Protecting your Creative Voice: Tools to staying focused, motivated and optimistic while creating.

Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.
Image by John Liu courtesy of Creative Commons licence.

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 (

Originally published in the 2011/12 edition of Songwriters Magazine.

So you want to tour in the US? Advice for Canadian Musicians from Ember Swift.

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:

  1. 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, a non-geographically dependent union for travelling musicians.)
  2. 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!
  3. 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!

AFM Canada
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

  1. 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!

Travel safe,
Ember Swift

This article is republished from the 2011 edition of Songwriters Magazine.

Rights, royalties, revenues & remuneration – How do we make money in this business?

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:

Reproduction: Mechanical

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;, which represents over 6,000 North American publishers who own and administer roughly 75% of the music recorded and performed in Canada.

Reproduction: Synchronization

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.
• ArtistI.
• AVLA. Audio-Video Licensing Agency.
• CMRRA. Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency. • CSI. CMRRA SODRAC Inc. Joint venture between CMRRA and SO- DRAC to handle online music. /

• MROC. Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada.
• Re:Sound. Formerly known as the Neighbouring Rights Collective of Canada.
• SOCAN. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.
• SODRAC. Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada.
• SOGEDAM. Société de gestion des droits des artistes-musiciens.
• SOPROQ. Société de gestion collective des droits des producteurs de phonogrammes et vidéogrammes du Québec.
• UDA. Union des artistes. French-language equivalent of ACTRA.

Online Rights
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)

Know Where You’re Going – Mapping Out Your Song

by Debra Alexander

Your school teachers probably encouraged you to plan your essays before writing them. Perhaps they taught you about outlining, showing you diagrams using boxes and a funnel, stressing the benefits of including a strong ‘topic sentence’ in each paragraph.

Songs are like essays. They have a message, generally, that’s conveyed with a beginning, middle and end. There’s a sense of forward motion. As I write this, Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night is at number two on the Top 40 chart. While the general topic is partying, the underlying message is that the consequences of wild party behaviour are worth it, and that doing it all again next Friday is a foregone conclusion.

Experienced songwriters know that having a message is absolutely key to the process of songwriting. In Nashville, some writers book three or more cowriting sessions a day; they won’t waste time working on an idea that doesn’t have enough potential for development. From the out- set, usually, there’s got to be a message.

Let’s use another top-charting song, Dierks Bentley’s Am I the Only One, as a test case. Just look at that title. Get your songwriter brain think- ing. Ask yourself how the songwriter might potentially develop this idea, moving forward lyrically to the point where the idea in the title is expressed, “am I the only one?” Practice this when you see titles of songs you’ve not heard. Write down all the possible ways the title might be developed. Then make a map to see how the writers actually crafted the song, lyrically.

In this case, Am I the Only One is built in eight bar sections; two eight bar sections make a complete verse, and two eight bar sections make a complete chorus. This is what the song map would look like…

The song moves forward because the hook is delivered from a new per- spective. In the first chorus, it’s the singer’s. In the second chorus, it’s the woman’s. This is one technique that can keep things interesting. The mes- sage is: “come on everybody, let’s have some fun tonight.”

The Katy Perry song and the Dierks Bentley song both deal with the subject of partying, but each has a unique message to deliver. They use different techniques to create a sense of forward motion. Like a good essay or short story, they reach an emotional peak at about 7/8ths of the way through. They build to a high point where the message is crystal clear.

Try mapping your latest song. What’s your topic? What’s your mes- sage? How have you developed the song from section to section so that it moves in a forward direction? Did you reach the highest emotional in- tensity about 7/8ths of the way through? Is it interesting enough that you could listen to it repeatedly? Even if you didn’t know what you wanted to say from the outset when you sat down to write, you can help ensure that you’ll deliver a clear message by mapping out your song.

Debra Alexander is a veteran of the Nashville, New York, Austin, New England and Toronto music scenes. She cycles from Toronto to Mississauga to teach music theory and songwriting at Metalworks Institute.


