Vol 2, Issue 5: Musician Associations, Paying Out of Your Bands Pockets for Protection

Whether you’re an independent act or the latest acquisition of a major label, being aware of the wide array of artist-oriented affiliations (and their services) that are at your disposal, is essential. Not only are there organizations that will assist you in protecting your art, but further, there are musician unions whose purpose is to promote and protect your rights as an artist. The latter form of associations go so far as to “attempt” to professionalize music as a career offering legal council, retirement pensions, and tour support.

Note here that I said “attempt” to professionalize music as a career because being a musician, in almost all accounts, is not seen by greater society as a feasible or stable career path for good reason: music is not a “safe” career choice, and most musicians have backup plans because they are aware of their limited chances of “making it” in this unforgiving industry. Often, those who do “make it” are manipulated, exploited, and/or taken advantage of by labels, promoters, and bookers simply because as artists, they remained ignorant to the inner workings of this industry. What one must understand is that most artists, unfortunately, fall into this category of “easy prey”, and the only way to alleviate this, and perhaps raise the standard of musician treatment overall is to create more knowledgeable musicians.

Thus, the importance of having associations that exist purely for the benefit of artists as a means to preserve artistic integrity, ownership, and intellectual property and a source of education and advice pertaining to the industry, is crucial.

And so without further adieu, listed below are the musician associations (in Canada) detailing the services they provide, their membership fees and a ranking based on my personal experiences with each of them. Depending on your aspirations as an artist, you may not find all of these associations applicable to your situation, but to be fair, I felt it necessary to provide an overview of all of the major organizations, so that you could make the judgment call for yourself.

1) The London Musician’s Association (LMA) & American Federation of Musicians (AFM)
Overview: The London Musicians Association is our local sub-sect of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), an organization whose main purpose is to help negotiate fair treatment and legal touring policies for Canadian artists wishing to enter into the American market. The AFM provides legal protection to its artists by mandating that for every gig in which they participate, a contractual agreement must be completed outlining the date, time, venue, length of performance, and compensation to be paid to the artist for their services. In the event that a band’s performance in the States does not qualify as a paying gig (i.e. music festival/conference), a supplementary letter, indicating that the band is partaking in this event purely for the exposure/potential contents it will generate, will be supplied to the artist.

These contractual letters are very important when traveling to the States as they assist in expediting the border crossing process. Additionally, these contracts can serve as legal proof of the agreed upon terms if an artist encounters a discrepancy with a venue owner/festival promoter. Further, if a discrepancy does arise, the AFM will provide legal council (if necessary) to resolve this matter free of charge to its members. Please note that to obtain a letter in either case, there is a charge of $25 US for processing.

Fees: There is NO initiation charge for students and/or musicians who are 20 years of age or younger, however said individuals will be required to demonstrate proof of their academic record/age. For all other musicians, a one time fee of $100 is charged to initiate one’s membership. In addition to the membership initiation fees, in order to stay active as a member, fulfilling a due schedule (which can be paid annually $128/year, semi-annually $74/every six months, or quarterly $42/every three months) is required. These dues not only provide artists with the ability to tour America legally and legitimately, but as well entitle members to additional benefits including: health care, pension, and lobbying rights. Each member of the AFM is invited to attend regular conferences to voice their opinions in regards to how the touring process can be improved upon. (Please note that there are NO group discounts with fees, so if your band contains seven members, this may be an expensive process.)

Critique: While I strongly believe in touring legally, and advocate the AFM’s intended mission, being provided with all of the proper documentation to cross the border does NOT always guarantee access and/or access without considerable hassle. I can recall several excursions to the States in which my entire band was AFM approved, and provided with the necessary legal documents and P2 temporary work visas, yet still we encountered lengthy interrogations from border officers and routine vehicle searches which usually resulted in us being held up at the border for several hours left scrambling trying to make it to our gigs on time.

Additionally, it’s important to note that when touring into the States, a Canadian band is not legally allowed to transport goods across the border (including their own merchandise), and if caught doing so, your merch may be subject to annihilation right before your eyes. Seeing as merchandise sales typically account for the majority of a band’s profits, getting your merch transported to every show is a MUST. Thus, additional shipping costs to transport your merch legally need to be planned for, and again these can costs add up fast.

On another side note, it’s important to realize that the AFM has set standards in regards to what musicians can receive as minimal compensation for their performances, and these fees are unfortunately highly UNREALISTIC for most independent artists. Consequently, if an artist-member of the AFM participates in a gig which does not pay at least the minimal standard for their performance, he/she may not be eligible for legal council in the event that a venue tries to rip them off. However, members such as myself are currently working with our locals in order to improve these standards and make them more reasonable and in accordance with today’s market.

