Cultivating a local stage for songwriters is a great way to build an audience, not just for your own music, but fellow artists in your neighbourhood. It can make live music accessible to people who might not otherwise seek it out, create networking and collaboration opportunities for local songwriters and boost the business of a local coffee shop or bar. We interviewed longstanding S.A.C. Member and talented acoustic soul-folk artist John Pippus about building a thriving community and audience in Vancouver at Trees Organic Coffee & Roasting House. May his answers inspire you to consider building your own stage for local artists to shine.
1. How long have you been hosting Friday nights at Trees (Organic Coffee House) in Vancouver?
I took over managing the music nights from – are you ready – Carly Rae Jepsen back in the spring of 2006. Her other job was working the esspresso machine! Eight and a half years later I’m still there pretty much every Friday night. I book and host the evenings and sometimes I play too. I was booking Dan Mangan, Hannah Georgas, and Wanting Q long before they were on anyone’s radar.
2. What do you look for when booking talent on these evenings? What kind of show do you hope to bring to people?
I look for people I want to listen to, it’s that simple. Usually it’s solo singer/songwriters, but sometimes I have duos, trios and various genres from folk to jazz and beyond. The largest act I’ve booked was a six-piece band with a horn section. That was a little loud, you can’t blow a trumpet softly I’ve learned. Keep in mind, the “stage” is a few square feet in front of the coffee roaster and next to the cheesecake display fridge.
I look for acts that take their talent seriously. That means, at a minimum, they have a web presence. Even if they’ve never performed before or don’t have an album under their belt, they’ve got something recorded and online. Preferably they also have at least one or two live performances posted on Youtube. I can tell within thirty seconds of listening to what they send me if I want to book them.
3. How is performing in a coffee house different from regular bars or larger venues?
Bars, as we all know, tend to be noisy, alcohol-fueled joints where most of the clientele is not there to appreciate the subtleties of the songwriter’s art. Which is fine if you’ve got a foot stomping reel you’re pounding out in the corner and the crowd is singing along. It’s rare to get a hushed room in the larger venues, unless you’re well up the pecking order.
Trees is a listening room, I remind the audience of that at the start of every show. And you can see the whites of their eyes when you’re performing and vice versa. So it’s intimate and on a good night it can be very magical.
4. How has this show become a part of the Vancouver music community?
By being consistently ‘there’ every Friday night. Pay is by donation, split by three acts and the venue holds only 45 or so, so it’s not a large payout. But performers get a listening audience and I don’t make a big deal about getting the acts to bring out their own crowd. I know how hard that can be, especially when you’re performing in your home town ‘yet again’. We treat the performers with respect, we book new acts along with the touring acts, and since Trees is unlicensed, younger performers can come and bring their friends.
5. Are there sound limitations or challenges for a coffee house?
You’ll hear the blast of steam from the espresso machine or the beans being ground from time to time. But I’ve gotten used to it, and I think the audience has too. The smoothie orders can be a bit loud though. The occasional noisy table is told nicely to keep it down, and if that doesn’t work, I’ve been known to get a little testy.
6. How have the owners at Trees played a role in building this community?
Doron Levy is the owner and he was very patient, at the outset, in letting the scene build slowly. They also maintain the calendar listings on their website (treescoffee.com) and this past year they’ve started doing a monthly blog feature on one of our performers. The whole staff is supportive; working the Friday night shift is always in demand with the employees.
7. Why are these Friday evenings and events like this important in supporting the songwriting community?
Listening venues are rare. And at Trees we maintain that vibe We’re also small and casual enough that performers just getting launched as performers are made to feel welcome. The sets are only about 35 minutes in length so it’s not like you’ve got to carry an entire evening. Oh, and one more thing, we expect the performers to play original material, with only one or two covers, so that’s the opposite of what some of the bars want. We also have an Open Mic Night on Thursdays that have become very popular. Local singer/songwriter Marq DeSouza hosts those evenings.
8. What suggestions do you have for any singer/songwriters looking to cultivate a similar on-going show in their community?
