Label Funding Debate Continues

Label Funding Debate Continues
Prompted in part by an article in last month's Exclaim! ("Arts Funding For Whom?" by Neil Haverty), government representatives met with a roomful of micro-indie labels on November 19. Despite the dialogue, the gulf between them remains wide. Participants included Music Entrepreneurship Program (MEP) Director Shelley Stein-Sacks, FACTOR President Heather Ostertag, several representatives from the Canadian Independent Record Producers Association (CIRPA) including President Brian Chater and representatives from Canadian Heritage, which oversees the dispensing of arts-related government money. They met with labels including Linus, Maple Music, Polaris, Sonic Unyon, Sound King, Teenage USA, Three Gut and the Union Label Group.

The labels' concerns spring from money dispensed by the MEP to help build infrastructure at the independent level, and the fact that qualification levels for that money set levels well out of reach for so-called "micro-indie" labels. (In fact, only eight companies in English Canada qualified for the $23 million dollar pilot project.) While MEP Director Stein-Sacks outlined exactly why the MEP couldn't take the concerns of the dozens of one-person operated indie labels into account, he encouraged them to make their voices heard by joining CIRPA.

The terms in which these discussions were framed still seemed radically different for both sides. While CIRPA, MEP, FACTOR and Canadian Heritage spoke of building a strong, national music industry that could hold its own against monolithic American competition — on radio, in sales figures, in the "global marketplace" — the micro-indies are looking at the level of a small-business loan to keep their label afloat. On one side, the next Sarah McLachlan; on the other, not losing their artists to a major label (as many of the represented labels have), not losing their shirt, and putting out the next record.

In fact, much of the over two-hour meeting was spent as a CIRPA sales pitch to the labels. (Several represented labels, including Linus, Maple Music, Sonic Unyon and Teenage USA are already members of the government-lobbying organisation.) Discussion that these labels form their own association, however informal, were discouraged as a waste of time; the "power" they could wield within CIRPA, an established body that already had "the king's ear" was emphasised. (CIRPA itself began as a grassroots organisation 30 years ago.) The MEP's out-of-reach funding qualifications, it should be noted, were established in part on CIRPA's recommendations, but "change from within," instead of forming a more indie-friendly alternative, was the line being touted by the CIRPA board members present.