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Laura Hassler, Founder and Director, Musicians without Borders – CMW Global Forum Keynote

On Friday, May 6, 2016, Laura Hassler, Founder and Director, Musicians without Borders, delivered a terrific keynote presentation at the Global Forum: International Networking Breakfast at Canadian Music Week, presented by Music Canada. Her topic was “War Divides, Music Connects: Using Rock for Reconciliation,” and she has graciously allowed us to share the text of her speech here.

Laura Hassler

Global Forum: International Networking Breakfast
Canadian Music Week
Keynote: War Divides, Music Connects: Using Rock for Reconciliation
Laura Hassler, Founder and Director, Musicians without Borders
May 6, 2016

This morning’s theme is: Music as a powerful tool for good.

Everyone here today knows that music is powerful. And that music connects.

Whether it’s about a kid singing his heart out for his first love, a composer reaching into her imagination to pull out the notes that will move and inspire, or a producer or manager, promoting a band, organizing a festival or running a theater: we all know that we are in a special space here, like no other. Whatever our professional connections to music, we are all working, one way or another, with the deepest levels of human experience and connection.

I grew up in a community of musicians, artists and social activists and have felt the power of music all my life. I saw how singing together gave courage to people struggling for their rights in the American south and in apartheid South Africa. We used singing to keep morale high when being arrested for civil disobedience during the Vietnam war. I’ve known people in Sarajevo who stayed sane during years of war and siege by playing in an orchestra in a blacked-out theater, or singing in seven different choirs, one rehearsal every night of the week. Where I live, in the Netherlands, I have seen music-making lead to friendships between immigrants and Dutch people, creating new ways for people to define and experience community.

So it was only a small leap of faith to imagine that music could comfort and connect where war had broken and destroyed. And it did not surprise me that so many musicians joined, immediately understanding that what they, themselves, did with passion and dedication in the music school, the classroom or on a stage had tremendous potential in a refugee camp, a divided city or a torture recovery program.

Today, Musicians without Borders is one of the world’s pioneers in applying the power of music to reconciliation and healing the wounds of war. In the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Africa, and Western Europe, our projects empower, bring hope and re-connect people where war has damaged and divided their communities. We work with local musicians and local organizations to create grass-roots projects with children, youth and adults. We work at local ownership for sustainability. We bring music back to places where life is fragile and threatened, and where, often, music itself has been silenced.

Much of what we do is to train local musicians and talented youth to bring music to their own communities. There are many stories to tell, but this morning, I would like to share just one of these with you: a story about Europe’s most divided city, and about how rock music is bridging those divides. This is Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia and the scene of the last of the bloody Balkan wars.

Mitrovica was the final front of the Kosovo war in 1999. Since then, the city’s population has been divided by the river that runs through it, with Serbs on the north side and Albanians on the south. Before the war, neighborhoods were mixed, but the ethnic divisions that broke Yugoslavia apart also divided Kosovo, and nowhere more than in Mitrovica. After the war, international forces rebuilt the bridges connecting Serbian to Albanian neighborhoods, but today, the bridges are barricaded and few dare to climb over the rubble to cross to the other side.

Mitrovica was once a single-economy mining town. Since the war, it’s bankrupt, with a booming black market, a dysfunctional infrastructure and widespread corruption. Mitrovica is a crossroads for drugs, human trafficking and illegal trade of all sorts. Unemployment is estimated at between 60- 70%, education and health care are poor, alcohol and drug abuse are major, but unaddressed, problems. For Mitrovica’s youth, there are virtually no opportunities for talent development or for healthy use of free time: no cultural outlets, cinemas, activities or clubs. Unresolved war losses, regular flare-ups of violence and a lack of post-war economic improvement mean that suspicion and mistrust of the ‘other side’ not only remains with older generations, but gets passed on to younger ones, who have never known or even met their peers on the other side of the river.

But Mitrovica also has another history. Before the war, it was a rock music town: many of the great ex-Yugo rock musicians emerged from Mitrovica’s lively, interethnic music scene, with its garage bands, clubs and festivals.

During the Balkan wars, music, like everything else, was politicized. A new music genre, called ‘turbo-folk’, combined a fake folk culture with aggressive beats with hate-filled lyrics, spawning a nationalist, materialist, sexist music style that filled the trenches and dominated the airwaves. ‘Turbo-folk’ is credited with creating much of the hatred and aggression that fueled those wars.

