An open letter to Jason Kenney
This is the letter I just sent to the Hon. Jason Kenney, in response to the increase in fees for international touring artists in Canada. As that article makes clear, these changes are going to hit smaller Canadian venues hard. Before people call this an attack on the arts, though, remember–it’s more likely that they just didn’t think of how this would affect places like the Palomino, the Biltmore, Sneaky Dees, and others across Canada. If you want them to change, your job isn’t to be outraged, it’s to convince them they made the wrong call. I sent this to the Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism, firstname.lastname@example.org, whose department is in charge of the policy, and copied in the Minister of Canadian Heritage, email@example.com, who is in charge of culture, and my MP, Michelle.Rempel@parl.gc.ca,
Hon. Minister Kenney,
I’m writing to you in regards to the recent change in fees for international touring musicians in Canada, as discussed in today’s Calgary Herald. While I don’t believe that harming the nation’s independent music community was in any way the goal of this change, I do believe that’s exactly what the result will be.
The main issue here seems to be a misunderstanding of the role small, independent venues play in fostering local music communities. As I understand it, the LMO process is designed to ensure that jobs and contracts in Canada don’t go to non-Canadians without good reason; raising the cost to apply for an LMO, then, could be seen as an attempt to ensure that Canadian workers–in this case, bands–get first crack at any available opportunities.
However, within the music community, these opportunities are not an either-or proposition. An American or European band passing through town is not taking an opportunity away from a local band. Instead, typically at least one or two local acts will open for that international act, exposing their music to a new audience and earning a fee at the same time. These international acts usually have the benefit of at least some degree of publicity and marketing, otherwise they wouldn’t attempt an international tour, and the local bands who cannot afford those services can then piggyback off the international act’s wider exposure, playing to larger crowds who wouldn’t come to a show with out the recognizable name of the headliner.
While still quite small by most standards, these shows are an essential part of the development of young bands. By making it potentially 300-400% more expensive to bring international acts into smaller venues, those venues will likely have to explore other options–a $1700 fee just to bring in a band, let alone pay it, plus the opening bands, promotion and other expenses is nearly insurmountable for venues whose capacity maxes out at 150-200 people. This may mean more bookings for Canadian acts, but the more likely response is for these venues to move away from live music entirely. Venues tend to book bands out of passion. DJs and drink specials are far less costly for bar owners, and also less risky; without the ability to bring in mid-range touring acts, many bars are likely to simply give up on live music.
Given that an exemption has already been made for non-bar venues, it’s clear that the government understands not all industries will be affected equally by these changes. Contrary to the government’s intent, these measures will actually reduce the opportunities for Canada’s independent musicians, depriving them of the small to mid-size shows that help them hone their skills and advance themselves to the level that has earned Canada’s music scene a reputation far disproportionate to our size. In light of this, I hope the government will consider expanding the musician exemption to include musicians playing in bars and restaurants, as those spaces are every bit as essential to a thriving musical culture as the concert halls and festivals that already receive this exemption, and are arguably even more vulnerable to the increased fee.
Thank you for your time,