Canadian Indie Artists Face Uncertain Future After SiriusXM Axes CBC Radio 3: "I Have to Re-Evaluate Everything"

pHoenix Pagliacci, Russell Louder and more reflect on the loss of a key revenue source

Photo of Phoenix Pagliacci: Shaunyah Weerasinghe

BY Laura StanleyPublished Nov 1, 2022

"I have to re-evaluate everything."

Like many Canadian independent artists and labels, Montreal-based pop artist Russell Louder was shocked when they heard the news that satellite radio service SiriusXM had axed CBC Radio 3 from its channels. "I'm devastated. I feel really scared for my fellow musicians," says Russell about SiriusXM's decision, which, with no prior warning, came into effect on October 1. "There's a precarity that has been heightened so much by this decision coming down."

While independent artists and labels are now left scrambling to find a home for their music, the change emphasizes how unsustainable and unstable the Canadian music industry is for emerging acts. Additionally, we are reminded of how much power organizations like SiriusXM have over the independent music sector. By eliminating its relationship with CBC's music channels, SiriusXM has tightened its control over the dissemination of funds.

The royalties that artists receive from plays on satellite radio stations like SiriusXM are substantial, and are one of the few remaining sources of consistent revenue in the Canadian music industry. In a video posted to Instagram, Charlottetown-based folk artist Alicia Toner said that she receives $44 USD per stream on satellite radio; comparatively, the streaming platform Spotify pays on average $0.003 to $0.005 per stream, according to a Business Insider report from 2021.

Toronto-based musician pHoenix Pagliacci, a solo artist and one half of hip-hop/R&B duo TRP.P, says that the royalties that she has received from getting played on SiriusXM via CBC Radio 3 gave her some much needed stability as an independent artist.

"Whether it's contributing to others' art or sharing the split from my own art, it was a very comfortable amount of money that came monthly," Pagliacci says. "With it, I didn't have to ask, 'Will I be able to eat this week or this month?' So yeah, it's going to be challenging."

In addition to CBC Radio 3, which is still available as a playlist through CBC Music's website, SiriusXM dropped CBC Country, ICI Musique Franco-Country and ICI Musique Chansons. In a tweet that followed the programming announcement, CBC Music wrote, "CBC/Radio Canada was contracted to provide streams to SiriusXM for a number of years. Our contract was completed, and SiriusXM has decided to program their own channels going forward."

A few weeks after the programming changes, SiriusXM Canada released a statement about its "commitment to Canadian music," noting it has launched several new Canadian music channels: Mixtape: North, Attitude Franco, Racines Musicales, Influence Franco and Top of the Country Radio. (The company is still bound by CanCon laws.) The statement also points to existing stations like the Verge that play "indie" music, although not exclusively by Canadian artists.

"We're in a system that already makes having a career in music a challenge, and so losing a revenue stream just adds to that challenge," says Mint Records co-manager Elysse Cloma. "I think that it's discouraging to artists because it tells them, 'Making a career out of music might not be financially possible or sustainable for you.'"

Yet another challenge for independent artists and labels is how the royalties themselves are distributed. SiriusXM's royalties are distributed through US-based company SoundExchange. As the organization states on its website, "SoundExchange has the lowest administrative fee of any major collective management organization in the world," taking just 4–6 percent of an artists' earnings. There are a handful of comparable Canada-based royalty collection agencies, such as CONNECT Music Licensing, Musicians' Rights Organization Canada (MROC) and Re:Sound; the admin fees for these organizations vary, but are typically much higher than SoundExchange. MROC, for example, takes 15 percent on royalties collected in Canada, while Re:Sound takes as much as 38.8 percent.

For an already unstable industry, the trickle-down effect of SiriusXM's decision will be considerable and widely felt. More artists, as Pagliacci obverses, are likely to shift their output to more consumable art. "People will be making music just so that they can go viral or can catch a commercial," she says. "They will not be making music and art because they want to — it's literally for their purpose of their survival. The quality of art is going to depreciate because you're not putting as much heart into it because you literally can't afford to."

As Steve Sidoli, co-owner of the Toronto-based label Telephone Explosion, explains, multiple levels of the music industry will be impacted: "Obviously, there's going to be less money for people who run labels and ultimately less money for artists. But there's also going to be less money for studios, the people who work in studios, the people who manufacture physical media like vinyl and CDs, for the artists that create album artwork, and for the people who write press releases," he says.

"I feel like the only logical thing that I can see for an artist to do to make more money, if they're not already doing it, is something that doesn't have to do with music. But it's going to mean that more of their resources, psyche and energy has to go to non-music stuff, and it could result in lower artistic output, which, over time, means less Canadian independent music being made."

Audience apathy toward Canadian music feels particularly detrimental to independent artists who are already struggling to navigate the various barriers in place. The best way to help independent artists is through direct support. Both Russell and Pagliacci urge listeners to buy music via Bandcamp and contribute to artists' membership platforms like Patreon. But a long-term solution may fall to the government, Sidoli notes.

"If a significant piece of revenue that was necessary for this entire industry, all the way from the top to the bottom, to exist the way that it did is gone, then it needs to come back from somewhere if we want it to continue at the level that it was at," he says. "The only people who are going to be able to provide that is going to be the government. It's going to be either the federal government through FACTOR, or it's going to be through some of the provincial programs." 

Others, like Russell, urge for artists to mobilize against streaming platforms like Spotify who, they argue, are gutting the music industry. The only way forward is together.

"We are tired and we are so battered by this industry, but we need to organize if we want Canadian independent music to stay alive," they say. "That's going to come with risks and fallout, but there's already risks and there's already fallout. I'm at a point where I don't have anything to lose. I hope there's other artists who feel the same way, because this isn't acceptable and I'm not okay with this.

"These companies need us and they need our work and we're not getting paid for it, and that is terrifying."

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