Connective Tissue

Photos of archivists Ben Lines and Arif Ansari taken in front of their various and extensive music collections.

Connective Tissue

How punk archivists in Calgary Preserve the fabric of music from the past

By: Reina Cowan | Art by: Michael Rancic

Decay is the natural process of destruction. It will happen to your teeth, your body, and plant matter. Eventually, your physical possessions—including art and music—will decay, too.

The average shelf life of cassette tapes is around 30 years. For vinyl, that number ranges between two and 100 years, depending on the level of meticulous and loving care. But regardless, most analog formats break down easily either naturally, through time and wear, or through human negligence: getting knocked around in moving vans or broken by friends you lend your belongings to.

Taking conscious steps to prevent breakdown is a habitual process. Every day, we take care to maintain our bodies, lives, and relationships. Ben Lines extends this same effort to preserving music. When he’s not studying or working part-time, the 21-year-old Calgary resident is running CanadianWasteland.

At its core, CanadianWasteland is a love letter to the zeitgeist of hardcore scenes past, though Lines founded the archive as an ode to Calgary hardcore after spending a summer immersed in record stores, poring over used punk records from the early- to mid-’90s and feeling the continued resonance of the creativity and political ideals expressed by the obscure bands he uncovered.

Across CanadianWasteland’s Blogspot, YouTube, and Instagram pages, Lines’ archiving habit has generated a treasure trove of lovingly ripped FLAC files, strange vinyl covers, album insert scribbles, and 1990s zine remnants. Over time, the project has become more comprehensive, highlighting some American and French music, but Lines remains focused on Calgarian and Western Canadian hardcore punk.

In 1990s Calgary, Lines notes, the hardcore punk scene was largely do-it-yourself. Accessibility to the albums that he uncovered and resonated with was very limited. 

Many albums Lines discovered risked being lost to time. The vinyl began showing its age, warping on the surface. On top of that, he says, no one seemed to be holding onto the weirdest of the weird records—the ones he thought were truly cool and emblematic of the DIY ethos of building your own scenes, staging shows, and distributing punk music through zines and word of mouth.

Hardcore as a genre is born of political struggle. “There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. His archiving efforts give new generations an opportunity to discover the political takes expressed by these hardcore obscurities.

“There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. “There are so many good, refreshing takes on it.”

So how do you archive a record, anyway? 

“It’s a process,” Lines says.

An initial transposition from analog to digital poses the challenge of how to make a new format feel like home to someone with an attuned ear. It’s a labour of love.

“Your record’s an analog format,” says Lines. “When your turntable plays your record and breaks down the signal, it’s completely different from what you’d listen to on your phone, listening to a digital track.”

“But it just feels really fulfilling to me. Even if not a lot of people look at my blog posts or anything, I just know that this artist, this record that I was looking for for the longest time, that I listened to every day—it’s out there in good quality and people can appreciate it the way I do.”

Lines includes a web disclaimer that any band’s materials can be taken offline at their request. But generally, the bands Lines features are so obscure that copyright isn’t an issue. 

In fact, the response to CanadianWasteland has been overwhelmingly positive. Lines’ passion has led him to connecting with the people behind the music. 

Post-hardcore outfit Joule, who were part of the Calgary scene from the late ’90s to early aughts, is one group that took notice. 

“They put out a lot of cool stuff that basically was wiped from the internet,” Lines says. “I was kind of the first person to bring [them] back.”

Joule’s vocalist, Devin Van Buuren, reached out to Lines about his work. 

“He was just kind of blown away that I even cared about it. He was really excited about it. They have some unreleased material that I might help them put out in the near future,” Lines says.

Archiving, at least within the hardcore and alternative scenes, can be a way to fight against the stagnancy of music that is doled out on modern algorithm-based platforms, like TikTok and Spotify. You’re able to uncover things that are still unique to your region, or to a specific scene. 

The Calgary Cassette Preservation Society is another organization dedicated to conserving old, unique, and funky projects. Helmed by Arif Ansari, the society is now formally registered as a non-profit with the government of Alberta.

Ansari’s musical obsession came from working in radio. He cut his teeth at Calgary’s CJSW campus radio station and also played in a few bands in the 1990s. His work naturally expanded into tape-collecting. Since hard-copy tapes were out of vogue, Ansari decided to start putting them up on the internet in digital form. What first started out as a lark became serious once others latched onto the value of Ansari’s work. 

“At some point, friends of mine—or people I kind of knew—started contacting me and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got some more tapes for you,’ and it pretty quickly snowballed into this large community project where it wasn’t just about me putting out the tapes,” Ansari says. “That’s when it started pivoting from me not really taking it seriously to me saying, ‘Oh, wait—this is something that people value.’”

For Ansari, the music of the ’90s was just a starting point. His collection now spans back as far as the 1950s. 

What’s unique about Calgary as a music city, he notes, is its relative distance from other major cities. In Eastern Canada, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montréal are all within six hours’ drive of one another. Calgary’s next closest big city is Edmonton, three hours away and smaller than Calgary itself. “There’s an interesting commingling in Calgary, being as isolated as we are,” Ansari says. 

That lets Calgary artists develop unique scenes and sounds less influenced by other regions. “You get this interesting dynamic here. It’s maybe not as connected to other cities as it could be,” says Ansari. This is especially notable in the growing “Nashville North” label for Calgary as a country-music city, but the unique regional sounds extend beyond that tag. “There’s a strong history of folk music because of the folk clubs that have been in the city for decades. And then there’s the punk and metal. There’s all that stuff.” 

Both archivists’ work centres around quantity over quality. Since many of the projects they revive weren’t recorded using high-tech equipment or ever properly mastered, sometimes making an old record or cassette sound great, by today’s standards, is impossible. Holding on to the memory, or capturing the spirit of an era, for Ben and Arif, is the more important element. 

“As much as those tapes might be unplayable, they’re important artifacts that need to be collected somewhere,” Ansari notes. 

In Ansari’s vision of the future, his collection sits in the National Library and Archives of Canada—in a space where the public can admire and learn about the music’s history. 

“There’s a physical archive that I need to figure out what to do with as well. I have all these tapes and records and posters, all sorts of stuff that I need to one day find a home for,” Ansari says. 

“As goofy as they are, these old records represent someone’s art. They represent someone’s time and effort and passion, and it’s important to keep that preserved.”

Protest Chants as a Collective Musical Habit

A black and white photograph of Black Lives Matter protests taken from a bird's eye view, with a red anatomical drawing of a human heart superimposed over top.

Protest Chants as a Collective Musical Habit

By: Spencer Bridgman | Art by: Spencer Bridgman

At the height of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, phrases like “He leaves, we stay!” were hot on the lips of hundreds of thousands protesting the Hosni Mubarak government. As revolutionaries were chanting those lines in Tahrir Square, Ramy Essam, a musician and activist born two-and-a-half-hours north of Cairo in Mansoura, took notice and sought to give them a signal boost in the form of a song. The resulting “Irhal (Leave)” incorporated several protest slogans, including the above line. As Essam himself explained in an interview with The Guardian for the podcast Reverberate, he was simply a conduit for the chants of the Egyptian people. The young revolutionary artist was one of the many who had taken to the streets to topple the Mubarak government. 

When people are united under a common purpose it is only natural that their unity is expressed through a common voice. Where there are collectives, there are often chants— whether at a protest, a concert, or a soccer game. Groups of people who identify as a whole strengthen that identity through chants. When you attend a protest, it’s not a question concerning if there will be chants, but when. The ubiquity of chants at protests makes them a habit of protest culture. Speaking to trade union organizers, to anti-imperialist feminists, and those fighting for migrant rights, it’s clear that protest chants are central to these movements across so-called Canada. 

The issues that brought the protestors together in Egypt were numerous: police brutality, corruption, and food prices were on the rise; meanwhile, civil liberties, employment, and wages were declining. Day after day, Ramy and his comrades shouted in the streets in unison: “he leaves, we stay!” The message was clear, they demanded the removal of the authoritarian and corrupt President Mubarak and for him to be replaced with a government of the people. 

A Musical Habit

The chants that permeated the 2011 Egyptian Revolution were seamlessly adapted into lyrics because they already had a rhythm to them. This nature is true of all good protest chants: they have a rhythm that goes hand in hand with the pumping of a fist or the pounding of a drum. The chants that would eventually become lines in Essam’s song emerged through the repeated coming together of a group of people under a common purpose. For weeks, the people showed up and chanted the same words together with the aim of overturning the government, establishing a habit through repetition. 

As the protests continued accumulating strength, Essam brought his guitar to Tahrir Square and sang his most recent creation: a simple song composed of the people’s chants set to a few chords. Essam remembers on Reverberate how “immediately when I started to sing ‘Irhal,’ people knew the song. The words [were] coming from the chants, coming from them … I saw everyone as one human being, as one sound, singing together.” Ten days later, President Mubarak resigned and “Irhal” was known around the world as the anthem of the revolution. 

A Choir of Comrades

Lisa Descary is a community and trade union activist based in Vancouver. Descary has been active in a number of organizing spaces over the years, including as a former member of the Left Coast Labour Choir. Founded just under a decade ago, the choir started with the goal of using the power of song to build solidarity across the labour movement.

One technique that’s used often by the Left Coast Labour Choir is the “zipper song.” As Descary explains, a zipper song is when “you take a well known song and zip out the old words and zip in the new.” Take “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. Descary and her choir comrades were attending a demonstration to fight for a $15 minimum wage, so they changed the chorus from “Because you’re mine, I walk the line” to “‘Til 15’s mine, we’ll hold the line.” This was one of their most popular zipper songs— folks already knew the melody and the new words were easy to learn. This technique is the inverse of what Essam did with “Irhal,” taking words the people already knew and adding on the melody. 

The power of chants comes from their ability to spread across time, space, and movements. A great example of this is how the Black Lives Matter 2020 chant “Get your knee off our necks!” was then adapted during the #ShutDownCanada actions later that year to: “Who do you serve? Who do you protect? Get your boots off native necks!” The chant spread because the activists were connected through the shared struggle of fighting police violence against Black and Indigenous bodies. 

A universal Language

Bennie-Tamara is a Montréal community-based activist who often works with progressive feminist organizations struggling against imperialism and capitalism. Politically inclined from a young age, Bennie-Tamara has developed her social awareness over the years through learning theory as a political science and history major and through conversations with friends and family in Canada and throughout Latin America. Speaking Spanish, French, and English has made Bennie-Tamara a sought after chant-leader at protests like the International Women’s Day march. One thing she’s noticed is that, “the varying degrees of fluency for any language seemingly disappear when chanting— like music, it’s a universal language. The words flow naturally to the chorus of the crowd and carry a message far too powerful to be subdued by linguistic barriers alone.” 

Bennie-Tamara remembers the feeling of connectivity not only with her fellow marchers, but also with those protesting at Women’s Day marches around the world: “It is surreal to turn around and feel like the world is behind you. A sense of transnational comradery settles in and fuels the protest. In that moment, we are connected, voices from all over the world joining together for a collective cause.” As Bennie-Tamara and her comrades chanted in Montréal, she knew that their voices were in harmony with people chanting in the universal language of solidarity across the globe. 

Chanting also connects to generations past. A strong advocate for socialism in his home country of Ecuador, Bennie-Tamara pictures her grandfather “humming his own chants under his breath, careful not to alert the authorities.” 

“Every time I have the opportunity to chant the words that those before me had to bite down on their tongues to stop from spilling out, I take it.” 

an inhabited Habit

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has been active in various forms for over a decade, fighting to win fairness for migrant communities in Ontario and in every corner of the country. 

In February, MWAC organizer Sarom Rho and her comrades created a new chant at the Beat the Bosses Bootcamp— a three day conference where organizers from across Ontario came together to collaborate and strategize on how to win real gains for workers.The chant they created, which they’ve since taken to the streets, is: “United, we fight! When we fight, we win!” Rho describes it as having a few different parts. The first word, “united,” is elongated, gathering people together as they stretch out the word in unison. Its call is answered and rounded off with a statement: “we fight.” Shouted in quick succession, the three short syllables that commence the back half of the chant (“When we fight”) offer a sharp jab after the previous line. They are powerful, striking down oppression with precision. The last two words of the chant provide a resolution. They are an exhalation, a relief that justice has been advanced if not yet fully achieved. 

Incorporating these different phrases was essential to the creation of the chant. “More than anything, a chant has to move you,” Rho explains. “It has to have a rhythm to it that you feel in your body. It has to have a heartbeat.” Chants are “not only a habit, they’re inhabited.” Giving a chant a rhythm that you feel in your body enables it to stay with you long after the action is over. Your body remembers it. A line seeps into your being, and you find yourself repeating it unconsciously on the way home from the demonstration, or at the next. 

Comparing a protest chant to a heartbeat is an apt summation— what is more habitual than the unconscious repetition of blood pumping through our body? What is more musical than our body keeping rhythm as we move through our lives? What is more collective than our hearts beating together as we take to the streets to build a better world?

Aural Adventures With Castle If

A photo of Jess Forrest in her studio, seated, one arm up on a desk that has an open notebook on it. The photo has been cut in three blob shapes that are superimposed over loose sheets of lined paper.

