Music Industry

The US Makes It Difficult for Canadian Musicians to Cross the Border. Here’s How.

Here in Canada, especially in Toronto, we see a lot of American musicians come through. It’s fairly easy for musicians from the US to come up here and play a gig. From the Huffington Post:

“if an American band wants to come north, all they’ve got to do is rock up to the border with a gig contract, an e-mailed invite from a promoter, and a list of gear and merch”. A couple years ago, our country introduced a charge of $250 per person for American musicians and their crew, however that didn’t last long as the music industry in both countries complained.

Yet, it’s not so easy for Canadian musicians to cross into the United States. Canadian musicians must pay between $2000-$5000 in border fees and union dues, plus wait weeks for a permit. If they decide to take the risk and go without, they could be banned from the US for up to five years. The cost and amount of paperwork is still the same regardless if it’s just a small band playing at a dive bar in exchange for a few drinks and a place to sleep or a well-known band playing for an arena full of people.

The high costs and bureaucracy of US work permits leads to some musicians trying to go without. One such musician, named Megan Miller, originally went to Massachusetts in 2012 to volunteer at a girls rock camp. Miller formed a band with her fellow instructors and stayed in the US. The girls lived as cheaply as they could as they tried to build up their band And The Kids. They didn’t have the acclaim needed to secure a work permit for their Canadian band member. Miller still crossed the border from time to time, visiting family and friends in Ottawa, until one attempt to cross back into the US in December 2014, she was detained for a night before being sent back to Canada and banned from entering the US for five years. Since then, And The Kids have gained enough attention warrant a visa for Miller, and Miller has spent close to $10,000 trying to get her “deported” status waved. However, there has yet to be anything that Miller or her band can do.

Miller isn’t the only Canadian musician to face this ban, either. Toronto garage-rockers Pow Wows were on their way to play South By South West when their frontman Ryan Rothwell was stopped at the border for questioning and then deported back to Canada.

Musicians who try to do things the legal way also often end up losing out. According to Huffington Post: “Toronto conceptual musician Maylee Todd put in eight months of planning to mount a U.S. tour this fall – only to end up cancelling it all due to a work permit delay. The official processing time length had been changed after her application was submitted”. Toronto folk rockers Beams also ran into the same problems.

The Canadian music industry is trying to rectify the situation and make it easier for our musicians to play shows and tour in the US. Huffington Post notes that recently, “the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) published Over The Border And Into The Clubs, a 75 page report detailing how the border is causing music companies in both countries to miss out on revenues. It asserts that Canadian bands provide an economic benefit to the U.S. through increased business for their clubs, labels, record stores, studios and more”.

Several groups show their support for the report, including the US Embassy and CIMA’s American equivalent the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).

Hopefully this report will make it easier for Canadian musicians to enter the US sooner rather than later. This country offers a wealth of musical talent and it’s a shame that the US currently makes it very difficult for small-time musicians to cross the border and start making a name for themselves in the US.

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