If you have the right personality for hosting a regular music night then it’s a fantastic way to establish yourself on your local scene. I’ve made many contacts by doing this job. The right personality, I would suggest, includes being reliable, having a sense of humour, and being more or less organized. It really helps that I can play, so when there are last minute cancellations I can fill in. Buy a small P.A. and go talk to a coffee house owner about hosting a weekly music night. I told the owner that I would take on managing the music nights as long as it was fun, and all these years later I can still say that’s what it is.
In the songwriting business, “reasonable expectation of profit” can be significantly different from other businesses. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) admits that there’s often a longer ramp-up period before a songwriter starts making a profit. That’s why it’s important for artists to work with an accountant who knows the business.
An experienced entertainment accountant knows how to ensure that your losses are allowed by the CRA year after year until you make a profit, or until you stop trying. But let’s hope you keep trying! Jae Gold (rocknrollaccountant.com) has worked with many of the songwriters you hear on radio, and graciously offers his expertise by answering questions posed by S.A.C. members.
What are the most common mistakes made by artists when filing taxes? Missing filing deadlines; under-reporting income; not claiming allowable expenses; claiming expenses that are too personal in nature to qualify as business deductions; not keeping receipts; and not hiring a professional accountant.
Where do you claim grant revenue when filing taxes? Generally, grant revenue is claimed as income in the year it’s received. However, it does not make sense to claim the grant in the year you receive it if you don’t actually spend the grant money until the following year.
If you receive a forgivable loan from FACTOR, when do you declare it as income? How do you deal with repayments? If a loan is forgiven, the loan becomes income. If you make repayments before taking the loan into income, they’re considered a reduction of the original loan. If you make repayments after the loan has been taken into income, they’re treated as an expense.
Do I pay tax on foreign sales of CDs or downloads? All worldwide sales must be reported on your tax return.
What rate of HST do I charge a Canadian purchaser versus a purchaser outside Canada? The rate for Canadian purchases is the rate deter- mined by the purchaser’s mailing-address province. (Consult the CRA website for rates.) No HST is charged for out-of-country purchases.
An independent songwriter sells a CD for $15. What taxes should be paid? The $15 is reported on your tax return, along with all self-em- ployed income. For sales in Canada, you also collect GST/HST on behalf of the government.
When should an artist get an HST number? After your sales total more than $30,000, registration is mandatory. All songwriters should register for the GST/HST system right away because SOCAN collects the tax on their behalf on all royalties. All SOCAN royalties are GST/HST “taxes paid” by the time the songwriter gets the royalty cheque. Therefore every GST/HST return filed by a songwriter typically results in a refund of all the taxes paid on their business purchases.
Do artists need to pay tax on earnings from playing abroad? All Canadian residents must report income no matter where in the world it’s earned. International tax treaties help ensure that taxes you pay abroad are credited on your Canadian tax return. (Seek accounting advice before touring the US in order to obtain the correct tax ID numbers. Unless each individual Canadian in the tour files a Central Withholding Agreement with the IRS, the payer must withhold 30% tax.)
How does an artist prove CD sales from live shows? Keep accurate records. All income needs to be reported.
I had my deductions refused by the CRA. What should I do? Hire an accountant to determine if the CRA made an error. If so, the accountant will set in motion a Notice of Objection. The case will be as- signed to an appeals officer.
When should I consider incorporating? By incorporating, you can benefit from a lower rate of tax (about 16% on the first $500,000 of profit). A general rule of thumb would be to incorporate when you’re making more money than you need to live on.
D. Jae Gold is a Chartered Accountant & Certified Fraud Examiner with principally entertainment/cultural industry clients. www.rocknrollaccountant.com
Reprinted from a previous edition of Songwriters Magazine.
Every song is a journey. At the middle of which is a compelling statement, an engaging story, an emotion. It’s your perception, your belief, what you struggle with, or towards, it’s your aspirations – set to a melody. And whether the song reveals your deepest corners or is a story captured and told through your eyes – whether it’s your song to sing or for someone else to sing – at the heart of the song, is you.
