Fighting the Good Fight: CIMA Battles for Indies

If progress can be measured in terms of expansion, then the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) has made substantial progress in its fight to promote homegrown talent here and abroad in its 42-year history.

Ten years ago, Canadian Blast - a CIMA showcase initiative under the Music Export Canada umbrella that trumpets our homegrown talent via trade missions at foreign conferences and festivals - appeared at three events.

"This past year, we did 18 missions," says CIMA president Stuart Johnston. "We had 147 companies engaged in those missions and showcased 105 artists. We went to 18 cities in eight countries, so it's really exploded."

And that's just one example: Music export - bringing Canadian acts, promoters, managers, agents and other music-associated companies to events like the Austin, TX-based SXSW or The Great Escape, the new music festival held annually in Brighton, UK - is one of CIMA's chief mandates, though not the sole one. 

"We're engaged on a wide range of fronts, whether it's through our research and advocacy efforts in Ottawa and elsewhere; to our professional development and information; to programming that we do on our own and in conjunction with MusicOntario and frankly other partners across the country," notes Johnston.

With a staff of 10 - including recently hired policy analyst Elise Roiron -  and a mandate to promote Canadian independent music, CIMA's membership includes Canadian-owned indie labels, management companies, distributors and other organizations and is comprised of almost 280 members.

"Our mandate is to support the work that they do, which is to ultimately grow the careers of their artists, so we support the ecosystem surrounding those Canadian artists," notes Johnston, who adds that the market share that Canadian independent recording artists contribute fluctuates between 21% to 24% and is valued at several hundred million dollars.

Johnston says CIMA is funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage's Canada Music Fund (specifically through its Music Entrepreneur Component Program), and the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) through its Ontario Music Fund.

"We have some radio dollars - tangible benefits and other discretionary funding from some radio stations - and we get sponsorships, and industry support through SOCAN, as an example - membership fees, participant fees in our services like exporting or some professional development or whatnot, and that's pretty much it.

"So it's from a variety of sources: we put it in a pot and use those resources primarily for the exporting - that's where the lion's share of our costs go. And then all the other programming, too."

There are a number of issues that CIMA is lobbying at the moment, including hoping to convince the Federal Liberals to not only bump up the Canada Music Fund, but create a separate Music Export fund as well.

"The Canada Music Fund in rough numbers is about $26M a year," Johnston explains. "We've been asking the Federal Government to increase that support to $30M with annual staged increases thereafter, so we're always investing dollars in current-year dollars, as opposed to the Canada Music Fund now where we're really dealing in 2007 dollars. So we want that to catch up with inflation and then keep up with inflation and more going forward.

"The $10M Music Export Fund is a standalone, dedicated fund to help the industry, broadly-speaking, in their export endeavours. And that is a key priority of the Liberal government, so our advice to them is help us with our resources and we feel that a $10M annual fund is one way to help us achieve those goals."

Johnston says CIMA and its partners are also asking the feds to "increase labour mobility provisions in our trade agreements and immigration agreements to allow our artists better and freer access to the U.S. market to perform."

"Canada changed its rules about three years ago and dropped all requirements for work permits and work visas for foreign artists that come in here to do temporary tours. So when we look down to the U.S., which is by far and away our Number 1 export market - somewhere between 80% and 90% of our industry's export revenues come from the U.S. -  the difficulties our artists have in terms of the red tape, the time they need to put in and the costs they need to pay in order to obtain visas is almost cost prohibitive for our artists.

"We figure that the kind of artists we're dealing with - emerging artists, folks that might be the next breakout artist or are trying to be breakout artists and they're commercially exploiting the U.S. -  are not bringing home a lot of money with these tours, if anything."         

Johnston says they've asked the government, aside from creating the $10M Export Fund, to eliminate the export barriers, "which will smooth the waters for us and really help us to fully realize our potential in markets around the world."

"Our message seems to be resonating," he adds.

Another immediate concern is the promised 2017 Copyright Act review.