Rock music, the free voice of youth, disappeared. Rock musicians were no longer hired for gigs or festivals, there were no more recording contracts or tours. Rock venues closed and became turbo-folk clubs. Jam sessions and other live music events were no longer organized. Instruments were sold or traded off for survival. When I first visited Mitrovica, a year after the war, there was only one club where rock music was  occasionally played — and nationalist bouncers came in regularly with lead pipes to beat up anyone with the audacity to come listen.

On that same visit, we met some of the city’s rock musicians. There were kids on both sides, they told us, who wanted to play rock music. They, the remaining local musicians, remembered Mitrovica’s music past and wanted to teach the new generation, but lacked everything they needed to do so: spaces, instruments, equipment.

Here, in Europe’s most divided city, was the legacy of a center of free rock music, and local musicians yearning to pass on their skills to the youth on both sides. We heard their desire to use music as a tool for good.

It took us a while to figure out how to support them. We met with local organizations and musicians, got a feeling for the realities of the city, forged partnerships. We brought in a Dutch music conservatory specialized in rock music, to help the local teachers create the curriculum they would need. At first, we tried for a single facility, near the main bridge, in ‘neutral territory’. But when violence broke out, UN forces commandeered the building for their troops. And no one wanted their kids crossing that bridge, anyway. Tensions were too high, and people were too scared.

Finally, we decided to try another way: in the summer of 2008, we announced a one-week-long ‘Rock School in Exile’ in neighboring Macedonia. The rock musicians from north and south Mitrovica would teach alongside Dutch rock music teachers. They recruited about 25 aspiring teenaged musicians from the two sides of the city and we brought them by bus to Skopje.

Without ever once referring to their ethnicities, we created six mixed rock bands, who got over their fear as their images of ‘enemies’ were replaced by the reality of fellow guitar players, drummers and singers.

They worked day and night to prepare songs together, and a week later stood together on an open stage, performing in their new bands– finally, for a night, the rock stars they had dreamed of becoming. When they returned to Mitrovica, the kids demanded their own rock school– and we scrambled to raise a little money, rent some modest space, and enroll teachers and students. In October, we opened two very small facilities– called them the north and south branches– and the Mitrovica Rock School was born.

Since then, more than 800 young people have come through the school. Some have gone on to become successful musicians in some of Kosovo’s best bands. Some have trained within the school and become its new teachers. One has become a skilled recording engineer, and now runs the Rock School’s studio. The Rock School offers its students a fluid system, where they can move up to become teachers, organizers, technicians, or managers.

Until last year, we could only mix the Serb and Albanian kids by bringing them out of Kosovo– usually to neighboring Skopje, in what became the annual Summer School. Then we added a winter school, and extra projects to rehearse or record with promising new mixed bands.

We started an ‘A-team’ band, inviting the best young musicians from both sides to work together long-term, giving them extra coaching in song writing, arranging, recording and performing. We turned that into an ‘Ambassador band program’ for all senior students, and then expanded to give kids of all musical levels the chance to play with kids from the other side. As more and more rock school students made musical connections across town, it became normal to play together, even sought-after, because playing in mixed bands was coupled with intensive, high quality music-making.

Meanwhile, we had moved into larger quarters, with lesson rooms, stages and rock cafés and started youth center activities, run by students who brought bands from outside town to play and give master classes. We found ways to bring our own ethnically mixed bands out to perform in the region or to tour in Italy, Holland or Germany.

The situation in Mitrovica has not improved very much. There are still riots and attacks, the bridges are still barricaded, the city is still bankrupt and the old conflict still dominates almost every aspect of people’s lives. But, where kids used to be afraid of meeting anyone from the other side, some of them are now sneaking across the bridge to stay overnight at their new friends’ houses.  Some have openly declared their friendships on social media. Since this past November, all of our mixed bands have started rehearsing together, in secure locations in Mitrovica, itself. They all write and arrange their own songs, and most of the kids not only still want to be rock stars, but know they have a chance at becoming professional musicians, and are willing to work like crazy for that chance.

In a city whose identity is still based its ethnic divide, the Mitrovica Rock School has become an accepted, even admired part of the landscape. Everyone knows that we work inter-ethnically, so we break the city’s main taboo. But everyone also knows that the finest young people in the city are part of the school, that they thrive and grow there, and that the Rock School is bringing back Mitrovica’s older, prouder heritage as a center of music. So we walk a fine line, protecting our students from risk, but constantly testing the waters to push the process further, taking every cue from them that they are willing to take the next step.

I have chosen to tell you the story of the Mitrovica Rock School for a reason. In a world full of wars, the war in Kosovo seems like a long time ago. As international attention moves to hotter spots around the world, it becomes increasingly difficult to fund a project like this, no matter how desperately it is still needed by the young people it serves. Our traditional sources of support are drying up, so we are looking to successful musicians and the music industry around the world to help the school keep its doors open, and keep the music playing.