I began songwriting at the age of 8. Embedded in the folk scene at 14, I crossed the ocean at 16 to perform in Europe, spent many years as lead singer and songwriter / co-writer with various rock bands touring North America and then went on my own, focused on writing and releasing my album. I’ve written an extensive catalogue of songs over ‘a few’ decades – and through the years I have struggled with and established a personal relationship and process with my songwriting.
In February I received an SAC email about the 2014 Songwriting & Blogging Challenge hosted by Christopher Ward. Six songs in six weeks. A new song written each week based on Chris’s suggested approaches with decipherable versions to be uploaded by the end
of each week for critique and comment by the participating writers. More so than usual, I was a live wire – every image, thought or conversation guised as a song. The regimented writing with a deadline was intense, but once my brain shifted gears, I ramped up, held on, and wrote and wrote and wrote as songs came to me. And while many participants fell to the wayside exhausted, overwhelmed or, just simply short on time – those who hung in were the better for it.
I listened to what was almost a hundred writers at the beginning of the challenge and
was exposed to all levels and experience of songwriting. The final weeks’ challenge – to collaborate with another writer in the group. Although I’m no stranger to co-writing, I have become pretty entrenched in my solitary writing ‘space’. So collaborating with someone
I didn’t know and anticipating that it was likely going to take place over Skype, I thought was going to be completely out of my comfort zone. However, determined to successfully complete the challenge, I reached out to singer/songwriter North Easton from Ottawa.
I had been quite intrigued with North’s talent, his level of writing and the songs he had been posting throughout the challenge. I also very much admired the intensity, emotion and tone in his voice. Genuinely talented. Well, I thought, this ‘might’ work.
And so, the challenge was on. One song in one week with very little time to spend –
North and I were literally thrown together with our individual styles, rhyming patterns
and thoughts on how to convey an idea into virtual space. Initially emailing North a list
of possible song concepts, we both agreed that a photography exhibit I had come across by Boston, Massachusetts photographer Trent Bell was of interest. Bell had created a series of powerful portrait images that showed what a group of prison inmates would tell their past selves if they could turn back the hands of time. Each inmate was asked to pen a letter to
their past selves. Bell then took their portraits and edited their letters into the background, serving as powerful testaments to their regrets, their mistakes and their new-found wisdom. I was truly inspired by this body of work, as was North.
Now … North works on an ongoing basis with writers of all levels who look to him for his songwriting experience, expertise and guidance. He too has amassed a considerable catalogue of songs over his career and of course established his own methodology for writing songs. After our initial conversation on Skype about our ideas and intention for the song, we both set off on our own to write. Feeling confident in North’s ability to drive the music, I focused my energy on building the story and lyric. Reading and rereading the prisoners letters, I felt their angst as I emotionally transported myself into the cold dark cell to sit on the cot and stare out the window. Meanwhile, North, excited with the potential in the song, quickly grabbed his guitar, climbed into his studio and sent me back an almost completed song – excited and confident that he had captured the ideas we had discussed. However, I had also written a lyric that I felt was strong and I was pretty sure that my lyric better captured what we needed to portray. Feeling rather awkward, but at the same time not willing to settle for less than what I thought the song could be, I hesitantly responded to North’s email with “Hey North … um … I like the first line in the pre-chorus”.
“This is not going to be easy” – a sentiment shared by us both. In fact, after our 2nd Skype session, with me standing my ground and North his – I was pretty sure I was going to end
up writing my collaborative song all by myself. Clearly he was inflexible and this wasn’t going to work. And North, well, he was thinking pretty much the same thing about me. However, with the song at the center, we started talking and, listening to each other. In opening up, we both agreed that my lyric served the song better. Time ticking, we battled back and forth while we worked nose-to-nose, each of us bringing the strength of our writing styles to the table. Our mantra “in the spirit of collaboration” was repeatedly mentioned (muttered) to underline changes we wanted, or would agree to. And finally, barriers down, we experienced the magic, the rush, the pure energy of the song unfolding and taking on its own life. Each line, each note, getting stronger as we analyzed it – together.