"We're engaged with a number of other partners in the industry to review what potentially we want to see happen," says Johnston. "We're hoping and we've been asking the government for a true, in-depth comprehensive review, and not just a by-the-numbers-we've-taken-a-look-at-it-and-we'll-look-at-it-again-in-five-years. So we're hopeful that enough of the loopholes or some of the language that wasn't as strong - or is not as strong as we'd like it to be - we hope that those loopholes in the Act that limit the income and the autonomy in music creators are closed. We want to see the Copyright Board be fully resourced, of course, and focused on the needs of the music market."

CIMA and its partners are also calling for the elimination of a $1.25M commercial radio subsidy ("It's been in the books for 20 years and it's long past its due date," Johnston says) and is looking forward to "telling the government decision makers what exactly needs to be done for the Copyright Act to strengthen it."

"Our artists and businesses will not make a living unless their products are protected, and the only way to do that is to have a very robust Copyright Act," Johnston notes.

CIMA has also recently undertaken a number of homegrown initiatives as well.

On June 12, the organization holds its third annual Celebration & Awards gala, honouring numerous music industry executive veterans (Donald K. Tarlton, Builder Award; Sheri Jones, Brian Chater Leadership Award; Coalition Music's Rob Lanni & Eric Lawrence, Entrepreneur Award and Polaris Music Prize's Steve Jordan, Unsung Hero Award - plus a TBA Marketing Award) and, more recently, instigated Road Gold, which certifies musicians undertaking Canadian tours; the CIMA 20 (reflecting independent artists' sales, streams and downloads in the Canadian market) and the CIMA 40 (the Top 40 Canadian and international artists' sales, streams and downloads in the Canadian market.)

There's also the four-year-old MusicOntario program.

"It allows Ontario-based artists primarily, but not exclusively, to be serviced through programming and services and professional development and networking and even some exporting opportunities," says Johnston. " We've got workshops, seminars, panels. We've got networking. We have a vehicle on which we can shine a light on Ontario and Ontario's artists when we do exporting, much like we do for other parts of the country when we go to Reeperbahn (in Hamburg) or South By Southwest or the Great Escape. It really is providing a strong platform for our artists to develop.

"So there's really no shortage of initiatives that we are continually engaged in. And I'm not even mentioning Music Export Canada, which is our largest service where we plan, facilitate and execute music trade missions around the world."

Touting that Music Export Canada has collectively confirmed and initiated deals "well over $120M or $130M" over the past 10 years, Johnston says CIMA is now looking at creating "bespoke missions" as well, such as a recent sojourn into Los Angeles to meet with music supervisors.

"In that instance, there were many times where our delegates had been trying to get ahold of very particular people for months and never got their calls returned," Johnston explains. "But we took them to L.A. and they were able to spend half-an-hour or an hour with them as a result of that facilitation. So we'll do that - we're going to go to Japan in the Fall. We may go back to New York next year. We're thinking about doing San Francisco and bringing our music to meet the tech companies later in the year. And those are all bespoke missions - we'll create that from scratch and program them specifically for the needs of the delegates who sign up to go. So we're finding a lot of success and a lot of innovation on these missions."

In terms of a three-to-five-year game plan, Johnston says a lot of CIMA's future plans are "contingent on budgets."

"In a perfect world, we see ourselves is growing the export more and more and being able to explore new opportunities and new markets as they arise," says Johnston.  "For example, we're going to be going to South America late this year. We did an exploratory mission late last year, and we're building on that for the first time to create a real mission. So we want to be able to be in the position to open those markets and explore new opportunities in existing markets as the market dictates, as our industry dictates.

"We want to be more robust - and we're heading that way, we're growing our services in terms of professional development. We want to become a centre of excellence for information and professional development for the industry. And we know that we can't do that by ourselves. Certainly CIMA has - and will continue to program - our own panels and seminars and whatnot as the needs arise, but we always have been and will continue to partner with existing infrastructure to help deliver professional development wherever it is in Canada.

"We hope to grow the exporting as much as possible, but we'll never stray from our roots - which is our advocacy and research foundation of CIMA. We started off as an advocacy organization and we will continue to be a very robust advocacy organization to work on behalf of our members and the industry at large."


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