Confirmed is a July 28 date for Wide Mouth Mason at Mattawa Voyageur Days! Tickets are available now. Wide Mouth Mason takes the stage at approximately 9pm!
Songwriters get pitiful amounts as streaming offers tiny royalties
Writers of today’s hits earn as little as $20 for every million streams by online listeners
By Deana Sumanac-Johnson, CBC News
Posted: May 06, 2016 11:00 AM ET Last Updated: May 06, 2016 11:15 AM ET
They’re the brains that create the songs you love, but don’t expect songwriters to be able to make a living by writing hits that get millions of plays on streaming services.
“I’ll get a cheque in the mail for $20 for a million streams, and that just makes absolutely no sense to me,” says Canadian songwriter Luke McMaster, who’s penned hits for the likes of Rihanna and recently had a song he co-wrote get a million streams on Spotify.
McMaster is not alone. Though copyright laws vary from one country to another, the sentiment among songwriters is uniform: a hit song, when streamed, will buy a pizza, but not support a family.
American songwriter Kevin Kadish, who co-wrote the body-positive anthem All About That Bass with Meghan Trainor, complained to the U.S. Congress that he received $5,679 US for a song that had 178 million streams.
Songwriter Michelle Lewis recently revealed that she received a $17 US cheque for co-writing Wings, a hit for the British girl group Little Mix that had three million streams on Spotify.
Because they’re not celebrities in their own right, the songwriters’ problems have received less publicity than, say, Adele or Taylor Swift’s beefs with the streaming services.
“The songwriters have the least sort of leverage to be able to stand up for their rights,” says Toronto-based entertainment lawyer Safwan Javed, who also sits on the board of the Songwriters’ Association of Canada and behind the drum kit of the band Wide Mouth Mason.
“We’re in the Wild, Wild West situation with respect to how music is distributed these days and the role of various players play within that chain.”
Who gets the money?
The “players” he mentions are the streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.), music labels and music publishers that typically represent songwriters and collect royalties on their behalf.
Historically, songwriters and music publishers made a small portion of profits anytime a song was sold or played on the radio. But copyright laws written decades ago could not have predicted the birth of streaming, where music is neither sold nor broadcast in a traditional sense.
Still, streaming services make money from advertising and paid-tier subscriptions — so why is so little of it ending up in the songwriters’ pockets?
“Spotify does contribute 70 per cent of our revenues to rights holders, so that’s a really big part of how we’re paying back into the industry, and we paid over $3 billion to the rights holders,” says Nathan Wiszniak, label relations specialist for Spotify Canada.
But just who the “rights holders” are is open to interpretation. Record labels have managed to strike deals with streaming services that enable them to take a slice of the profit anytime an artist’s song is played. But songwriters and music publishers — owners of the rights to the song’s music and lyrics — are not part of those deals.
“They have no system actually in place, for dealing with and assessing who are their stakeholders, who are the rights holders, who are the writers and who are the publishers,” says Javed.
“They haven’t done a very good job at proactively going out there and figuring out who they need to license the works from and pay for those uses.”
Fair trade music
Different people propose different solutions to the problem. In Canada, songwriters’ associations have petitioned the Copyright Board to adopt laws that better protect the rights of music creators. South of the border, songwriters have launched a $150 million US class-action lawsuit against Spotify as a reimbursement for lost royalties.
But Javed believes a quicker and more meaningful solution is in the hands of music lovers.
“I’ve really lost a lot of faith in the governmental sector doing something to fix this.”
Instead, he’s a proponent of Fair Trade Music, a campaign that seeks to certify streaming services, record labels, even album releases, that fairly compensate all music creators.
Fair Trade Music has tens of thousands of signatories around the world, and Javed believes ethical-minded consumers will gravitate towards it the way they do to fair trade coffee.
But for Luke McMaster, there’s no time to wait. A singer in his own right, he’s now touring to promote his new album — an option for him, but not for many other songwriters.
“It is a function of who you are, it’s almost like breathing, so I’m not going to stop writing songs,” he says.
“But for myself and a lot of my peers, it’s making it a lot more difficult. I have friends in the industry, some of the most talented people I have known, that have just given up.”
