It’s Time to Deal With the Trauma of Money

It’s Time to Deal With the Trauma of Money

Why artists should adopt Chantel Chapman’s new money ethos, where financial literacy is served with a heavy dose of compassion.

By: Sumiko Wilson | Photo by: Chantel Chapman

As my interview with Vancouver-based financial coach Chantel Chapman drew to a close, things took an etymological turn. 

“In North America’s view of economics, the term is technically defined as ‘the management of scarce resources.’ That in itself creates an environment of scarcity.”

Though it came in the final moments of our conversation, this observation can be looked at as the very basis for the Trauma of Money Method, Chapman’s counteroffer to what we’ve been led to believe about our finances.

Where fellow money coaches are unabashedly harsh with their advice, the Trauma of Money takes an inside-out approach, turning the lens towards the underlying factors influencing the way we spend and the rates we charge.

For artists, this lays the groundwork for all there is to unlearn. “Scarcity is the opposite of creativity,” she explains. “With this view of economics and art, the two are in disharmony by definition alone.”

In Ontario, the pandemic illuminated just how disharmonious they can be. Last April, the Ford government put a ban on live streamed concerts, which had become a last-ditch effort for artists and venues to stay afloat while adhering to the ever-evolving restrictions. With those shows now outlawed, Chapman says that the abrupt loss is trauma in itself that should be addressed. 

Having gotten her start as a mortgage broker, Chapman transitioned to teaching high school students about money and consulting with banking brands after she noticed a gap in finance education. But despite her expertise, she wasn’t immune to her own personal money faux pas. The idea for the Method came about once she addressed these financial missteps, from racking up debt to undercharging for services. “As I was on my own personal healing journey, I realized that in order to make significant change in how I interact with money—not just how I spend it and save it, but how I earn my money—I had to actually look at the trauma surrounding it and what influenced my relationship with money.” 

This resulted in a multi-year research journey with a psychotherapist, where she studied trauma healing, addiction recovery, mindfulness, behavioural science, community economic development, the psychology of scarcity, and quantum physics. After years of research, Chapman says, “I brought all of these different modalities together, and we developed the first outline of the Trauma of Money Method.”

Using a multi-tiered approach, the Method starts with a deep dive into intergenerational influences on money and then explores relational, societal, systemic, and natural traumas. It culminates with in-depth financial literacy training because according to Chapman, “You actually can’t engage with financial literacy if all of these other things are activated.”

Weeks after the live streaming restrictions were announced and days before the end of tax season, I joined a Google Meet with Chapman to learn more about how artists can benefit from the Trauma of Money Method.

Sumiko Wilson: What can artists gain from understanding finance through the Trauma of Money Method?

Chantel Chapman: I work with artists and creators a lot, and I’ve noticed patterns of what financial psychologists would call “financial rejection.” This is where there are certain beliefs that are so strong that it results in us rejecting money. It’s like money is evil or if you have money, you’re a sellout. It’s the idea of not wanting to commodify yourself. These really strong beliefs result in a rejection of money, and they end up sabotaging the earning ability of creators and artists. 

So how can these beliefs exist while allowing artists to earn money from a place of dignity? You can participate in earning money and not exploit people or exploit the planet. A lot of the things that are so awful about money are because of the people who interact with it, not the money itself. So for artists and creators, what I recommend is to do a deep inventory of those beliefs. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Oftentimes, beliefs that come up around money don’t belong to us. Instead, they’re placed upon us, especially if the beliefs around money are connected to worthiness. Unpack those narratives and ask if they’re helpful for reaching your goals.

One really beautiful law of nature is reciprocity, and in exploitative capitalism, reciprocity doesn’t exist. There are folks who take, and then there are the people who feel terrible about taking. What happens is that they end up giving so much without receiving. As a result, they’re not allowing the cycle of reciprocity to happen. If you’re creating art or offering something beautiful to the world, why are you prohibited from accessing the law of reciprocity? Why are you not allowed to collect on the exchange? I don’t think that the mindset shift should just be put on artists or creators, I think that it should be put on consumers, too. If I listen to music, I need to listen to that music so mindfully and with such a sense of gratitude for everything that went into that because the afterthought of gratitude is always reciprocity. Like, what can I give back?

SW: When it comes to setting a rate, where should artists start?

CC: Phase one [of the Method], we call the Window of Resilience, which we adapted from Daniel Siegel’s Window of Tolerance. Inside the window is an ideal state of arousal in your nervous system, where you can basically handle stress in an optimal state. Outside of that window, we have two different scales: fight or flight and freeze or fawning. Freeze is total avoidance, and fawning is people-pleasing. The first thing you want to do is take inventory of your nervous system because when you price your art, it’s going to bring some shit up for you. The narratives are going to come flooding in, and it’s probably going to move you out of the Window of Resilience and activate the nervous system. 

So first we want to take inventory of that: are we moving into a place of people pleasing or total avoidance? Once we can identify our response, we can create a plan to get into the Window. To do this, we can breathe intentionally, we can invite mindfulness, we can do coldwater therapy, we can hum or sing, we can do our art, call friends, socialize. That’s phase one. 

Phase two is to connect to the greater vision. Depending on what narratives are influencing your pricing, part of your vision may be a reimagining of capitalism, where artists are not only surviving but thriving. Have you mapped that out? What does that look like? 

Phase three is what we call the inventory phase. Now that our nervous system is regulated, this is where we assess what competitors are charging and the costs associated with creating our art. When we talk about cost, we have to consider the tangible and intangible. For example, say you’re making music but you just went through a painful breakup. That whole song is emotional labour, and you should charge for that. 

Or, if you perform and the next day you’re exhausted, you’re not going to charge a day rate, you’re going to charge a two-day rate because you have to sleep the next day. It’s less about time equaling money and more of an energy calculation. 

SW: How can the government create infrastructure to make the artistic economy more sustainable during this time of crisis?

CC: The new rules that come into play can be traumatizing. We can’t control the fact that we’re in a pandemic, so we got creative and started live streaming, and now that’s been taken away. That loss of autonomy is traumatic. It starts with recognizing that. There’s a trauma therapist who says, “We name it to tame it.”

From the lens of someone who has consulted entrepreneurs for a long time, my advice to artists would be diversification. Even from a financial standpoint, I would never tell anyone to put all of their money into one thing. You want to diversify because it mitigates risk. Sometimes we think that a 9-5 is safer, but you never know. You could lose that job at any time. So now, we’re seeing this millennial-led idea of multihyphenates with multiple revenue streams. That’s what I’d say on an individual level.

From an infrastructure level, I think that what New Feeling is doing is a great example. Adopting the co-op model and having folks with similar values gather together creates a greater sense of collective power, which hopefully can influence policies to protect musicians and artists.

How Music Streaming’s Option Anxiety Birthed Another Single-Serving Economy

How music streaming’s option anxiety birthed another single-serving economy

too long; don’t recommend

By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Tom Beedham

The inconsequential royalties artists receive from corporate music streaming giants like Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, and YouTube Music are no closed secret. 

Last October, the compensation model for those royalties—”pro rata,” where rights-holders receive a market share of all streams—even prompted the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers to demand a switch to a compensation model that pays at least one cent per stream as part of its Justice at Spotify campaign.

The advent of music streaming freed musicians from the limitations of physical media, allowing them to express themselves through seamless, virtually endless means, but play-determined royalty systems created an economic environment that rendered that mode of production increasingly precarious. The value of a track spanning the duration of an entire album was reduced to that of a one-minute punk blast; value is extracted from human labour exponentially the longer a track runs. 

Under these circumstances, tracks spanning longer durations are simultaneously disadvantaged in that even listeners who choose to enjoy longer songs “on repeat” can do so with less frequency than their earworm counterparts over a given stretch of time, and substantially longer tracks demand greater quantitative attention of active listeners than shorter ones. By rewarding all tracks a royalty that is founded in play frequency, consumer streaming platforms devalue the labour of artists creating longer running tracks as well as their aesthetic import and appetites for those listening experiences.

big mood

That cultural devaluation is compounded by corporate streaming’s preference for centralized recommendation systems and algorithmic discovery functions. These systems dissuade listeners from active engagement in favour of more ubiquitous, hands-free “listening.”

