Roxanne Tellier: Musicians and Money

Roxanne DBAWIS

Well, for most of us, there ain’t much … money, I mean. Last week I talked about Indie Week, and the high of seeing new live music all over downtown Toronto. Reminded me of the good ol’ days.

yonge street 70s

I am always grateful that my active music years were when Toronto was in its heyday – wall to wall bars and bands up and down Yonge Street and across Ontario. If you were a half decent musician, you’d work 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and at least make a living, doing what you loved.

Not anymore. Young bands trying to get a toehold in the biz are now lucky to get a gig, and even luckier to get paid. And when they do get a gig, frequently either a freebie disguised as ‘exposure’ or drastically underpaid, they’re expected to debut with all of the panache and flare of a staged YouTube video. That or risk contemplation of an audience more interested in their cell phones than the audio and visual in front of them.


If I was a young person just starting out in the business world today, I’d probably see the wisdom of going into event planning – where you get paid – rather than into music – where you rarely do, until you become a big draw.

The Catch 22 of becoming a draw is that you have to get out there and play to establish an audience, and to find your musical feet. But playing once a month is not going to polish performances, or build a solid following. Working a day gig to pay for your instruments and stage gear saps your passion and energy, and begging club owners for a chance to strut your stuff, whether for free or a few bucks,  is demoralizing. A lot of good players fall by the wayside on that journey.

The days of earning a wage by playing live music in bars were maimed by one-two punch of a toughening of the laws against drinking and driving, and a politically correct agenda that demanded that smokers be declared verboten anywhere near other people.  The stake through live music’s heart, though, is the insistence that music be provided, but not properly paid for.

Tough times indeed.

There was a terrific article in the Globe and Mail recently that summed up the economic state for artists. Writer Elizabeth Renzetti  opined on a lecture Iggy Pop had given, in which the  godfather of punk confessed that he could no longer live off the proceeds of live music.


“Iggy gave a lecture for the British Broadcasting Corp. called Free Music in a Capitalist Society. Artists have always been ripped off by corporations, he said; now the public is in on the free ride, too: “The cat is out of the bag and the new electronic devices, which estrange people from their morals, also make it easier to steal music than to pay for it.””

“To keep skinny body and maverick soul together, Iggy’s become a DJ, a car-insurance pitchman and a fashion model. If he had to live off royalties, he said, he’d have to “tend bars between sets.” As I listened to his enthusiastic stoner Midwestern drawl, I thought: If Iggy Pop can’t make it, what message does that send to all the baby Iggys out there? In a society where worth is judged by price, for better or worse, what are you saying to someone when you won’t pay for the thing he’s crafted?”

Yes, boys and girls, there’s a reason why our aging rock and pop idols are setting aside their walkers and hitting the road for farewell tours; they’re broke. They need the money, honey. Whether they pissed away their fortunes, or had someone else do it for them, they are flogging the oldies to prop up their pensions.

aging rock stars

It’s a return to a time when troubadours had to sing for their supper, until they could no longer. When you are young, you get on stage for the thrill, for the love of the craft. But by the time you’re pushing forty, and all of your friends who went into business are shopping for an upscale home or car, the kick gets a little harder to find.

You can argue that it was ever so, and that those wanting to get in to the arts do so at their own risk, but considering how the arts are woven through the fabric of our lives and media, you’ve got to wonder why young musicians bother to gamble with their economic futures. We can’t all hit the big time. And our puritan work ethic tells us that singing and dancing are the work of the devil and the lazy, and should be discouraged rather than praised, except for forays into reality musical YV series, the adult equivalent of Tiny Talent Time. That is, until you score a hit and make enough money to change your art into business. Now we’re talking! From artist to entrepreneur in one swell foop.

You’ve got to wonder even more about the attitude towards actually paying musicians to play. I’m bombarded with business people trying to tell me that they can afford everything to do with the running of their bar or event– except for live entertainment. They are quick to list their expenses, and to show that it would be impossible, indeed business killing!, to pay for someone to stand on their stage in the hopes of increasing attendance and beer sales.


Fixtures they can pay for; plumbing is a must; wait staff, natch. But musicians? Nope.

There are a few who continue to fight the good fight. Jim McCormick (Allstage),  of London, Ontario, and whom I know only through Facebook, recently had a tale to tell.

11/Oct/2014 “Ok, I want to set something right before it gets way out of hand and fiction replaces fact. I’ve received a lot of messages about Sunny’s Bar in St.Thomas running an ad about having bands come in on a Saturday for free in lieu of possibly getting a gig later down the road. I have discussed this with a call this morning about this issue and after a sensible discussion I think you will see this whole concept not happen. I want to make this VERY clear to all – my relationship with Sunny for the last 4 years has been nothing short of excellent. This is NOT a man who takes advantage of musicians, he threw an idea against the wall that seemed like a good idea at the time and it wasn’t. We have all had those moments in life where we have come up with something only to have a friend say, “Maybe this is not a good thought.” This man like many, many other venue owners -cares about Live Music and is also a business man looking for a way to keep in business – he is NOT a venue owner out to screw people. So again I ask, his idea may have not been a great one in hindsight but there is recognition now that it wasn’t – so he will come up with another model for bands. He’s trying to help us, so let’s keep that in mind and understand that we ALL make errors in judgement until we revisit it and correct it.”