Aural adventures with Castle If

Electronic composer and producer Jess Forrest on creative habits and her Imaginary Soundtrack series

By: Laura Stanley | Art by: Laura Stanley

For the last six months, my weekdays have started in the same way: to a soundtrack of drills whose high-pitched squeals evoke a dental procedure, the dull thuds of hammering, and earth-rumbling excavation. Beside my building, where a parking lot once stood, an enormous and unaffordable condo is being built and below me, a retail space is being turned into real estate offices—a true Toronto hellscape. 

To combat this symphony that continues to play as I start my workday from home, I listen to ambient and instrumental music, including YouTube playlists with titles like “it’s been a long journey, stop here and have some rest” and “you fell asleep in the car on a rainy afternoon.” Lately, my closest co-worker is the Imaginary Soundtrack series from Toronto-based electronic composer and producer Jess Forrest, also known as Castle If. 

Since the series began in October 2022, Forrest has written, recorded, and produced five full-length albums of themed instrumental electronic music using her trusted collection of analog synthesizers. The sound of these albums range from nautical hauntology (From the Sea) to futuristic synth-wave (Darknet) and many aural adventures in between. With such care taken to create the unique tenor of each recording, I’m apprehensive about admitting to Forrest that I have been passively listening to her music while I work or read. But to my surprise, Forrest is thrilled about my listening habits.

“I have a little bit of an obsession with music as utility and I really want to make something that can disappear for somebody else. It’s kind of hard to make that sometimes because I can’t separate myself from my music as well as I can from somebody else’s, obviously,” says Forrest from her Toronto home. “But the fact that you’re able to read to what I make is the biggest compliment. Making something that’s almost completely ignorable but not so chill that it puts you to sleep—that’s my favourite!” 

Born in Saskatoon, Forrest first felt a connection to music at around three years old. She remembers spending time at her babysitter’s house, playing her sitter’s piano and exploring her fantastic record collection. The first albums that Forrest fell in love with were Peter and the Wolf and the West Side Story soundtrack. As a teenager, Forrest started to write and record her own music and in 2008 she moved to Toronto with dreams of “reinventing krautrock.” In the early 2010s, she released a handful of albums as Castle If but she has since removed them from streaming platforms. 

Forrest’s interest in creating themed recordings has been a constant in her work. In 2017, she released Plant Material, a playful electronic record inspired by her houseplant collection. Her follow-up record, 2018’s Sector 03, was a synth-wave “sci-fi concept album exploring themes of addiction and techno paranoia in a bleak near-future.”

Although Sector 03 was released later, its tracks pre-date Plant Material. To Forrest, Sector 03 is a record that she took too long to write, but Plant Material was a turning point in her relationship with her art. “Plant Material was the first time where I just let go of my desire for it to be perfect, which has been really important for me,” Forrest explains. 

Forrest spent years playing shows and sharing bills with acts like U.S. Girls, Grimes, and Julianna Barwick, but after releasing Plant Material and Sector 03, she decided that live performances were no longer serving her. 

“At that time, I was trying to make a living in music work by playing a lot of shows. But I was really, really unhappy because I have terrible stage fright, so it was such an ordeal every time I played a show,” Forrest explains. “Knowing that I don’t want to perform has also been a huge leap.”

Since largely stepping back from playing shows, Forrest has shifted her attention to writing stock music (also known as library music) and composing soundtracks for film, television, podcasts, and video games. As Castle If, in 2019 she released what now feels like a preface to her Imaginary Soundtrack series: an unofficial score for the 1974 sci-fi/fantasy film Zardoz. On the next Castle If record, 2020’s Beyond!, listeners could blast off from the miserable pandemic present and boogie to Forrest’s “cosmic space disco.”

The idea for the Imaginary Soundtrack series came to Forrest during a year she spent working on a video game soundtrack she was commissioned to write. Over 2021-2022, she was writing around 40 minutes of music each month and had total artistic freedom over her compositions. The routine helped fuel Forrest’s creativity and her list of themed album ideas grew. Once she finished the game soundtrack, she dove head-first into creating the Imaginary Soundtrack series. “I didn’t want to lose momentum, so I just kept going,” she explains. 

Forrest’s original plan for the series was to release six albums in six months—but life got in the way and the timeline was disrupted. Nevertheless, from October 2022 to January 2023, she released a record each month: The Haunting (an eerie album inspired by Italian horror movies), From the Sea, The Verdant Realm (“it has a Mort Garson edge, but it’s spooky and mysterious,” Forrest describes), and Drivin’ Easy (“I imagine it to be the soundtrack of a ’70s thriller car movie”). In March, Forrest released Darknet, and on June 2nd she will release the sixth installment of the series, Exotic Sounds, which will be inspired by the “exotica” genre (jazz-influenced, often campy, lounge music that was popularized in the 1950s and ’60s). But will this be the end of the Imaginary Soundtrack series? “Why stop now?” Forrest says. 

During our conversation, Forrest flips through a notebook to look at her schedule or to jot down notes when I recommend an ambient playlist. She loves making to-do lists and enthusiastically admits, “Habits are my favourite!” In a follow-up email, she shares a photo of the log she keeps to track her daily routine. Tiny boxes filled in with green, yellow, red, or blue ink indicate how many hours she’s worked, glasses of water she drank, if she went on a walk or completed a workout. 

While Forrest’s concrete building in what she describes as a “really uncool” Toronto neighbourhood blocks out the majority of any external noise, a more pressing challenge when it comes to crossing items off her to-do list is drowning out the internal din. 

“I feel like internal noise builds throughout the day as my brain gets louder and meaner and full of more convoluted thoughts,” Forrest admits. “I’m one of those people who wakes up really early and I go to work as soon as humanly possible before a thought can come in.” 

On Forrest’s website, her work is described as “retro-futuristic instrumental music.” On paper it’s a clash of adjectives, but when you listen to a Castle If record, the description makes sense—Castle If albums evoke a future the past envisioned, but has not come true yet (where are our hovercrafts?). In the present, Forrest’s routine grounds her. Not every day is a good day, but she is committed to building the future that she wants.

“I definitely have lulls, but I have a very strong desire to not have a day job,” Forrest exclaims. “All of my days are the same: a third of them are good, a third of them are terrible, and the other third are just fine. Every third day is a lull day and every third day I don’t want to do it—but you have to. You have to do it!”

Not a straight line

A poured acrylic painting in black, blue, and red, with the words Not A Straight Line superimposed over top.