The Legacy of Bluebird North

The Songwriters Association of Canada is proud to be the founder of the Bluebird North Showcase that happens across the country – celebrating the songs and stories of great Canadian songwriters.  During these informal acoustic evenings, each songwriter performs their own songs and shares each composition’s back story and inspiration. We’re hosting one in Port Perry on November 3rd and one in Vancouver November 6th.  Originally, published in last year’s annual reference edition of Songwriters Magazine, Bluebird pioneer Shari Ulrich looks back at BBN’s success- ful 18-year legacy, the thrill of discovering an expected gem and experi- encing the alchemy of songwriters connecting on stage.

With Bluebird North, the S.A.C. has created one of the most important benefits to Canadian songwriters possible – providing them with a stage, and helping them foster an audience. That’s the kind of tangible, hands-on advocacy that makes me proud to be associated with the S.A.C.

I was one of the participants of the very first Bluebird North, produced in Toronto for the S.A.C. by Marc Jordan and Amy Sky in 1993. Other than Folk Festival workshop stages, it was my first “song circle” – and I was hooked.

In 1995, Ron Irving launched Bluebird North at the Railway Club in Vancouver, and a year later he handed off the producing duties to me. Aside from a few shows produced by Ron and Roy Forbes, I’ve remained the producer (and, more recently, the host) of the Vancouver event since.

In those early years, our format featured eight songwriters in every show. The most daunting task was booking so many writers, while ensuring at least a few of them would draw a sizeable audience. The downside of having so many songwriters in the lineup was having to restrict each to just three songs apiece. Consequently, over time, the event morphed into a four-songwriter evening.

It took several years, of course, but we’ve finally reached that sweet spot where the draw for audiences is no long a particular songwriter but Bluebird North itself. Our audiences have learned that even if they don’t recognize all the names, they can always expect a spirited and highly entertaining evening, and will likely discover an unexpected gem.

I can never predict how a show is going to unfold but precious few of those 75 shows have fallen flat. If a show did fall flat, it was usually because the host was unable to put people at ease. The song-circle format, after all, can be unnerving for even the most seasoned of performers; it’s just the nature of the beast. A host who can charm those on and off the stage plays a critical role in the success of any show.

We’ve had many homes over the years, and I was determined to take the event out of a bar and into a theatre – more befitting the spirit of Nashville’s original Bluebird Café. It’s all about honouring the song, which is counter to a bar atmosphere. So when Margaret Watts eagerly invited us to the Roundhouse Community Centre six years ago, we knew we’d found our home in their comfy black box theatre (with its spectacular sound).

Bluebird North in Vancouver has become a coveted gig for both emerging writers and seasoned veterans, and not just those based in Vancouver! Being able to provide writers from across Canada a wonder- ful stage with great sound and an enthusiastic audience is a thrill. On the flipside, it means that hundreds of writers are now vying for a relatively small number of spots on stage, which puts me in a position of being the gatekeeper I never wanted to be. But my guiding principle is to keep the quality of the shows as high as possible so that audiences will remain faithful and continue to grow.

It’s been a tremendously rewarding 15 years. The alchemy between writers – their unique combination, the juxtaposition of their work, how they interact between songs and con- nect musically – creates an unparalleled concert experience.

Targeting the Right Radio Station with Your Music

Photo by Francisco. J. Gonzalez.

by Andrea Morris

How do YOU get your song played on the radio? Well, the first step is to get familiar with the different radio formats. In this article, I will focus on music based formats, which means I will be skipping over talk radio and the formats that play only classic hits.

In Canada, there are six different music based radio formats: CHR (Top 40), AC (Adult Contemporary), HOT AC, ACTIVE ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK and COUNTRY. There are a couple of AAA (Adult Album Alternative) stations in Canada, but they tend to be grouped with the Alternative Rock stations.  In the United States, these formats are expanded to include URBAN radio (with a sub category of Urban AC), RHYTHMIC radio (with sub categories of Rhythmic AC and Rhythmic CHR) and Gospel radio. In the U.S., you will also see the Rock charts further divided into AAA (with a sub category of Americana and Folk), Classic Rock and Adult Hits. Did you just reach for your bottle of aspirin? Yes, this information can be a bit overwhelming! However, if you really desire a radio hit, then you must understand formatting in order to produce music that is suitable for the right station and demographic.

