Metric's Manager Responds to Unfamiliar Records' Bashing of the Canadian Grant System, Calls Label Head "Paranoid"
Published Jul 24, 2009As you may recall, Unfamiliar Records honcho Greg Ipp recently posted a lengthy open letter to the Canadian music industry, attacking its policies for promoting "over-funded mediocrity." The letter stirred a lot of debate, including some back-and-forth between Ipp and VideoFACT employee Beverley McKee that we also covered.
Now, Metric manager Mathieu Drouin is the latest to join in, posting a hulking essay on The Daily Swarm. In the letter, Drouin defends Metric, who were called out in Ipp's original letter, giving a detailed explanation for how the grant money is spent. Drouin also suggests that Ipp has had a "long-standing and well known personal bias against Metric," though he doesn't go into any more detail than that.
The manager also negates Ipp's assumption that the grant money is going to those who don't need it, saying, "You presume to assert that all that subsidy money is nefariously being siphoned in to coffers of old, rich and lazy industry fat cats sitting in their ivory towers that simply don't need the money, but that's nothing short of paranoid and inaccurate."
Instead, Drouin says, "My overhead is extraordinarily low as well. Like you, I only 'eat what I kill' to so to speak. I do not hold an outside job, but I also do not draw a salary. Rather, I live off what money the operations of the company can spare from time to time. We run our office of five people out of an attic, in a house. So trust me when I say, I know your pain."
If you have a hefty chunk of time to kill, here is Drouin's entire letter:
My name is Mathieu Drouin and I manage Metric with my partner Francoise de Grandpre. Early last week I was forwarded a copy of your open letter to the Daily Swarm pertaining to Canada's Music Industry and Grant System.
I must admit, my original intention was to simply ignore the whole thing because, frankly, I didn't think it was worth the time it would take me to respond. Considering anybody that has the least bit of meaningful, firsthand experience with and/or knowledge of the subject matter to which your letter speaks will easily see it for what it is - which is to say a baseless, largely inaccurate and generally naive or uninformed rant - I don't consider that your tirade poses any kind of real threat to Metric or the funding organizations you have elected to attack in what I would deem to be such a brazen and short sighted manner. Especially when contemplated in the context of your long standing and well known personal bias against Metric (the genesis of which I will do you the courtesy of not airing publicly in this forum for all to read), it struck me that the lack of objectivity and clear absence of a proper, in depth understanding of the issues spoke for themselves and I therefore preferred to dismiss it as nothing more than a minor annoyance and take the high road.
Unfortunately, I have since been contacted by a number of different media outlets seeking a comment or response on the subject of your treatise as it seems you are trying to turn this in to some kind of full court press initiative. I guess I failed to appreciate how alluring the attention might prove to be. In any case, regardless of your motivation, the result is that what started as an inconsequential irritant has now snowballed into something that has begun to take more time and energy to try and ignore than is required to simply respond. With that in mind, while I have no intention of engaging with you in any kind of ongoing pissing match, considering I am sitting here on the tarmac waiting for my plane to take off and have nothing better to do for the next 45 minutes of this delightful delay, I decided I might as well take this opportunity to draft one comprehensive reply to your letter in an effort to dissect and refute those of your assertions which I take issue with.
I apologize in advance to the reader for what some might consider to be an extraordinarily long retort, but since this amounts to the extent of the time I'm willing to commit to this debate and I will simply point anyone with any further inquiries as to our position to this document, it strikes me as advisable to be thorough and exhaustive in my reply.
In an effort to make this as bearable and coherent of a read as possible, I am going to roughly break down the following in to two parts. Firstly, my comments in response to your points on the Canadian grant system supporting music in general, and then more specifically my thinking on whether or not Metric deserves the continued support of that system given their current level of success.
THE CANADIAN GRANT SYSTEM IN GENERAL
I find you very quick to criticize a funding system that has consistently achieved such impressive results on behalf of Canadian musical talent over the course of many, many years. I say that especially considering the assortment of comments and assertions you have made which - to anyone who truthfully knows what they are talking about when it comes to these funding programs and the nature of their objectives plus the guidelines which govern the distribution of the funds at their disposal - only (as respectfully as I can say this) exposes your underlying ignorance with respect to the bulk of the subject matter at issue.
If I may make a suggestion, perhaps you would do well to invest a little time and energy towards personally learning how the programs work instead of spending so much of it criticizing them. Specifically, it might benefit you to spend some time better understanding what their respective objectives are, and then try preparing your own applications in the future as opposed to hiring out third parties. This is the approach all successful managers and labels I know of in this country take and I am sure you would benefit from adopting it as well. After all, the applications are really quite quick, simple and easy to prepare. By no means do they require anyone to go out and employ "top notch professional grant writers" and, honestly, even if these parties were getting you results (which clearly they are not), I seriously question the wisdom of going to such an unnecessary expense given how financially "hard up" you purport yourself to be.
For any readers who may be interested, I invite you to go have a look at an example of any one of several applications such as the ones being discussed, in order to see for yourselves just how simple, quick and easy they are to prepare. Here is a link to the FACTOR online programs and applications website. As you will see, you can even fill them out online. Personally, I have always found it remarkable how administratively manageable organizations like FACTOR, VideoFACT and Radio Starmaker have made it for qualified artists and industry applicants (companies) to secure such substantial financial support with so little and such simple paperwork required. For example, the fact that you can get a grant of up to $40,000 as a result of an application that can be completed in less than one hour by someone with a little experience (and that's assuming you prepare the budget yourself, which most video production companies will gladly do for free) is at once extraordinary and a good reason to do the application yourself considering that the only professional grant writers I have ever come across charge a small flat fee versus a percentage of any funds ultimately received in exchange for their services. With the commission percentage generally sitting at around 15%, that means if you were to get approved in full on a FACTOR video application grant, you'd probably be paying up to $6,000 for what amounted to only a few hours worth of work. Nevertheless, even if the commission amount were much less substantial, the same wisdom with respect to writing your own applications applies. I have no doubt that those who prepare their own applications have a higher success rate with respect to funding approvals. Nobody understands a project like the people in charge of it and therefore no one is better suited to defend its merits and accomplishments.
Going back to my first point, to the inevitable question as to what I base myself upon when I say that Canada's grant system has achieved such "impressive results" for Canadian musical artists, I would like to point simply to the disproportionate, per capita success of Canadian artists as compared to that of those artists originating from other countries.
Specifically, year over year of the past decade and beyond, Canada has been the second or third largest producer of musical talent in the world (depending on the year) as measured by our artists' contribution to the aggregate dollars generated by the career activities of musical artists around the world (all career revenue centers combined). In other words, that puts Canada at #2 (after the USA - or sometimes #3, after the UK) despite having a population roughly only 1/10th the size of the population of the USA (and substantially less than the UK as well). Now that's a pretty telling and compelling accomplishment if you ask me. While it would be nice to believe that Canadians are just "that much more talented" than the people of the rest of the world, practically speaking that's not a viable explanation for our disproportionately significant per capita success on the international musical stage. So Greg, if you don't think that the grants are responsible for this success (short of which I don't see how you can argue that the system has been successful given the objectives), then what do you think is responsible?
I don't think anyone in the know would argue that Canada's network of grants and conditional loans available to the music industry is, comparatively speaking and on relative terms, the most substantial such system of its kind in the world. I would venture to say with quite some assurance that its existence is at the root of why so many international musical stars are Canadian (by the way - most of whom to which you can trace back some form of financial assistance from the organizations you have chosen to disparage, dating back to the days prior to their breakthrough international success). In support of that position, it not surprising to note that prior to the advent of FACTOR and other such organizations, Canada was not so strong in relative terms as compared to the rest of the world when it comes to the music space. Hum, I wonder why that is?
Admittedly, in the interests of being objective, I am not saying I don't think there isn't room for improvement within the system. I don't think anyone, including the organizations themselves, would take that stance. In fact, I think they would also say openly and proudly that what they fund and the way that they fund it is an ongoing process they work on improving every day. If you monitor the programs closely, you will notice that the program rules and regulations are constantly evolving in order to address the ever-changing needs of the artists and the companies who draw upon those funds. The organizations are seeking to adapt to the needs of an industry which is under siege by technological change and the resulting evolution of consumer behaviour which has permeated every aspect of the music business. Considering the depth and severity of those changes, I am frankly supremely impressed at how proactive the organizations have managed to be in staying on top of it all. If only all bureaucracies moved so quickly and efficiently...