Overall, I feel that the AFM offers a useful service to independent bands wishing to break into the American market, however, this can be a costly process! Thus, I do not encourage becoming an AFM member or touring the States unless your band has some serious financial backing, or if you are confident that you will be able to make up for your losses through touring.

2) Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC)
Overview: A quick note on intellectual property/copyright law that you need to know first: Once pen is put to paper, or you’ve saved a copy of your song (lyrics + sheet music) on your computer, your creation is legally copy-written. HOWEVER, in the event that the rights to your song(s) were ever disputed and another songwriter claimed ownership (perhaps a disgruntled ex-bandmate), it would be very difficult to prove who wrote what down in their journals first, and in such a case, you could potentially lose the rights to your own work. The Songwriters Association of Canada is an organization that offers a solution to this very problem.

The SAC provides a service wherein once provided with a hardcopy of each of your original compositions, they will catalogue each song (or album) into a registered depository which records the original songwriter(s), the rights shareholders, and the date in which the piece(s) were submitted. A registered copyright is much more likely to hold up as proof of ownership in a court of law, and thus, ensuring that all of your music is protected in this fashion is A MUST. Other companies and/or entertainment lawyers can provide this same service for you, however, likely it would be at a higher cost.

Fees: Membership is open to any Canadian composer, lyricist, or songwriter regardless of professional status or genre and entitles you to the song depository for your original works, song assessment meetings with industry professionals ($25 + GST per song), as well as access to several helpful seminars and workshops to assist you in improving your songwriting. Voting members can either pay $60.00 + GST for one year or $100.00 + GST for two years. Associate members are charged $135.00 + GST per year. The only difference between the two memberships is that voting members are eligible to vote at the annual meetings of the members.

Critique: I personally think register-copywriting one’s music is a MUST for every musician out there, and that SAC provides an easy and reasonably priced method through which you can do so. I have not taken advantage of their services outside of the song depository so I cannot provide an evaluation for those, however in terms of their song depository and customer service, I have absolutely no complaints.

In terms of choice of membership, I personally do not have the time to go to the meetings for each of the associations of which I am a member, and so I opted to apply as a non-voting associate member. I do not recommend becoming a voting member of any organization, unless you are truly passionate about what the organization represents, and you are willing and able to attend their meetings in order to have a say in their new developments.

3) Society of Composers, Authors, & Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)


Overview: Contrary to popular belief registering your music with SOCAN does NOT copyright your works, rather SOCAN’s services pertain to public performance royalty rights and distribution and their system works as follows:

Firstly, SOCAN requires its members to register all of their original compositions within their directory. Next, once any of your pieces are performed publicly (whether at a gig where the cover charge exceeds $7 CA, live on television, or if your song is played on the radio), it is your duty to report this performance to SOCAN by issuing them public performance forms (provided on their website) detailing all of the pertinent information including the venue, the song(s) performed, and proof of the performance. Public performance forms from ALL of SOCAN’s registered members are collected, and four times a year, members who earn at least $5 in public performance royalty fees (per quarter) will be issued a cheque for their earnings. The royalty fees are accrued from the venue’s themselves.

Fees: Music creators (lyricists, songwriters, accompaniment writers) and music publishers can become members of SOCAN if the works they created and/or are representing have been published by a music publisher, recorded by a record company, or have or will be performed in a public forum licensed by SOCAN. Online applications made by music creators are FREE. For those who chose to apply on paper, there is a one-time processing fee of $25. Membership for music publishers costs $50 + applicable taxes, applications can be made online or on paper, and again this is a one-time fee.

Critique: SOCAN’s system is not as straightforward as it would seem as for one thing NOT every venue (smaller clubs and non-for-profit/college radio) agrees to issue public performance royalties, so even if you fulfill all of the above requirements, you may or may not receive any royalties for your performances. Additionally, royalty payment is decided through a lottery wherein major artists are almost always are paid first, and independent artists are provided with the leftovers, if any. Taking into account that not all venues pay, and major artists indefinitely get paid first, you may not receive any compensation for your performances until you reach a more notable position within the music industry.