Not a straight line

Navigating ADHD, addiction recovery, and the music industry

As told to: Michael Rancic | Art by: Michael Rancic

For this issue we were approached by a musician who wanted to tell their story navigating the profession, addiction, and ADHD. They are not a writer, and felt most comfortable publishing this story anonymously, so the New Feeling editorial working group decided to structure this as an as-told-to style piece. This story was born out of several conversations and has been edited for structure and length.

the myth

When you’re starting out as a musician, there’s this myth that if you play often enough, and if you meet the right people, you are going to get discovered. The rest will just fall into place. That might have been how things happened back in the day, but the industry is very different now. Yet so much of the job still involves meeting people and being liked. When so much of that activity takes place in bars, it’s so easy to get carried away.

At 27, I woke up in the hospital with a kidney infection as a result of being incredibly dehydrated. I’d become addicted to not just alcohol, but nightlife, and the ways I felt like this lifestyle was helping to forward my career as a musician. Drinking alcohol and partying had become my life, and up until that point I was unaware of how it was affecting me. It’s almost cliché that another rockstar trope, “the 27 club,” is what snapped me out of a harmful pattern that was destroying my body, my brain, and my chances at having any actual success in this field. Unlearning those patterns and working to develop new ones has been essential to recovering from my addiction, developing my career, building my friendships, and living with ADHD.

I started playing open-mic nights in bars when I was 25 years old. There were a couple happening every week in my hometown. They quickly became what my entire week revolved around: I would start on Tuesday and then wake up on Wednesday hungover, and then on Thursday do it all over again. Then it’s the weekend. It was so easy to fall into that routine. Being a part of the nightlife scene, it just gets really mixed up with your normal life so easily.

It’s especially easy because at first, you’re meeting new people—you’re meeting bandmates, other people you want to collaborate with, potential bookers for shows—and you’re making music. It’s a fruitful period for making those first steps as a musician. Starting your night at 9 p.m. and going until 2 a.m. just becomes another part of your job. Most of all, it was fun. For the longest time you think, “Oh, I’m just a fun gal and I’m just having the best time being social, and I’m getting these work opportunities. This is great.” But the thing is, because I wasn’t doing the administrative work, the grant writing, and going to actual showcases, I was just wasting my time for many years.

I was talking to other artists who’d tell me that they don’t drink or smoke, and that they go to bed at 11 p.m., who were doing really well for themselves career-wise. But I never made the connection, or saw them make the transition to that lifestyle from the one that I was living. That’s the work that’s less visible, and more difficult to romanticize than staying out all night because it goes unseen. Frankly, it’s also boring and difficult.


Before I was admitted to the hospital for my kidney infection, friends were calling me to check in on me and I was like, “That’s weird,” but I didn’t think much about it. Even my family was worried. The hospital visit was truly my first wake-up call. I remember realizing that I was hungover every day. I was going into work hungover, and not being hungover was a special treat. After the infection, I really started to take inventory of my life and realized I could die.

Having a support system of friends that still want to be my friends even though I stopped partying like I used to, and who aren’t immediately judgmental about it, was so important to my recovery. The people who didn’t understand why I wasn’t still staying out all night on a Wednesday all dropped like flies. The friends that I have in my life today are there for the right reasons and not just there to enable their own behavior.

From family, friends and therapy, I am so lucky to have the support I do. But I also saw how my addiction was affecting my passion, which really helped motivate me to make the change. Even when I knew there was something wrong with me, I didn’t want to change right away. If I didn’t have music, I don’t know where I would be. 

Trading one addiction for another

Music quickly became my primary motivation through recovery. I saw how drinking and partying were obstacles in the way of meeting my goals as a musician, but I didn’t realize that I was trading one addiction for another. I became hyper-focused on my career.

From songwriting to grants to releasing my first EP, I started breaking my career down into manageable goals. I think doing that really helped me understand the industry much better. At the same time, I was living off of the thrill of meeting submission deadlines, the high reward of having one of my applications approved somewhere, and finally making money doing what I love.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that I was chasing that feeling of reward because, as someone with ADHD, I have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that correlates to learning, motivation, and pleasure. This deficiency was causing me to overwork, because I was constantly seeking and anticipating that next rush of dopamine, and that was leading to panic attacks—I was getting one almost every day. That really damaged me in a lot of ways, and I went through a period where I was depressed for two years. 

adhd diagnosis

It took four years from my original hospitalization to getting an ADHD diagnosis. I was going from panic attacks to thinking I have anxiety, to depression, and so on. Each step is its own answer in a way, and helps provide clarity, but it’s a process. I’m not even certain my ADHD is my final answer. But so far it has helped me the most to know that I have ADHD. It’s a positive journey, but not one that happens in a straight line.

With ADHD especially, I’ve found a lot of like-minded people through the industry. It is a fun job: we get to tour, we get to travel. Our days are never the same. So it’s structured in a way to be very rewarding for people like us.

My collaborator also has ADHD, and has known since childhood. It’s nice to be around someone that found all of my behaviour normal. We’ve helped each other through our rejection-sensitive dysphoria. We help each other through a lot of things that we go through just because we’re the same.

navigating ‘the myth’ from the other side

When I was over-working, I was doing quite well for myself career-wise. Even though I was burning out, a lot of people started seeing me as this really dependable person, and I didn’t want to let them down. My best friend said, “Oh, I get so inspired by you. You’re so organized. Wow, look at all the things you’ve accomplished in music.” It was too much.

I struggle with maintaining healthy routines, mental health, my addiction, and they don’t see the work that goes into what I do. It takes constant maintenance because now I understand that my default is not being organized,  calm, or sitting still. It’s being impulsive and chaotic and chasing that adrenaline and dopamine. Now I only take on projects that speak to me so that I can maintain a healthier relationship to my work.

Routine has been extremely important in my healing. I need to have a system in place so that I can be a functional human being. For me, I’ve also had to accept that being a professional musician isn’t just about having fun all of the time. It’s gonna be boring and I just embrace that it’s boring. Both recovery and being a musician involve doing a lot of the work that is not romanticized in the musician mythos. 

I’m at a stage in my life where I feel good. The best way to describe it is that I feel like I’m actually healing my nervous system, and maybe that’s why I feel I use the word “boring” a lot—because I do feel bored sometimes— because it is very quiet and it’s peaceful. So that’s how I feel right now—I feel at peace and I feel like things are falling into place.

I’m not sober, but my relationship with alcohol has changed. I’ve worked with my therapist to find a solution that works for me. I don’t seek it as a coping mechanism anymore. Now I prioritize having fun with friends and people that I trust in my life. And if that means the planets align and I’m staying up until five in the morning, then it happens. But it’s very rare now, because I also prioritize going to bed or going for supper with friends instead of “Oh, let’s go out.” That fills my cup just as much as when I was hanging out with people that didn’t care about me back in the day. Now I have the energy to go on tour for three weeks and I have the energy to actually do the things that I want to do.

purpose and understanding

I had to trip and fall a bunch of times to figure out how to get to where I am. Understanding my ADHD and addiction has certainly changed my relationship to my art, but it has also given more purpose to it. When you’re writing grants and you’re having to constantly explain why you’re making art, it also makes you realize why you’re doing this.

I have to plan my creative moments. I’ve been learning to channel my impulsive instincts into my art—that’s the beauty of being an artist; you get to be impulsive in so many different ways. When you’re performing live, you get to be a little bit impulsive; when you’re creating you get to be impulsive in the sense that you can write whatever you want, you can do whatever you want creatively. There are still so many aspects of my job that I love, and where I can be myself.


Four chladni drawings, seen as circles with various line pattens depicted within, align equally distant from one another on the top half of this image. The bottom half features the word HABIT written in a black serif font.


By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Michael Rancic

Habits are something that develop over time – and being human, we fall into habits both positive and negative, sometimes not even noticing until that pattern becomes ingrained.

That complexity is evoked in the disparate pieces that make up Issue #13: Habit, with essays and features that touch on how our relationship with music becomes a habit – in the practice of music-making, of fandom, but also some of the destructive tendencies that are often part of the music industry.

New Feeling was born as a space to explore music, artists and issues that aren’t well covered in the mainstream press – and as part of that, we aim for more transparency and connection with our readership and co-op members.

In this issue, you’ll read a deeply personal account of one musician’s struggle with navigating ADHD and recovery from addiction – made more difficult by the pervasive culture of substance use and burnout in the music business.

To maintain the anonymity of the subject while allowing them to tell their story honestly, writer and New Feeling co-founder Michael Rancic decided to approach the piece as an as-told-to essay, taking care to involve the musician in every step of the process.

Before landing on how to tell their story, Rancic conducted a pre-interview to determine what the piece needed to cover and gauge the subject’s comfort levels – to ensure sensitivity given the frank nature of the narrative and also in order to best support the musician themselves as they bravely came forward to share an experience that will resonate with many.

In keeping with our collective ethos, members of the New Feeling team – including me in my role as public editor as well as Sarah Chodos, who helped edit the story – were involved in the development process, including the decision to compensate the subject for their time and labour, given that they were in essence the author of the piece.

Jess Forrest – aka Toronto musician Castle If – also had to let go of aspects of the music industry that were no longer serving her. As writer Laura Stanley explains in her in-depth profile, Forrest decided to forego live performances due to stage fright – and letting go of what wasn’t working for her allowed for a whole new creativity to bloom, resulting in an entire series of instrumental electronic music.

You don’t have to be a professional musician to develop musical habits – first-time New Feeling writer Spencer Bridgman traces the history of how chants became a vital part of protest culture. In speaking with union organizers, feminist advocates, and migrant-rights workers, he shines a spotlight on raising our collective voice to bring about change.

For Calgary’s Ben Lines and Arif Ansari, preserving music from the past has become their fixation. As writer Reina Cowan discovered, the founders of online archives CanadianWasteland and the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society are making sure hardcore records and zines from the ’90s aren’t lost to age and time, highlighting punk gems from Western Canada and beyond.

We hope reading New Feeling will become a (good) habit – and inspire you to join our co-op, contribute a story, or even just delve deeper into your own musical traditions.

Editor’s Note: Issue 12 – Breaking Point

A black and white image of a broken, shattered record. In the foreground is some shattered, black text outlined in red that reads: "BREAKING POINT"


By: Leslie Ken Chu | Art by: Michael Rancic

‘Let’s look at that old sky while we’re spinning.’ We took each other’s hands in the center of the clearing and began turning around. Very slowly at first. We raised our chins and looked straight at the seductive patch of blue. Faster, just a little faster, then faster, faster yet. Yes, help, we were falling. Then eternity won, after all. We couldn’t stop spinning or falling until I was jerked out of her grasp by greedy gravity and thrown to my fate below—no, above, not below. I found myself safe and dizzy at the foot of a sycamore tree. Louise had ended on her knees at the other side of the grove.

This was surely the time to laugh. We lost but we hadn’t lost anything. First we were giggling and crawling drunkenly towards each other and then we were laughing out loud uproariously. We slapped each other on the back and shoulders and laughed some more. We had made a fool or a liar out of something, and didn’t that just beat it all?”

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

From the titans of the mainstream to the underdogs of the underground, every new headline about consolidation within the music industry; skyrocketing international visa fees; the elimination of a major revenue stream; and yet another tour getting cancelled induces a pained collective sigh like the whine of an ever-tightening ungreased winch. Eventually, that winch will snap, and the crash will be disastrous.

In Issue 12 of New Feeling, “Breaking Point,” we consider what it will take for things to change, given that they weren’t working before the pandemic, and they certainly aren’t working now. Cierra Bettens speaks with Vancouver alt-rocker FKA Rayne and Montréal indie pop musician/comedian Eva Parker Finley about the pressures artists feel to become relentless TikTok content creators. In a candid personal essay, Daniel G. Wilson opens up about the displacement immunocompromised musicians feel when society prioritizes personal convenience and the economy’s health over their own. Tabassum Siddiqui catches up with Fucked Up to discuss how the pandemic’s isolating and uncertain conditions inspired the Toronto hardcore legends to experiment with the creative approach to their sixth full-length, One Day. Tom Beedham examines how the recent acceleration around song catalogue acquisitions further concentrates music industry wealth between only a few megacorporations and pushes smaller musicians to the brink of precarity. Michael Rancic calls for solidarity between musicians and music journalists, who share a delicate and complex relationship. 

“Breaking Point” is my final issue as New Feeling’s Features Editor, though I will continue to be involved in other aspects of the co-op. Michael Rancic has stepped in, and he and the rest of the editorial team are already hard at work planning Issue 13. This role has been one of my fondest and most valuable learning experiences, and it would not have been possible without the editorial team’s support. Thank you Tabassum, Michael, Laura, Daniel, Tom, Sarah, and everyone else who has been part of this team over the last two years.

The pandemic has been an opportunity for individuals, industries, and institutions to create empathetic and sustainable changes. The seed for New Feeling was sown during the pandemic’s early months as a means for music journalists across Canada to support each other in a precarious time. We have lost much, to be sure, but we have not lost completely. As each writer, musician, and academic makes clear in “Breaking Point,” whether practical or theoretical, solutions to the music industry’s problems exist. With these actions in mind, I get off my knees, raise my chin, and look forward with optimism.