That said, no system is perfect. There certainly exists the potential for inefficiencies and, like any system, perhaps even the possibility of abuses by people with devious intentions. But again, what system doesn't present that potential? More to the point, I would gladly challenge you to do better! It is easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about the system, but it's a lot harder to effect change and I think if you had to walk a mile in the shoes of the people whose methods you criticize so freely, people passionate and dedicated to the cause of helping Canadian artists despite getting very little in return, you would be singing a very different tune.
Speaking of which, have you ever made an effort to get involved and effect the change you think is so sorely needed? You know you have that option, right? You know all sorts of industry organizations - including FACTOR - are constantly looking for contributions of time and insight from the private sector. Just recently FACTOR solicited feedback from the industry on what changes should be considered to the programs before they issued new guidelines. Did you take a moment and put in the effort to let them know what you thought? Were you even paying enough attention that you were aware of it? If you had, I think you would have quickly realized that the issues are far more complex and challenging than might otherwise naively believe. Again, no system is perfect. But then again, what is? I certainly am not, are you?
Another thing you seem to fail to consider is the fact that not all these organizations are government funded. Organizations such as Starmaker and VideoFACT are privately funded. Their money doesn't come from the government. While they are perhaps charitable endeavours by nature, that's not tax payer money you are talking about. Their money is coming from private corporations with a profit motive. For example, VideoFACT is largely funded by Much Music. Much Music plays videos to attract an audience in order to support its business of selling airtime to advertisers. Despite your belief unknown, unproven artists should get money, I think it therefore stands to reason that they would want to support and fund the creation of music videos which they believe a large segment of their potential audience will be attracted to watching. After all, in many ways they are funding the creation of their own content.
Like it or not, there are very few truly selfless acts in this world.... so unless your intention is to take on capitalist society at large, I would take a minute to consider where a lot of this money comes from before presuming to know how it should be spent and feeling entitled to tell the people putting up that money the same. The fact that the broadcasters are infusing so much money to support Canadian culture in the first place is generous and commendable. It is certainly to our benefit as an industry at large, so perhaps you might want to consider that before you kick the gift horse in the mouth. Personally, I find it hard to fault them for perhaps wanting to support, in the future, projects which have done well for them in the past. I say that as someone who works with lots of little artists that don't get funded very often either, much as it would be nice for me if they did. That's the nature of the beast. When I earn their support on those artists, I am sure I will have it. Until then, I don't think they should be forced to support smaller, unknown projects in order to preserve your idea of what is "fair" or help bolster bank balance. Business is business. And if a company cannot survive without life support from grants or other artificial outside revenue assistance sources, perhaps some might argue it should not exist at all. There are, after all, market forces at work that help to regulate what and whom succeeds versus who doesn't. Like it or not, those forces and the public which governs them, are the ultimate arbitrators of quality and value. Not you, and not me.
All of the above notwithstanding, as self-righteous, indignant and selfish as I may personally find your position on all of this to be, I can however understand how, from your particular point of view, it may seems unfair. But I honestly think that if you invested more time in understanding the system and working with it as opposed to criticizing and disparaging it, not only would you benefit, but you would garner a better understanding of the issues which would no doubt change your tainted point of view.
The fact is that you are not the first person to raise the issue. One of the major dilemmas the Canadian grant system has wrestled with for years now is the issue of how to distribute its funding. What is the best way to proceed? Should it give a little bit of money to everyone who asks for some, arguably diluting the impact of the funding to the point of being completely ineffective, but at least fairly and evenly distributed... or should it pick winners with a proven track record of achieving results/success and provide them with substantial, meaningful support so that they may have at least have a chance of actually being competitive in the international marketplace? Sadly, we don't live in an egalitarian utopia. Being practical is necessary to survive. Consequently, both on the basis of common sense and the fact that, for the funding to continue to exist, demonstrable results that can be highlighted and pointed to need to be achieved, the latter was the chosen strategy. Accordingly, to respond directly to a question you raised, no, I don't think it would "be great" if our grant system allowed "black sheep to shake things up" and began handing out substantial subsidies to help artists working without "the help of an entity already known" to the funding organizations. I think if they start handing out money to people without a track record of being able to succeed without that money, there can be very little accountability, the effectiveness of the monies distributed will be reduced (even if some unproven entities make the most of it), results will therefore wean and the already precarious renewal of such funding will be put in jeopardy to the detriment of our entire cultural sector. I think that allowing that to happen is what would truly constitute something that would prove to be malignant to our industry.
There is something else that puzzles me about your open letter. In it you lament that you almost never get any money and that so many of the usual suspects are continuously approved for funding in large amounts. I can only assume you are referring to FACTOR since they are pretty much the only organization which has a permanent program to fund showcases, which you claim is the only thing you were ever approved for. What I find strange about that is that, as far as I can tell, Unfamiliar Records has only ever put in one single application, which happened to be for showcase support, and it was approved. With a 100% approval rate, you are doing a hell of a lot better than most. Is it possible you have exaggerated the degree to which your company has been treated unfairly?
Nevertheless, let's assume that my info on how many times you have applied for and been approved for funding is wrong. Let's assume you were turned down the vast majority of the time. I presume that Unfamiliar Records is not a Direct Board Approval company at FACTOR. That would mean you are competing with the general population for a relatively small portion of the other funds available, which could explain the relatively infrequent approval rate. If that's the case, I would suggest to you that those are just the odds. It doesn't speak to malice. On the flip side, if your company had direct board approval, your projects would not be subject to the "jury process" at all (i.e. to the whims and opinions of the people you call "judges") or any form of editorial approval with respect to your projects' merits for funding. If the project was qualified (Canadian artist where master is owned by qualified Canadian company and the album was recorded in Canada, etc), you would be automatically approved for funding so long as there were monies available to be dispersed. Why? Because the funding organizations don't think it's their place to tell established companies and entrepreneurs how to run their businesses in terms of what their A&R departments should be doing. Unfortunately, to treat unproved applicants that way would be reckless. I don't see how you can argue otherwise.
Unfortunately for you, before you can earn access to that kind of direct financial support for your company, you have to prove your worth. You have to go out and achieve success on your own, without their consistent help, in order to establish that by giving you the money, it stands to be put to good use and that you will be able to go out and achieve even greater results with the money than you are already able to achieve without it. Each company that benefits from Direct Board Approval today had to go through the same process you are going through now in order to earn the right to that privilege. Once you have done that, once you have existed for a certain amount of time, put out a certain number of albums and achieved a certain number of sales, acceptance in to the Direct Board Program is essentially automatic (just like the funding). Furthermore, the level of a company's access to funding within the DBA system is based on performance measured by the results achieved with the money provided, as measured by the sales success of supported projects and the reimbursement levels of the associated loans (not everything is a grant after all). In other words, it's not the totally subjective, corrupt, relationship based process of subterfuge your letter makes it out to be. It's mostly a meritocracy with objective measurement systems. Begin to measure up and I am certain you will do very well with all the funding organizations.
Finally, before moving on to the next section of my reply, there is only one more point I want to make on a personal note. You infer that the grant system in Canada is somehow sad, gross and corrupt and that the only way to get money from it is to suck up to its gate-keepers, take them out to dinner and lobby for their support in order that they may elect to support and become one of your benefactors. For the record, I do not live in Toronto (where FACTOR, Starmaker, VideoFACT and most other relevant funding organizations are based) and I cannot think of a single occasion where I have gone to a personal lunch or dinner with any of the representatives of any of these organizations. In fact, I can't even recall ever having visited any of their offices (except maybe once, at FACTOR's office, but I never actually had the meeting because the person I was there to see had gotten the time wrong and ultimately chose to cancel on me, even though I had come from out of town). My company does however benefit from Direct Board Approval level funding at FACTOR. It's not because they like me better than you. It's simply because we've achieved results.
Furthermore, you presume to assert that all that subsidy money is nefariously being siphoned in to coffers of old, rich and lazy industry fat cats sitting in their ivory towers that simply don't need the money, but that's nothing short of paranoid and inaccurate. As far as I can tell, some of the most successful companies in the DBA program are young, dynamic companies who haven't been around for long at all and are run by young people such as me. And I promise you this too, after 8 years in this business, I know many of them and while they may be achieving great success and growing, no one is retiring off the proceeds of their record companies these days. Personally, I am only 29 years old, my company is very young and I certainly don't have any "money to spare" as you so eloquently put it. Not unlike you, my partner and I started our company with no money, and have struggled on numerous occasions to keep it afloat, holding it together with our own blood, sweat and tears. The fact is, I think you would find that most, if not all, of even the Direct Boars Approval companies are struggling to survive. However, I say with certainty that you won't find ANY of them with "money to spare". To the contrary, I can think of a few of the biggest companies in particular whose owners have sustained several years of losses and pumped back in hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of their own money (often derived from other businesses) in order to keep their record companies afloat, because they believe in their artists and are loyal to their employees. I'd be very curious to know who exactly you think it is that is swimming in excess cash flow, but even without knowing, I'll take the bet that you are wrong!
