Like all artists, songwriters have to be skilled businesspeople if they want to make a living from their work. Yet artists are rarely offered opportunities to learn about mundane but crucial things like budgets, marketing strategies, and taxes, on the assumption that they’re somehow above all that.
Wrong, says Toronto singer-songwriter Domanique Grant: “We’re told for so long that we’re artists. And one of the biggest problems with developing artists is that we’re made to think entrepreneurship isn’t part of our career, when it’s actually one of the most important parts.”
Luckily, Grant has been able to participate in a SOCAN Foundation program that aims to change that. Established in 2018, the TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, a partnership with the Foundation, supports emerging music creators with funding, mentorship, showcase possibilities, and a webinar series that offers tools and resources to help them build sustainable careers in music. Grant says the support helped her work on songwriting and production for her upcoming album, as well as boosting her visibility, and providing invaluable connections and resources.
“It gives you practical help, including money, so you can actually do something to advance your career,” says Grant, who also hosts a web series featuring music professionals. “I was able to expand my music catalogue and work with other writers. Things like that can pay off. And it connects you with a mentor in the industry – in my case, Ralph Singh at Universal Music Canada – so you can continue to grow. Getting help to break down administrative rights, and understand how music publishing works, was key for me.
“The program emphasizes the fact that being a songwriter means you’re an entrepreneur,” she adds. “And you need to own that, and know that you’re capable of understanding the industry and doing things for yourself, rather than looking for someone to do it for you. I think that’s what was most valuable about the Incubator.”
Halifax singer-songwriter Dave Sampson had already been signed to a publishing deal when he entered the Incubator program, and he continues to work on his new album with producers in Nashville via Zoom. Sampson used the Incubator support to build his website and social media marketing, and develop his songwriting and networking skills with his mentor, Sony Music Canada’s Joe Ferrari.
“It was great to pick his brain over the year and ask him questions,” says Sampson. “We’d get on the phone and I’d play him songs, and it was cool to connect and get his feedback. This whole industry is based on networking and connections.”
Sampson found the webinars on business skills equally valuable. “Every week I’d tune in for an hour, and they’d have a social media manager, or someone at Canada’s Walk of Fame, or an accountant showing us how to do our taxes, and all the administrative stuff that tends to fall by the wayside,” he says. “It was like online university, and what you take from it and how you use it are up to you. It’s like a master class in virtually everything.”
Desirée Dawson is a Vancouver singer-songwriter who’s been extremely busy writing and releasing music since she won the CBC Searchlight Competition in 2016. In fact, Dawson had so many projects on the go that she used her Incubator mentorship with music publisher Warner Chappell’s Vivian Barclay help her narrow her scope and focus on what was most important.
“We had good conversations about things like what direction I’m going with my career,” she says. “And she had a lot of insights into things like song placements, and writing for other artists.”
Dawson used the Incubator funding for recording and production, and she was selected to travel to Toronto to record and play a showcase for music industry pros. But she also raves about the webinar series. “Hearing so many different perspectives from so many people throughout the industry was really helpful,” she says. “It kind of lit this fire under me to keep going, and remind me that if I need help, I can reach out and find it.
“It was also a reminder that I’m not alone, even though I’m an indie artist who’s basically doing it all on my own. It was nice to remember that there are others in this position, and that there are resources I can use to help me build my business.”
The program was pioneered by Charlie Wall-Andrews, Executive Director of SOCAN Foundation, in consultation with artists and industry leaders, to design a program that empowers music creators to become artist entrepreneurs and ensure their passion and talent become successful and sustainable careers. The TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship program will accept applications early in 2021 for the next cohort. More information can be found on www.musicincubator.ca