Please contact me, if you think you can help make this happen.

Just a closing remark: this evening I will fly to New York, where I will meet up with our first mixed band, the Artchitects. They flew in a few days ago, at the invitation of the New York music agency, Pop2Life. During that first ‘rock school in exile’, they were among the young teenagers dreaming their first dreams of being rock stars. All are now teachers, band coaches, and performers, inspiring the next generation. This week, they are ambassadors, representing their Mitrovica Rock School: a force for good, through music.


Laura Hassler: [email protected]
Musicians without Borders:
Mitrovica Rock School:
Facebook Mitrovica Rock School:

Re:Sound to take Tariff 8 ruling to Federal Court of Appeal

Paying artists a fraction of what their music is worth is not okay.

On Wednesday, February 24 our colleagues from Re:Sound will take the Copyright Board’s Tariff 8 ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal as they continue to fight against low streaming royalty rates. The court is judicially reviewing the Copyright Board’s decision from May 2014 that gave artists the incredibly low rate of 0.000102 per play on some digital streaming services.

Tariff 8 is disastrous for two important reasons:

  • The Copyright Board threw out commercially negotiated rates – where the marketplace of ‘willing seller and willing buyer’ decided what was
  • The Copyright Board set a rate approximately 10% of what was freely negotiated in the marketplace and a rate that is less than 10% of comparable US rates.

What does this mean in practical terms?

t8-07 t8-05

Said another way, it means that real people can’t make a living.  The musicians and artists who work every day to make music in Canada are going to be even more impoverished and not paid fairly for the use of their work. According to a study by CIMA, the average income of a Canadian musician is only $7,228 per year from music-related activities.

The reality in the market is that sales of CDs and even downloads are declining, while music streaming is on the rise. That’s why it is so important that artists are fairly compensated for their work in the context of web-based services.

Streaming services demonstrate innovation in the music industry. The music industry is going into new spaces and doing things differently in light of a rapidly changing marketplace. But innovation only goes so far. The Board is at the heart of the problem for music creators.  It continues to set rates based on antiquated ideas that have no place in the current music landscape.

It took them six years to set Tariff 8 and they continue to move at a glacial pace on issues of critical importance to Canada’s economy.  Urgent action is needed to change the Copyright Board.

Tariff 8 sets the standard for streaming rates going forward.  So, while some may argue that services such as CBC Music, Stingray, and Slacker aren’t an artist’s only source of income or that this is only for some streaming services, the rates are appallingly low.

Artists deserve to be fairly compensated for their music. The Tariff 8 decision sends a message that music is not properly valued as a profession here, and this message is completely inconsistent with Canadian values.

The people whom we elect to solve these problems know all about the issues at the Copyright Board.  In 2014, right after the Tariff 8 decision was released, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage released a report on the Canadian Music Industry.  In fact, their #1 recommendation in their study was figure out how to make changes to it.

Minister Dion, at the time was so frustrated with the issues at the Copyright Board that he said that there is an urgent need for action and that, “the government and the Board would be perfectly able to fix things in the coming months if they only started now.”

We agree, Minister Dion.  We are supporting Re:Sound this week as they fight the Copyright Board’s Tariff 8 decision which has disastrous implications for the future of music in Canada.

We remain committed to this important issue, and to working with government on fixing the problems at the Copyright Board so this doesn’t happen again.


Music Cities article featured in Huffington Post

Music Cities bannerWhat is music’s place in our heritage? How important is its preservation? In Making Music History Work For The Present, Music Canada’s first article published on Huffington Post Canada, Amy Terrill (VP Public Affairs) discusses music’s importance in honouring a city’s cultural heritage as well as ensuring a healthy and vibrant future, citing specific examples from Music Cities around the world like London, Nashville, New Orleans, and Toronto.

For further information on the topic of Music Cities, you can download Music Canada and IFPI’s 2015 report The Mastering Of A Music City.


Music Canada’s submission to the Ontario Cultural Strategy Consultation

As part of the Ontario government’s first Cultural Strategy consultation, Music Canada was pleased to submit the following letter, as well as two of our recent reports, Live Music Measures Up: An Economic Impact Analysis of Live Music in Ontario, and The Mastering of a Music City.

The submission highlights the benefits of a vibrant music economy to Ontario communities, including job creation, talent retention, economic growth and diversification, tourism development, brand building and artistic growth, as well as music’s role in connecting communities and building a bridge across cultures, languages, and income levels.

