A Grant-Writer Responds

Zack Leighton wrote me yesterday to address some of the items I brought up in the FACTOR post. Worth a read for sure.

“For the sake of all those questions, I pointed out a few things that I didn’t entirely agree with. Not at all as a jab but more to ease some minds and perhaps give a new angle. To be honest, I am actually one of the grant writers behind some of those top success stories until I left my last employer.”

Zack posted the following on his Facebook wall:

Anyone interested in what’s happening on the FACTOR frontier should read this but there are a few things to consider:

1. FACTOR has drastically changed their entire system including new portals, new program guidelines, changes to eligibility and a complete cut to some of their largest programs including DBA (The Direct Board Approval Sound Recording Program) status. A program that arguably was swayed in the favour of major artists and labels.

2. You do not need to match the most of FACTOR’s grants in order to have a successful budget. Typically these grants supplement 75% of total budget up to a certain amount.

3. This article largely discounts that many of the labels and artists it is pointing fingers at continuously apply after disapproval. It also does not present non-approval ratings in a clear variance.

4. This article only refers to FACTOR and does in some ways allude to the idea that it is Canada’s only and main granting organization. We have arts councils, MIAs, Starmaker, OMDC, travel and tourism boards, SOCAN – the list goes on. FACTORs mandate IS to support independent musicians as much as it is to support major artist and companies. Largely their focus is to stimulate commercially viable artistic growth for economic value.

5. FACTOR puts heavy emphasis on sales, distribution, soundscan numbers etc because they are indeed funding mainly commercially viable artists and active for profit companies. That being said, FACTOR recognized distribution is not at all unattainable for independent artists. Indie Pool offers it and many artists have been successful using IPs service for FACTOR

6. The main FACTOR board may be made of executives that in the past have been incredibly successful with FACTOR but the jury process remains open to the public. Conflict of interest is taken seriously and without DBA it makes matters even more clean cut. Using the geographical distance basis as a signal of corruption is a moot point given that a large portion of Canada’s industry is based in Toronto. CCA is based in Ottawa and hands out a ton of money to Toronto artists.

7. Like all of the granting agencies, FACTOR is a difficult process and while the new rating system is also convoluted, it’s still necessary. Under the flashy exterior, these are in essence government documents leading to a potential investment in art, culture and the economy. It takes time and serious consideration on behalf of the applicant. All requirements are stated and if there is any confusion, I’ve personally never had an issue that can’t be resolved or at least addressed.

Some of the solutions in this article are notable. I think there is room for serious revision within FACTOR. This article is fairly well laid out and written and I believe the writer has done his research but there are still many holes. Musicians and business owners alike can definitely learn from this – worth a read.


I’ve been pouring over the new FACTOR program requirements to follow up the number one critique of my FACTOR post, namely “FACTOR just changed, so all of this is a waste of time. Things will be 100% better now.” Which I think will be highly unlikely.

Thanks for the thoughtful response Zack!

Factor Responses

The Factor article is still generating crazy hits, but the other side is absolutely quiet. I guess the best defense is to shut up and hope that the criticism goes away. I know for a fact that the people who I directly implicated have seen it, but the closest to an acknowledgement is the drummer from Broken Social Scene calling me a “brave motherfucker.”

Which is kind of sad in a way. It shouldn’t take “bravery” to point out the truth. Shows how far we’ve gone down this rabbit hole: afraid to speak up out of fear of bursting the bubble.

Aaron Levin, the mastermind behind Weird Canada, a guy who I value as a dear friend (and who has been the most vocal critic of this blog, a testament to the strength of our friendship) pointed out on twitter the other day that the single best fix for FACTOR is to stop funding bands and businesses, and start funding services:

“Fund the eco-system that produces art: fund venues, fund open/public studios, fund jam spaces, fund recording education, fund transportation. Avoid the sticky issues surrounding “subjectivity” by empowering *everyone* to produce art.”

I think that this is exactly correct. Weird Canada just got a large FACTOR grant to start one such service – the WYRD DISTRO, which is a service that will allow smaller/niche bands and microlabels to distribute their physical goods with minimal interference from middlemen.