Let’s break things down a bit to make it easier. CHR is Top 40 radio, which is pretty self explanatory. The top artists currently at this format in Canada are David Guetta, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Owl City, Kesha, Cascada, Black Eyed Peas and Jay Z. Now, if you are familiar with these artists, you can properly surmise CHR radio in Canada is fairly rhythmic (dance-oriented), although you will see ballads on the charts if they are very strong and have hit at other formats. This should give you an idea of the type of sound you will need to produce in order to have your songs played on CHR radio. Keep in mind, rock oriented tracks DO appear on CHR radio, but only after they have charted at ACTIVE ROCK or ALTERNATIVE ROCK. Rock artists like Nickelback, Kings of Leon, U2 and Weezer regularly appear on the CHR charts. Are you feeling a bit more comfortable now? Great! Take a deep breath and we’ll move onto other formats!

Canadian ROCK radio is divided into two categories. We’ll start with ACTIVE ROCK, which is a bit more classic sounding than Alternative. The top artists currently at this format in Canada are Foo Fighters, Three Days Grace, Them Crooked Vultures, Billy Talent, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Default and Green Day. In order to chart at this format, you’ll need to crank up the guitars, bang on those drums and get a killer bass line. Now, when we look at the artists currently charting at Canadian ALTERNATIVE RADIO, you will notice a bit of crossover with the ACTIVE ROCK artists. The chart toppers are Weezer, Foo Fighters, Muse, Billy Talent, Three Days Grace, Rise Against, Tegan and Sara, Them Crooked Vultures and Alice In Chains. In the US, there tends to be a bit more diversity in the lists, but keep in mind, there is a greater population density in America, and that lends itself to more variety in formatting. Again, if you want that ACTIVE ROCK hit, get your guitar out and prepare to wail away!!

AC (Adult Contemporary) radio appeals to an older audience. AC stations are generally played in offices, as the music is mellower and not offensive. The current chart toppers at Canadian AC radio are Michael Buble, Colbe Caillat, Taylor Swift, Pink, Chantal Kreviazuk, Sarah McLachlan,  Rob Thomas and Mariah Carey. If you want a hit at AC radio, put away the guitar and take a valium. (Just kidding.)  Seriously, AC radio programmers steer clear of wailing guitar solos and concentrate on songs that have a broad appeal. On the other hand, HOT AC radio appeals to a primarily female audience that is younger than AC. The top artists currently at Canadian HOT AC radio are Kelly Clarkson, Black Eyed Peas, Owl City, David Guetta, Miley Cyrus, Michael Buble, Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga. You will notice there are a few artists who appear on the CHR charts as well as the HOT AC charts. And if you are a smarty pants, you will correctly surmise HOT AC radio can be more rhythmic than AC radio (hence the younger audience).  If you want a hit at HOT AC radio, you can follow the rules of CHR and Rock radio (but you might want to do a HOT AC edit of your track that takes the crunchier guitar parts out).

Country radio should be pretty self explanatory! Get me some pedal steel guitar and take a look at the current top Canadian country artists: Lady Antebellum, Reba, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Darius Rucker, Terri Clark, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Canadian country programmers are always looking for a great song. Lyrical content is VERY important in country music!  And, as previously mentioned, pedal steel guitar is a pretty important part of the country sound. There are many country artists who have successfully crossed over to the CHR charts, and these included Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift, just to name a few. I think you know what to do if you want to top the country charts!!

So now you have a bit of knowledge regarding radio formats, which should help you to target where your music will be heard. However, getting your track to radio is the tricky part. That’s when you need to hire the services of a radio tracker, also known as pluggers and radio promotion people. Radio trackers have a data base of all the radio programmers per format in the country they work in. In Canada, many trackers cover multiple formats. In the US, trackers tend to concentrate on specific formats – jazz, country, active rock, AAA/Americana, etc. Again, the US has more radio stations per format, which makes it easier to specialize in one genre of music. Let’s focus on Canada, otherwise your head will start spinning!