Drawing from the results of our research, the submission identifies opportunities to strengthen the cultural sector, including:

  1. Provincial and municipal coordination
  2. Music tourism promotion
  3. Preservation of cultural heritage
  4. Investment in music education

We look forward to seeing the Ontario Cultural Strategy build on the creation of the Ontario Music Fund and the Ontario Music Tourism Strategy which were both launched in 2013.

View the submission


Video: BC’s Music Industry Gathers to Identify Opportunities for Support

Last week, we recapped a recent event in Victoria, BC, in which a collection of British Columbia artists, including Bryan Adams, Jesse Roper, and members of Current Swell, Cowboy Junkies, Chilliwack, and Spirit of the West, as well as members of the province’s music industry, came together to express the need for provincial support for music in the form of regulatory reform and reduced red tape, as well as financial support.

Video of the event is now available, including speeches from Graham Henderson, President and CEO of Music Canada; the Honourable Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development; Bryan Adams on the importance of music in British Columbia; and a performance by Jesse Roper.





BC’s Music Industry Gathers to Identify Opportunities for Support

A who’s who of BC’s music industry and artists including Bryan Adams, Jesse Roper, members of Current Swell, Cowboy Junkies, Chilliwack, and Spirit of the West came together Monday evening at the Royal BC Museum for an event hosted by Music Canada for provincial politicians and decision makers. Together, they expressed the need for provincial support for music in the form of regulatory reform and reduced red tape, as well as financial support.

Many members of the government attended, including the Honourable Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, who expressed his support for BC’s music community in his remarks from the stage.



In his remarks, Music Canada President Graham Henderson announced that Music Canada has, with the help of many partners in BC undertaken analysis of the province’s music sector to identify strengths and weaknesses. Our full report is forthcoming but our recommendations would help the province to:

  • Create and retain jobs
  • Grow and diversify the economy
  • Attract foreign direct investment
  • Build more vibrant music scenes
  • Boost tourism development
  • Attract talent to other sectors like the digital arts
  • And contribute to cultural and artistic growth

Attendees were not only treated to a wonderful acoustic performance by Jesse Roper, currently a finalist for the Peak Performance Project, but to a passionate speech from Bryan Adams on the importance of music in the province.



The music industry in BC has a long and deep history, a pipeline for upcoming talent, many talented professionals and good infrastructure for live performance and recording, but has been plagued recently by such things as the widening gap in funding between BC and other provinces, rising property costs in BC’s large urban centres, and regulatory barriers.

In his remarks, Bryan Adams recalled his time as a musician starting out in BC. “British Columbia, as a young musician was a great place to start out, because they had a lot of venues to play, and it was receptive to live music. There was a lot of opportunities for musicians and a good musical scene when I started out, and it’s because of that – the local scene, and the fact that it was thriving on its own – that I was able to create the music that I’ve created over the years…But the thing that we’ve created here over the years is leaving us, and we need to protect it.”

We are very excited by the success not only of this event, but of our report and its recommendations to come, asking for BC’s provincial government to support music education, live and recorded music businesses, and tourism in its Spring 2016 budget.

Stay tuned for further details about the report in the coming months.



Several attendees shared highlights from the event on social media:


Additional photos from the event are embedded in the gallery below:



Music Canada on the 2015 Federal Election

As the federal parties have now released their platforms, we are reminded of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage study of the Music Industry. The Standing Committee held 14 meetings in the music study, hearing from 82 witnesses and received 15 briefs. This process allowed the Committee to hear from stakeholders in areas that they may normally have less opportunity to interact with, such as music education and music tourism. The report resulted in 10 good recommendations and had the support of all three main parties.

Those recommendations included efforts to strengthen support for the music industry through future investment in funding mechanisms, and notably – digital distribution and streaming, with a specific focus on copyright legislation.

As we move closer to the upcoming election, we are struck by the fact that none of these recommendations made their way into the economic or cultural party platforms. Given the broad support for these recommendations, we would like to take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of continuing to strengthen Canada’s music industry through legislative reform. As columnist Kate Taylor said earlier this year,

Musicians have faced the devaluation of their labour since at least 2000 – remember Napster? – and many now speak sadly of a society that takes a free soundtrack for granted. People refuse to understand not merely why they should pay any significant amount for streaming of downloading, but also why somebody should be paying the pianist who’s playing live in a bar or the composer whose melody can be heard over the sound system. If there is, perhaps, some growing outrage over this state of affairs, it is because musicians increasing have a lot of company.”