In short, please don't be so presumptuous as to assume that the whole world is out to get you and involved in some big conspiracy against you and your artists. Put in the time the time, energy and effort just like everyone else, assume the risks that go with that, and one day if you prove yourself on your own and succeed in meeting the objective criteria of success as set out by the programs, you will be entitled to a larger share of the funding pie as well. You are 34 years old sir. I think it might be time to grow up.
WHETHER OR NOT METRIC DESERVES THE CONTINUED SUPPORT OF THE CANADIAN GRANT SYSTEM
Now, with the big picture out of the way, let's move on to your ranting against Metric in particular. Let's set the record straight on a few of the numerous mistakes you made with reference to Metric. Much of what I am about to write is simply fact. Some of it is simply my opinion.
A) One of your main points of criticism in your letter pertains to the fact that the majority of the grant system money goes to bands under the wings of "well-funded labels with cash to spare". I've gone to some lengths above to dispel any belief that that's accurate to begin with, and/or unjustified to the extent that there is any truth to it (i.e. that companies with a track record get more money than companies with no record). However, you then specifically chose to focus on Metric as an example of one such artist on one such label. You literally could not be more wrong. Metric used to be on a brand new, young label which was literally founded to put out Metric because "the establishment" you criticize so willingly (and accuse Metric of being a part of) wanted nothing to do with them. Furthermore, they have since left that label and not only do they not currently have a well-funded label behind them, they literally have no label at all behind them. They self-financed their own album, and with our help as management (but without accessing any grants through our company), they have set up their own label (Metric Music International) via which they are self-releasing their most recent album (Fantasies) in over 18 countries spanning the biggest markets in the world (including the USA, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Australia, etc). In the beginning, the first several hundred thousand of money invested came directly out of the band members' own bank accounts. They turned down deals from big record companies, mortgaged their houses, drastically cut their personal costs of living and re-invested all the profits from their touring and merchandising businesses (and continue to do so) in order to make a go of being truly independent. And they did it without FACTOR or anyone else's help in the beginning (which, for transparency's sake, is not to say that the company to whom we licensed the Canadian rights might not have gotten some grants... I am sure they did, but all the video and tour support grants and other stuff you are talking about in your letter was awarded to Metric Production, not the label, and only after we proved our success). You are right that Metric is now succeeding very well on their own behalf, as their own label, having sold more copies globally of their most recent album Fantasies in 8 weeks than the prior album sold in four years. Consequently, access to more funding is now available to us. However, even still, it's very much only the beginning. We have far from broken in any country except Canada, and there is so much work left to do that success is far from assured. In other words, we can still use help of the funding organizations. In fact, we need it, without it we could not even have made a go of it internationally, and even with it we are severally underfunded compared to the major label artists we are competing against.
B) Another one of your points speaks to the band's on the labels getting all the money being "old enough to no longer need the training wheels". You specifically refer to Metric as "a band who really doesn't need the government paying their way". However, in furtherance to my point A) above, and based on the very raison d'être of these funding organizations (as you yourself have recognized it - which is to provide funding to Canadian artists "to help them achieve international success"), Metric is exactly the type of band these funding organizations aim to support! Why? Because they have proven themselves at home, have some international traction that can be built upon, and are therefore ready to take on the international stage while standing a reasonable chance of meeting with success. If the strategy is to back your winners and try and hit a few home runs, then who does it make more sense for these agencies to support at this moment in time? Metric, or a band on your label that may be artistically amazing, but that no one has ever heard of, has no real fan base to speak of and nothing that can be leveraged because the ground work has hardly begun to be laid? To suggest that Metric no longer need support and are more than capable of taking on the international marketplace alone is also absurd. Canada is the only place they've had a gold record. In the US, which is their second strongest market internationally, the last record didn't make it one tenth of the way to gold sales status certification. The merits of their "independent" accomplishments as an artist who chose to go it alone and without a label notwithstanding... even if they were signed to the biggest independent label in Canada, they would still be one of a select few artists who really should be getting financial support because the sum total of the results they have achieved has demonstrated that they have a real shot at international success. Furthermore, even with the maximum amount of funding conceivably availably in addition to the support of a well-funded independent label, we'd still be far out-financed by the major label acts from the US and the UK whose artists we are competing against. For whatever reason, you have chosen to focus on the video grants Metric recently received, so let's use those to illustrate a point. First of all, are you aware that Metric has so far released three videos on this album (Gimme Sympathy, Sick Muse, Help I'm Alive), only one of which was made with any form of outside financial support (Gimme Sympathy)? As opposed to making a string of videos with reasonably sized budgets, we deliberately chose to make the last two (and the one currently in production for the song Gold Guns Girls - now the 3rd video off this record to be shot without any outside funding support) with very modest budgets precisely so that we could hopefully combine a FACTOR and VideoFACT grant in to one "big" budget that would allow us (with additional investments of our own) to make a proper music video for the next single in order that it may stand a chance of competing with other international artists on major labels with video budgets that often reach in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes even more). After all, as I said, these are the artists that we are competing against in the USA and around the world. $60,000 may seem like an astronomical sum, and it is very substantial, but it's nothing compared to the cost of what some of the competition's videos are being produced for and it's money we've only been able to secure by sacrificing and cutting back in other areas.
