Talk about sweating for a good cause. When Canadian music publishing veteran Jodie Ferneyhough completed his first-ever full Ironman event in Kentucky last year, he was swimming, cycling and running on behalf of the Unison Benevolent Fund. He raised $9,800 through pledges, and also served as a guinea pig for Unison’s fundraising techniques.

Music publisher Ferneyhough has a strong vested interest in Unison, given that he’s the co-founder, along with Catharine Saxberg. This dynamic duo are, respectively, President and Executive Director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association (CMPA). Ferneyhough traces the idea of a benevolent fund for those involved in the Canadian music industry back to the pair’s post-Juno Awards dinner in Vancouver in 2009.

“We are very close to our goal of $1 million to become operational.”–Sheila Hamilton

“What got the idea rolling was the situation of a prominent Canadian recording artist involved in a serious accident,” says Ferneyhough. “The goal is to create a safety net for people in the music business, whether they’re songwriters, musicians, sound guys, managers, agents, publishers, and so on.” The concept was sketched out on a napkin, and Unison has now taken tangible form.

The Unison Benevolent Fund is an assistance and referral program designed to provide discreet relief to music industry personnel in times of personal hardship and crisis. Dramatic changes in the industry have meant a high percentage of those involved are self-employed and so lack access to pension plans, unemployment insurance, employee assistance programs, sick leave and medical benefits.

The early support of major record label executives Lisa Zbitnew and Deane Cameron helped secure the involvement of a high-profile, 16-person board of directors, which includes SOCAN’s Director of National Member Operations, Irene Zeltway.

SOCAN’s early support proved invaluable. “Former CEO Andre Lebel [personally] gave us $15,000 and that got us underway,” says Ferneyhough. “Anne Godbout from SOCAN’s legal department did all the work to get us registered as a not-for-profit charity.”

Substantial donations from CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) and Slaight Music really got the ball rolling, financially. Unison executive director Sheila Hamilton, a music industry veteran formerly with the Canadian Country Music Association, explains “We are very close to our goal of $1 million to become operational. That date will be dependent on our final push for funding.”

Unison’s initial focus will be on emergency financial assistance and a wide range of counseling. “Our counselors will man phones 24/7, coast to coast, and in 147 languages,” says Ferneyhough.
Hamilton encourages people in the music industry to go to and register. “That helps us build our database and negotiate better discounts and rates for benefits and insurance,” she says. “There’s strength in numbers.”

The Canadian major record labels have quickly responded, making Unison their charity of choice and setting up employee payroll deductions. Other fundraising events have included a golf tournament and a Manitoba Music bonspiel.

“Unison will need the help of everyone in the music community to make it work,” says Hamilton