The Ones Left Behind

In the foreground, a photo of Daniel G Wilson is blue and pixelated. They look off camera contemplatively. In the background, a raging silhouette of a live concert event, lit in orange and yellow.


By: Daniel G Wilson | Photo by: Daniel G Wilson | Art by: Michael Rancic

I have had many bad days in my life, so awful they remain burned into the black matter of my brain: the day I got my first diagnosis; the Christmas I spent stuck in the emergency room; the day my father died; and even the day I lost my best friend. Those days chipped away at the core of my being like an artist taking a chisel to clay, forever changing the trajectory of my life and outlook on existence and humanity itself. March 11, 2020, the start of the lockdown, was another such day.

I am a long-time sufferer of autoimmune disorders, primarily neurosarcoidosis, a disease that causes granulomatous lesions to grow on parts of the body, and severe gastrointestinal issues that cause myriad defects when I experience a flare-up. Sarcoidosis is the most frightening because it directly impacts my central nervous system. Insomnia, chronic pain, disrupted mental capacity, and complete loss of motor function in my limbs are a small sample of the maladies my sarcoidosis can cause. By comparison, my stomach issues seem less horrifying despite disturbing memories of vomiting blood into a bucket while my stomach literally twisted into a knot.

I am also a musician, one of many artists who suffer from conditions that force them to be conscious of their bodies at all times and how they live in the world. Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw is one of the most famous examples in punk music and one of very few people I know of who wrote a song about their experiences with an autoimmune disease. Dan O’Bannon turned the horror of his experiences into art by writing the original Alien movie. Comedian Bernie Mac’s death always stood out to me because he died from complications caused by a different variety of the same diseases I have. Part of the reason why so few prominent artists talk about autoimmune disorders is the fact that these are not pleasant, widely known about, or even easy to understand. These conditions exist because our bodies are, in a way, fundamentally different. Where a healthy immune system is supposed to keep the body running in top form, auto-immune disorders are a cruel inversion that cause the very thing that is supposed to keep us alive to become a threat to our bodies. The experience is like having a body that can leave us in a state of humiliating and debilitating pain when left unchecked—and, in many cases, lead to our death. There is no true cure because you can’t “cure” the body you were born with. It marks you as an outsider. For these reasons, it comes as a shock when members of popular touring bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard frontman Stu McKenzie announce that they must take a break from touring to deal with auto-immune-related health issues that were previously never mentioned.

When the first COVID-19 lockdowns were being announced in Canada, I felt a familiar feeling, the deep dread of re-lived trauma. I’d kept up with the news, so I knew what was coming. Everyone thought COVID-19 was a simple virus that would be gone in a few weeks, or a few months at most. But I didn’t have to be a student of history to know how world governments and general populations would react to a global pandemic of an unknown disease—being in and out of the health-care system for half my life was enough to prepare me for the worst of this new threat. In hindsight, I would be surprised by how low the bar turned out to be.

Daily reports of COVID-19 numbers were the metric by which I gauged how widespread the virus was in my local community and my odds of contracting it from even the briefest interaction. Thanks to restrictions like occupancy limits, vaccine passports, social distancing, and mask mandates, I was able to experience semblances of normality⁠— albeit with caveats. I could see my bandmates during short periods when case numbers were down but restrictions were tight enough that everyone treated public health as a priority. My bandmates and I were able to record an album by ourselves (mostly over the internet) and even got to record a live set (again, with no crew except me and our drummer). These strictly scheduled meet-ups where everyone was masked at all times were some of the only consistent human contact I had outside of my mother, with whom I live, and my brother, who drove me to my appointments.

These moments did not last. I have not seen either of my bandmates in a year and half. With no restrictions, slowed vaccination efforts, a decline in public safety measures, a lack of consistent case reporting, and the forgoing of mask mandates, the probability of my bandmates spreading the virus to me is much too high. They are still young and need to live their lives, and so do most of the people I have not seen in years. I can’t ask them to be cautious and not enjoy their youth just so we can hang out or make music, and I wouldn’t expect them to even consider it an option.

The loss of identity that comes with not being able to perform live or interact with other musicians face-to-face has been profound. Music gave me so much. It gave me confidence when I felt hopeless, community when I felt alone, and a guiding light when I felt lost in a storm of pain and fear. To have so much of what made music special for me stripped away in the blink of an eye due to a literal force of nature and human error and be left with no recourse but to return to the confined existence I thought I had left behind is a nightmare come true. I’ve spent so many hours and weeks reevaluating my life, cursing the days when I thought I could finally live with tomorrow in mind and put things off for later. A highway of options is now indefinitely closed. The music has died.

I personally know numerous music industry workers who are in a similar position because they’re immunocompromised themselves or taking care of an immunocompromised loved one and can’t risk being a vector of infection: people with conditions that directly impact the immune system, like auto-immune disorders, or require medication that impacts it, such as treatment for cancer or HIV/AIDS. In our talks, we air our misgivings about the current attitudes towards public health and our shared pain at not being able to freely do the things we used to. So many musicians have been left behind by both the world and the industry in which they work. In many cases, they have even been left behind by the very scenes they used to call home.

Over the past three years, I’ve been constantly reminded how little my life matters to the society in which I live, whether by strangers on the news blocking hospital entrances in protest against public health measures or people in my own family who tell me with no sense of irony that the vaccines are the real danger and how it is all a conspiracy, people who reveal how much their “right” to not be inconvenienced matters more than the health of their community. 

The music industry is not very forgiving either, to those who are unable to perform or are unwilling to follow the status quo including conforming to a set image. This is an unspoken truth of not only the highest levels of the mainstream music industry (the realm of stadium tours by multiplatinum pop stars) but even in the DIY world where great pains have been taken to avoid the pitfalls of the former. Live performance has always been crucial for gaining career traction, developing a network (both supporting and professional), and forming a genuine sense of camaraderie with like-minded individuals. This is how scenes are born, which poses a problem for those of us who are physically unable to “play ball.”

When musicians are expected to play through physical maladies as mild as the common cold or severe as a broken leg, it becomes difficult for people to sympathize with those who don’t want to perform in an enclosed space with potential vectors of a disease to which they’re uniquely at risk. Without burning a bridge, how do you tell a promoter you can’t play a show because you don’t want to contract a virus people think does not exist anymore? How do you tell your “friends” you can’t attend their  unmasked shows, or even hang out with them like you used to, without sounding avoidant and non-committal? These are questions so many of us have had to ask questions I have asked myself in cold sweats in the middle of the night as I wonder if I will ever get to exist in the world again.