How it works: you send the distro a few of your tapes, CDRs, 7”s (or whatever), Weird Canada puts them on an online database, and when music lovers or record stores buy them, the money is automatically put the money aside for you. Weird Canada’s consignment fee is $1, and because they are a registered Non-profit, the money will go to new, artist-friendly programs. Win-win.

Not to reiterate the point for the millionth time – but it was never my intention to say that FACTOR is evil, but to point out how it has been co-opted by savvy businessmen at the expense of Canadian music in general. We get the systems we deserve, and I believe that we deserve better.

Thou shalt not tiptoe quietly towards death.

Grayson Matthews ft. Andrew Austin

If you’ve been on Youtube in the last week, you’ve seen the Alexander Keith’s commercial featuring “Toast This Life” (say “Toast This Life” out loud and try not to throw up on yourself)

Every time I hear it, I want to punch my own ticket.

Grayson Matthews is not a musician, they are an ad agency based in Toronto, “a collective of artists who create award-winning original music & sound design.” Which means that “Toast This Life”  was engineered to sound like a Mumford & Sons song to be used in a beer commercial. Because it is probably pretty expensive to license a Mumford song right now, and it isn’t as if that band is reinventing the wheel anyway.

“Toast This Life” is kind of above critique. A lot of musicians pretend to tap their souls to make music that just-so-happens to be highly commercial. Grayson Matthews are an AD AGENCY. A good one at that – “Toast This Life” has been charting in the top 10 on iTunes over the last week, which means that people heard this song and were excited that they could buy it and listen to it whenever they wanted to.

Except commercialized sincerity is the worst. There is nothing about this enterprise that doesn’t make me cringe, and you already know how I feel about the “oohhohhoohhh oohhh oooh oh” chorus, a shortcut to commercialized sincerity circa 2004.

Fallout

Wide variety of responses to the FACTOR post. I think because I have the audacity to say that a lot of Canadian music is terrible that people got confused and thought that my biggest beef with FACTOR was that I didn’t like any of the bands who got the most amount of funding.

That is only partly true.

I mean, is it really a surprise that I do not like THE TREWS? I I can’t think of a less deserving band. I could care less about METRIC or STARS, seriously. Not for me. What about Midway State, who have been given almost $400,000? I couldn’t find one person who had even heard of them. But this is beside the point.

The FACTOR post is not about my taste in music or bands. I should have just left the out the top bands and focused on the companies and businessmen who are living a comfortable existence by sucking these programs dry. The problem is best articulated by Toronto label Out of this Spark, and their description of the have/have not labels in Canada. I know another specific case where a band got some Pitchfork buzz and then pulled their album from a small Montreal label to a heavily subsidized Toronto label. When they were in the Polaris short-list last year, I prayed against them because they are bad people for doing that.

The issue is not bands who get a FACTOR grant of $2500 to record a record (if that money is actually going to a recording), or $10,000 to help out with a European tour. The issue is that a small, networked group of “top tier” artists and labels have been using FACTOR like their own personal bank-account at the expense of exploring or funding a wider variety of Canadian music. The issue is that the FACTOR board of directors is run by the very people who have bilked the fund for the most money.

One troubling response yesterday was that I should keep my mouth shut about critiquing FACTOR or else “HARPER” is going to come and close it down. That somehow my post was going to alert “CONSERVATIVE FORCES” to shut down this whole system. That is stupid, because you know that they would if they could and my poorly-edited TUMBLR blog isn’t going to have an effect on that.

Instead? Hide in fear that HARPER and his cronies are gonna come and ruin this system I love so much? I’m sorry, but FACTOR is already doing a good job of that itself.

Canadian bands and music lovers fear that if we criticize anything, we will be left out. That might be true, but it isn’t the end of the world.

If we say anything bad about FACTOR, they will have the last revenge and they won’t fund us. If we point out that EXCLAIM! is garbage, they won’t cover our album! If we point out how CBC Music developed the most unusable website on the entire internet, they might leave our song off the R3-30 or Grant Lawrence’s thrilling podcast! On and on.

Where does it end? Hopefully here.

