Murray Foster has spent the last 30 years playing in some of Canada’s most popular bands, including Great Big Sea and Moxy Früvous. He’s toured the world, seen more than one of his albums go platinum, and is still heavily involved in the music scene today as a musician in several bands. When he’s not on stage, he’s in the classroom, passing his musical knowledge down to the next generation of promising young Canadian music creators; he’s a teacher at Seneca College and the founder of the Toronto Song Writing School. He’s also an active member of the Toronto Music Advisory Council.
So who better to ask about the changing realities of the music industry, the many challenges music creators are facing in the 21st century, and the importance of receiving fair compensation for their work?
How is the music industry different today from when you started?
In the ’90s, in pre-Napster times, we operated in an older model where CD sales and touring made up the bulk of a musician’s income. Since the ’90s, CD sales have substantially declined as new modes of accessing music, like streaming, have become more prevalent. But with Canada having the lowest streaming royalty rates in the world, musicians are scrambling to find new revenue in order to make a living.
Because of the economic crisis in the industry, most independent musicians have day jobs in addition to their musical careers because, quite simply, you can no longer make a living making music. If you’re a national touring band you’ll be surviving, but hand to mouth.
What can be done?
I think Canada’s royalty rates for streaming have to be renegotiated. I am incredibly hopeful about the Minister of Heritage’s announcement of a top to bottom review of Canada’s cultural industries, including the policies and administrative bodies that govern them. The minister wants to equip our cultural industries with the ability to thrive in these new digital times, and I think that’s the best news we musicians have had in a long time.
What do you think music’s value is?
Most places you go, there’s music playing because, if there wasn’t, your experience would be much less pleasant. Music can create atmosphere and can enhance a moment. Unfortunately though, we don’t often realize the happiness that music brings to our lives, so we take it for granted.
Making music takes time, resources, and effort. Recording an album in the cheapest possible way will still cost you between five and 15 thousand dollars. In addition to the talent and creative process itself, there’s project management and costs of production, distribution, and marketing. Musicians are entrepreneurs, and we need to think about them that way.
As a society we need to recognize music’s value and we need to willingly pay a fair price to use it, just as we’d pay fair prices to use all sorts of other products and services. A way to help ensure that musicians can make a living is to encourage businesses that use music to educate themselves about royalties and the licensing fees that they are required by law to pay for their use of music.