This August 19, 2016, Wide Mouth Mason will be taking part in the Vancouver Island Exhibition. Visit the VIEX website for further details! Tentative show time is 9pm.
This summer, Wide Mouth Mason will be visiting Spanish, Ontario’s COME ROCK N ROAR SPANISH music festival on Saturday, August 13, 2016. Tickets for this event, that also features a number of Canadian rock bands, are available through Ticket Break.
Recently confirmed is an upcoming Wide Mouth Mason gig on September 12, 2015 in Port Alberni, British Columbia. Details on the performance will be added to the Tour Dates section of the site as known and confirmed. As always, please check with the venue as to doors and set times!
WMM can’t wait for hometown club show
In a convenient twist of reverse engineering, it’s Wide Mouth Mason’s 2009 album that is setting the tone for how the band is charting its future sound.
Live at Montreux captured the band sizzling in jam mode at the legendary jazz festival, with expansive solos and improvisations. The same approach informed Wide Mouth Mason’s No Bad Days album.
“It was very much a rock format but with a jazz philosophy to it where the framework of the song would be a suggestion,” guitarist Shaun Verreault said recently.
“The songs on No Bad Days are meant to be elastic, so a lot of that can come out.”
The band likes to keep things fluid in its live show. If something from a song they were listening to on the way to a gig sticks, it could well end up as a reference in the middle of their set – surprising each other as much as the audience.
“We call it the shapes we’re throwing each other,” says Verreault. “There’s a little bit of trying to raise eyebrows that you haven’t raised before.”
Verreault admits wondering if the band would remain viable after he and drummer Safwan Javed parted ways with original bassist Earl Pereira and added Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar. But the evolution continues. When Wide Mouth and Big Sugar are on the same bill, they become Big and Wide, with as many as eight players on stage.
Verreault keeps busy in music producing other artists, writing songs with and for other acts and collaborating coast-to-coast from Vancouver with Newfoundland musician Chris Kirby via Skype.
“It makes it so we have a lot of different things to draw on when we get together to play and get together to write.”
Verreault is looking forward to the homecoming and doing a classic Saskatoon club show, its first at the Capitol Music Club.
“I try and get back as much as I can. A bunch of my family is still there.”
He likens it to looking through the window of your elementary school, literally or metaphorically.
And speaking of family, Verreault’s two-year-old daughter Layla seems to have inherited some musical DNA. She already has her own pink Stratocaster, but she really likes playing with her dad’s guitar. Recently, she plugged it into an amp on full blast and, in Verreault’s words, “just railed it.” He thought she’d be scared and crying. Instead, “she was jumping up and down, smiling, and going ‘loud!’”
Wide Mouth Mason
with the Acronyms
Friday at the Capitol
Just confirmed is an upcoming Wide Mouth Mason live performance at KerrFest 2014, a street festival held at Kerr Village in Oakville, Ontario. This all-ages event runs all day, with Wide Mouth Mason’s performance currently scheduled for sometime in the evening hours. As always, Wide Mouth Mason asks that interested attendees please check with event organisers for specific set start and end times.
Confirmed today is Wide Mouth Mason’s participation in the Sip, Savour & Support fundraiser on September 27, 2014 at the 2014 Savour Cowichan Festival. As the confirmed headliner, Wide Mouth Mason will be helping to raise funds for the Canucks Autism Network. The fundraiser itself takes place on the waters of Mill Bay Marina so the set time for this event is tentative. Wide Mouth Mason asks that interested attendees please check with event organisers for specific set start and end times.
Thanks to contributions from Shaun’s setlist capture from Peterborough, Jeremy Elliott Photography for his photos from Wide Mouth Mason’s recent gig at Toronto’s Festival of Beer, and Debra Kralka for her memories (and scanned ticket stub!) of when Wide Mouth Mason opened for 54-40 back in 1997, we continue to build the Wide Mouth Mason Gigography section with both recent and past gigs getting content updates. If you have digital content you’d like to share with other Wide Mouth Mason fans, send it on in! We’d prefer linking to content you already have posted on your own site or content hosting sites like YouTube or Flickr, but anything you have Wide Mouth Mason-related, we would love to see it!