C) You also made the assertion that "what kills you" is "the ability these bands have to market themselves as a result of receiving funding". You then go on to state that the success we're seeing them have is a case of "money buying sales", and "money begetting more exposure, which in turn [also] drives sales". While the whole point of the grant funding is to take something successful that's proven itself and provide it with gas to pour on the fire, to purport that these artists you criticize, including Metric, are only successful because someone unfairly chose to give them money over you is totally baseless. First of all, I can list for you several projects I have personally been involved with (and countless that I am simply aware of) where piles and piles of money were thrown at albums to try and make them stick - we're talking about much, much more money than Metric ever had access to in order to establish themselves - and yet those artists albums never really sold or garnered them any traction. I'm talking about projects which were signed to bigger, established, better funded labels than Metric had on its side when they put out their first record (their original label, at the time of releasing their debut album, was brand new and did not have access to Direct Board Approval at FACTOR either), labels who considered the projects in question top priorities, spent literally hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars to break them (and buy exposure), and still somehow most of them never succeeded in selling even 5,000 records. What does that tell you? If you don't buy that, look at it another way... If sales success and the breaking of new artists were simply a matter of money and exposure, the major labels would not be in the trouble they are in and we would not be witnessing so many turn table hits with tens of millions in audience numbers from TV and radio airplay, that are simply not able to convert that exposure in to sales. Have you ever heard people joke that the best way to make a million dollars in the record business these days is to start with 5 million and give it a few years. If what you suggest were true, that joke would not be so wildly told. Additionally, I think it's worth pointing out that Metric achieved all their success prior to this record in spite of little to no airplay or support from mainstream media. Having a hit at radio is a new phenomenon for the band that began with this record. So that also doesn't line up with your accusations. Our exposure and ensuing success was predominantly organic, based on positive press and a fan base built on the back of arduous touring.
D) Finally, that opens the door nicely to my final point, which I briefly touched on above. You seem convinced that everyone else's music which is being funded is crap and that all yours is somehow better. I think the quality of music is completely subjective, the same way beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So for you to be so bold as to say that "many of these bands are known to produce "music of dubious value" is more than a little arrogant and presumptuous in my view. But since you seem content to base the assertion that your music is good on the fact that, across your roster you have received great reviews from a host of publications and blogs, based on that criteria, Metric must be outstanding. They have scarcely received a single bad review on this album (% of total reviews must be 90%-95% positive, maybe even more, it's astounding). Almost invariably the press on Fantasies has been incredibly positive and glowing, including from almost all the publications you listed. And since they're success was originally very organic and viral, based on positive word of mouth as opposed to radio or video play, evidently a great many real people think so too. I also find it particularly ironic that you would chose to harp on the Polaris Prize and associate it with "music of dubious value" considering it is based on the concept of the Mercury Prize (arguably the world's most highly regarded music prize) and most of the artists nominated are not particularly commercial, nor do they have substantial sales (they are more like your artists than the artists your describe). It's the most prestigious, critically driven award in this country. Out of curiosity, I wonder, who would you have put on the short list?
PS: My overhead is extraordinarily low as well. Like you, I only "eat what I kill" to so to speak. I do not hold an outside job, but I also do not draw a salary. Rather, I live off what money the operations of the company can spare from time to time. We run our office of 5 people out of an attic, in a house. So trust me when I say, I know your pain.