On May 24, Miranda Mulholland became the first musician to deliver a keynote address to the Economic Club of Canada. Her speech, titled ‘Redefining Success in a Digital Marketplace,’ drew on her years of experience as a musician, label owner and entrepreneur to shed light on the reality artists face in the digital age. In her speech, she also identified actions that government, the music industry and music fans can take to help bring balance to the world in which creators live.
The room had a large contingent of artists, including Scott Helman, Alx Veliz, Royal Wood, Tona Tencreddi, Bandana Singh, Ammoye, Amanda Martinez, Zeno Calini, Kanwar Anit Singh Saini, QuiQue Escamilla, Eliana Cuevas, Sarah Thawer, Justin Rutledge, Brenley MacEachern, Lisa MacIsaac, Bradley Thachuk, Monica Pearce, Damhnait Doyle, Suzie Ungerleider, Emma Barnett, Andrew Penner, Jennifer Bryan, Sally Shaar and Jordan Circosta.
There were also representatives from the municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as music industry groups MusiCounts, Re:Sound, The Canadian Federation of Musicians, CIMA, Music Ontario, The Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), SOCAN, The Canadian Country Music Association, The Corporation of Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall, and record labels Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music.
Miranda was introduced by Toronto City Councillor Josh Colle, who chairs the Toronto Music Advisory Council on which Miranda also serves. Colle commented that musicians are often entrepreneurs, and in many cases, small businesses and that nobody is an embodiment of that more than Miranda Mulholland. He commented that artists should be supported by the City in the same way as other small businesses.
“As entrepreneurs and small businesses, I think it’s incumbent on all of us to want to see that they’re successful,” said Colle. “The same way we might put money or resources or time into helping other sectors and other small businesses, we should think of that the same way as our musicians and artists, who live in a city that’s increasingly expensive and difficult to find a place to live.”
The overarching theme of Miranda’s speech was accountability, and she pointed to a number of ways that digital music services eschew accountability to the music creators who make all of the content off which they profit.
“Picture each shiny new streaming platform as a shop window,” said Miranda. “Our content – at fire sale prices – fills their shop window, giving them credibility while creators of this content are asked to do the advertising. They give us – the creators – lists of ‘Best Practices’ to get more of our hard won fans to use their services. If we are not getting on playlists then it is our fault for not engaging with our fans enough.”
She was particularly critical of YouTube’s claims that it is merely a passive service, and as such, should be free from liability for the content that appears on the site.
“YouTube says – ‘it isn’t our fault – we are just the shop window. We didn’t put the items in the window, so we are not accountable for them. We are a passive intermediary. We are not liable for this massive copyright infringement.’ But – once again – wait. A top brass at Google just bragged that ‘80% of all watch time is recommended by YouTube.’ He explained that ‘Everybody thinks that all the music that’s being listened to and watched is by search.’ But it isn’t, and in his words, ‘that’s a really important and powerful thing.’ This means that YouTube actively directs consumers. This doesn’t seem all that passive to me. Zero accountability.”
Miranda went on describe the ways in which we can correct the situation faced by artists, saying “We all have a role to play as artists, as consumers, as industry and as government.”
For artists, Miranda encouraged them to be honest about their lifestyle, protect their intellectual property, support robust copyright laws and to pay back into the music ecosystem by championing young talent.
She encouraged music fans to be tastemakers, to create playlists of their favourite music, and to write reviews and rate albums and songs, actions which help shift algorithms in favour of artists. She also encouraged fans to buy albums on their release days, another action which can help to drive albums to front pages of music services. Buying band merchandise was mentioned as a great way to support artists. She also encouraged music fans to subscribe to a streaming service, as the subscription model delivers a much better return to artists than ad-supported streaming.
As for government, Miranda pointed to the elimination of “safe harbour” laws, which provide tech companies with immunity from copyright infringement liability. In Canada, she pointed to eliminating industry cross-subsidies that shift wealth away from music creators, and used the radio royalty exemption as an example, an exemption in place since 1997 that excuses radio stations from paying more than $100 in royalties to artists and record labels on their first $1.25 million in advertising revenue.
Miranda’s heartfelt speech had a visible impact on guests, who gave her an extended standing ovation.
Miranda’s speech was followed by a Q&A discussion with Kate Taylor, author, film critic and arts columnist at The Globe and Mail.
You can view the full event video via the live stream archive on our Facebook page.
Below is a selection of tweets from the event: