbouring rights being paid on YouTube because she's played on 50 albums via collaborators that don't offer her any royalty income. She also founded a music festival and runs her own record label, but says it's not a money-making venture.

"This is all on my own dime," Mulholland admits, adding sarcastically. "So, how do I make a living? Well, I do a lot of theatre. That makes a ton of dough here in Canada.”

In Damhnait Doyle's case, she finds it ironic that during a recent gig financed by a record company, everyone was paid for their time and efforts but her. 

"They paid the caterer. They paid the videographer. They paid the band. They paid for very high-end vodka. The only people that were not getting paid were the artists," Doyle sighed.

"It just made me angry. Why would I spend $120 to get a babysitter, to come down here to play for your company...why would I do that? Get a babysitter, get a Uber – because time is money –  why am I so undervalued that my name would be on the invite, that you can’t think of paying me as an artist? Because I already have money? Absolutely not true."

Doyle said that before the panel, she had sung on a television project "that I will only get paid for once...for a ridiculously small amount of money."

"I’m doing it because where else am I going to make money? And that goes into the terms of the sound recording. We should be paid for that like everybody else. There’s going to be nobody good left, and you’re going to be stuck listening to shitty music because only shitty people can afford to make it."

The mother of two also described touring - one of the last, if not the last, vestige where recording artists can make a decent living -  as a money-losing proposition.

"If your favourite band is getting into a van and they’re going across the country for three or four weeks, and they come home, and they don’t owe thousands of dollars, that is a victory,"

Doyle declares. "That is a success. So for me, going on the road not only costs me the amount of money for hotel rooms, flights and travel, it costs me thousands of dollars in babysitting.  We’re not making money off the radio. We’re not making money off publishing. We’re not making money off record sales. The only place you’re going to make money is playing live.  If I play a show at the Dakota, that’s going to cost me $700 personally. So it’s bleak. But this has been the situation for us, forever. It’s not news."

Doyle even recalls not being able to afford shoes for an album release party when she was signed with EMI Music Canada.

"I had incredible support from EMI," she remembers. "They were fantastic. They spent a shitload of money on me. I had this incredible CD release party. I had a sponsorship from Winston Rose on College (Street) – they gave me my clothes. But I went barefoot because I did not have money to buy shoes.

"That was 17 years ago and nothing has changed for us.  Nothing has changed."

So what does an artist need to survive?

"We want a sustainable working marketplace where we are creating art and we are being remunerated for it properly," says Miranda Mulholland. "That is not happening for a variety of reasons. I believe the government needs to make some pretty swift cuts to end some of these subsidies. That’s a big deal."

Doyle agrees, noting that the government made a mistake when allowing subsidies at the expense of creators.

"The fact that the government has not changed this legislation is laughable," she notes. "Someone made a mistake and no one is willing to clean up the mess. It’s a mistake."

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