Screwing the Little Guys

New Worker Regulations Hurt Independent Music

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams.

The uphill battle for independent musicians in Canada just got even steeper.

Due to changes in regulations for temporary foreign workers by the Government of Canada, small-time artists have become way more expensive to book.

A $150 per-person fee to cross the border has been hiked to a range of $275 to $425, and now must be paid by each employer they work with. This change can amount to thousands of dollars for just a few Canadian tour dates. The old rules had it capped at $450.

Established bands playing across Canada or those booked for festival dates aren’t affected. But as the Calgary Herald reports, it’s those small bands playing a handful of shows and the venues who book them that suffer.

Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism John Kenney announced the changes—which came into effect on July 31 and apply to all sectors except agriculture—earlier this month. It’s pretty clear little thought was given to independent touring artists, who by necessity don’t spend more than a night in one city.

Small bands play the dive bars, the coffee shops, the places with low cover where they hope to get a cut of the bar sales. This level of music is a labour of love, fueled by concert-goers that would rather be inches from a band every week instead of going to the odd arena show.

It’s not like the people getting dinged are the ones who can afford it.

This makes the prospect of a guarantee, the promise of fixed minimum pay from a promoter, a much harder sell due to a huge increase in cost for the person hiring the musician. It means the venue owners that give bands their first out-of-country tour are betting easily over $1,000 on just booking them—or that they need to scale back their variety of live shows.

Competition doesn’t exist the same way in other industries like it does in the music scene. Booking a mid-level U.S. band in Canada isn’t taking jobs away from struggling Canadians, it’s a necessary part of scene-building. Bands build tour networks by trading shows with acts from other cities.

It’s how independent musicians can grow outside of their hometown, hoping one day to break through to the level that Canada exempts from all these fees. Not to mention it’s that kind of cross-pollination that helps artists innovate their craft.

We live in a country that’s hard enough to play already. If you’ve ever been in a band, or just seen Hard Core Logo, you know the vast emptiness of Canada is a daunting prospect for touring, even outside of our six months of winter.

Independent music is small business, and these changes stifle a job where breaking even is a victory.

If you take issue with these regulations, sign this petition on and share the news of this ill-advised protectionism. These regulations were made without considering how much it punishes emerging artists, and we shouldn’t stand for it.