Why do you need to hire a radio tracker? Well, you can try to track your single by yourself, but you will have to spend several weeks researching all the different radio stations in Canada to find the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the program directors and music directors of the stations in the format you want to target. (a quick note: the program director – or pd in industry lingo – is the top dog at the radio station. He or she ultimately decides what music gets aired on the station. The music director – or md for short – is the program director ‘s right hand man/woman and has a say in what gets played on the station.) You will also have to figure out when they take their music calls and when they send out their playlists. This is incredibly time consuming, especially since there is no industry trade paper in Canada with these lists readily available to you.  The other spanner in the works is many radio programmers will not take calls or listen to music from people they do not know. Keep in mind, radio programmers receive anywhere from twenty to forty new songs each week. Obviously, they don’t have time to listen to every single one of these, so they rely on trackers and promo reps from major labels to help them set their priorities.

Hiring a radio tracker helps you get your music noticed by programmers. Mind you, there is NEVER a guarantee of airplay when you hire a tracker. Anyone who promises you with 100% certainty your song will be played at a station is probably lying to you. If I could guarantee radio airplay, I’d be a millionaire and right now I’d have a hot cabana boy bringing me drinks and applying suntan lotion to my body. Radio airplay is a crap shoot. Obviously, you need a GREAT song to get attention. You also need a savvy radio tracker to help you decide the release date of your single to radio. As an independent artist, you don’t want to send your debut single to radio in September. Why? Because September and October are the months for the fall ratings period, (also referred to as the fall book) which is usually the most important ratings period to stations, as they base their advertising rates on this book.  Look at the calendar and you will notice a BIG holiday that involves an obese man in a red and white suit. This holiday means major record labels are counting on a big fall quarter to boost their profits, so you will see releases from BIG SELLING ARTISTS, who will also be vying against you for radio airplay. Who do YOU think a programmer is more likely to add – Lady Gaga or an unknown artist? If you chose Lady Gaga, give yourself a gold star in radio knowledge. If you chose the unknown artist, please sober up before reading further.

A radio tracker can help you choose the song that will most likely get airplay for you. The first single you release to radio should be a strong song that aptly represents YOU as an artist. The tracker will also direct you to the proper format for your music.  Sometimes you can approach two formats with your song. This is called crossing over. If you look back at the list of formats, you will notice several artists who are on two charts at once, hence the term crossover. It does cost more to work double formats, but there is an added bonus of more exposure, which translates into more sales. And sales mean money, which we all love!!

When you hire a radio tracker, you are paying for their relationships with programmers. As you can guess, music is subjective. Many times, programmers have two or three songs of equal merit to add to their station. Their choice of the single to add to their station can come down to who they have a relationship with and who they want to help. That is why you need a great radio tracker on your team! Before you decide to hire a tracker, I would highly recommend speaking with several trackers first. You need to work with someone who has a good track record and who you feel comfortable communicating with. Check out their websites. Speak to their former clients to see if they were happy with the work done. Try to chat with a programmer to get their recommendation. Be sure to do your homework in order to be sure you have hired a reputable radio tracker who will secure adds on your single. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You are spending your hard earned cash on your dream of breaking into the music business and you have every right to get the answers you need. Now go write that hit single so we can deal with the next step in your musical success!

For more information about Andrea Morris, please visit:

“Don’t Guilt Your Audience” and other Touring Tips from Ann Vriend

Ann Vriend on Tour.
Photo by Henk Eggens

by Ann Vriend

1.  Don’t guilt trip audiences into paying for your show or buying your CD because “you need to put gas in your gas tank.”  You are not a charity, music is not a charity.  If it’s good, people will want to buy it because it’s good.  They did not force you to go on this tour.  It isn’t their fault if you’re not making a lot of money on the tour.  (It might not be your fault, either, but it is NOT their fault.)  People shouldn’t buy music out of pity.   People will throw money at you for your CD after a show if you’ve nailed it.  So nail it!

2.  Which is the most important point of all: NAIL YOUR SHOW.  Come rehearsed.  Be captivating.  Pretend you’re the audience member and what you see and hear on stage is something you want to take a precious night off for, pay the babysitter for, pay hard-earned money for. Mediocre is not good enough.  Respect your audience.

3.  Know your audience.  An audience at a house concert is different than an audience at a rock club which is different than a festival which is different than a corporate gig.  Crass language and non-P.C. jokes are part of some people’s schtick and personality, but is super offensive to some audiences.  If that’s your thing either tone it down or don’t book that gig.  Same goes for if you’re super neat and tidy, earnest and clean cut, and you’re trying to win over a Fred Eaglesmith or rowdy bar audience.  Probably won’t work.  Adapt or don’t play there.

