With her trademark red locks and equally blazing fiddle chops, Miranda Mulholland has become an unmistakable presence on the Canadian folk-rock scene.
Having played with Great Lake Swimmers, Jim Cuddy, The Mahones and many others, she has in recent years branched out into solo work and currently co-fronts the duo Harrow Fair with Andrew Penner of Sunparlour Players.
On top of that, Mulholland launched her own label, Roaring Girl Records, in conjunction with Fontana North, which includes the likes of Kevin Hearn and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins on its roster, and this year she spearheaded the creation of the Sawdust City Music Festival that will take place the first weekend in August in Gravenhurst, Ontario, featuring a host of artists in Mulholland’s immediate circle.
Yet, amid of all this activity, last month Mulholland boldly put herself at the centre of the debate surrounding artist royalties by laying out in a much publicized speech to the Economic Club of Canada the sad truth of the meager earnings she and the vast majority of Canadian musicians receive for their work in the new digital industry.
Her intent was not to lobby governments for more financial handouts, but instead urge them to reevaluate copyright laws and demand fairer treatment for artists from YouTube and the major music streaming services.
She has the ear of federal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, who has committed to a policy review, but it appears to be merely a first step. Mulholland’s efforts have led her to be dubbed a “music activist,” a title she hopes more artists will adopt as a means to finding viable solutions.
You've received a lot of praise for your speech about copyright reform to the Economic Club of Canada. How are you gauging the response so far, and what could be the next moves?
The most gratifying thing I found about being given a platform to speak was that so many peers and colleagues immediately reached out with a “me too.” It actually all really began there—talking to other working musicians and realizing there is a systemic problem—but one that has some very concrete steps that can be taken to move forward.
What inspired you to start up Sawdust City Music Festival?
I always looked at the curation of my label like assembling the line-up of a festival, so Sawdust City is really a live manifestation of the label. Gravenhurst is my favourite place on the planet and there are some incredible established venues that lend themselves perfectly to a festival concept. It occurred to me last summer to marry the two.
How do you balance your creative life and your business initiatives?
In one sense, they are very connected and my solo work, Harrow Fair, the label, the festival and the advocacy all feed each other. Still, time for the initial creative work needs to be carved out. Sometimes that just means taking a few quiet days to let things simmer. Finding those days can be a challenge! There was that great moment in the early days of Downton Abbey when Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess smugly quips, “What's a weekend?” to someone who works five days a week, looking down on him for having a job at all. All freelance musicians are in the same boat as Ms. Smith but the opposite— “What's a weekend?”
What is on the horizon for Harrow Fair or other projects you have in the works?
Harrow Fair is such a thrilling project for me. We just got back from an amazing UK tour—our first—and a US run. It is exhilarating to play with Andrew and make music I feel is vital, exciting and new, and to see fans and critics agree. We are playing a lot of festivals and shows this summer in North America, and then we have a second UK tour booked in November. We are both also members of Soulpepper Theatre Company and will be performing in New York City all of July, both as a band and as part of the company.
It's clear that the responsibilities of being an independent artist these days is far from the glamorous image of the music business some people have. What's your best advice for aspiring artists?
Protect your work. That can mean speaking up and valuing your solo work or your contributions to group projects, and by supporting robust copyright laws. It is extremely empowering to realize that you have a voice in changing outdated policies that do not serve creators in this day and age.