Across the board, this typically manifests in endless platform-curated playlists encouraging listeners to defer their selection processes to moods or activities. The editorial impulses responsible for their curation are universally proprietary, but we can assume they are generally concerned with boosting passive engagement (e.g., continued listening) metrics, something longer tracks naturally discourage (though active disengagement—skipping a track, for instance—also generates the kind of valuable, intimate user-data platforms in turn entice advertisers with). 

In this sense, platform-curated playlists function like muzak: an ignorable soundtrack deployed as an ethereal presence that slows down consumers’ visits to environments like department and grocery stores so they enter an explorative state where they encounter, reach for, and ultimately purchase items outside their shopping lists. In their 2018 MIT Press book, Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Music Streaming, co-authors Maria Eriksson, Rasmus Fleischer, Anna Johansson, Pelle Snickars, and Patrick Vonderau observe that the breadth of these mood and activity-related playlist categories “schematize every aspect of daily life” and reframe music “as functional tools for accomplishing a task or reaching a certain state of mind”:

The use of music as a functional device has a long history, especially in terms of productivity requirements in workplaces and the exercise of and resistance to power more broadly. However, while the idea that music can be used to control one’s body and mind is not new, the mode of ‘ubiquitous listening’ facilitated by streaming services seems to correlate with a broader turn toward a utilitarian approach to music, whereby music consumption is increasingly understood as situational and functional for certain activities (rather than, for instance, a matter of identity work or an aesthetic experience). This shift is evident not only in Spotify’s classification scheme but also in other features delivered by the service [such as Spotify Running or Spotify’s partnership with Headspace] … Whereas these examples suggest that music streaming and listening should be used for utilitarian purposes, they also privilege specific ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. In particular, they insist on self-governance through mood control…

That is, a version of self-governance that mutes the autonomous impulses of active track selection. Mood and activity playlists instead perpetuate a passive listening landscape geared toward functionality, disproportionately devaluing music geared toward active or deeper listening. By the same token, works that explore more complex or nuanced emotional territory over a longer timeline fail to fit the narrow parameters described by streaming’s prescriptive playlists. As a result, we increasingly see more substantial works absorbed into the pop machine of corporate streaming. 

rat race

Hedging their bets, composers often “break up” more substantial works to squeeze through the same funnels. But corporate streaming’s increased user conditioning towards a passive listening mode introduces more complications. Even when they play the game, the odds are stacked against them.

When Toronto doom metal trio Völur issued their 2017 album Ancestors, a four-part exploration of different Germanic myths, it received two release treatments. Ranging 10-17 minutes in length, its four original tracks are preserved on physical releases and platforms like Apple Music and Bandcamp, but at the request of their label, their running lengths were also chopped into 17 compartmentalized movements for Spotify.

“[Our label] was kind of like, ‘You should do this; we would like it if you would cut them up into shorter portions for Spotify; that way we can get more streaming revenue,'” Völur vocalist and bass player Lucas Gadke says. He frames the Spotify cuts in terms of reluctance and compromise. “I was kind of like, ‘I don’t like the idea of it, and it’s more work for our mastering engineer, but whatever, we’ll do it.'”

As a whole, Ancestors relishes in the atmospheric, each of its four parts building gradually to a heaving sprawl; out of continuity and out of context, it lands differently.

“Everything kind of starts like BLANGHK!” Gadke muses, mimicking the jarring volume blasts each of the parts’ interior tracks drop the listener into when absorbed out of sequence. “It doesn’t fade up artfully.”

Taken in smaller chunks, the individual movements are also robbed of the nuanced emotional import of the complete tracks, tension robbed of resolve, and climaxes sectioned off from their builds.

“In that capacity, having it chopped up makes it tough to get on a playlist in a meaningful way,” Gadke notes, referring to the role recommendation playlists can play as exposure pipelines to bands’ larger catalogues and the fact that these cuts deny listeners an accurate representation of the band’s work. 


It also disconnected him from an entire platform of listeners.

“I can’t even remember the [sectioned] titles [and Spotify listeners tell me] ‘I love that song you do that’s called this,'” Gadke reflects. “I’m like, ‘what?’ and they have to show me and then I’m like, ‘oh.'”

The English language doesn’t even have an adequate word for this kind of experience—the closest approximation available might be the German “Entfremdung.” Literally translated as “estrangement,” Karl Marx used the phrase to articulate the alienation labourers experience when they don’t own the products they labour to create. Yet even this term falls short in its inability to encapsulate the transmutation of artistic craft to market-ready product—or “content,” in this case.

There’s a precedent for this kind of format-challenged listening experience in terrestrial radio broadcasting, but at least that format offers entire programs and stations dedicated to longer playing music. Station scanners who stumble into a track midway through can learn their schedules and tune in accordingly; streaming platforms diffuse more substantial works by asking them to compete for the ears of distracted listeners as fragments and shadows of their true selves.

Endless possibilities

Untethered from the runtime limits of physical media, streaming should aspire to a music culture that reaches far beyond pop digestibles. Instead, the listening paradigm we’ve entered is the aesthetic equivalent of Appolonian office microdosing: we get all our work done and feel all our feels, but at the end of the day, artists are left chasing micropennies and playlist syncs, and we all dream about a life with more substance.

What if platforms diverted from corporate streaming’s emphasis on passive, function-based listening ubiquity and compensated music labourers based on intentional listening? 

Corporate streaming’s critics have been arguing for user-centric licensing (a pay-out rewarding a percentage of a user’s subscription fee to an artist, relative to the percentage of the time that user spent listening to it in a given subscription period), for years, and in March, SoundCloud announced it would introduce such a scheme. VICE reports “eligible artists will keep 55 percent of the revenue they generate from fan-powered royalties,” attributing the figure to Michael Pelczynski, SoundCloud’s head of rights administration and strategy. 

“The remaining 45 percent goes to SoundCloud—but they don’t keep it all as profit,” VICE reports. “Instead, they use part of it to pay out publishing royalties and cover other costs. Ultimately, SoundCloud retains about 25 percent of the revenues from fan-powered royalties and publishing royalties, which is in line with industry standards.”

Further, only artists enrolled in SoundCloud Premier, Repost, and the Repost Select monetization groups—or roughly 20 per cent of all musicians on SoundCloud—will receive the fan-powered royalties. So it’s far from perfect.

Diverting from the monthly subscription game, Berlin-based platform Resonate launched in 2015 with a “stream to own model,” asking users to pay a ninth of the cost of a track download for the first nine plays, then unlocking it for digital download and unlimited listening. Utilizing blockchain technology to manage payment distribution and keep the process transparent, they take a 30 per cent commission on any income. 

Of course, both of these artist compensation alternatives are still significantly anchored to a replayability vector.

Others are pushing to rethink streaming as a good that public enterprise can provide by funding track licensing with the wealthy class’ tax dollars. In an op-ed for The Week, Ryan Cooper makes a case for nationalizing Spotify, including demands for an elimination of the service’s recommendation algorithm and its “aural wallpaper that one barely listens to.”

Writing for Real Life, Liz Pelly submits that we should build a new, socialized streaming platform from the ground up, gesturing towards proposals like Henderson Cole’s American Music Library, a concept founded on values like free access to information and privacy. That model included a maximum wage to prevent the government from funneling the majority of its funds to already rich pop stars.

Even more endearing to artists working in niche genres, this January, cooperative effort Catalytic Sound launched Catalytic Soundstream, a boutique streaming service carrying a rotating catalogue of 100 to 150 albums showcasing work in challenging avant-garde genres like out-jazz and free improv. With new albums swapped in and out every day, monthly revenue is divided from listeners’ $10 monthly subscription fee so one third is reserved for co-op expenses. After $450 is set aside for a monthly platform-exclusive album, the other two thirds are split evenly amongst 29 of the 30 co-op partners, regardless of how frequently their music was streamed. An intentionally small-scale undertaking, they’re also assembling an instructive guide to forming a musicians’ co-op, with hopes of germinating a larger network where co-ops regularly exchange resources on a pay-it-forward basis.