Song licensing, whether through mechanical or public performance royalty collection can be a profitable endeavour for any musician, however, please be aware that in order for you to receive any royalty earnings from SOCAN, your material must be getting regular rotation on radio, OR it must be performed regularly on television broadcasts and/or at public concerts where the cover charge is more than $7. If you are not embarking on a major tour with supported publicity opportunities, you likely will not obtain enough royalty opportunities to accrue $5 per quarter. The average royalty fee is about 10 – 15 cents per performance/play, so although $5 does not seem like an unreasonable goal, please realize that it would take 33 plays/performances of one of your songs in order to receive a $5 paycheck at the higher rate of 15 cents per play/performance!

I have been a member of SOCAN for about five years now, and have received a great deal of press coverage, and have played literally hundreds of shows. To this day, I have yet to receive a single royalty reimbursement. However, now that memberships are free when you apply online (they weren’t when I signed up), I don’t see any damage in becoming a member. Even in the event that you are never issued a royalty cheque, you are not losing anything, and if one of your songs starts taking off on the radio, it’s always good to be prepared professionally to deal with royalty collection. It will show that you are not an amateur.

4) The Canadian Music Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA)

Overview: The Canadian Music Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) acts as a negotiating representative for Canadian music publishers who are interested in licensing their material for usage in cd compilation projects (mechanical licensing), films, television, commercials, and other audio-visual opportunities (synchronization licensing). However, CMRRA does NOT research licensing opportunities for you, they merely assist with negotiating fair licensing rates of your music once you have secured the licensing opportunities. Moreover, CMRRA ensures that you will receive your entitled licensing percentages, whereas if you issue licensing agreements to various companies independent on a licensing agency such as that of CMRRA, there is no way to guarantee that these companies will actually a) pay you the agreed upon amount per song b) pay you your percentage of accrued royalties from sales/airplay.

Fees: As one could expect of most standard agencies in the entertainment industry, CMRRA takes a cut (6 - 10%) of each licensing rate they negotiate on your behalf as their commission, but aside from their percentage, there is no membership fee and the agreement is non-exclusive.

Critique: This service will only be helpful to those interested in licensing their music for use in commercials, movies, tv etc, but again just as with royalty collection from SOCAN, earning a lot of money through this means is not that easy. However, if you manage to get a song picked up by a major car or computer company who regularly buys advertising time in which your song is featured, you’ll be rolling in the dough!

I’ve been a member with CMRRA for just over a year now, and I have not used their service. I prefer (as I have my own lawyer, and a strong background in business) to negotiate my own licensing agreements.

Additionally, indie artists tend to be offered several non-paying licensing opportunities that are truly beneficial in terms of the exposure they provide, and in such a case being a member with CMRRA wouldn’t be advantageous.

While I think CMRRA offers a valuable service, I do not think it’s essential for music publishers to become members of this agency if they have the business-know how and legal council to manage their negotiations independently. Secondly, licensing opportunities tend not to be presented to you until you are a fairly established act, so for new indie acts, don’t worry about this one for now.
(*More to come on licensing in a later issue)

5) The Canadian Organization of Campus Activities (COCA)
Overview: The Canadian Organization of Campus Activities represents both the post-secondary schools seeking entertainment acts to bring to their college/university for special occasions such as orientation week, and the entertainment acts themselves (musicians, variety/comedy troupes, djs etc) both independent, and those represented by booking agents.
COCA hosts several showcase conferences, both on a regional and national level in a given year in which representatives from each school are invited to see selected acts perform. The showcase acts are selected through an adjudication process in which only the acts which are gaining momentum in the industry and/or are seen as groups that have a wide range of appeal are typically booked (which most often does not include harder styles of music including punk or metal or anything that could be deemed offensive). The idea here is to allow showcase acts to demonstrate their abilities to who could be considered potential future employers. These performances often dictate the acts that are booked for the major upcoming celebrations of the next school year. Usually favourable acts from these showcases end up doing campus tours.

In addition to performing at these events, each act and school is required to set up a booth for the weekend at which other members are able to gain further information about your group or school. These events typically are thought of as “smoozing” (shameless self-promotion) opportunities.

Fees: In order to have access to any of COCA’s services, a talent group must first become an associate member which costs $275 + G.S.T./year. This membership entitles the group to a listing in the membership directory & buyer’s guide, a subscription to COCA notes, and eligibility to perform at showcases. A website link on COCA’s official site can be purchased for an additional $25 + G.S.T.

In order to appear as a showcasing artist at one of COCA’s events, an act/individual must first apply through Sonicbids ($30 USD + G.S.T.). This fee is non-refundable, even if your act is NOT selected. If your act is selected to perform, there is an additional showcasing fee of $200 + G.S.T plus a mandatory booth booking fee of $250 + G.S.T.

