International Touring Fee May Kill Canadian Live Music [Editorial]

Concertgoers and venue owners are having a hard time accepting a new Federal touring fee that will make it nearly impossible to book American and international artists in Canada. Local live music scenes across the country will present a much smaller variety of musical options, which will have unforeseeable consequences for the entertainment sector.

The 275$ fee is charged upon the promoter or venue, depending on who is considered the “employer” in the contract. Every Canadian business that hires non-Canadian residents must apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) which is used to determine whether the foreign worker is indispensable. It is unclear how this economic tool used to regulate agricultural and industrial sectors can be applied to live music.

An online petition on protesting the new measure has already gathered over 110 000 signatures in the past few days.

Before these changes, the fees were 150$ per band member and maxing out at 450$. This allowed promoters to absorb costs for lesser-known artists touring in Canada. Not anymore.

“I can foresee this affecting us all”, said Rickey D, a Montréal-based independent concert promoter, in a telephone interview.

“It’s going to increase expenses ten fold. Say you have 10 members in a band, that’s 4000$ right out of your pocket. Independent international artists will be forced to go underground.”

He adds:

“This is a form of discrimination against international artists. The promoter is forced to pay it, and ticket prices will inevitably also be affected. As an independent, it’s harder to offset those costs. This creates a protectionist environment where other countries will also impose tariffs on Canadian artists who also depend on touring. If Nickelback wants to tour Europe, there will be similar rules for Canadian artists abroad. It’s a slippery slope.”

These new rules apply to any venue where music is not the primary function. Festivals or venues like the Metropolis or the Bell Centre will not see such a hike, while smaller bars, restaurants and clubs will have to look for “national” headliners or invent expensive new cocktails.

Alex Bastide, owner of Cabaret Underworld, will not see his business affected, but this doesn’t mean he is not haunted by the spectre of a lame live music scene.

He says:

“I think this new fee is beyond shitty. On the other hand, since (Cabaret Underworld) is a venue and not a bar, we are not affected by this. We are exempt because we only open our door for events. But for the rest of the bars across the country this is horrible news and we should fight against this cuz it will hurt dramatically the music industry in Canada”.

Major concert promoters like Evenko will not be forced to reevaluate their business models, since they can book a whole tour on a single contract. Such major artists like Jay Z or Lady Gaga have a solid organization and larger profit margins from headlining in larger stadiums. For smaller American acts trying to book shows with separate promoters in Montréal and Toronto, the financial burden may simply deter them from visiting their neighbors to the North.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program hike quietly came into effect on July 30th as protectionist measure to ensure Canadians get a chance to do the job first. To add insult to injury, in case of rejection, the fee is not refunded and the whole process must start all over.

The “musician tax”, which is meant to help local artists, will actually hurt the arts and small business at the same time. Openers will no longer enjoy the exposure they got when playing before larger international acts. Venues will have to book local acts which attract smaller audiences and will have to survive on thinner profit margins.

Montréal rapper Full Course has been opening for larger American acts for a few years, building his name in the Canadian Hip-Hop scene. This has allowed him to win over fans who wouldn’t have discovered his music if they hadn’t gone to a Rakim or Ice Cube show.

In a written statement, he said:

“I don’t think it’s the right way to support Canadian artists. On one end they’re somewhat minimizing the competition but in reality most Canadian artists on the come up don’t have that big name draw, a lot of them actually look forward to opening for bigger international artists as way of expanding their fan base.”

He adds:

“I definitely view international Hip Hop performers as complimentary to what we do, fact is we don’t have the resources or exposure to compete with these guys as of yet. We are currently like one of those small market sports teams, yeah we have a fan base but we’re not selling out arenas, the only time our home game sells out is when a Jordan or Lebron come to town.”

Dozee Heaps is a young promoter who will now have to limit his roster to local headliners. In reaction to the new fee, he said:

“Less international artists that are well known coming to the city generates less interest in music, which in turn not only hurts our local venues, bars, promoters & booking agents, but more importantly directly affects our artists and scene in general. […] “

The move seems contradictory for a Conservative government that otherwise prides itself for removing economic and cultural barriers. The NDP reacted to the news in a statement, saying the regulation would “turn away talented performers and threaten the survival of venues, bars and restaurants.”

Next to our repressive marijuana laws, the oil sands, war mongering and support for unethical mining companies abroad, this new “musician tax” is yet another stepping stone in the Conservative Party’s drive to make Canada the world’s lamest country for musicians.

Here’s the link for the petition against the fee hike:

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