“Turn”, is a song with passion and purpose. A song we both agree is some of the best work either of us have ever written. In fact, I sent it to the photographer with a note about the songwriting challenge, letting him know how far his reach had been with his “Reflect” project. His reply to hearing the song “I have not words. I could only cry as I listened”. Trent has since informed us of his plan to create a documentary around the “Reflect” project and has asked to use “Turn” in his soundtrack.
If not for the SAC Challenge, and leveraging the technology of Skype, this collaboration would never have happened. It was truly an insightful and rewarding experience working with North. And as fate would have it – we continue to work together with focused intention and scheduled writing sessions. There’s an underlying magic in what North and I have working together – I’ve been writing long enough to recognize it when I see it. And although we continue to be two alphas in a virtual room – most importantly, we greatly value what each of us brings to a song. And because of that, we’re smiling more.
Have a listen to the song:
by Gail Packwood
One of the challenges of a career in the creative arts is that there’s no right or wrong. There’s no definitive road map or method of determining success. Keep this in mind on days when creating feels more difficult than others, when the inner critic is loud and persistently gnawing away at your self-esteem. The songwriter’s creative voice is just as important to nurture and support as is the physical voice. It takes the same focus, time and commitment.
Check your physicality
A singer would not consider performing without a vocal warm-up. The physical and mental demands of performing are similar to those
of a songwriter’s off-stage creative period. It’s therefore important to regularly ‘check in’ with yourself. How do you feel physically? If you don’t ask yourself this question, you may overlook something that’s inhibiting your work simply because you haven’t acknowledged it. Physical aches can affect concentration as much as loud noises can distract you. Take a moment to stop and just breathe before turning back to your work. Have you created a physical environment that enhances your creative process?
Visualize, declutter and breathe
Visualization is one way to help manage thoughts and emotions. It can help calm you, and declutter the to-do lists and the life pressures that interrupt the creative process. For the brain, imagining something and actually doing it have the same positive effect. By taking a moment to pause, breathe and mentally take yourself through your next creative steps, you can receive the same mental benefits as you do from actually completing the task. This should help you feel more focused and confi- dent. Taking a walk can have an equally positive effect by removing your- self from the work at hand but not spending that time ‘doing’ something else.
Be kind to yourself
We are all our own worst critic. Silencing negative inner-voices is a key step in maintaining healthy creativity. A slight change in how we ac- knowledge an event can make a huge difference. Recognize and replace self-defeating thoughts by analyzing how the event made you feel. What was your initial response? What would be the reasonable response (imagining that it involved someone else and not yourself )? Give your- self the same kindness that you’d give others. You’re worth it!
Gail Packwood was previously the Executive Director of the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation (ahcf.ca).
Originally published in the 2011/12 edition of Songwriters Magazine.
Based on interview with President of FACTOR, Duncan McKie.
You’ve written a great song that you’re ready to share with the world. For many songwriters, the next step is to record a demo or album. This could mean getting a second job and/or applying for funding from FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings. We chatted with FACTOR president Duncan McKie, who shared a few tips and in- sights. Good luck on your next application!
Pick up the phone
Many people are intimidated by FACTOR and reluctant to seek help. A team at FACTOR is specifically devoted to helping artists get their appli- cations ready. A quick phone call can get you an answer in minutes. You can contact FACTOR at 416-696-2215 or 1-877-696-2215.
Treat your craft as a business
FACTOR was originally created to help artists get their songs played on radio. Commercial viability is therefore a key factor. The foundation is mandated to support people who aspire to commercialize their work. FACTOR recognizes that you can still have a great career without neces- sarily scoring a big hit. Even regional success requires a solid strategy. Success with FACTOR is not based solely on good material. Organize yourself like a business. This will serve your application.
As you’ll see from the chart below (from the 2010-11 Annual Report), competition is high. These statistics may seem daunting, but feedback is always provided to help applicants make improvements for subsequent applications. Many who succeed have already been rejected several times in the past.