Expect your JulyFest loud, Big and Wide
The East Kootenay’s rock event of the summer is taking place this weekend approaching, as two top Canadian rock bands — Wide Mouth Mason and Big Sugar — take the stage Saturday, July 19, at the Kimberley Civic Arena as part of JulyFest celebrations. Expect it loud. Expect to be transported.
Big Sugar, formed by singer, guitar player and producer Gordie Johnson in the late 1980s, are renowned for their heavy blues-rock-reggae stylings, Johnson’s mindbending guitar work, and high volume, marathon concerts.
Wide Mouth Mason draws its style from electric blues, and was last featured in the area opening for ZZ Top in Cranbrook in 2010.
Big Sugar’s Johnson spoke to the Townsman last week, from somewhere on the road, where he and the band usually are. Big Sugar is no stranger to the area. Though this will be their first Kimberley performance per se, the band has played Cranbrook several times, Invermere, Fernie … Johnson is asked if he’s partial to this area.
“Not be to be impartial,” he responds, “but I play everywhere at lot. Big Sugar’s been to Europe twice this year. My other group, Sit Down, Servant!!, has been to Europe once, and we’re going back in the beginning of November. Big Sugar’s going back to Europe at the end of November. We’ve got a cross-Canada toured planned for January and February next year — Man, I play everywhere all the time.
“I thought I might slow down at some point, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.”
The two bands together can be expected to provide a charismatic display of rock, a perfect capstone for a hot summer Saturday night, and the centrepiece event for the summer party that is JulyFest.
“We call these shows Big and Wide,” Johnson said, “because it’s Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason together. And by the time Big Sugar takes the stage we bring all the Wide Mouth Mason guys in us with too, so there’s eight of us on stage.”
It should be noted that the two bands are also old pals.
“I produced a record for them back in 2000,” Johnson said. “And Wide Mouth Mason’s first cross-Canada tour was opening for Big Sugar, back in the mid-90s. They’re like our baby brothers. We’ve always been very close, these two bands.”
The synergy between Big and Wide is only increased by the fact that Johnson is currently serving as Wide Mouth Mason’s bass player, and has done so for the past several years. He was last seen here with Shaun Verreault (lead Vocals, guitar), Safwan Javed (drums), playing bass as they opened for legendary Texas rockers ZZ Top in Cranbrook.
“Their original bass player left the band, and they were kind of in the lurch because they had been offered the ZZ Top tour. I know Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top’s founder, guitarist and vocalist) quite well — and I thought, ‘Man, what a great opportunity for you guys, I’d hate to see you miss it. I’ll try to think of a bass player who can fill in for you.’ And they were like, ‘Uhhh, well, what about you?’ That sounded like a nice way to spend the summer, so I filled in with them for a while, but now it’s been four years! I think I might stick around for a bit.”
So in Kimberley, Johnson will hit the stage with Wide Mouth Mason, play that show, switch immediately to six-string and perform another high octane set with Big Sugar. Does one work a sweat that way?
“It’s pretty natural for me,” Johnson said. “That’s what I do — I play music. For anybody else that might seem excessive or exhausting, but that’s just what I do. It’s the other 20 hours of the day that are exhausting.
“When I’m on bass, that’s where I’m supposed to be, that’s where everything feels just about right.”
In other Big Sugar new, the band has a new album out — “Yard Style.”
“It’s our first all acoustic record,” Johnson said. “There’s about a dozen of us, guys who’ve been in and out of Big Sugar over the years, and other collaborators that we’ve worked with. Songwriters like the guys in the Trews, Meredith Shaw, the Rastas that have been a big influence on us in Toronto.
“All these people in one room, and without really being too aware of the recording process, we just played and sang live. We sat in a circle and recorded about 20 songs, and narrowed it down to the ones that are on the album. But it was a very informal get together, just singing and playing. It was pretty magical recording it, and think it really comes through on that record.”
Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason play Kimberley’s Civic Arena Saturday, July 19.
Wide Mouth Mason is sorry to announce that the Canada Day show in Regina has been cancelled due to flooding. We are hopeful the affected communities recover quickly.