Unfamiliar Records Head Slams Canada's Music Industry and Grant System, Calls Out the "Well-Funded Mediocrity" of Bands Such As Metric and MSTRKRFT
Published Jul 13, 2009Sure to stir the pot a little, Unfamiliar Records head Greg Ipp has released an open letter to the Canadian music industry, and to put it simply, he isn't pleased.
In the letter, sent via The Daily Swarm, Ipp raises some valid points about the frustrating bureaucracy of the government grant system, pointing out that the country's safest bands seem to get all the money and attention while the black sheep of the industry remain ignored.
Unfamiliar Records is home to some of the Canadian West coast's most exciting new acts, including Japandroids, Brasstronaut and No Gold, yet despite the label's greatest efforts, it has failed to receive funding from VideoFACT or FACTOR, save for a few thousand dollars in touring expenses. Meanwhile, as Ipp explains, bands like Metric continue to receive a massive amount of funding from the two Canadian grant-giving organizations.
Ipp prefaces his letter by pointing out that he's not criticizing anyone in particular but the "systems and guidelines that are in place." Ask most people who have tried to apply for this lauded government funding and you'll find that much of what Ipp says rings true.
Here is his letter, unedited, for your pot-stirring pleasure:
Over the last five years I have poured countless hundreds of hours, and spent many tens of thousands of dollars on developing a small, independent Canadian record label. We've had some great success, and I'd never ask for a penny or an hour back. However, as the inner workings of the industry become more transparent, and as my personal debt mounts, the process is becoming increasingly frustrating.
Prior to launching the label, one aspect of the industry I'd heard so much about were grants: The government's desire to help Canadian artists by providing funding to help them achieve international success. Enthusiastically, we made applications to VideoFACT (who are not a government entity) and to FACTOR, and waited expectantly for help in providing our artists with the kind of support they deserve. Over the years, that support has never materialized; for all the applications submitted, we have only ever received a couple thousand dollars to partially cover showcase travel expenses for one of our bands.
We have received great reviews for our releases from the likes of Pitchfork, The Toronto Star, Spin, NME, NPR, The Georgia Straight, NOW, Eye, The Onion, KEXP, Rolling Stone, and countless blogs - but that really hasn't seemed to matter. Nor has the quality of our applications, which have been submitted through top-notch grant writers. Nor has our desire to pour just about every ounce of our energy into our bands; to sweat blood in an effort to garner some notice from the Canadian establishment for our roster.
So today, as I looked over the latest round of VideoFACT grants, I was struck by a thought that has cycled through my head on so many occasions: Why the hell are these bands getting the money? Metric? They have now received two successive video grants in the last three months-one from FACTOR, the other from VideoFACT, for a total of about $60,000. On top of this, they have received various other grants, and have sold over 50,000 units of their new album. MSTRKRFT, who work out of their very own recording studio, and have how many videos now? Dragonette?!
The list was made up primarily of bands under the wing of well-funded labels with cash to spare, or who are already old enough to no longer need the training wheels - and it's no secret that many of these bands are known to produce music of dubious value. What kills me is the ability these bands have to market themselves as a result of receiving funding.
It's a testament to their marketing teams that their music sells; it's not a result of making great music. A good deal of a band's ability to sell music is based on image and exposure, and in order to achieve either you need money (or, in rare cases, luck, or in even rarer cases, talent - which must still be coupled with luck). What we see here is money buying sales. And money begetting more exposure, which in turn drives sales, which -" combined with face-time -" will woo the judges (and critics) who drive these contests.
That's right, face time. Over the years, I have had one too many industry insiders tell me I had to "get to know the judges" in order to win; at this point, I can't discount that as being a key ingredient in securing grants. It's been suggested I take one of them out to dinner. Go have coffee. Basically, pander to them; suck up; get myself in their faces so they know who I am, so our bands can "earn" the right to have them as benefactors. Sure, that's how the industry often works in terms of your reviews, your covers, your shows, and even getting signed, but the Canadian grant system? How sad. How gross.
Here I was thinking we had a chance as a wholly independent record label who has fought tooth and nail for every bit of press we've been lucky enough to receive. But -" even though our overhead is extraordinarily low -" we've had to turn to private funding from investors in order to keep the ship running. We have the ability to break even, we can even turn a profit, but every penny of our money must go back into the label, because we need to grow; we need to run as a start-up. Paying ourselves is impossible. So those of us steering the label work multiple jobs, and don't sleep in order to make it happen. That said, it's only a matter of time before we either sell ourselves to someone much bigger, or pack it up.
That $60,000 Metric received? We could have released a year's worth of albums with that money. That's right, a year's worth - with great people working the press, with a few videos, and with some form of tour support. There you have six bands who could have potentially launched careers, or two music videos for a band who really doesn't need the government paying their way.
The state of the Canadian music industry is at once great, and terrible. There are amazing independent labels working their asses off to put out solid music. Guys like Flemish Eye, and Global Symphonic, and Constellation. But there is also this vast mass of well-funded mediocrity that dominates our Polaris Prize, that taints our Junos, and that completely blankets the MMVAs. Wouldn't it be great if our grant system were there to allow the black sheep to shake things up? To supply the necessary funding that a well-deserving, if unknown talent needs in order to compete, without the help of an entity already known to the judges? The status quo is maligning our industry, and lining the pockets of those who are willing to play the game.