4.  Have a reliable touring vehicle.  Have a back up plan if the vehicle turns out not to be so reliable.

5.  Make a tour booklet with phone numbers and the addresses and contact names of venues, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A SMARTPHONE.  There is not cell phone coverage everywhere.  Or you forgot to charge it, or or or.  Same with maps, as in real, physical ones.

6.  If the tour is more than 2 weeks long, plan a day off or 2 per week.  Your band will love you. You will all have a higher chance or remaining human, AND you can do your laundry.

7.  Have an email sign up list at each show by your merch table where new fans can sign up, so that when you tour there again you can contact them and they’ll hopefully come out and bring some more people along.  Send newsletters out occasionally with updates and new material to keep in touch with them between tours.

Booking Your Canadian Tour – Tips From Ann Vriend

by Ann Vriend

The tips I’ve written below are things I mostly learned the hard way, either as an independent artist, a booker of a venue, and/or as an artist who has been represented (sometimes badly) by booking agents and managers.  I hope it helps.  I am by no means more of an authority on the subject than many other independent touring artists out there, so feel free to dispute or disregard any of these points and ask around.


1.  Where to begin:  get a google or ical out, map out your ideal tour in a certain colour, and label it “tentative” or something to that affect.  Per date it is good to put a number of options of towns and venues in that town; some flexibility will probably be necessary.   As dates become confirmed put them into the calendar in a different colour (labelled “confirmed gigs”) and delete the options that were previously in the “tentative” colour.  Remember to mapquest/google map distances between places, keeping in mind time zones.  (Canada, for instance, is BIG.  Ontario never ends.)  Write as many notes to yourself in the calendar to keep organized, because things can easily get confusing.  Usually the best thing is to centre your tour around an anchor gig or festival that pays decently, and work towards and backwards from that.

2.  Aproaching venues and artists.  The golden rule is: DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME.  People in the music business don’t have very much time.  Nearly everyone is wearing a lot of hats in order to pay the bills.  Most of the next points are in regards to this, one way or another.

3.  Research a venue a bit first.  Check it out online or find out from other artists what it’s like, what the best strategy is to booking it.  Look at who’s playing there– does your music fit?  Are the artists playing there at similar levels in their careers as you?  Do they even HAVE live music on the day of the week you’re asking about?   Some of them are folk clubs that book at least a year ahead.  Some of them only book local acts.  Some of them you have to actually call.  Others get very annoyed if you call (the latter is more common; generally try email first).  Some are great but the sound is bad– bring your own sound gear or guy.  Stuff like that.

4.  Ask other artists about venues.  Getting contacts and references from other artists is usually a way faster, more efficient way to find out info and connect with the right people at the venue.  But also keep in mind asking busy artists for tips and contacts is a time consuming thing for them to give you, so be grateful when people do help you out, and be willing and ready to offer something comparable in return.  Having said that, know other artists have spent a lot of time and energy on these contacts and connections and have every right to decide you’re not an artist they want to hand that over to– either for artistic reasons, or simply because they’re super busy, or because they don’t feel you’re ready in your career for the kind of thing you’re asking them for. Or any other number of reasons.  Everything in this country is about helping each other out and most people are kind if you can make it easy for them but it is in no way their obligation to help you.

5.  Think of booking a gig from the perspective of the venue: they need to make sure the venue is well-attended; if no one’s there they lose money and have to shut down.  Some venues, God bless them, give you a guarantee and don’t seem to mind either way if you bring out a crowd, but they are few and far between, and still, no one wins if there’s an empty house.  So, if you don’t have a draw in a town find other local artists who do have a draw to team up with– maybe in return for the same in your territory.  Or be willing to play open stages and not very awesome bars first, to build a fan base.  Or tell the venue truthfully you are just starting out your following there but would love an opening spot for someone else (and realize there’s typically not a ton of money for opening acts).  But DON’T lie and say you have a fan base somewhere that you don’t, or exaggerate the number of people you think will come out.