The Trouble with FACTOR

by Paul Lawton

THE MANDATE: FACTOR Supports the Independent Canadian Music Industry

The mandate for FACTOR in Canada says that it is “dedicated to providing assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian independent music industry.”

The money FACTOR provides to Canadian musicians is set for a wide number of activities – recording a demo, full length sound recording, market and promote an already existing album or showcase and tour domestically and internationally. FACTOR supports many facets of the infrastructure which must be in place in order for artists and music entrepreneurs to progress into the international arena.

In theory, FACTOR is a wonderful enterprise, a granting agency that is hands out merit-based funds to bands, labels and music businesses across the country. The funding, in their words, has seen “so many success stories,” all in the name of helping Canadian musicians and music related businesses compete in the global music market.

THE REALITY: FACTORY Supports a small percentage of well connected insiders.

FACTOR approval numbers show an overwhelmingly small number of bands and labels getting a disproportionately large share of the funding.

I made a spreadsheet of all the available funding approvals FACTOR over the last decade. That spreadsheet is really big, and is available to download: HERE.

Here are the top ten recipients of FACTOR funds over the last decade. I’ve also included the name of the label or company working with the band to get this funding approval, how much THAT company has received under various programs, the type of music and the region that that the band comes from, and the distance from the production company/label to the FACTOR offices.

Top Total FACTOR funding 2003-2013
1) The Trews $620,000.00 represented by Bumstead Productions ($1,059,168.00) (Hard Rock / Maritimes) 16.4 KM from Bumstead Productions to FACTOR offices

2) Metric (+Emily Haines) $510,847.00 represented by Crystal Math Music Group ($1,057,610.00) (Indie / Ontario) 16.0 KM from Crystal Math Music Group to FACTOR offices

3) Stars (+Amy Millan) $370,441.00 represented by Various/Arts and Crafts  ($1,608,705.00) (indie / Quebec) 16.0 KM from Arts and Crafts to FACTOR offices

4) Midway State $359,231.00 represented by Crystal Math Music Group ($1,057,610.00) (Indie / Ontario)   16.0 KM from Crystal Math Music Group to FACTOR offices

5) Justin Hines $339,974.00 represented by              Orange Lounge Recordings ($500,000.00) (Singer/songwriter / Ontario) 16.0 KM from Orange Lounge Recordings Group to FACTOR offices

6) Manafest $319,833 (Christian Hip Hop / Ontario)

7) Two Hours Traffic $297,876.00 represented by Bumstead Productions ($1,059,168.00) (indie / Maritimes) 16.4 KM from Bumstead Productions to FACTOR offices

8)      Young Galaxy $264,116.00 represented by Paper Bag ($1,593,984.00) (Indie / Vancouver) Paper Bag Records is 17KM from FACTOR offices

9)      Danny Fernandes $251,648 represented by CP Records $978,899.00 (club music / Toronto – Shawn Desman’s younger brother) 15KM to FACTOR offices.

10)   Jason Collett $245,638.00 represented by Arts & Crafts ($1,608,705.00). 16.0 KM from Arts and Crafts to FACTOR offices

BROKEN FUNDING SYSTEM

It isn’t the purpose of this article to suggest that FACTOR should stop handing out grants to musicians. Instead, we call on FACTOR to stop handing out grants to business people who exist to prey off Canadian musicians. There is a very big difference between funding a musician and propping up lecherous business practices.

FACTOR’s internal guidelines and lack of National outreach has lead to a corrupted system that has lead to a have/have not Canadian music system. If the mandate is helping disseminate Canadian music, FACTOR is really only helping a small, very specific kind of music (largely middle of the road “indie rock”), and more specifically, business class individuals who have set themselves up to live off the profits of middle of the road indie rock.

YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE

FACTOR has a policy that prevents applications from record labels without a minimum of 5000 albums sold through a FACTOR approved distributor, a minumum number FACTOR uses to differentiate upper and lower tier music. While smaller, regional labels were left to live or die on their own merit, the bigger labels who managed to break past that initial hump of 5000 were allowed to keep coming back to the well. Take Paper Bag Records, who were able to obtain $1.5 million dollars in grant money in this system through the various artists on their roster.

