Liberals look to strike the right note in planned changes to Canada Music Fund

OTTAWA — The federal government is expected to make long-sought changes next year to a fund aimed at helping Canada’s music industry, about two years after officials first recommended improvements to Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

The $24-million Canada Music Fund hasn’t seen a boost in funding for a decade, and is facing ever more requests for funding as the digital revolution transforms the industry’s landscape.

Although the 2018 budget made no mention of it, the Liberal government has been telling insiders that it will enrich the fund, although by how much isn’t clear. It also plans to change how the money is distributed, in light of fading sales and the growth of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Industry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations, say federal officials have suggested that changes to the Canada Music Fund will be part of next year’s budget, the last before the 2019 federal election.

Joly’s office referred questions to her department.

A spokeswoman for the department said in an emailed statement that the government was working with industry experts to ensure the overhaul is “done with diligence and will provide Canadian musicians with the support they need to thrive in the current environment.”

The statement goes on to say that officials are still developing recommendations for specific changes to the fund.

Money through the fund is aimed at helping Canadian companies involved in recording, promoting, and distributing music at home and abroad, and helps mitigate a key financial issue in the industry: access to capital.

“The industry by and large tends not to be able to get traditional bank loans for their product because it’s rather ethereal — it’s a song. It’s not furniture or a car,” said Stuart Johnson, president of the Canadian Independent Music Association.

For years, record sales were among the criteria used to determine grant values, but that has become less helpful as physical unit sales decline and consumers turn more to getting their music over the internet.

Briefing material created by Canadian Heritage officials in late 2016 noted that at the time, streaming revenues in Canada had nearly tripled over the previous two years, accounting for 17 per cent of recorded music revenues. That trend has shown no signs of abating.

However, it seemed Canadian artists weren’t getting a lot of attention on streaming platforms: Canadian artists represented only about 10 per cent of all music streams in Canada, well below the 35 per cent of airtime they receive on radio as part of content requirements, the documents noted. Streaming services were “diminishing the once-powerful impact” of Canadian content regulations, they said.

The documents suggest a need for funding to help local artists compete online, particularly in a Francophone market “now faced with predominantly English-language international streaming services”; break into new markets overseas; and earn more money each time their songs are streamed.

“Thus, building audiences will be the principal focus of an optimal funding program for Canadian music while other tools in the music policy tool kit will further address remuneration issues,” a January presentation said.

The Canadian Press obtained copies of the documents under the Access to Information Act.

A presentation on the fund subtitled “recommendation to minister” and dated March 2017, the same month the Liberals delivered that year’s budget, outlined a modernized plan for the music fund, including new funding streams and possible public reaction. All proposed changes were redacted by officials, citing rules that prevent the disclosure of advice to cabinet.

The government has said little about any forthcoming changes, but what does seem clear is that a modernized fund would be flexible enough to respond to shifting market forces, Johnson said.

However, a flexible program will falter without fresh funding, he warned.

“We’re cautioning (Canadian) Heritage — and they’re listening — that if there is no new money in the system, then stretching that elastic band further may break it.”

Margaret McGuffin, executive director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association, said her group is looking forward to seeing the details of the modernization of the Canada Music Fund, particularly as it pertains to helping export music to new markets.

“To be able to access funding beyond the criteria that’s currently in place would allow them to continue what they’re already doing in growing and exporting songs to the world,” McGuffin said.

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