Program Submissions Approvals
Artist Demo Grant 661 177 (27%)
Juried Sound Recording: Independent Loan 477 39 (8%)
Juried Sound Recording: FACTOR Loan 203 37 (18%)
Get professional help
The application process might make you feel as if you need to go into therapy. Don’t despair. Engaging an application specialist can sometimes help if you encounter continual rejection. Outside input is an option worth exploring.
Form or join a team
Some artists work with a label management company or a manager to put their application together. Working with a team reflects a business approach to your career. It represents a level of validation and also in- creases the creativity and resources you can tap into.
Work with a FACTOR-approved label
There are many companies associated with FACTOR who have better ac- cess to FACTOR loans by virtue of their success in the industry. They can bypass the jury process because of their track record. These companies include labels and publishers.
Work with what you’ve got
Many artists ask “How good must my demo be?” There’s no black and white answer. The jury is comprised of professionals who are aware that artists have financial limitations and that the best talent is not always the best-equipped. Talent will shine through. The jury tries to evaluate fair- ly. On the other hand, as technology and production tools become more accessible, the quality of demos is also on the rise. Your submission will undoubtedly be played alongside some high quality demos, which you should bear in mind. Applying to FACTOR is a learning process unto it- self. Better to start wherever you are and keep improving it as you move forward, with or without funding approval. You can always try again!
Reprinted from Songwriters Magazine 2011
by Ember Swift
Despite the economy, artists still want to travel in the US. Especially those living in Ontario and comparing drive lengths between Toronto-Edmonton versus Toronto-Albany, it makes sense for us to dip down south of the border to try our luck there.
While that’s true geographically, all artists need to be aware of the paperwork required to make this happen legally. There’s nothing worse than booking shows, organizing a tour and then getting turned away at the border. It’s bad for your professional rep and it leaves a permanent mark on your border crossing record. Not worth it.
Here are some easy steps:
- You must be an American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union member: This is a vital first step. There’s a musicians’ union in every geographic region in North America, so find your local and join up! (Also consider local1000.org, a non-geographically dependent union for travelling musicians.)
- Secure bookings in the United States well in advance: Thanks to nine years of advocacy, AFM has rallied for shorter processing time for applications (from 4-6 months down to 35 days for regular processing! Thanks AFM!), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your while to be organized. Provided you have at least 1 show for every 30-day period, with one application you can secure a single work permit that can last up to 365 days. This takes lots of advance organization, but it saves money and hassle!
- Contract your bookings on an official AFM contract: Contact the office below that handles what are called “P2 Work Visas” (what you need!) and they will send you a package with full instructions (See Contact Details below). Within this package is a blank contract that you can forward to your venues. Don’t forget that the gigs must pay union scale!
Phone: 1 416 391 5161 x222 or 1 800 463 6333 x222
Fax: 416 391 5165
75 The Donway West, Suite 1010; Toronto, ON; M3C 2E9
- Submit All Paperwork Including both the AFM Processing Fee & US Immigration Fee at least 2 months before the first date: The AFM processing fee is now $100 CAD and the US Immigration fee is now $325 US (get a money order!). Even though regular processing time is only 35 days, I really recommend submitting your application at least two months in advance. Remember: AFM acts as the “middleman” and they submit your application to the US government on your behalf. When the US government receives everything, the 35 days of processing begins. Factor in mailing time (to/from/back to you), correction time, transfer time and any other possible delays!
The most important thing to remember, though, is not to be intimidated by the paperwork required to make this happen. It’s more than doable. It will expand your possible market, exponentially. What’s more, gas is cheaper down there!
This article is republished from the 2011 edition of Songwriters Magazine.
by Kendon Polak
Royalties are your songwriting revenues. They are the standard method of moneymaking in the music industry for songwriters.
As a songwriter, a creator of original material, you are the first rights holder. This is automatically granted to you under copyright law, thanks to the Canadian Copyright Act. Your diligence as a rights holder is key.
It is your responsibility as the original copyright holder to keep track of your rights and royalties – unless, of course you choose to sell your rights to a new owner or transfer your rights to a label or publisher.
