Graham Henderson is the head of Music Canada, the organization that speaks for much of the record industry–all the major labels, actually–in this country. He recently gave this interview to Canadian Musician magazine about how the middle class of musicians has disappeared thanks to the tech revolution.
In November 2016, Music Canada President Graham Henderson gave a speech to the Economic Club of Canada entitled The Broken Promise of a Golden Age. In it, he explained how at the dawn of the digital revolution, creators were told they would thrive in this new era; instead, creators and other copyright holders ended up subsidizing the tech companies’ growth at their own expense. The result has been a disappearing middle class of musicians and songwriters. Henderson also explained that when federal government proceeds with its review of cultural policies in 2017, there is a chance to correct this inequity.
Canadian Musician spoke to Henderson at length after his speech about how creators have been “squeezed out” and how this can change.
CM: Before we get into the details, can you give a quick synopsis of the point you made to the Economic Club of Canada in your speech?
Graham Henderson: Sure. Well, the Economic Club is a great platform to do this and it’s the sort of platform that attracts a lot of the big names from government and business, so it’s a good place to be. It’s also the place that Minister Joly, our minister of Canadian heritage, chose earlier in the year to give her first major policy speech on the creative sector. She took that opportunity to emphasize the economic importance of music and film and television and books. So I thought the Economic Club would be a good place to present a slightly different message, which really focused on creators. Because, notwithstanding what a great economic driver the cultural sector is, driving billions of dollars in economic activity and employing so many Canadians, it’s still under incredible stress and has been for almost 20 years.
What I wanted to draw the government’s attention to, and Minister Joly in particular, was that creators are worse off today than they were in the 1990s. Now, that in itself is a rather shocking fact because if you think back to the promise of technology and the digital marketplace and so on and so forth that was coming together in the late 1990s and burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, the promise of that technology and of the digital marketplace was that creators were going to be better off. That was kind of the whole point. So, for us to be standing here 20 years later with creators worse off, that is an exceptional outcome, which clearly has to be addressed by the government. That was basically the point behind my speech.
I should also draw your attention to the fact that the minister is criss-crossing the country hosting roundtables. She’s actually just wrapped it up, but had been criss-crossing the country hosting roundtables where she was challenging Canadians to think “out of the box” – her words – and to be “bold” – also her words – and to bring to her new ideas for her to create this. What she wanted was a new toolbox to address the challenges of the creative sector in the digital age. That, to me, was a call which we answered.
CM: The speech can be broken down into three big sections: 1) the promise of this golden age, 2) why that promise was broken, and 3) what we can do about it. Let’s start at the beginning and provide some background. You said the promise was that this revolution in digital music would bring about a golden age. The idea was that it would upend the traditional recorded music industry, but the counterweight to that is that it would provide new opportunities for creators to make up for revenue that had been lost by that disruption. So, what was the reasoning given to justify that argument?
GH: It’s worth going back in time because we’re living in a world for which the rules were set in the mid-1990s.
Read the entire interview here.