In an interview with Pitchfork contributing editor Andy Cush, Catalytic Sound co-founder and jazz musician Ken Vandermark encapsulates the intervention’s impact in confident, sober terms: “In a collective like this, you’re shifting the platform, but people inherently understand that they’re not forced to fit into a certain mold to belong to the group. We want all these people to be exactly doing what they’re doing, and being heard.” 

With a focus on centring collective good over market populism, artists have the potential to be freed from arbitrary concerns like earning potential and playlistability, labour valued for what it is. By wrenching music from its extractive vulnerability, we can begin to empower artists to pursue streaming’s endless potential. 

Editor’s Note – Issue 4: Economics

EDITOR’S NOTE – Issue 4: economics

Art by: Amy Ash

The cover for New Feeling’s fourth issue, Economics, comes courtesy of Saint John artist Amy Ash. Her 2016 piece, Factory Girls (Time Change), features a photo of Hershey Co.’s last Canadian manufacturing plant, the Moirs factory. The facility operated out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia until it shuttered in 2007. The piece also depicts two girls from a collection of photo negatives dating back to the early 20th Century in Atlantic Canada. “[Factory Girls] is from a project that explored the changing nature of families in Halifax when the Moirs factory opened because it made working outside the home both appealing and normalised for women, ultimately changing not only the economy but family dynamics,” Ash explains in a statement. New Feeling aspires to likewise change the music economy by prioritizing equity in our co-op membership, the freelance writers and visual artists we contract, and the music we cover.

Ironically, New Feeling originally planned our Economics issue for December 2020, the same month we decided to pause publication to focus on organizational matters including remuneration for writers. (You can read more about New Feeling’s development as a cooperative here.)

Fast forward to today. New Feeling has been pre-approved for a SOCAN grant to fund our fourth issue. Though we are thankful this grant allows us to continue publishing and upholds our goal of paying writers and visual artists, relying on grants creates a precarious existence. Going forward, we are launching a membership drive. We hope everything New Feeling has managed to accomplish thus far—without a steady income stream—will encourage our readers to join the co-op and directly support us in our ongoing work towards equity in music journalism.

The SOCAN grant has allowed New Feeling to open our call for story pitches to writers outside the co-op for the first time. Aly Laube takes a deep dive into Canada’s inequitable grant system as it pertains to operations funding for non-profits. Roshanie weighs the risks and benefits of crowdfunding platforms for both artists and fans. Sumiko Wilson speaks with a money expert who teaches financial literacy through the lens of healing trauma. Kaelen Bell illuminates the psychedelic brilliance of the Poppy Family’s 1969 record, Which Way You Goin’ Billy?

As for our organizing members, Tom Beedham extols Guelph’s most exciting new artists. He also explains how playlist algorithms and the pay-per-stream model devalues the labour—and craft—behind tracks that exceed the standard length of hits.

New Feeling is excited to be back, and we hope you are just as excited to see us.

Leslie Ken Chu, co-founder, New Feeling

Paul Chin and GAYANCE on the True Cost of Fan-Funded Music

PAUL CHIN AND GAYANCE ON THE TRUE COST OF FAN-FUNDED MUSIC

By: Roshanie | Art by: Michael Rancic (L-R: Paul Chin by Sarah Bodri; GAYANCE by Stacy Lee & Bruno Destomes)

As musicians rework their business models, many are tapping into platforms like Patreon, Bandcamp, and GoFundMe to build sustainable livelihoods. The growing appeal can stem from desires to have more ownership of their work, communicate directly with fans, and secure predictable income streams. These alternatives can be far more fulfilling and lucrative than the world of ad and streaming revenue for musicians. Especially in the absence of live shows during the pandemic, crowdfunding is filling even more gaps than before. 

New Feeling spoke with Toronto’s Paul Chin and Montréal’s GAYANCE about their bittersweet experiences making fan-funded music. Both Chin and GAYANCE are DJs, produce music, and juggle a number of administrative tasks to keep their music careers afloat. They share what community support means to them, whether this type of funding is informing their art, and if they would crowdfund their next musical endeavour. 

Chin released his Full Spectrum EP in March 2020. Since then, he’s released a deluxe edition of the project and wrapped up its vinyl crowdfunding campaign on Bandcamp. Creating vinyl with Bandcamp is an incredibly streamlined process. They establish a campaign goal in USD based on vinyl details inputted by the artist plus Bandcamp’s own manufacturing and fulfillment costs. Chin’s campaign brought in $4,087 USD, surpassing its goal of $3,730 USD.

Chin is also a creator on Patreon where he shares works in progress, behind-the-scenes content, and other by-products of his arts practice. Unlike Bandcamp, which offers a one-time crowdfunding campaign, Patreon is a monthly membership platform. An artist’s community can subscribe to a payment tier and access its corresponding rewards such as exclusive posts, audio, and more. Not only do Chin’s listeners consume his music, they also directly fund future work through these channels.

GAYANCE is no stranger to the power of crowdfunding. She launched her first campaign in 2010 for her documentary, Piu Piu, and another in 2020 for her podcast, Le Bulletin des Cousins. Fast forward to 2021, and she’s crowdfunding her first EP, No Toning Down, which is set for release in September. This campaign is ongoing, with GAYANCE having raised $3,850 of her $15,000 CAD goal. 

As the community becomes more involved in the artistic process, dynamics between these artists and their fans are also changing. With crowdfunding and membership platforms, there isn’t always a transaction such as receiving music, tickets, or merch. Instead, the foundation of these platforms is built on cheering artists on, with tangible offerings being more of a bonus.

With Chin’s vinyl crowdfunding campaign, there were three pledge levels. Pledging $25 led to one vinyl and one digital copy of the album. At $45, supporters received two vinyl copies and one digital copy. The final tier of $100 included everything in the previous tier plus a limited edition test pressing of Full Spectrum Deluxe, signed by Chin. In that way, Bandcamp’s crowdfunding feature functions like a pre-order campaign. But with each tier, supporters can pledge more than the tier is worth. Through this model, fans are covering the cost of their own vinyl copy, as well as a few more for Chin to distribute later. This display of generosity was apparent throughout Chin’s month-long campaign. He recalls one donor single-handedly bringing the project from 87 percent completion to 100 percent. When the campaign closed five days later, it had a 109 percent success rate thanks to 59 pledges.

“There could come a time that I’m earning so much through these crowdfunding channels that I can actually just have this stuff that I’ve paid for covered, and then can give it away or do whatever I want … It gives me way more options to distribute things at different or more flexible price points,” Chin says. 

A few weeks later, Chin experienced another instance of generosity through an online encounter with the BTS Army, the dedicated fans of South Korean boy band BTS. After defending the group in a Twitter thread, Chin was inundated with replies from the Army expressing their appreciation for his stance. From there, the Army started getting familiar with Chin and his music. It didn’t take long for him to notice a spike in followers and streams. He adds that the Army was PayPal-ing him all weekend. Through his experiences with Patreon, crowdfunding, and now even the BTS Army, it’s become clear to him that people are willing to support him for being himself. 

Reflecting on the idea of being himself, Chin says much of his initial hesitation with Patreon was rooted in this same concept. He wondered if an artist like him deserved to be on the platform at all. During the planning stage, he would make this argument to talk himself out of launching his own campaign. 

“In my mind, it didn’t feel like anybody wanted to pay me just to be me… [Patreon] was always one of those things that I was aware of, thought it was really cool, but it seemed like something I had to work up to,” he says. 

It was a conversation with fellow Patreon creator Kid Koala that eventually changed his outlook. The Montréal turntablist, composer, and producer reminded Chin that Patreon is a marketplace at the end of the day, with a wide range of users. Those users may be more seasoned than Chin, and others may be earlier in their careers. Either way, they’re all offering their audiences the opportunity to support them directly and a window into their arts practice.

When it came time to establish his Patreon rewards, Chin’s strategy centered around sharing his work instead of receiving input or co-creating with patrons. All the mechanisms are there to have that kind of dialogue with patrons, but it’s not in Chin’s nature to create alongside so many people. Seeing an artist like Kid Koala, who has a similarly independent creative process, succeed on Patreon showed Chin that artists who create music on their own can find a meaningful way to use the platform. It also helped Chin realize the kind of rewards that made sense for his own music career.