Selling records in Canada is a tricky business, and one of the main reasons why FACTOR is so crucial to the health of Canadian music. If you sell directly to your fanbase, you face huge fees at Canada Post that eventually will ruin most start-up labels. If you are shipping a single vinyl LP from Toronto to Vancouver, the cost to ship is often more than the record itself. Many small labels wonder: how do Arts & Crafts or Paper Bag sell their records so cheap? We wonder no more.

To get to a Paper Bag level, all you need is a single record to do well so that you’ve crossed the magical “top tier.” Once you are there, you can keep coming back to the funding well indefinitely until the funding completely dries up. This is problematic.

Certain funding programs are aimed at “top tier” artists who have the greatest shot at breaking through to more mainstream success, and that is what FACTOR does. It makes a certain kind of sense to bet the house on METRIC, because they are a Canadian band with a wide range of appeal. The problem comes when Metric were able to sell out Air Canada Centre in Fall of 2012, and then come back and get another $20K for a music video in March of 2013. At a certain point, the FACTOR program did its job well to take a small band and play a role in bringing them to arena-rock level. Once that band hits arena rock level, government music funding programs should be looking at the next group of up-and-comers.

When you talk about FACTOR with Canadian musicians, METRIC get the most heat because they are the most visible, but The Trews have done a far better job at living on arts funding. The Trews.

THE FACTOR BOARD

The desire to change this system will not come from within FACTOR itself. Right now on the board, representing Canadian Independent music:

1)      Grant Dexter from Maplecore Music ($819,452.00 in FACTOR funding)

2)      Mark Jowett from Nettwerk Music Group ($416,942.00 in FACTOR funding)

3)      Robert Lanni from Coalition Music ($721,401.00 in FACTOR funding)

4)      Jeffrey Remedios from Arts & Crafts ($1,608,705.00 in FACTOR funding)

5)      Lloyd Nishimura from Outside Music ($608,541.00 in FACTOR funding)

6)      Stephen Carroll* of The Weakerthans ($40,887.00 in FACTOR funding)

As well as five representatives from Canadian Radio –

1)      Susan Wheeler – Rogers Broadcasting

2)      Lenore Gibson – Bell Media

3)      Chris Pandoff – Chorus Radio

4)      Rick Arnish – Jim Pattison Radio Group

5)      Steve Parsons – Astral Media

KEY ISSUES:

As it exists, Factor favours a pre-existing network of like-minding music industry insiders, some of whom sit on the board of directors of Factor itself. This is hugely problematic. FACTOR is funding a huge number of musical endeavours from across Canada, but the lions share is going to a very small percentage of them.  This is problematic.

For Canadian music funding, most of the money goes out to labels, production companies and bands who live within 20KM of the FACTOR offices in Toronto.  This is problematic. Indeed, anyone in Canada can apply for Factor funding, but why are the winners so disproportionately Toronto-centric?

If the one thing that has been thrown at this blog over the last few weeks “taste is subjective,” which is totally true! So then how was the merit-based system gamed so that the middle-of-the-road output THE TREWS and METRIC was chosen to represent Canadian music? The only way forward is expanding FACTOR’s reach and removing control from such a small group of people who have already bilked the system in the name of a comfortable livelihood.

SOLUTIONS:

1)      FACTOR Money needs to be spread out more. This means funding limits to labels and musicians. At a certain point, labels and musicians should have to stand on their own.

2)      LOWERED Minimum requirements for bands labels and production companies would allow a greater representation of Canadian musicians.

3)      Increased representation of genres. How can the only hip-hop artist in the FACTOR top 10 be a white Christian rapper?

4)      Increasing representation on the board to escape the pre-existing network that already benefits from FACTOR funding.

5)      Increasing accountability. In a response to this blog, Chuck Teed points out that “Any money received from FACTOR needs to be matched, which means the band is investing its own money into expanding their market (that $20,000 video grant produced a minimum $40,000 video).” In theory this SHOULD be the case, but fraud (such as generating false invoices) is a common-place tactic. http://chuckteed.com/. Grant applicants routinely exaggerate funding requirements, and misrepresent how funds were spent. Anecdotal, I know of at least two music-video related grants that didn’t even result in a music video.