This “cult of free” as Kate describes it, continues to harm Canada’s digital economy and its creators. The latest iteration of this is Aurous, a new service that uses an interface similar to other paid streaming models such as Spotify or Rdio, but allows users to stream music using BitTorrent technology without paying artists. Piracy is still a problem, and not just for musicians. For publishers, and creators of all kinds who need a functioning online marketplace in which to conduct their business and make a living.

Our colleagues at the CMPA have put together an in-depth examination of three federal parties’ music platforms. It is interesting how much each party is talking about the need for further copyright reform.

It appears as though all parties agree that the decision-making process of the Copyright Board lacks deadlines and any procedural certainty. The industry may have disagreement about the details of the Board itself, but one thing we all agree on is: it’s cumbersome, and needs to be changed. The Conservatives, with their majority on the Heritage Committee, along with the three parties interviewed for this survey, all have a workable plan to change this, and we are looking forward to working with the next government on these critical issues.

The NDP told CMPA, “as things are moving in the digital world, we believe rights holders and the public are both losing in this situation.” Support for increased copyright protections are evident in this survey and across the industry – we look forward to bringing these, and other concerns to government in the 2017 Copyright Review. The digital revolution isn’t going to go away. In fact, it’s going to continue changing, and at even faster speeds than it is now. It’s time the government make changes to help protect and foster Canada’s creative businesses.


8 Days of Tariff 8: Canadians deserve a Copyright Board that make decisions fairly and in a timely fashion

As we wrap up our 8 Days of Tariff 8 campaign, we call for reform of the Copyright Board. We are asking the Government to make regulatory changes that determine which factors are taken into consideration on Board decisions, including market rates, international comparisons, or commercially negotiated agreements.


Our Recommendations:

  1. We call on the Government to make regulatory changes to the Copyright Board on which factors are taken into consideration on Board decisions, including market rates, international comparisons, or commercially negotiated agreements.
  2. Continue larger discussions on how the Board’s procedures can be made more productive, how the Board can be transformed to serve Canadian businesses, and how creators can realize the value of their works through fair tariffs
  3. Create a clearer understanding of criteria beyond ensuring that Copyright Board decisions are indeed “fair” and push for rates that are an international standard.


Thank you for your support over the last 8 days. The fight’s not over. We urge you to use the tool below to send an email to newly-appointed Copyright Board chair Justice Robert A. Blair, urging him to facilitate the prosperity of Canadian cultural businesses rather than impede it by recognizing the value of the Canadian music industry for all Canadians.


8 Days of Tariff 8: Tariff 8 is a Lose/Lose/Lose

We believe the Tariff 8 decision set a dangerous precedent in Canada for streaming rates on music streaming services.


There are three ways in which this decision negatively impacts the Canadian music industry:

  • Tariff 8 is bad for Canadian artists, who receive 10% of the streaming royalties from semi-interactive services as their American counterparts. This means that Canadian artists are paid 90% less than what other artists on similar services outside of the country are paid.
  • Tariff 8 is bad for international artists, who receive less royalties when their work is played on Canadian semi-interactive streaming services. This could lead to international artists refusing to have their music used on these services, potentially limiting content to Canadians.
  • Tariff 8 is bad for the economy because it shows just how unpredictable the Copyright Board is. It created a regulatory precedent that ignores the reality of the marketplace and will continue to harm the business climate and create a market of uncertainty. This may dissuade new services from entering the Canadian market, which means less choice for consumers.

Stand with us and join the conversation at #IStandForMusic.


8 Days of Tariff 8: The Copyright Board doesn’t value musicians

Can you imagine being in a profession where your U.S. counterpart made 90% more than what you make for the same job? With Tariff 8, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that professional musicians should be paid 90% less for certain types of music streaming.


Some people may argue that Tariff 8 isn’t an artist’s only source of income. But the reality is that for these types of services (CBC Music, Stingray, Songza, etc.), Tariff 8 royalties are the only guaranteed source of income for a performer.  Artists deserve to be fairly compensated for their music. The Tariff 8 decision sends a message that music is not valued as a profession here, and this message is completely inconsistent with Canadian values.

In last year’s The Rambler by Graham Henderson: Tariff 8 decision establishes “10% of Nothing Rates”, Music Canada President poses the rhetorical question:  “Do Canadian plumbers get paid wages equivalent to 10% of American plumbers? Teachers? Auto workers? Farmers? Who? What profession receives compensation in Canada for their labour that is equal to 10% of the wages paid across the border?”

If you think Canadian artists should be fairly compensated, share this image with the #IStandForMusic tag.


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