While he maintains creative control over his fan-funded music, Chin can still appreciate how all of these interactions will inevitably inform his work. He’s currently thinking about inviting his patrons to a monthly discussion club where they listen to a particular album and reflect on it as a group. He says the works he would select for discussion are likely influencing his own sound, so it would only make sense that dissecting it with his community would add another layer of influence and inspiration. 

Now that he’s seven months into his Patreon experiment, Chin says the platform also fills a gap in terms of communication. Rather than connecting with listeners when he’s rolling out a project, there’s more of an ongoing conversation. The break from social media algorithms has also been refreshing. He’s enjoying the pace and loyal audience of Patreon much more than the usual pressure to churn out bite-sized social media content on a regular basis. Even when life gets busy and his Patreon page is a bit quieter, his patrons aren’t chasing him down to get their money’s worth. He senses his patrons’ trust in him and doesn’t feel any expectation to become a music-making machine by joining the platform. Seeing creators like musician Andrew Huang scale back his Patreon rewards when life gets busy has also been reassuring for Chin.

Both Chin and GAYANCE point out that musical and artistic projects need time to flourish—something crowdfunding can help support. While she’s been embedded in the city’s beat scene for some time, GAYANCE is fairly new to producing music. She says if she had taken it up sooner, she could see herself maybe tailoring her sound to what her peers were making. But since she waited, became a seasoned DJ, and got a taste of music scenes elsewhere, the music she’s making now is a better representation of who she is. It’s the reason she titled her EP No Toning Down

For GAYANCE, her community is at the core of her music. That energy exchange with crowds and communities is critical. Especially in the absence of live shows and dancefloors, her crowdfunding campaign has become a source of inspiration and motivation. She explains that meeting people and bonding over music fulfills her, and her time in isolation somewhat sparked her foray into producing. Since she can’t afford therapy yet, she says making music has been her way of working through those emotions amidst the pandemic.

“We have three songs mixed out of five… Financially, the GoFundMe will help me with [pressing] vinyls, getting some merch so I can have profits to invest in other stuff, paying my engineers… I’m trying to make a music video as well,” she explains.

GAYANCE adds that she was recently rejected for a music video grant, so it helps to have options like crowdfunding to fall back on. She says she wouldn’t be able to do anything if she waited around for grants to fund her work. 

Collaborators are another crucial part of the EP, and being able to compensate them fairly through the crowdfunding campaign brings GAYANCE some peace of mind. She adds that many of her collaborators have offered her discounted rates and are willing to accept delayed payments, but she’d rather provide competitive and timely compensation. WIth the help of her community, these fees become one less thing to worry about while she creates. 

There’s also a part of her that is frustrated by the circumstances that led her down this path. She says many artists making English music are left behind by Quebec’s funding bodies. Especially in Montréal, where artists are bilingual or even trilingual, she doesn’t see this reality reflected in the system. While GAYANCE recognizes that some regions around the world have even less funding than what is available to her, she sees a lot of room for improvement in Quebec. 

GAYANCE also observes a disconnect among artists’ financial capacity to create. She used to wonder how some artists facing the same barriers could release videos and music so often. Then one of those artists suggested funding the $15,000 goal through her parents instead of the community—an eye-opening conversation. For artists without funding or generational wealth, crowdfunding becomes critical. 

Asking the community for money is another reason why the crowdfunding route is bittersweet for GAYANCE. She admits she feels a bit guilty knowing that members of her community could just as easily benefit from a crowdfunding campaign. She’s also received apologies from community members that believe in her music but have to wait till their next paycheque to donate. As a result, accepting thousands of dollars in donations can evoke some mixed feelings. 

“DIY is cool, but at the same time, I feel so bad because I’m like, everyone in my community is as broke as me. Not everyone can give and give … People who are giving back are mostly marginalized people. And it makes me sad, you know? There’s rich white kids that are trying to emulate poverty with some mom-and-dad money … Why are you not giving back to people that are actually doing this shit?” GAYANCE asks.

Chin has his own frustrations with crowdfunding. While the injection of funds can move creative projects forward, the preparation and planning for campaigns and Patreon launches are now often competing with other artistic responsibilities. 

Asked what he would do differently for the next campaign, Chin offers a surprising take, saying the goal is to never have to do a crowdfunding campaign ever again. Like GAYANCE, Chin is grateful to have an audience that is willing to support him, but he believes it shouldn’t fall solely on an artist and their community to bring these projects to life. 

“That’s exhausting for all of us. And I do believe that while I’m nowhere near the ceiling, there is a ceiling for how big and how well you can do with [crowdfunding] as your only means. With that ‘sweat equity’ runway, you eventually do have to take off,” he explains. 

He’s hoping a label or distributor can foot the bill next time, after seeing how much he’s accomplished on his own. 

While creating fan-funded music is a big undertaking, GAYANCE ultimately feels better when her projects are crowdfunded. She can express herself exactly how she wants, and there’s a sense of pride knowing that she’s already accomplished so much without any support from traditional funding bodies. She jokes that she can also challenge institutions a bit more since she’s not a recipient of their grants. GAYANCE still applies for the grants that exist and would be open to other sources of funding—just not at the expense of her creative expression. Having DJed in 10 countries across four continents so far, she’s already seen the power of her community and is open to more crowdfunding campaigns down the road. 

Ultimately, these platforms are a helpful tool to artists, but they still have trade-offs. It’s not as simple as the community putting money in the hands of artists. It can be an emotional rollercoaster that requires intellectual labour and upkeep, and projects can still go unfunded. Thankfully for Chin and GAYANCE, crowdfunding platforms are creating space for a well-stocked merch store and new, innovative soundtracks for the fall. Along the way they’ve also created a financial cushion, strengthened their connections to fans, and felt in control of their creative expression. For some artists, crowdfunding can be an essential step to getting their voices heard. For example, GAYANCE’s first campaign for Piu Piu sheds light on the long-term impacts that these crowdfunding efforts can have on the arts

“Nobody wanted to fund [Piu Piu], and to me, it was very important. We’re talking about 2010. I made this documentary about my music scene. … There was Kaytradamus [now known as Kaytranada], Alaclair Ensemble, Dead Obies, High Klassified. But no one thought that those people would have a future,” she says. 

GAYANCE didn’t reach her fundraising goal for Piu Piu, but the contributions meant she could spend less of her own money to bring the project to life. Without the crowdfunding campaign, perhaps the final product would have been different or not feasible at all. Filmed more than 10 years ago now, the documentary is a fascinating snapshot of a sound and community that has propelled many artists into the mainstream. For acts like Kaytranada, it has even landed him Grammys. 

Reflecting on his experiences with Bandcamp and Patreon, Chin says these channels for fan-funded music can be a breath of fresh air for both artists and fans. 

“It’s a literal deprogramming of the models that came before it, which is, you’d have to have something to turn out and have the most stuff to turn out for the least cost to the consumer to make it the greatest value to them… I think there are enough people that are tired of playing that game that they’re willing to throw five, 10, 15 dollars at somebody because they’ve done something that I like, and I’ll throw that money at them so they can at least do it again,” Chin says.  

As artists dive deeper into crowdfunding, it’ll be interesting to see what else fans can fund for artists in Canada and the ripple effects they can create too.

Yes in My Backyard: Guelph

YES IN MY BACKYARD: GUELPH

By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Laura Stanley (Clockwise from top left: Luyos MC by Hong Lam, Vertical Squirrel, Nicolette & the Nobodies by Devic Fotos, Lisa Conway by Arden Wray, M. Mucci, Brad de Roo, Hymns57, Exi, Elaquent by Ryan Antooa, Cots by JG + SHI)

How do you keep a scene alive when the city loses nearly a fifth of its population in its warmest months when students head home from university? In Guelph, Ont., several factors help, including a healthy festival ecosystem (Hillside, Guelph Jazz Fest, Kazoo! Fest), a concentrated downtown, small venues that incubate new projects and welcome experimentation, a supportive media landscape (campus community radio, alternative newspapers), access to other major hubs (Toronto is 100 km away, Hamilton and Kitchener are closer), and good will from local businesses. But perhaps its most generative element is a lax attitude toward musical inbreeding—the degrees separating one act from the next are typically minimal, family trees tangled like spaghetti.