6.  If someone turns you down for a gig or doesn’t get back to you after one or 2 attempts consider it a dead end and move on, or find out if maybe there’s a different person to contact.  DON’T keep bugging the same person.  I know there is/was advice floating around out there for a while saying that you should just be persistent and in a moment of weakness or exasperation someone might give in to you just to get you off their back, and while that may occasionally be true, people should not book you because you are incessantly annoying.  They should book you because you’re a good performer and your music is good, or preferably great.  If it is and you work hard and smart, eventually that person will hear about you and you’ll get to play there.

7.  Include very the date or options of dates you are looking for in your first email to the venue.

8.  Include what size of band you’re touring with, or if it’s a double bill with 2 songwriters, etc.  If another songwriter include links to their stuff, too.  If the band members are people you think the venue bookers knows, mention that, too, but otherwise don’t bother.

9.  Mention if there is a professional publicist behind the tour (and name them).  Or anything in this regard that will make the venue booker feel like you’ll get some publicity (again, DON’T LIE). If you have radio play in that area or some press in that area from a previous tour send the playlist or the link to that.

10.  By now it should be clear that sending a generic email to every venue you want a show at on your tour is actually not very effective, as time efficient as it may be.  Again, see #2.

11.  When you are approaching a venue who you know may not have heard of you, send them active links to your music/bio/website/myspace/youtube— whatever has the best stuff on you– info wise and music wise.  Usually the venue booker has 30 seconds to check you out, max.  Don’t make the info hard to find, and make sure the info you give them is how you want the 1st impression of you to go.  But DON’T send a large attachment such as a high res photo or mp3 to clog their inbox or smartphone data plan.  Again, think of it from the perspective of a venue booker who gets a LOT of messages from musicians looking for gigs per day.

12.  Make sure that info you’re sending is something you’re proud of.  Would you book you?  Change your presentation (maybe even your music) until the answer is yes.  You may have to spend money on better photos, get someone to write your bio, improve your website, etc.  Your live show could be the best thing since sliced bread but remember the link people click on first is very often their first impression of you, and if it’s not a good impression they won’t look or listen further.

13.  Don’t go on and on in the body of your email about yourself and your music— that’s what the links are for.  But a quick summary of your genre, a few of your major achievements, and a press quote or 2 are not a bad idea.

14.  Have your music on your CD match or at least somewhat match what you’re going to sound like on stage.  Or, if it doesn’t, point that out in a BRIEF description of what you WILL be presenting so that the venue knows what they’re getting.

15.  If you are booking house concerts know the etiquette of that. and can fill you in on this.

16.  Book far enough ahead that you’re not scrambling and desperate.  People feel bad and annoyed when you grovel and they can’t help you.  Generally it looks quite unprofessional if you ask less than 3 months in advance, give or take the nature of the venue.  If you book REALLY far ahead the typical response is that they aren’t working on that time of year yet– then you can say, ok, i’ll get back to you closer to the time– and at least you’ve touched base, though be aware that sometimes this is just a polite way of saying they’re not interested.  Know the difference.

17.  Thank them for their time.  Be easy to work with.  Be easy to get along with.  No one has time for anything else.  You can be a diva when you’ve sold a million records and have an entourage to protect you from the real world of people who would like to be treated with respect.  Until then… (actually, don’t even do it then).

18.  Money.  Most importantly, know what is reasonable pay for that venue for an artist of your level (of recognition, not talent– unfortunately) AT THAT VENUE.  Ask around what’s “normal,” or just point blank ask the venue what their ballpark is, or how they do it (door deal, guarantee, combo thereof).  Don’t email a set fee to people in your first contact with them.  It’s pretty presumptuous and can come across as offensive.  Booking agents for very established artists can do this but even then it’s a series of negotiations and conversations most times.

19.  Money part 2: But, don’t be afraid to stand your ground if what they come back with doesn’t work for you.  Politely refuse, with a (TRUTHFUL!) explanation (ie: in the past I’ve played your town for x dollars so I need to stick to that or I’ll undercut myself), or, thanks very much, I am trying to strictly book guarantees for this town, or I’ve got a band to pay so I don’t think those numbers will work for my budget, etc).

