Meg Symsyk is on a mission.
Since she came aboard as the President and CEO of FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings) during the pandemic, Symsyk has strived to ensure that the supportive programs her organization subsidizes are accompanied by a new mandate: flexibility.
“The last three years have really changed from what FACTOR was doing,” Symsyk explains. “We’ve been evolving and modernizing.”
That’s especially good news for SOCAN member songwriters and music publishers. Programs on the table include one for Songwriter Development, which offers 75 percent of a maximum $2,000 toward covering expenses for songwriting initiatives, such as domestic or international travel involving co-writing sessions, songwriting camps, workshops, trips and eligible trips.
Some programs for music companies cover publishers, who can receive 50 percent of the total eligible budget, to a maximum of $7,500 for Level 2, and $20,000 for Level 3 and Level 4 applicant companies, for business travel and songwriter support. There’s financial help available for the qualified.
“When it comes to the songwriters,” says Symsyk, “there’s a great line that publishers like to use – and I’d reiterate it to the [FACTOR] staff – that ‘songs travel around the world, and they can be written by Canadians, and we want to support those, too.’ So, whether it’s a Canadian artist who wrote that song and somebody else was covering it, or they’re doing it themselves, these are the programs that I want to make sure that we have for Canadian songwriters: the money, or the resources, to go to that songwriting camp in L.A., and write that next song for a name, A-List artist.”
She admits that because the Songwriter Development program was launched the year the pandemic hit, it’s been somewhat under-subscribed since its inception. However, it’s growing again, now that travel restrictions have loosened. Because of the changes in travel, while some FACTOR programs have somewhat concrete submission cut-offs, the Songwriter Development Program offers a rolling deadline: one can apply for the subsidy even the day before they travel.
“There are many pathways to success in music, and our programs need to be more flexible and reactive, so that the opportunities are there for which people can apply, without having to worry about deadlines,” says Symsyk. “If a rule exists that doesn’t make sense, I go to the board and get the rule changed.”
She credits her industry experience – Symsyk has worked for both major and indie labels, in publicity, in management, and as a global tour manager – for her ability to see things from a creator and performer perspective. “When people come to me with programs and issues, I’m looking at it from their point of view,” she says.
“We also have a new program we just launched, called the Juried Sound Recording: Single/EP program, which used to be just for albums. That was our No. 1 most subscribed program, but only 10% of applicants were really getting through. Now, some genres are very single-driven, and so, evolving with the way people are currently consuming music, we now have album and single programs. So, if you’re in hip-hop or electronic dance, and you’re not looking for full album support, you’re just looking for a song or an EP, now there’s a program for you that works.”
Symsyk says the good news about the $10 million allotted for these juried programs, is that the recipient can re-direct some of those dollars into marketing support or other expenses. “We have this program that’s $25K for a single EP, but it doesn’t mean you have to spend all of it,” she says. “If you only want to spend $10K, then we’ll meet with you the 75 percent of your eligible expenses for that. And if you were a hip-hop artist and you decided you wanted to spend the majority of your money on a feature, and then some Instagram/TikTok/Spotify marquee items for marketing, that’s what you can use your money on.
“If you’re an electronic artist and you don’t want to use any of your own money on recording because you have a home studio, you can use your money to put all of your focus on the marketing. Or, if you’re a folk artist and you need to put all your money into tour support for travel, accommodation, gas, and inflation, then you can use your money there.
“By opening this up, we’re going to see much more success from genres that traditionally haven’t been supported, like hip-hop and R&B. Traditionally, the metrics that were used to adjudicate a lot of these applications was based on radio airplay and touring. We want to make sure… that we’re not limiting success in certain genres because of the way we run the program.”
Since the focus of the industry has shifted from sales to streaming, FACTOR’s mandate has evolved from systemic grants to career investment, with the financial terms heavily favouring the approved recipient, be they a songwriter or an artist.
“The physical market is almost at a place where it’s vinyl and merch for bands – more of a branding exercise,” Symsyk explains. “The only thing you have to pay back is, if we advance you something and you don’t come back with enough eligible expenses. We’re only greenlighting projects that traditionally and continually are showing growth. So, if somebody applied for a JSR [Juried Sound Recording] this year, got it, and then tried to apply again in two years but did not have the metrics from the funding that we gave, we’d be asking questions, just like any investor: Was it a good investment? Did they connect with their audience?
“We’re investing, along with the rights owner – whether that’s the artist themselves, the company, the manager, the label, or the publisher.”
So, that mission? It’s continuously being accomplished, every day.