COTS

Steph Yates spent years exploring scrappier energy in Guelph’s noisier spaces. Cupcake Ductape, her delightfully bratty punk duo with Alanna Gurr, stemmed from breaks Scott Haynes took when the pair were providing Shopkeeper’s rhythm section, while Esther Grey’s tiptoed garage pop regularly accommodated guests and textural impulses. Now straddling Guelph and Montreal, Yates steps out for her solo debut as Cots, enlisting a murderers’ row of session musicians (Blake Howard, Josh Cole, Karen Ng, Ryan Brouwer, Sandro Perri, Thomas Hammerton) to turn wide-eyed wonder about travelling through the universe and the gentle, awesome balance of celestial mechanics into bossa nova-infused folk jazz.

M. MUCCI

Whether soliciting patient, downcast melodies from his weathered guitar or droning alongside Guelph’s resident hurdy-gurdy man Ben Grossman in Snake Church, M. Mucci proves himself a rare torchbearer, finding hope in bleak and barren landscapes. On an April 2021 split with Jon Collin, Mucci offered up eight tracks of sparse but affirming guitar music, notes shivering, then shimmering, pushing forward against the march of time. You could cry.

NICOLETTE & THE NOBODIES 

Nicolette Hoang picked her deferential band of Guelph locals (Ian Bain, Nicole Gulewitsch, Emma Howarth-Withers, Daniel Paillé) from pop, punk, and surf acts, but the outlaw-inflected country western that poured out tipped a 10-gallon hat to Dolly, Loretta, and Tammy, boots firmly rooted in the present. On 2019’s Devil’s Run, Hoang finds a place for herself in a town that’s not big enough for another university degree, and now that the band’s double vaxxed, they’re back in the studio, banging out new ones for a road that’s never been dustier.

VERTICAL SQUIRRELS

Weaving psychic impulses into radical collective blasts at the intersection of free jazz, post-rock, minimalism, raga psychedelia, and kosmiche musik, Vertical Squirrels originally formed in 2008 as an experiment in group-improvisation. In recent years, the core of Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, Lewis Melville, and Ted Warren took on a residency at grassroots experimental venue Silence, recontextualizing the project as a living improvised community expression with an open-door guest policy. A sample of those experiments lives on new offering Le gouffre / The Chasm, documenting the events of October 23, 2019, when the group invited Dong-Won Kim and Gary Diggins into the fold.

EXI

Save for private parties and hushed events in secret locations, Guelph was admittedly lacking in the techno department even approaching the pandemic, but with just a single, scant-on-details EP uploaded to Bandcamp, mysterious producer Exi fills the vacancy, summoning throbbing kicks and stuttering, bone rattle snares that penetrate lonely atmospheres like a ghost of the city’s ’90s rave scene trying to manifest a haunted chill out room.

ELAQUENT

A prolific producer and beatmaker, Sona “Elaquent” Elango has cultivated a devout international following but remains relatively unknown locally. Across handfuls of records spanning instrumental hip hop and chilled out jazz and neo-soul, J Dilla is a returning point of reference (to be sure, this past February, Elaquent paired up with Austin’s BoomBaptist and Denton’s Juicy the Emissary on a tribute to the late producer called Komfort Food), but Elango’s refreshingly in the moment. Never idle, quarantine has found the producer two EPs deep in a Bedtime Stories series, Elango’s emotive dreamtime beatscapes locked in and loose like watercolour paintings, swiftly and serenely expressionistic.

LUYOS MC

Having studied under kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan in San Francisco, the music MaryCarl Guiao makes as Luyos MC engages with the Filipinx gong tradition from a decolonial consciousness raising standpoint. A typical performance opens with traditional kulintang compositions, then branches into more modern and experimental touches like spoken word and live electronic sound manipulations. Increasingly welcoming collaborators into her practice, Guiao has also turned her attention to her contemporaries, “Lake Agco Droplets” draping a vertically-hung web of gongs over respectfulchild’s “drops” and its hypnotic violins.

HYMNS57

Smeared with the dust of so many tape loops, the tracks Steven de Taeye makes under the Hymns57 moniker have an immediate sepia quality to them. Taeye coasts through endless varieties of glistering, glassy landscapes with guitars, synths, field recordings, and found sounds fed through any number of effects; the project lends itself to a unique versatility, all the more captivating with the brevity Taeye typically favours over drone’s endless drifts. There’s an economy to Taeye’s work that allows him to address seemingly endless impressions, each track functioning like an emotional polaroid.

LISA CONWAY

Best known for her solo project L Con, Lisa Conway has leaned into commissioned work throughout the pandemic, contributing full scores for film and theatre, as well as an experimental sound piece for MaerzMusik’s 27-hour livestreamed speaking clock. Harbinger, a contemporary dance work featuring Conway’s sound design and live mixing in collaboration with Victoria Cheong (New Chance), is set to premiere in Paris, and 2021’s Guelph Jazz Festival will feature a sound and light installation of Conway’s in the Goldie Mill Ruins. Sound installations have previously corresponded with Conway’s songwriting practice (2015’s Moon Phone was created in dialogue with L Con’s Moon Milk), so perhaps hints of work to come.

BRAD DE ROO

Brad de Roo scratches an obscure region of dopamine receptors. Joined by Marmalade Duplex bandmate Tyson Brinacombe, each successive outburst expresses an urge that might have occurred to many but few have had the impulse to appease, let alone document; dig through the discography and you’ll find everything from Eno-centric comedy roasts to party albums for no one. On most recent offering No Wave Exotica, de Roo channels the stripped down aesthetic violence of New York no wave through a bass VI while Brinacombe seizes the guitar pedals and uses them like an instrument, naked expression turned warped wonderland.

Inequitable Distribution of Operational Funding Is Squeezing the Life Out of Canada’s Non-Profits

Inequitable Distribution of Operational Funding Is Squeezing the Life Out of Canada’s Non-Profits

COVID-19 pandemic was the nail In the coffin, exacerbating the need for an accessibility overhaul

By: Aly Laube | Art by: Laura Stanley

“A lot of us are on the verge of homelessness if we miss a cheque and can’t pay our rent and don’t have a security network to fall back on,” says Josh Eastman, founder of new non-profit music space, Helm Studios.

Eastman has worked primarily as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and educator in Vancouver for five years. With the onset of the pandemic, he’s added founder of a non-profit to that list, after seeing firsthand how a lack of income only furthered the marginalization of artists already underrepresented in the industry.

Without access to usual resources and networks, artists are left without support or time to do what they love, perpetuating a cycle of burnout that has left scars on their mental, spiritual, and emotional health. He started Helm to help artists in his community survive the pandemic and thrive as professional musicians.

Without any income from shows, and already feeling the pressure of being marginalized and underrepresented in the mainstream Canadian music industry, they were suffering to pay their bills and make their art. Without support or time to do what they love, many creatives got sucked into a cycle of burnout that left scars on their mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

Helm provides subsidized studio time to artists, with preference given to uplifting BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and women in music, working from the understanding that low-income folks exist on an intersection of identities that influence their access to the music industry. The non-profit is a stepping stool to equitable access for people of all identities and backgrounds. 

Eastman’s goal was never to make money, but he is surprised by how huge of a burden financial insecurity has been since Helm incorporated earlier this year.

Months after receiving an initial wave of community donations, Helm is struggling to pay the bills without operational support. The organization relies on “a huge amount of volunteer hours” and constant client support to make its bottom line. That’s Helm’s secondary goal, the first being to meet its mission of providing low-income artists with studio time.

Eastman, who had no previous non-profit experience, had to take out a $5,000 loan and make a “considerable investment” of thousands more to launch Helm Studios. He estimates it would take about $80,000 to fund the studio’s operations for the whole year, but after being repeatedly rejected for operational support and lacking corporate investors, there’s no way of knowing if Helm will reach that goal.

The result is that people like Eastman don’t get paid, even when they pour themselves into working overtime for a cause they believe in.

“As someone who’s living paycheque to paycheque, it’s scary to be like, now my costs are doubled or tripled in order to set these things up,” he says.

Other arts non-profit leaders across the country are in the same position. With public guidelines against mass gatherings came a financial crisis for the arts sector, including the non-profits who relied on ticket sales and audience engagement to survive. Many of those groups have adapted or shut down since last spring, but the Canadian grant system remains unchanged. The barriers that were keeping people out years ago still stand today.