As you can see, these fees add up fast likely making it out of the realm of possibilities for many independently-represented self-funded acts to become members and take advantage of COCA’s offerings.

Critique: Though this process is expensive, if it worked as it is outlined in theory, it could be worth it in the long haul. However, from both observation and personal experience, I can tell you that the majority of the acts booked for campus tours are already represented by one of the two major booking agencies in Canada: SL Feldman & Associates or The Agency Group, and usually these acts are NOT the selected performers from COCA’s conferences.

While some bands have profited through their COCA connections, I have found that by and large they are NOT the independently-represented acts. Additionally, if one is determined enough, he/she would be quite capable of gaining all of the entertainment booker contacts for all of Canada’s post-secondary institutions online FREE of charge. It just takes a little research.

Lastly, while the college/university crowd may be appropriate for singer/songwriter types, or mainstream rock acts, acts such as the ones in my genre of hard rock tend to appeal to a younger demographic. So, in the event you are considering a COCA membership for its showcase conference opportunities, make sure you consider whether your genre will work in the college/university scene.

6) Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS)
Overview: The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is best known as the host of the annual Juno Awards. According to their website, “[musician] involvement is key as CARAS relies on the active participation of industry professionals to uphold the fundamental Juno process; created specifically and solely to enhance our music industry through an annual, nationally televised awards show.” The chief reason to become a CARAS member is to enable you to take part in the Juno nomination and voting process. Additionally, CARAS members receive a discounted ticket rate for the Juno gala. Aside from its Juno-orientation, CARAS is also affiliated with MusiCAN, a government music grant funding program for young Canadians, as well as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Fees: In order to be eligible for membership, you must currently be an active member in the music industry. Memberships run annually from August 1st until July 31st of the following year, and cost is $50 + G.S.T. per person.

Critique: I think it’s important to take an active interest in one’s industry, and to assist in selecting the artists whom you feel deserve honourable mention for their artistic contributions. My issue however lies in nomination criteria (much like the unreasonable demands you will soon learn about in Canada’s grant programs) which limits the entry of independently represented acts who although may not have attained financial success, they have still contributed a great deal of artistic merit to the music scene. Unfortunately, artistic merit does not constitute musical contribution or nomination-worthiness in the eyes of most music industry professionals.

On a side note, I find that generally Canadians are more apt to watch American music award shows rather than our own, as US bands tend to be more dominant in the industry as a whole, and additionally, the production quality between the two is pretty substantial in the favour of the US.

And finally,

7) Canadian Independent Record Production Association (CIRPA)
Overview: CIPRA is a trade organization that specifically caters to the independent sector of the Canadian recording industry. Labels, managers, producers, studios, and distributors are eligible for membership so long as they fulfill the specific outlined criteria applicable to their field (please see website for more extensive details). CIRPA’s mandate is “to secure a strong and economically stable Canadian independent music and sound recording industry”. CIRPA hopes to achieve this goal by assisting with improving the “economic viability and well-being” of the independent music and sound recording sector in important areas such as: Canadian content, copyright law, international marketing, cultural industry policies, government and industry relations, music assistance programs, market research and development, and finally tax laws and tariffs.

Additionally, CIPRA recently signed an exclusive agreement with Musicrypt which enables their members to transfer broadcast quality digital files through its Digital Media Distribution System (DMDS) online to radio, press, retailers, and concert promoters eliminating the need to send out album hardcopies to media-related representatives which cuts down promotional costs substantially. The regular cost of this service is $3.50 per track/per destination. CIRPA members can take advantage of this service at the reduced rate of $2.95 per track/per destination.

Fees: Depending on one’s annual income, various voting membership packages are offered ranging from $200 + G.S.T. per year to $2000 + G.S.T. per year, and in order to qualify for voting privileges, you must be: a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant, actively engaged in the creation, production, and distribution of records, supportive of CIRPA’s objectives, recommended for membership by at least one voting member, and finally, you must qualify into one of the aforementioned categories.Those interested in becoming non-voting affiliate members are only required to pay a standard rate of $200 + G.S.T. annually.

Critique: This association is more geared towards those on the business side of the music industry as opposed to actual artists as evident by their membership categories. However, being apprised of CIRPA’s efforts, especially those relating to government lobbying, Canadian content, and copyright law is essential as their decisions may impact your career in a serious way.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. What I’ve attempted to do is provide you an overview of what I feel are the most vital musician associations in Canada.

If you are interested in learning more about the many services that are available to you as an artist, I strongly urge you to visit http://www.overhear.com/ and check out their resources page.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/

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