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The Canadian Government Wants to Rob Touring Bands of their Cash

Brand new legislation that's been introduced by the Canadian government will now force exorbitant fees onto touring bands who want to play in Canada. This is a serious bummer for the future of independent music in Canada.

by Jonathan Cummins
Aug 30 2013, 4:42pm

Dear most touring bands, you'll never get one of these $1,000 pinkies. Sincerely, the government.

On Wednesday, my Facebook news feed was still shaking from the aftershocks from the wildly inconsequential Robin Thicke/Miley Cyrus VMA fiasco, when a story from the Calgary Herald suddenly elbowed its way in between the massive social media reportage on squeaky clean twerking.

The Herald’s article announced brand new legislation that was shoved under the door almost a month ago and was quietly made official on August 7th.  This new legislation states that non-Canadian bands that hope to play anywhere from Vancouver to St. John, or somewhere else along our frozen tundra, will now be faced to pay a fee of $275 per band member (or crew member), on top of an obligatory $150 per member for work visa.

If you’re scoffing at this seemingly nominal sum this would be for EACH Canadian show that is held in a bar or coffee house.  The kicker is that this money is non-refundable, so if your application for proper work visas is not accepted you must shell out the funny money once you re-apply. The old fee, before the legislation was passed, equaled a one-time payment of $150 per non-Canadian member with a cap held at $450. Using this old model, venue bookers from all across Canada would share the $450 ding for bands that would play multiple Canadian cities—not a fee paid per show.

So, let’s say a four-member band from Williamsburg, traveling with a roadie or a sound tech, will cost the booker or club $2125. This is just the first expense—long before the expenses of paying a local support band, promoter, postering, print and online advertising, bar staff etc.

If you run a small or even mid sized venue—or are an independent promoter—this automatic $2125 deficit will absolutely cripple you. The ultimate face slap here is that the majority of these clubs and independent promoters have been faithfully supporting independent music for years and years. This newly passed legislation defies logic, as most underground independent bands touring from the states are usually just trying to get a little gas money to make it to the next show, let alone drawing enough people to cover $2125 in work visas. That is almost 400% more expensive for local promoters and venue bookers to put on shows with touring bands from other countries. Sound fucked? You betcha!

If you’re just a regular concertgoer who’s not in the business of booking shows, you should realize this legislation can only mean an increase in ticket prices. This just can’t work, and what will inevitably happen is there will be fewer live shows to go out and see. This will also hurt the discovery process that makes small shows so great, where people who might be totally unfamiliar with a band will take a risk to see them play—because it’s cheap.

“Well, what about the local bands? Can’t they fill this void of non Canadian touring bands?” No way Poindexter! I happen to live in Montreal, and can honestly say our local music scene can easily go toe to toe with any other major city. But how many times can I see, say Menace Ruine or Ensorcelor? Both local bands are truly near and dear to my heart, but I only really need to see them about twice a year before they’ll lose their luster. If clubs and promoters are forced to scramble and over-book acts from their own area code, we’ll get an over-saturation of just local bands that will quickly kill the thrill of seeing live music, leaving us to live in provincially zoned cultural vacuums.

If you’ve been lucky enough to tour across Canada you’ll notice that local bands are exposed to all kinds of different live underground music (usually American) will have a far richer musical vocabulary, deeper sense of self identity, and leave a more indelible signature. That’s what makes Montreal’s local live music scene so fuggin’ great and I tip my cap to Montreal promoters like Blue Skies Turn Black, Greenland and the fine furry peeps at Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rosa and a host of others for all they have done for the local music scene.

These promoters that have helped shaped the scene will be screwed over by these fees. Will American bands and bands from other countries skip Canada on tours? You bet your hairy ass they will! Most of the promoters who are still in the game do it because they love it and are passionate about music; the business part for them came years later. Most promoters in Canada that booked my old band in the nineties are still around, but now will be forced out of work if this legislation is not recognized as myopic and quickly slashed. In fact, most promoters have booked shows with non-Canadian bands months in advance of this legislation, and are now trying to figure out how they will pay the exorbitant fees to get a band that is great—but can only draw a handful of people to get over the massive fees.

We may have come to accept the fact we’re losing our brick and mortar record stores, but if these promoters are forced into extinction as well, we will also be losing the true spirit of independent music. Are you ready for Clear Channel presents Wolves in the Throne Room? Well, buckle up.

While there are some small to medium sized venues out there that have exemption status from the border, and are therefore unaffected by this kind of craziness, the fact that any band or venue will have to be subjected to these exorbitant fees is a huge threat to the health of independent music in Canada. Most of my life’s most memorable, mind-altering moments have happened at live shows; and they were usually during a gig where a band from somewhere beyond the Canadian border was playing. Black Flag, Swans, Nick Cave, Om etc. All of these shows were in bars that will now fall victim to Canada’s new, backwards legislation. These new rules will suffocate new, spine-tingling moments like these from occurring for a future generation—that may miss out on the full spectrum of independent music entirely—as a result of this stupid, stupid money grab.

If you’re also upset about this crazy new legislation, you can sign this petition and cross your fingers for change.

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