Rethinking the federal approach to funding

Bernadette Johnson is the director of advocacy and knowledge mobilization at Imagine Canada, an organization dedicated to supporting non-profits and charities across the country through research and advocacy. She says this resistance to change creates a weak relationship between the government and the non-profit arts sector.

“It’s not intentional. It’s become what we call benign neglect,” she says. “It’s not an enabling relationship. It’s a ‘you can do this or you can’t’ relationship.”

It should be a strategic relationship, Johnson says. In the mid-90s, there were major cuts to arts sector and advocacy funding, among other subsections, marking the end of a “trust-based” relationship and beginning a stricter, more project-based one.

Project-based funding is often a one-time payment for one-time expenses like venue booking, gear rental, and promotions, while operational funding covers expenses like rent and wages. Often, non-profits survive off of sporadic, unreliable project-based grants, unable to attain operational support they need to survive.

Money appears to go to the organizations that are already at the top of the class ladder the most, since they have a financial record and organizational support necessary to run a non-profit. That makes them a low-risk, high-reward investment for funders, who can enjoy these relationships while small grassroots organizations shutter in defeat.

“There’ve been a series of attempts to change that grants and contributions approach and make it better. But you can tweak that system as much as you want. It’s not going to replace the government caring about the sector and investing in the sector,” says Johnson.

She and her peers at Imagine Canada suggest that the arts non-profit sector be given a “home in government” and associated minister. They have been rallying the federal department of finance for this with no luck for years.

“There’s nowhere the sector can turn to to have conversations about what it needs. There’s no one to encourage [Statistics Canada] to conduct research on the sector. We don’t know how many non-profits we have in the country. We don’t know their skills. We don’t know who they’re staffed by,” says Johnson.

There are consultants that help organizations run effectively, but that requires money overworked and underpaid staff are already desperate to keep. They’re often busy managing accounting, human resources, and fundraising while juggling constant financial insecurity.

To people without ample money, time, and education, starting a non-profit can be intimidating. Founders have to federally or provincially incorporate, register as a society, get a business license, and potentially acquire and operate space. Then they need a board of directors and to follow Robert’s Rules and the Societies Act, which regulate how to hold meetings and conduct business, respectively. 

Finally, when the organization is all set up, the executive director has to ensure the non-profit can carry out its mission. Non-profits are regulated through the CRA’s Income Tax Act, with legislation managed through Revenue Canada. Getting corporate taxes handled by a professional costs at least $2,500. 

All of that takes resources many grassroots organizers don’t have. Running a non-profit can easily become an unpaid, full-time job, but it’s not just financial issues that are the problem. The amount of paperwork and understanding of legal and business jargon necessary to start a non-profit is already unreasonable for the average person.

Eastman says there needs to be better access to information about where funding is available for non-profits. Instead of filling out a form, he suggests that funders have conversations with potential recipients so they can express their intentions and skill sets face to face.

“Filling out forms is such an impersonal experience, and it does in a way limit access. You have to know legalese. You have to know what jurors want and sometimes have connections. They want an established financial history, which caters to people with amassed wealth. It’s not really designed for people just starting out or people facing systemic oppression. They have to have roles that are actually meaningful.”

Making the process personal makes it more accessible, he says.

“The arts are always on the chopping block. It’s such a weirdly commodified industry that is also seen as having no benefit to capitalism. We’re in a weird position where funding is making jobs and supporting non profits, but […] helping marginalized people make music doesn’t stimulate the economy in the way that they want. It’s a big risk and fight to keep it going,” says Eastman.

“I can’t do this forever, and it’s very new, so I understand that, but there’s no middle ground between me volunteering and giving more of myself than I can or going into for-profit and only serving people who have the funds. Bridging that gap is really important.”

Johnson says organizations were able to build their capacity over the previous summer, largely due to provincial and federal emergency support. It’s important to keep that support going if those groups are to stay alive, and it’s past time to loosen up eligibility requirements for operational funding applications, as far as she’s concerned.

“That relates to the operational funding issue because the response in the sector has been program top-ups, but those are just more program-related expenses. There might be 10 to 15 per cent administrative coverage, which is not enough, and it’s not core operational support, which is what they’re really needing.”

Non-profits are being strangled by what Johnson refers to as “the overhead myth.”

“There’s a myth that organizations, in order to be impactful, should have the smallest amount of overhead expenses possible, and that the more overhead they have the more wasteful they are, which is not true,” she says.

“That leads to organizations feeling they need to trim their overhead as much as possible, which leads to things like the starvation cycle […]. Staff are covering more operational areas than they usually would, which is leading to staff burnout, and most volunteers haven’t returned.”

When leaders are constantly occupied keeping the ship afloat, they can’t stop to talk about long-term sustainability, development, or fundraising. It’s an environment that sets people up to fail if they don’t have savings to fall back on.

Photo by: Amilee Rypkema

Providing operational support from the bottom up

Mike Grogan is the president and CEO of IntegralOrg, a charity that helps non-profits increase their organizational capacity. IntegralOrg offers resources and workshops on foundational areas like governance, financial management, and strategic planning.

He agrees that the current system for giving out operational support in Canada “is not working already.” The pandemic took attention away from the sector as funders rushed to meet more immediate concerns—a loss big companies with deep pockets could take. Smaller, less established organizations got lost in the fray, without brand recognition or major partnerships to keep them afloat.

Small organizations need to develop a solid business model, he suggests. That will encourage funders to give them critical operational support.

“Passion doesn’t make it a viable business model,” he says.

“Small organizations tend to lack a) the funding to do it and b) the access to people to be able to do that. If you’re an institution or government funder, remove some of those barriers. Bring tools [… and] perhaps do it collaboratively.”

Relying on private donations isn’t working now, since people are being careful with their money during the pandemic. Grogan can’t see a short-term solution, but in the long term, he hopes the government will invest in “changing the people and the public’s perception of the arts.”

“Do that and the funding will follow,” he says.

“Ten years ago mental health was not talked about. Now it’s probably the top two or three funded areas in the non-profit sector. It’s changed in enormous ways. 30 years ago environmentalism was fringe, but it’s gotten up too.”

His vision of the immediate future seems stark and bleak, but perhaps realistic. Non-profits shouldn’t be waiting for things to “return to normal” because they might run out of money before that happens, he advises. Through his work, he has seen arts non-profits drop like flies over recent months.

“We are winding down more non-profits than we ever have. We’re also starting up probably twice as many.”

“For arts organizations this is a multiyear downturn, not a sudden downturn, and there are going to be casualties. The loss of those things you probably don’t feel overnight. You feel them over time, but it’s not like they go away forever. As you go through this period of destruction, opportunities arise. People see a need and start something up.”

When the time comes to start anew in the arts non-profit sector, he hopes the government will give groups the operational support they need to continue to do important work across the country.

“If you’re just stressed keeping the doors open one more day, it’s hard to step back and say let’s do some work on some of the foundations,” says Grogan.

Creating new opportunities to uplift the next generation

Matthew White is the CEO at Victoria Symphony, a registered non-profit, but he started his career as a professional opera and concert singer. He did that successfully for 20 years before moving into arts administration in Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria. He came to “very much understand the idea of not having operational funding” after personally financing and producing an opera in Montreal that was “his dream.” 

“When you’re a company that doesn’t have all that funding, then the buck has to stop somewhere, and it’s often at the person at the heart of the creative vision,” he says. 

Now, in his role with Victoria Symphony, he is enjoying the benefits of receiving consistent operational funding for the first time. Victoria Symphony gets roughly a third of its money from the government, a third from donors, and a third from direct revenue. Without operational funding, he says the operas and ballets they produce wouldn’t be possible.

“I think the thing to remember about operational funding is that it’s meant to provide stability,” White points out. 

“When you’ve got a company that’s perhaps younger or just starting out, it doesn’t have operational funding, which means it doesn’t have some of those funds that any organization needs so it can start planning for the future and not just focus on the needs of today.”

