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Pennies for your plays: Canadian artists on streaming music's financial fallout

Simple Plan singer Pierre Bouvier performs on a stage of the music festival 'Rock im Park' in Nuremberg, Germany, Saturday June 8, 2013.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/dpa, Daniel Karmann

TORONTO - Ask a Canadian musician what a few pennies sound like and they'll play you their latest album.

Many artists are pushing for boosted payments from increasingly popular streaming music services — like Apple Music and Spotify — but even well known Canadian performers say they're feeling helpless in the campaign for change.

"Bands like us are standing on the sidelines," says Pierre Bouvier, frontman of Montreal pop-rockers Simple Plan. "We don't really have the power to change anything."

Despite having seven Billboard Hot 100 chart hits to their name — including "Welcome to My Life" and "Summer Paradise" — Bouvier says Simple Plan isn't raking in significant royalties from their millions of digital plays.

And if they pulled their new music from streaming services — as marquee artists Taylor Swift and Adele have done — it would only take Simple Plan off the radar of younger music fans.

"There is not a whole lot of money to be made unless you're the top one per cent ... streaming a billion ... then you're just swimming in it," Bouvier says.

"But if you're streaming a million ... or 10 million that's not really going to pay you anything."

Bouvier says that's one reason he's feeling less optimistic about the next generation of musicians hoping to make a living off recorded music.

"I feel like if my kids told me right now (they wanted to get into music) I'd be like, 'Forget about it,'" he says.

Streaming music royalties are top of mind for many musicians heading into this year's Juno Awards ceremony. While high-profile acts like the Weeknd, Drake and Justin Bieber get the biggest share of the attention, smaller acts will see greater interest in their Juno-nominated albums as well.

But more listeners playing their albums on streaming services doesn't necessarily mean a spike in income.

Jazz singer Alex Pangman, who has a Juno nomination for her album "New," says the money rolling in from streaming isn't exactly overwhelming.

"I get cheques for like three cents or five cents," the Toronto-based performer says.

Pangman's payments come through a company that aggregates her music sales revenues across several platforms.

"It's tricky, especially for me because I'm playing standards from the 1930s, so I have all those songwriters to pay (royalties)," she adds.

Pangman has also seen a dramatic downturn in physical album sales. She estimates she sold about 500 CDs at her merchandise table at the 2011 Montreal International Jazz Festival, while last summer she sold about 120 discs at the same event.

"People say, 'No, no. I'll get it online,'" Pangman says.

"I'm going to have to get some nice T-shirts cause I don't know if people are buying music anymore. It is a concern."

Juno-nominated reggae artist Exco Levi is taking a pragmatic approach to streaming music. The Toronto-based musician says he considers using streaming platforms to be akin to releasing a free mixtape.

"Once people can get something free they're not going to buy it," he says.

The rastafarian says that without streaming music his debut full-length album "Country Man" probably wouldn't have been discovered by some fans.

"When these songs are bootlegged (or streamed) you get more popular and that's how we get shows," he says. "We really survive from the shows ... (so) it works in a negative way and a positive way."

Music Canada, the primary lobby group for the Canadian recording industry, hopes to push for higher streaming pay rates in Canada.

The organization is in the midst of appealing a recent Copyright Board of Canada decision which they say will pay Canadian musicians 90 per cent less when their music is streamed at home compared to the rates in the U.S.

Steven Page, former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies, says he'd like to see the federal government lay down clearer and more favourable laws for musicians.

Even after having megahits like "One Week" and other popular Canadian tunes in their songbook, Page says his former band's evergreen income is "much smaller than it once was" as album sales decline.

"If it was up to me there would be ... a levy or tax as part of your Internet bill," he says. "You'd pay a media fee."

For some younger musicians, they're still trying to wrap their heads around how they're paid in the digital world.

"When you're signed to a label it just kind of gets filtered through there," said Jacob Palahnuk of Young Empires, a Toronto rock band.

"That's just a whole trickle game. We have no idea how that water falls down, but I assume there's some money there."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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