The way the live music industry operates is incompatible with the measures necessary to prevent the spread of disease. Most venues rely on selling alcohol to survive, and patrons cannot drink if they are expected to wear a mask at all times. Promoters and bands need as many people in a room as possible to ensure a profit, which has led to overbooking venues. Concert organizers have shown that they do not want to require patrons to be vaccinated to attend. In some cases, those patrons even become violent if such measures are proposed. Venue staff do not want the hassle of ensuring people follow mandates they themselves might dislike. And finally, the majority of venues may not have the desire or means to update their ventilation or hygiene protocols (evident to anyone who has ever been in a venue washroom). Due to these factors, the majority of music venues will not enforce safety measures unless prompted by government mandates. Without such mandates, responsibility shifts to venues, who then pass it onto artists and concertgoers. As a result, artists find themselves in a difficult position: they risk alienating portions of their audience, and they risk missing out on much-needed performance opportunities and potential revenue.

So much could be done to improve the conditions for immunocompromised individuals on a governmental level and a societal level. Attitudes about illness, disability, and public health need to change in practical and tangible ways. The notion that personal convenience is more important than the health and safety of those around us has to be challenged. 

Years into the pandemic, it is clear that the music industry hasn’t learned many lessons about how it could transform the sector into one that puts the health and safety of performers, workers and audiences first. For the sake of artists like myself and immunocompromised peers, and others who love music but recognize the need to protect everyone as the industry gets back to work, change is needed⁠—now.

Algorithmic Tastemakers And Seven-second Wonders

A purple background with a pattern of white, cyan and magenta circles. In the foreground, photos of FKA Rayne and Eve Parker Finley highlighted in green and pink. Between them a cellphone with the TikTok app open.

Algorithmic Tastemakers And Seven-second Wonders:

On The Tiktokification Of The Music Industry

By: Cierra Bettens | Art by: Laura Stanley

In 2019, Vancouver-based alt-pop musician FKA Rayne entered a music studio for the first time. It would also be her first professional encounter with TikTok. 

“I was in a studio, pre-pandemic […] I was doing pop music at the time,” she recounts. “This producer, who was a middle-aged man, was like, ‘we need to write a song for TikTok.’” 

Baffled at the time, the singer-songwriter declined the suggestion — she was a musician, not a content creator, after all. But when the pandemic hit and boredom struck, she changed her mind. 

Nearly three years later, the artist has amassed 9.4k followers on the platform, where she promotes her music and rants about the state of the music industry. 

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” FKA Rayne says. “It takes up a lot of time for musicians when they’d like to be working on music […] but it has really made the music industry more accessible for people who might’ve previously been overlooked.” 

FKA Rayne knows her experience is not unique. The push from record companies to create endless chains of TikTok content has become ubiquitous in the industry. In the past year, a slew of artists have come forward about the pressures of creating short-form videos to grow their fan bases. The line between being a musician and a content creator becomes increasingly blurred as less time is spent in the recording studio and more time is spent in front of a ring light. 

Even big names in the industry are not shielded from the pressure to post incessantly. In a now-deleted TikTok, pop singer Halsey lamented about Capitol Records barring them from releasing a song unless they manufactured virality. 

“I’ve been in this industry for eight years and I’ve sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok,” they said in the video. “Everything is marketing. And they do this to basically every artist these days. I just wanna release music, man.” 

Since hopping on the TikTok bandwagon, a lot has happened for FKA Rayne. She shifted from pop to alt-rock. A handful of her songs made it onto Spotify’s top editorial playlists. 

She’s also witnessed the music industry change drastically — and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just a few years, the platform owned by ByteDance has indelibly altered not only the promotion of music but of the industry itself. 

“Music is a commodity. It’s always been a commodity,” FKA Rayne says. “But it feels like with TikTok, it’s gone from the commodity of a three-minute-long song to down to seven seconds.” 

“Instead of the one-hit wonders of the ’90s and early 2000s, we’re having people who are seven-second wonders.” 


I loveee Zoom sessions bc we can mute each other/ourselves for a bit and work independently (and I don’t need to leave my house lmao) @mariel.mp3 #songwriter #altmusic #altsongs #songs #musicians #zoomwrite

♬ Side Effect – FKA Rayne

Gaining exposure on TikTok is a game of algorithms. In the attention economy, the tastemaker is no longer the critic, but the content creator. 

The appeal of TikTok is such that stardom appears accessible to anyone. On the surface, it takes little more than an iPhone camera, an internet connection and an inkling of what makes content stand out on TikTok’s For You page. 

But it isn’t really a level playing field. On a platform governed by algorithms, manufacturing virality under the guise of authenticity is a lucrative business in itself. 

In its capture of the music industry, TikTok has given rise to an influx of musical ‘tastemakers’. Songfluencer, a tech startup that pairs musicians with influencers, is among a growing number of companies attempting to profit off promises of algorithmic publicity. Not unlike traditional PR, these influencers-cum-tastemakers are recruited to use their social media capital in hopes of boosting visibility — and therefore opportunities — for the musicians they represent. 

Yet most musicians — unless signed to a major label — lack the financial backing to secure influencer promotions. Instead, they become entrepreneurs of the self, acting as their own personal brands. 

Unlike in the U.S., where users with upwards of 10,000 followers can monetize their content through the company’s TikTok Creator Fund, Canadian TikTokers cannot access such funds. Still, the pressure to “be your own brand” incentivizes creating more and more content. 

It’s a pressure FKA Rayne knows well. An entire genre of music, she says, has been created in hopes of gaming the TikTok virality machine. 

“Everything is pitched to go viral now,” FKA Rayne says. “Some people are thinking of that while creating their music and other people, like myself, are trying to think of ways post-creation to be like, ‘how can I market this on TikTok?’”

Further, even artists with no intention to blow up are not immune from the malaise of virality. In 2021, a remix of Chicago-based rapper Sonny’s song “Kill Bill” went viral on TikTok. Except he didn’t make the remix himself — nor did he post it.

“You’ll see a lot of artists who are writing songs to write songs and to talk about their life experiences,” FKA Rayne says. “It’ll end up on TikTok, and then it will go from a full three-minute song that’s talking about an interesting story down to five seconds that then gets remixed and sped up and slowed down and reverbed and changed so that people can put their own experience and whatever caption they want to it.” 

Despite TikTok’s tightening grip on the music industry, it doesn’t come without offering some advantages. 

Montreal-based musician and comedian Eve Parker Finley feels TikTok has accelerated, rather than limited, her career. 

Finley’s TikTok journey began in February 2020, while isolated in her one-bedroom apartment. 

“There was a while where I just was creating stuff in my apartment and posting multiple times a day, for a long time to no one,” she says. “Eventually, it took off a bit more and became something that was fun to do, something that kept me sane in a way.” 