The bar owner responded: “Sunny’s will do something else on Saturday afternoons. We meant ABSOLUTELY NO HARM in trying to help local musicians / bands. We will continue to try our best to help foster live music in the community with other events and promotions. Consider this a lesson learned, and here’s hoping we can all enjoy live music at as many venues as possible going forward. Thanks Jim for all you do! A very Happy Thanksgiving to all!”

CMlogo200Hmmm … so it IS possible to work with bar owners. What a concept! Jim’s intervention in this instance had more teeth than I’ve seen from the Musicians Union in decades.

In the same week, I received a Generating Revenue Survey from Canadian Musician magazine.

CM is surveying musicians across the country to find out how they are generating music-related revenue, which sources of revenue they are utilizing, which are working and which aren’t, and more. The results of this survey will be published in the November/December 2014 issue of CM. “

*How much revenue have you generated in the last year as a direct result of playing or selling music or music-related merch?” The choices ranged from less than $100 to over $80,000.
“What sources of have revenue have generated income for you in the past two years?” Options were CD/vinyl sales, digital downloads, streaming, live performance, studio session work, song licencing (to TV, games, films, etc.,) performing rights (SOCAN royalties,) merchandise, and writing songs with other artists.

“Have you used crowd funding to help fund a project? (e.g. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.)” Hmmm … not sure if the future of Canadian arts should be a popularity contest, won by those who agitate the hardest on social media.

I’ll be interested to see the results of that survey. If the musicians respond with truth, it will be a site map of how current and future players can actually generate an income that makes all of the sacrifices worthwhile.

music-canadaMusic Canada is also doing a survey that I’ll look forward to seeing.  ““We know that live music is an essential piece of our music story in Ontario and yet, no one has truly tried to capture the extent of its impact on our economy, workforce and communities,” says Graham Henderson, President of Music Canada.”

“This economic impact study will provide never-before-calculated data and information about the live music industry in Ontario that will identify strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats facing the live music community; provide the live music community with a critical tool that will assist individual and cooperative efforts to grow the industry; inform future government policy decisions and initiatives; and provide benchmarks for future measurement and tracking.”

Status update from Paul Myers, (singer/songwriter/performer/photographer/brother of Mike,) October 24. “Here’s what I think. If your review praises my music but provides a pirate download to your readers: Thank you and fuck you, in that order.”

He later added: “This was a (nice) review on a site that provided a link where the readers could steal the whole album. We could barely afford to record and release the record so who could afford to lose even more money?”    


Paul asked the site to take down the pirate link, and replace it with The Paul and John’s Bandcamp link. The review – and pirate link – were deleted.  (

Meanwhile, this message from Roseanne Cash popped up last week. “For those of you who keep telling me that artists should work for free for the sheer joy of creation: You’ve been watching too many operas about starving artists who die before their time and are glorified for it. Do you pay your plumber? Your kid’s teacher? Your mechanic? Your grocer? If art and music are not important to you, by all means, don’t buy them. If they are, then PAY for them, as you do everything else in your life that you require for physical or spiritual sustenance. Yes, people will always create. I have spent 35 years of hard work, with a bone-crunching schedule, to achieve some level of mastery over what I do. It took me almost two years to make my last record, and I had to pay bills during that time. It is my profession, not my hobby. I do not participate in the notion that music should be free, until tech companies who use our work as a loss leader also work for free, and until the CEOs of those companies stop taking home millions of dollars in ad revenues which they make by using the work of songwriters and musicians as bait.”   


When the heir to the musical throne of June Carter and Johnny Cash has to spell it out like that, we’re not talking about young whiners who just don’t work hard enough, or want it bad enough. We’re talking about a very real problem that will impact on the ears of listeners for years to come. If you’re good with the mindless dreck provided by a team of songwriters propped up by business executives whose only interest in the music biz is counting their money and being around the sexy and the famous, with artists more suitable to the covers of comic books, True Romance magazine or Pole Dancer Magazine than a respected music journal … you’re gonna love what’s coming.

pole dancer magazine

If on the other hand, you love live music, you’re gonna have to start putting your money where your mouth is.

support live music


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

2 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier: Musicians and Money”

  1. Peter Mlontreuil Says:

    Exactly! I’m proud to support live music. Well put, Roxy.

  2. Well said. I’m from a small, Southern Ontario town. We don’t have many local venues that support live music on a regular basis…I must say that this is improving…but, when you have fundraising folks, who want free talent for a ” good cause” when and where do you draw the line?

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