20.  Make an expense budget.  Make a projected income budget (merch sales included).  Both will fluctuate as you book and as you tour.  But it will help you not get in over your head.  It will also help you to determine how many band members you can bring, and what you can pay them.  And make sure you have a buffer zone of income (credit card, line of credit, savings).  Things can go wrong, vehicles can break down, shows can get cancelled, attendance bad due to weather, etc.  (On the up side, things can also go right and you can make way MORE money than you thought.  But err on the side of caution.)  If you are hoping to get a touring grant or some sort of funding for your tour, know the grant deadlines and the number of confirmed shows you need in order to get it, and plan far enough in advance accordingly.  GETTING grants is of course not guaranteed so have a budget for if you get it as well as one for if you don’t.

21.  Don’t undercut other artists.  Do not offer to play for next to nothing in order to get yourself on a bill that the venue/promoter was planning on paying a different artist for.  Not cool.  Also, try to get away from playing venues where there is no cover or just “pay what you can.”  This is what artists have to do when they’re starting out, but keep in mind that eventually, as your career builds, if you keep doing this you’re undercutting other pro artists and making it harder for ALL of us to get paid– venues and patrons will get too used to music being free– no matter what the calibre, and then soon NONE of us can make money at this.  If your show and music is great people will pay for it.  Be confident in that.  You have to find them and they have to find you, but they will and do.

22.  Contracts.  Sticky subject.  I’ve had contracts that weren’t honoured (despite both parties signing it), and hundred of gigs that were just agreed upon and honoured in an email or even phone call or text.  As far as I know an email trail (with date and sender info intact) stands up in court as proof of payment– but don’t quote me on that.  The sad reality is that usually the disputed dollar amount is not worth going to court over.  Luckily, everybody talks– artists, venues, festival bookers, industry members, publicists, agencies– and word gets around that someone has ripped someone else off astonishingly quickly.  So, thankfully that keeps most people inline. Generally a contract will come at you from a venue/promoter/club/festival, and not vice versa. Though having your own template is not a bad idea.  Also having a tech rider on hand is good for when these types of gigs come around.

23.  You need to be a bit tough.  Don’t take it personally if someone turns you down for a gig or doesn’t like your music or simply is too busy to get back to you.  As soon as you charge money for what you do you are running a business, and not everybody wants your business– not every person likes every kind of artist and art.  If you get easily offended or are super sensitive about your music frankly you better stay home and just play for your friends and family (assuming they are nice ;)).

24.  Patience.  There are a LOT of people who want gigs, far more than there are gigs to be had, so it usually takes time, hard work, and a great product to really start being able to make some decent money out there.  Often your first tours into a new territory will COST you money rather than make you any, so unless you’re mainly doing this for fun, you need to think of serious touring in a long-term way;  like any business, you have to think of it as an investment.  If you have a great product and presentation and play it smart your investment will pay off.    There is no absolute guarantee, but generally the smarter decisions you make from the get-go, artistically business-wise, the faster you’ll be able to have financially successful and artistically rewarding tours.

Stay tuned for a follow up blog on advice for the actual tour!

How and When to Find a Music Publisher

The 2012/13 issue of Songwriters Magazine is about to hit the stands.  In celebration of our 2nd edition of this annual reference publication, we’re sharing some of the great articles from last year’s issue on our blog.  First off is a frank conversation with Barbara Sedun, formerly the Senior Vice-President of EMI Music Publishing Canada, now off charting new musical adventures.  Read on if working with a music publisher is one of your goals.

Barbara Sedun is a busy woman.  So busy, that this interview almost never happened.  You will usually find Barbara attending showcases across the country, scouting out talent in secret venues, sharing her knowledge on panels at music industry events, and anything else music related.  She eats and breathes music, hence, has some invaluable insight from her former position as Senior Vice-President of EMI Music Publishing Canada.  BEFORE you go knocking on her, or any music publisher’s door, best be prepared by reading her answers to the following questions!

At what point should a songwriter approach a publisher? (What should they have prepared?)  In an ideal world, a songwriter would not approach a publisher. They would have generated enough activity on their catalogue that the publisher would contact them. However, if the publishers aren’t lining up as quickly as you like, you would approach the publisher in the same way that you would approach anyone else in the business. Know what you are looking for in a publishing deal and do your research on the publishing companies to determine which ones would best suit your needs. Know if you are looking for a co-publishing deal or an administration deal. Know which publishers work best with the style of music you are writing. Do your research and find out which member of the staff deals with the style of music as well. You should have had some activity on your music. Know that if you are approaching a major music publishing, they may have different requirements than an indie publisher. There is a lot of work you can do on your own before ever getting involved with a publisher.