6)      Better outreach. I spent most of my time as a musician on the Canadian Prairies, and FACTOR is misunderstood by almost everyone out there.

7)      Clearer granting application requirements – This is usually the number one barrier for people not applying for grant money. They see one item that doesn’t make sense and they say “oh well, I guess not for me.”  If Paper Bag has helped itself to 1.5 million dollars in funding, they should have to post their successful applications. What are they writing that the rest of us are missing? Success at granting comes largely from experience – knowing what can “count” as an expense, knowing what FACTOR wants to see in marketing materials and do on. If FACTOR is really interested in making funding merit-based, they would strip down their process even further so that the winners don’t keep their success alive by following their own hidden formulas and leaving everyone else to apply and win out of chance.

8)     No conflict of interest – I’m not suggesting that anyone on the FACTOR board is using their status to help get their respective labels FACTOR funding, but it looks really bad from an outsider perspective.

 WHAT NOW?
 
Three years ago, Greg Ipp from Unfamiliar Records stirred this particular “FACTOR is CORRUPT” pot (see here). If Unfamiliar could have put out a years worth of records for $60,000, including press, videos, tour support – imagine what he could have done with $1.5 million dollars?

In three years since Greg Ipp put his neck out there, nothing has changed. Bands line up for their turn in the exploitation line. The generic music this country produces is almost EXACTLY THE SAME as it was three years ago. It is as if we’ve lived the last decade in a time capsule. 

*Stephen Carroll was in Winnipeg’s great PAINTED THIN as has a pass for life. None of this list is meant to disparage the actual musicians involved – everyone is working within a system. The point here is that this system is open to corruption.
 

 

Slagging Off – a how to guide

Congratulations, your band or musical project just won the band lottery and we just made fun of you. How should you respond? What does it mean? WHAT NOW?

Don’t panic. Ultimately, it isn’t going to matter. This is just a generic tumblr, and we are just unfunny dudes with our own shitty bands, so you don’t need to worry too much. Really.

Our tastes are subjective – rest easy with the knowledge that our bands are way worse than your bands, you have more likes on facebook, and that you are DOING THE RIGHT THING and are ABOVE CRITIQUE in any form. 

Besides – how is someone saying “you suck” critique at all? Isn’t all critique supposed to appear in essay length analysis unpacking every aspect of the music and the recording?

There is no reason to change anything! If we made fun of you, it is because we are (a) jaded (b) hipsters (c) talentless (d) losers with (e) nothing better to do.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Write a series of tweets that allows your GROWING FANBASE to see you as a vulnerable musician who are unable to handle even the smallest slight. Again, remind us that our own music sucks. The more you get worked into a lather about it, the better to whip your fanbase into action. It will make you look really good.

2) Physical violence: These aren’t just words, kick someone’s ass!

3) Remind everyone that taste is subjective and that the only valid words about your music are (a) positive/ encouraging and (b) come from monk-like music writers who live in a subjectivity-vacuum who have no real ties to the real world. Music writers should be unable to play even a simple c-chord (TASTE IS SUBJECTIVE!) on a guitar because any inside knowledge is damaging and may influence/taint them from having valid opinions. No music writer with an opinion should ever set foot on a stage, period.

Elos Arma (Toronto, ON)

Toronto has a lot of bands. I didn’t even realize how many until recently.

Here’s something constructive Elos Arma: your band sounds exactly like 90% of the other indie bands in Toronto. Maybe that’s what you are going for?

But do the math. If there are 700 bands doing THE EXACT THING YOU ARE DOING – guitar tone, WHOA OHH OHH backups bands like you just fucking love, drum fills – then how is anyone ever going to care about you?

Most bands love playing the band lottery. They look at bands like Yukon Blonde and think “if the most boring band on the planet can win a SIRIUSXMINDIEAWARD, then so can we” because the only way Yukon Blonde is a THING at all is that they won the band lottery.

I’d rather think that you should make your own luck. Try new combinations of genres and styles and backing vocals (here’s one for free – OH OHH OHHH WHOAAA) and give it hell.