He says the solution isn’t to “take the current pie and cut it up into more and smaller pieces.” Instead, the federal and provincial governments need to invest in creating a “much bigger pie” for the arts and culture sector. By adopting a similar approach to what has been done in Europe, Canada could broaden and diversify its pool of operational funding recipients.

“It is absolutely vital that there are larger-scale organizations in every given community so we can still have access to things like contemporary opera and ballet dance and some legacy music-making. The government should continue to fund them, but I think it’s also really important to recognize that there’s a whole new generation of artistic voices there that need support.” 

He has been arguing for years that the arts are an economic engine. Investing in the arts creates economic activity and pays for itself, according to various studies, articles, and reports. Still, White says that should be the government’s secondary concern, after the value that art-making brings to people’s lives. 

“When you look at how much money is invested in arts and culture as a proportion of the entire budget, it’s absolutely negligible,” he says. “If you stop investing in arts and culture, it’s going to result in a cultural desert that’s going to make everybody feel less good about being alive.”

Without the special funding that the government provided them, such as the wage subsidy program, he estimates Victoria Symphony would have downsized to a third of its normal operations. The organization provides living wages for 35 musicians plus staff who rely on that support, and he’s grateful to have it. 

“This shouldn’t be a situation of pitting larger organizations against smaller ones, because we’re all really part of the same community. It should be about providing more support all around because I think an ecosystem needs people at every single level to find ways of funding creative and smart and capable artists at the beginning of their careers, and you need to find ways of supporting established organizations,” he says. 

“The solution is more money to arts and culture.”

Happy Bleeding: A Photo Collaboration with No Joy

happy bleeding

A PHOTO COLlaboration with no joy

Earlier this fall, we sent No Joy’s Jasamine White-Gluz a disposable camera with the vague instructions of documenting whatever she felt inspired to. She returned 19 colourful snapshots filled with props, cats, and instruments. Turn on Motherhood and take a peek into how the musician is passing pandemic life in Montréal.


“As fall was quickly becoming winter, I started documenting my daily “get-outside-while-you-still can” walks through Montréal, always aiming to find locations that I wouldn’t likely encounter another person. That included Montréal construction sites covered in trash and the hills around a man-made pond. The rest are mostly photos of my cats and I at home and some of my attempts at being a musician during lockdown. BYE 2020!”

– JASAMINE WHITE-GLUZ / NO JOY

Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg Creates Healing Through Music

A portrait of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Memory Pearl
A portrait of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Memory Pearl

MOSHE FISHER-ROZENBERG CREATES HEALING THROUGH MUSIC

HOW THE ABSOLUTELY FREE DRUMMER’S EVOLVING CREATIVITY LED HIM TO MUSIC THERAPY

By: Leslie Ken Chu | Photo by: Colin Medley

“In terms of the music industry, I definitely have had to rejig my relationship with that whole pursuit of success. I’ve kind of abandoned that.”

Whether drumming with experimental rock trio Absolutely Free, making ambient electronic music as Memory Pearl, DJing, remixing, or dabbling in criticism, Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg’s relationship with music is constantly evolving. “I go a little crazy if I feel that I’m not going forward in certain ways,” he tells me over Zoom. This curiosity and restlessness has led him to his current vocation, music therapy.

Fisher-Rozenberg is in the second and final year of his master’s degree in music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I’ve been touched by so many people who have had difficulties navigating their mental health,” he says, before adding that he has faced similar obstacles. “Music therapy is not just for addressing mental health,” he points out, “but that was the draw for me… I wanted to deepen that relationship [with music], and music therapy seemed to be a good direction.”

Music therapy can treat an array of cognitive, communicative, and motor symptoms related to dementia, schizophrenia, autism, depression, aphasia, Parkinson’s, and more. Exercises like clapping hands, tapping feet, and singing can improve breathing, heart rate, and blood flow. “It’s pretty all-encompassing,” Fisher-Rozenberg says. “The important thing is it’s not a one-size-fits-all. You have your patient, together you create goals, and then the music therapist will approach the music therapy sessions in a way that is specific for those goals.”

Prior to his studies, Fisher-Rozenberg volunteered for two years at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. There, he worked with individuals with schizophrenia. “My intention was to help them feel a little bit of control. They’re so powerless in so many ways, so to create an atmosphere where they can feel empowered was really important, and then also to create that sense of community, because it’s a fine line between feeling you’re at a hospital and feeling that you’re maybe being held prisoner.” To achieve this, he led interactive group sessions that mostly involved group drumming, but also individual singing and poetry. “Depending on the approach, a lot of verbal processing can really help to digest some of the things that come up in the music.”

Although he used music therapy techniques in his volunteer work, Fisher-Rozenberg clarifies that his practice was informal. “I was kind of just feeling it out and experimenting, whereas now I’m reading a lot of literature and learning a lot of official approaches.” Without certification, one cannot call their practice music therapy. “They’re not going to get as deep,” he says, “but they can still use songwriting or music listening, for instance, with patients.”

To this point, he notes that we use music therapeutically every day. “Even just going dancing can manipulate your emotions, or it can give you energy.” But what’s the difference between casual conversation and psychotherapy, he asks? “Speaking with a psychotherapist is going to be very different, because it’s going to be guided; there’s going to be clinical goals associated with those conversations. And there’s a potential for things to really deepen and for unconscious material to come to the surface in a way that’s not going to happen necessarily if you’re chatting with a friend over a beer. It might not have that same safety.”

That lack of distinction between formal and informal practice isn’t the only misconception about music therapy. “The whole fuckin’ field is built upon misconceptions,” Fisher-Rozenberg replies without missing a beat when I ask for examples. “Some of the misconceptions that are bothersome would be that music therapy is showing up with a guitar and playing tunes, like entertaining. If you Google music therapy, probably the first thing that comes up is somebody with a big smile on their face playing acoustic guitar to a group of elderly people or a group of children,” he presumes accurately. But he states firmly: “It’s not about entertainment at all. It’s about collaborative and interactive experiences.”

“I do group sessions, and my biggest fear is that I will be expected to be an entertainer. But in those instances, you come up with group goals.” Referring back to his work with individuals with schizophrenia, who can feel particularly isolated in a long-term care facility, he explains his approach: “I’m gonna be trying to create engagement and relationships between them so they can feel a sense of home in an atmosphere where they do not feel that they’re at home… So me just standing in front of them and playing Elvis is not gonna do that. All that’s gonna do is entertain them for five minutes.”

Fisher-Rozenberg also takes exception to the conflation of music therapy and the wellness industry. “A lot of people claim that they can heal you with vibey music. I think maybe they call it sound therapy. But from what I know, that’s a little rogue, because so far in my studies, I haven’t read much about using drone music to heal a person.” He does acknowledge that every person responds differently to music. “The cliché, corny relaxation music is not gonna work for everybody. It may be relaxing for one person, but for another, it can be extremely aggravating,” he says, reiterating his point that one size does not fit all. “For music to actually help a person, it has to be their preferred music. For one person to relax, yeah, okay, maybe [it’s] the sounds of the rainforest and some harp, like you’d hear at a spa. For another person maybe it’s Black Sabbath, which is counter-intuitive.”

Misconceptions exist among music therapists, too. Although he’s relatively new to the field, he’s observed a spectrum of thought. “On the left side is expressive therapies, so that’s your catharsis, like getting out emotions and things like that. And then on the right side is brain stuff, like, what does music actually do to your brain? How do you use music to rehabilitate somebody’s speech? How do you use music to rehabilitate somebody’s fine motor skills? And those two sides don’t seem to get along very well.” Fisher-Rozenberg straddles the middle. “If you’re a therapist, you gotta be able to hold both [views]. That’s the whole beauty of therapy: it allows people to hold two totally disparate thoughts or feelings at the same time and then integrate them. So as therapists, we should be doing that.”

Music therapists work out of various settings. In private practice, patients go to the therapist. Contracted therapists move between facilities, like clinics, hospitals, and group homes. In-house therapists are stationed in one facility. Fisher-Rozenberg is currently limited to Zoom sessions from his home, but in a way, they’ve expanded the possibilities of his practice. “It’s actually good for me because I have a lot of electronic leanings. I like to use lots of electronic music technologies, and I can integrate all of those. I don’t know if you can see behind me” – he points to a collection of consoles in his background – “there’s some big, old synths. I can’t bring those with me, but now I’m able to use them.”

