Songwriter / Composer / Producer
From his early days as the frenetic keyboardist for Blue Rodeo and his life as a solo artist, through gigs scoring for film and television and producing for tons of artists, Bob Wiseman has participated in every level of the Canadian music industry. He's also maintained his artistic integrity and an infectious enthusiasm for creation that he's lent to many young Southern Ontario bands. He offers some advice on how young bands can make a career out of art and still pay the rent.
How were your early work experiences?
I made sandwiches or worked at a record store — but jobs become more complicated if your "art" career takes off. You have to travel five hours to make $50, but you have to do that in order to get the possibility of making $500, or $5,000. I've been doing shows with a couple of comedy groups, including the Distractions, and one of them got a pilot for a TV show: I'm doing the music for that. That's how you get jobs that do pay well, by being around and doing a lot of things where there isn't any money.
Where is there money to be made in the music business?
The world of film is the high end of the entertainment business. I auditioned to score Johnny Mnemonic, which was a relatively low-budget Hollywood film, and they told me on the phone it paid $125,000 U.S. for something that might take a month to do. To work on a film here in Canada, it's about a quarter of that. If you work gets added to mainstream radio, that's a real windfall.
You own part of the publishing from your days in Blue Rodeo. Can you explain how that works?
For a song, there are two streams of ownership — the songwriter and the publisher. (If no one has ever heard of you, then you are the publisher and the songwriter.) If you write a song, 50 percent is the songwriter's, 50 percent is the publisher's. The publishing can't be touched [by the record company], because it belongs to the songwriter and whoever the songwriter has given or sold the publishing rights to. The guys in Blue Rodeo shared the publishing [amongst themselves] many years ago. It's a smart thing for a musician to own part of the publishing — it means you'll get a little something four times a year.
One of the big myths of the industry is that bands make money selling records.
People want to believe they'll get paid part of the record sales, but it's very unlikely — record companies collect it, then from your share recoup expenses for recording or making a video. It then goes through many middle people, including the band's management. Touring money is more immediate. You see the money, you know what your expenses are, you can do the math right away.
What are some of the common mistakes that young bands make?
I think the important thing for young bands is to get a good used van that they can rely on. If you're in Ontario, focus on Southern Ontario. If you're in Vancouver, you should focus on the West coast — where the major population centres are. I see bands breaking their backs to "do Canada" and often they create really unnecessary expenses for themselves. That's a common mistake. But certain things people just have to learn. Even when you think you can save someone from making a mistake, you can't. People only get smart by fucking up a few times. It's a right of passage to fuck up, and fuck up huge.
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