A royalty is paid to the author (and/or owner if the songwriter has sold a share to a publisher, for example) of a song when another party us- es it, plays it, reproduces it, broadcasts it or sells it. An agreement grants the other party a licence to use the song for one of the specific purposes listed above, and the royalty that eventually flows to the songwriter (and/ or owner) is generally proportional to the revenue that the other party collects as a result of using the author/owner’s work.
Thankfully, there are several rights organizations, also known as copyright collective societies, that can help you (and/or your publisher) track your rights as a songwriter. A rights organization will work on your behalf to grant permissions, determine the conditions of usage, collect licence fees, tariffs and levies, and also distribute royalties to you and the other the rights holders (cowriters, publishers). You can maintain mem- berships with several rights organizations which collect different types of royalties for different uses of songs (listed in the chart below).
When your material is used abroad, or when a foreign songwriter’s work is used in Canada, rights organizations in other countries will work alongside Canadian rights organizations to pass royalties back and forth across national borders.
Rights and royalties are divided into several categories:
This refers to the mechanical reproduction of your song, whereby physi- cal copies of your song (on CD, for example, or digital download) are sent into the marketplace and sold. A mechanical licence is granted by the publisher or rights holder (you), giving permission for your song to be reproduced and distributed publicly. A mechanical royalty is paid to the publisher/author based on the number of recordings sold. (Unless you self-publish, you will traditionally share 50% with the publisher.) In Canada, these rights and royalties are tracked by CMRRA (Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency; cmrra.ca), which represents over 6,000 North American publishers who own and administer roughly 75% of the music recorded and performed in Canada.
When one of your songs is licensed to be used in a film, TV show or commercial, you will receive a synchronization royalty, which is usually negotiated between the publisher and the producer of the film, TV show
or commercial. If your song is broadcast on a TV show it will also earn a performance royalty (see below). When a specific recording of your song is used, the user must also seek permission from the label or re- cording artist and pay them in the form of a Master Use Licence.
Whenyoursongisplayedontheradio,ajukebox,onTV,atahealth club, on an airline, in a restaurant, on a piped/streamed music service over the internet or live on stage, a performance royalty is payable. Such licences are often granted to radio and TV stations via annual licence fees that represent a percentage of the station’s advertising revenue. In Canada, these rights and royalties are tracked and paid to songwriters and music publishers by SOCAN (see page 23).
This royalty is based on sales of printed sheet music.
Every recording of a song has a copyright, and every performance with- in that one recording has a quasi-copyright. Canadian law recognizes that everyone (including all musicians and producers) who contributes to a recording has an economic interest in the recording. In Canada, neighbouring rights royalties are administered by Re:Sound (resound. ca).
Rights organizations in Canada:
• ACTRA Performers’ Rights Society. actra.ca/racs
• ArtistI. uniondesartistes.com
• AVLA. Audio-Video Licensing Agency. avla.ca
• CMRRA. Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency. cmrra.ca • CSI. CMRRA SODRAC Inc. Joint venture between CMRRA and SO- DRAC to handle online music. cmrra.ca / sodrac.ca
• MROC. Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada. musiciansrights.ca
• Re:Sound. Formerly known as the Neighbouring Rights Collective of Canada. resound.ca
• SOCAN. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. socan.ca
• SODRAC. Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada. sodrac.ca
• SOGEDAM. Société de gestion des droits des artistes-musiciens.
• SOPROQ. Société de gestion collective des droits des producteurs de phonogrammes et vidéogrammes du Québec. soproq.org
• UDA. Union des artistes. French-language equivalent of ACTRA. uda.ca
If a songwriter/artist is putting their own music online, what kind of rights do they need to know about? There are three main rights you need to be aware of: rights in the master sound recording, rights in the musi- cal composition embodied in the master and rights in the performer’s performance in the master. There are also rights relating to artwork, logos, photographs and name and likeness uses. – Paul Sanderson, Sanderson Entertainment Law, Toronto.
(This article is from Songwriters Magazine 2011/12)