Lee Krasner – Untitled, 1948

He’s also been using electronic technology to explore his possibilities as a musician. Over the last two years, Fisher-Rozenberg worked on his debut solo album as Memory Pearl, Music for 7 Paintings. Its seven electronic instrumentals cascade between calming, luminous ambience, with sweeping sonic immersions and cosmic journeys built upon percolating, comet-tailed synths. The compositions incite the sort of astral projection that might occur when gazing at the Abstract Expressionist paintings each track is named after. These references include Jackson Pollock (Number 28, 1950), Lee Krasner (Untitled, 1948), Helen Frankenthaler (Natural Answer, 1976; Red and Brown Scene, 1961), Joan Mitchell (Sunflower, 1969), Franz Kline (Cupola, 1958-1960), and Robert Ryman (Untitled #17, 1958).

“It was very personal,” Fisher-Rozenberg says of Music for 7 Paintings. “There’s some music therapy theory that would apply to my process.” He began by observing a painting, then journaling and translating that writing into compositions. “By going from one modality to another to another, a lot of unconscious material surfaced. And that’s one way that people use music therapy: they go from drawing to writing to singing to talking, and jumping between all those different modalities helps them to uncover this top secret unconscious information about themselves that helps them to be a more integrated individual.”

The album’s electronic aesthetic was straightforward, though, derived from music he enjoyed, like Laurie Spiegel, Tim Hecker, Wolfgang Voigt, and obvious minimalist touchstones Brian Eno and Steve Reich. “It’s so basic,” he laughs. “I cannot help but be influenced by the music I love, and especially as this is my first substantial work as a solo artist, I felt I needed to honour and represent this aesthetic that I’ve had brewing for so long… This was like a freedom where I was really trying to honour this vibe that is so important to me, but I’ve never had a project where I could express that aesthetic.”

Fisher-Rozenberg’s work as Memory Pearl echoes what he loves about abstract art. “It allows for interpretation, which is a beautiful thing, because the last thing you want is to listen to a piece of music and to be told exactly how to listen to it, exactly what it means. I think it’s much more important for a viewer or a listener to be able to insert themselves and insert their own history into a work.”

Helen Frankenthaler – Red and Brown Scene, 1961

However music is experienced or applied, Fisher-Rozenberg marvels at its mystical power to evoke memories and emotions. “If you’re sad and you’re listening to sad music, that’s because the music is validating your feelings… But then on the flip side, we use music all the time to manipulate our feelings: maybe I’m feeling sad, but I don’t want to feel sad, so I’ll put on some kind of sunshine record.” Moreover, music can provide a safe distance from one’s own trauma, a baby step towards being able to confront that trauma. “If I have trauma in my life, maybe I’m not quite ready to confront that trauma. But if I hear something similar in a song, I can just talk about the song. I don’t have to talk about myself.”

Though we’ve all been using music in these ways our whole lives, “It’s a little chaotic, and we can’t quite put the words to it,” Fisher-Rozenberg says. “We don’t even think about this stuff. We just do it because intuitively, it feels safe, and it feels right.” Music therapy, he summarizes, is “making a science of it and then using those tools to help people reach [rehabilitation] goals in an organized way.”

If we all take a moment to think about how we use and experience music every day – how safe and right it makes us feel – then like Fisher-Rozenberg, our relationship with this mystical force will deepen, too.

Music for 7 Paintings is out now via Idée Fixe Records.

Yes in My Backyard: Saskatoon

Photo collage by Alec Martin (L-R: Sōhka, respectfulchild, éemi, Gus Davidson)

YES IN MY BACKYARD: Saskatoon

By: Lenore Maier

Like many things in 2020, the Saskatoon music scene is undergoing a transformation. The pandemic has put a halt to many artists’ plans, but there are some who have managed to lean into the isolation, exposing previously unseen and wonderful sides of their craft. The rise of the solo project is strong. Perhaps there’s more time at home to hone your craft, or maybe it’s one final ditch effort to let it all out and leave it all on the table. Either way, there is a lot of musical rebirth and growth happening on the prairies, and Saskatonians are luckier for it. From lo-fi electronic music to bedroom folk and even franco-pop, here are 10 artists doing exciting things in Saskatoon.

Ellen Froese

Ellen Froese has come to be known as a musical staple and sense of pride in Saskatchewan for her infectious brand of singer-songwriter country-folk music. Whether solo or backed up by her incredibly fun band Hot Toddies, Ellen will always steal the show. With what can surely be presumed to be a side effect of social distancing measures, Froese has recently been experimenting with drum machines and synth tracks that are equally endearing and unexpected.

Gus Davidson

Gus Davidson, a.k.a. Angus Dickenson, has slowly but surely established himself into the Saskatoon electronic scene over the past year. His recent self-titled debut album released by Pop Quiz Records is beyond its years in feel and composition. Gus’s recent online cassette release event hosted a fantastic bill with some of the best audio and video quality you can expect from a livestream concert. 

éemi

Emilie Lebel, a.k.a. éemi, has proven herself to be one of Saskatoon’s most innovative and hard working musicians. Her infectious brand of franco-pop is simultaneously raw and polished. The honesty in éemi’s music is so tangible, it transcends beyond the language barrier. Her debut EP Honey was released as a glass jar full of Saskatchewan Kitako Lake honey. I can tell you that receiving it in my mailbox in late March at the beginning of a lockdown was very sweet, indeed.

Dylan Jules Cooper

A multi-instrumentalist who wades into more genres than most Saskatoon musicians, Dylan Cooper’s recent album Summer brings a much needed dose of fun. With a strong mix of soul-burning, R&B infused love songs and fast driving politically driven soul-rap, Summer falls somewhere between Marvin Gaye and M83. A difficult artist to pin down, Cooper’s genre-defying music will impress and surprise anyone previously familiar with his sound.

Sōhka 

Originally hailing from Île-à-la-Crosse, Taylar Belanger a.k.a. Sōhka has been establishing herself as one of Saskatchewan’s most exciting R&B/hip-hop artists over the past year. Coming from a spoken word background, Sōhka brings a tremendous sense of strength and wisdom to her writing. Her new music video, “Protector” shines the light even brighter on the already vibrant scene of Indigenous female hip-hop artists in Saskatchewan.

Zann Foth

Zann might be one of Saskatoon’s most unassuming artists. Their talent is multilayered, impressive and humbling. Everytime I listen to or watch Zann perform, I think to myself, “Joni Mitchell would love those guitar chords and vocal lines.” Living naturally at the crux of acoustic folk and accessible jazz, Zann makes it all look so easy, akin to watching Elvis Stojko land a quadruple axel in 1991. You know an artist is good at something when they make the execution appear effortless.

Bicycle Daze

Bicycle Daze have been making a unique blend of mellow psychedelic shoegaze for the past couple of years. Word on the street is they have a new self-titled album in works, as a welcome follow-up to their 2018 single, “Upside Down”, slated for release later this year. Bicycle Daze was also behind one of Saskatoon’s coolest music events to happen in 2020: Albertfest, a socially distanced block party music festival.

Taylor Jade

Taylor Jade’s musical specialty lies in a dark and brooding sense of acoustic sedation. Her most recent release, the single “Lamb to Slaughter,” was recorded on her phone during the middle of lockdown in May 2020. More than once,  I’ve found myself listening to this track on repeat. One of her best songs, and remarkably candid.

respectfulchild

One of Saskatoon’s most unique artists across all media, respectfulchild has been working recently in the realm of visual arts, but not before releasing a simply amazing video performance which includes them dressed up as a baroque bourgeois white-hair dancing and fanning themself to a remix of “Starships” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

June Thrasher

If you are a musician in Saskatchewan who has experienced any form of success, chances are you are heavily indebted to Kaelen Klypak in some form or another. Kaelen has long been an essential part of the province’s music scene, relentlessly advocating for local artists on behalf of SaskMusic, a non-profit that promotes and develops the artists and music industry of Saskatchewan. He’s recently jumped the fence to the dark side (from advocate to artist) unveiling his electronic project, June Thrasher. Any fans of Daft Punk and Kavinsky will thank themselves for checking it out.