Try to place songs with artists if you are not an artist yourself. Or write with artists. Work your songs at radio. Pitch your songs to tv and movies. Or commercials. Or Video games. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But you are competing with the person down the street who has been doing all of this for the last 2 years and is just now knocking on the publisher’s door. AS well, once your catalogue of work starts earning money, you will need a publisher to administer your earnings.

What are publishers looking for?  What is your ideal candidate of someone you would like to work with?  I am a workaholic yet it seldom feels like I am working because I love what I do so much. I want to work with people who work equally hard on their songwriting careers as I will once you are signed. Basically you should become your own publisher, and do everything a publisher will eventually team up with you to do. I look for talented, hard workers who are not afraid to think outside the box and will do anything to move ahead. I want you to want to be “rich and famous” – one of my pet peeves is when a writer tells me “I just want people to hear my music”.  Put your Canadian humility aside and reach for the stars!! I also want to know that if you have a team around you they are strong and bring something to partnership. Leave your dependencies at the door too, please.

What to bring when you land a meeting with a publisher (and what not to bring)?  Be prepared – bring your best music, make sure everything is labeled very well and you have extra copies in case one of them doesn’t work. bring lyric sheets even if they are not used. Bring your best, most positive attitude – and know your stuff. Have a playlist ready of what you feel is your strongest work – don’t go searching for it. And remember that even though we are sitting on the other side of the desk, we are just people like you.  I see how nervous people are sometimes and I understand it and do my best to help you relax.

What types of songwriters are offered contracts and what kinds of different contracts are there?  The main publishing agreements are co-publishing deal (where we become a co-owner of the song with you); an administration agreement (where our percentage is slightly lower generally but there is little or no creative input) once in a very long while we do single-song agreements. An indie publisher may need sub-publishing agreements (where another publisher in another territory will collect your royalties, etc for them because they do not have an office there) but EMI is a worldwide company and has offices in most territories and therefore seldom have need for sub-pub deals.

What does a publishing contract usually look like (term, exclusivity, commitment)?  Every publishing deal is different and the final result depends on what your focus is. Different points to negotiate include: Term (ie how long the contract is – usually the initial term plus options); Songs that are included; the minimum delivery commitment (how many songs you are required to hand in to the publisher during the contract period); how long the publisher retains the songs after the contract is over; the territory; the advances; Royalty percentages (mechanical, performance, synchronization, other income); administration fee.

Should artists contact publishers as well, or only songwriters?   If you are working to place your songs, you should contact everyone!  There are legendary stories out there of how hard people like Dianne Warren and Chad Kroeger have worked on their careers before they had any interest from the music industry. Look them up. Check out their stories. When you are willing to work as hard as they have (and still do), then come see me!  I’ve heard stories of Ms.Warren sitting outside recording studios in the early days, pouncing on artists when they arrived or left, giving them her demos and asking for them to record her songs. And Chad is notorious for how hard he pushed radio stations to play Nickelback’s music before they got a deal.  I saw approach everyone. When I am pitching a song I approach everyone involved in the project – if I know someone who knows the artist, I go to them. I send copies to producers, engineers, labels, management – anyone who may be able to get the song recorded. And follow up is so important.

What are common mistakes made by artists and songwriters when approaching music publishers?  The most common mistake is approaching the music publisher (or anyone in the industry) too early. If you have written 10 songs and your mom tells you they are great, it’s probably too early to approach the industry. If you have written 500 songs and work full time and have never had any activity on any of your songs (except playing them once a year at family gatherings) you are probably not ready to approach the industry. You really need to be able to make it a full time job. Not everyone is made to be a fulltime songwriter and there have been cases where we have signed single song agreements with writers, but I think in my 20 years at EMI, there have been maybe 2 or 3 cases of that.

To get the new edition of Songwriters Magazine, why not join the Songwriters Association of Canada today.