Since then, Finley has scored a hosting gig on a new CBC show Ten Minute Topline, where she challenges guest musicians to write a song in ten minutes.

She credits TikTok for helping her get to where she is today. 

“It gave a bunch of people who didn’t have that much of an audience an audience, and allowed for the growth of a certain kind of audience,” she says. “It helped me build a community. It helped me build my chops in music and comedy.” 

Still, it’s a balancing act for Finley. While still a TikTok regular, she’s learned to set boundaries. 

“There really is a social pressure, or society pressure, or career pressure to be creating tons of stuff for social media as any sort of independent artist, and it takes so much time, effort and energy,” Finley says. “We don’t get paid to post things on TikTok or Instagram, and so we can’t be expected to do so much work for free all the time.” 

TikTok can provide a direct starting point for musicians to interact with their fans, but while virality pleases the algorithm for a short period, maintaining a dedicated listenership is far more complex. 

For FKA Rayne, compromising the integrity of her artistry for a few seconds of fame is not in her cards — nor does she feel pressure from current management to do so. 

“It’s pretty obvious when you listen to a song [that] it’s written for TikTok, and you see a lot of major artists doing it, but that’s never something that I’ve really wanted to do,” FKA Rayne says. “I don’t want to have one really short bit that’s really good and the rest kind of random and sporadic and incohesive, which is kind of a running theme with music that’s written for TikTok.”

So, while TikTok’s For You Page may put artists on the radar of strangers, amassing followers does not always lead to a surge in listenership. Sometimes a week as one of TikTok’s ever-changing main characters is just that. 

Listeners are smarter than we think, Finley says — and it’s time they are treated as such. 

“Trying to produce music for the medium is a bad idea, and will lead you to bad art,” Finley says. “Music is not content. Music is still art.” 

Hipgnosis, Song Acquisition, And The Elephant In The Room

Hipgnosis, Song Acquisition, And The Elephant In The Room:

How The Ip Gold Rush Is Feeding Industry Consolidation

By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Tom Beedham

On January 24, Justin Bieber joined a sea of music legends surrendering their copyrights, unloading his entire music catalogue to U.K. investment manager Hipgnosis Song Management for a cool $200 million USD. 

Bieber’s catalogue, Hipgnosis’s biggest acquisition to date, is the latest blockbuster deal in an IP gold rush that’s seen legacy artists and songwriters from all over the world sell their songs to private investors like Concord , Primary Wave, and Eldbridge Industry.

The appeal of such deals is supposedly that, after one exchange of rights and controlling interest for a handsome lump buyout, artists can continue making music without worrying whether technological shifts will betray them. Meanwhile, the firm relieves them of administering publishing opportunities (typically licensing and placements for commercials, television, and film), which will theoretically expand their reach in kind. While the investment firm banks on long-term revenue, the artist takes a leap of faith built on an understanding that the firm’s finance savvy and desire to juice the returns will (a) manage a flow of exposure in their favour, and (b) residually translate to ticket sales and lucrative opportunities via other platforms — typically concerts, tours, other marketing opportunities for performing artists, and talent contracts for professional songwriters. But as catalogue ownership consolidates, those opportunities narrow increasingly.

The business trend took off early in the global pandemic, when artists’ livelihoods were rendered particularly vulnerable with touring and live performance wiped off the table.

Founded in 2018 by Quebec-born entrepreneur and former Iron Maiden manager Merck Mercuriadis, Hipgnosis, whose logo features an upside down, legs stiff-in-the-air elephant, has become a prominent poacher in that sphere. Prior to the Bieber deal, a December interim report announced their portfolio comprised 146 catalogues and 65,413 songs, including complete or majority publishing rights for the catalogues of Neil Young, Skrillex, and Jack Antonoff, and labels like Nettwerk and Big Deal Music. 

Like similar investment groups, Hipgnosis is fueled by a combination of debt and equity capital, raising equity and/or incurring debt to fund its acquisitions. In October 2021 they received a billion-dollar backing from private equity company Blackstone Inc. to launch Hipgnosis Songs Capital as a partnership investment vehicle. Joining Hipgnosis Songs Fund, it is the second capital fund under the Hipgnosis umbrella. The Blackstone partnership is responsible for the Bieber acquisition.

While Hipgnosis and similar song acquisition firms have built up considerable portfolios in recent years, the three remaining major labels — Universal Music Group (UMG), Sony Music Group (SMG), and Warner Music Group (WMG) — have also taken notice and increased their catalogue purchasing, which some critics say is the real elephant in the room.

“For all the ink spilled over Hipgnosis and their ilk, the biggest deals (Dylan, Bruce) have still gone to traditional labels,” Andrew deWaard, an assistant professor of media and popular culture at the University of California, points out in an emailed comment to New Feeling, gesturing to Universal and Sony’s respective purchases of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen’s catalogues. The purses exchanged for each were undisclosed, but estimated at $300 million and $550 million(all figures in this story in USD), each reported at the end of 2020 and 2021. While the Universal deal only pertained to the publishing rights of Dylan’s songwriting catalogue, the Sony agreement involved two separate deals applying to the entirety of Springsteen’s recorded work and music publishing. 

Having occupied the spotlight for much of 2023 so far, much of the dialogue surrounding the Hipgnosis/Bieber deal has been provided by critics and fans speculating about the price tag, but deWaard says they’re missing the point.

Would he have gotten more if he sold earlier? Who knows (and who cares),” deWaard opines. “The bigger story amidst all of this is just the same story as ever, whether ‘financialized’ or not: musicians are retaining less and less of their copyright, revenue streams, and capacity to earn a livelihood if they’re not one of the few mass marketed through the major label and tech company ecosystem.” Pointing to the three remaining major labels, LiveNation, as well as streaming providers Amazon, Apple, and Spotify, he characterizes that environment as one dominated by seven apex predators.

The remarks echo the sentiments of an article deWaard co-authored with University of Alberta assistant professor Brian Fauteux and University of Winnipeg copyright librarian Bria Selman in 2022. Outlining the political economy of music, deWaard et al. draw from numerous reports to present that the “Big Three” labels controlled at least 70% of the global recording and publishing market in 2019 and as much as 86% of the North American market in 2016. In turn, those same labels are favoured by the payment models of streaming platforms like Spotify, and the duopoly of LiveNation and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), who are left “controlling the rights to performing at the largest venues and festivals, while dictating onerous terms to musicians.” These narrowing circumstances translate into a homogenized listening landscape across the board, with fewer opportunities for regular working musicians and music labourers, and even less meaningful representation for diversity of musicians across vectors of gender, class, and ethnicity. 

“It is more winner-take-all in the music industries than ever before and the vast majority of creators are struggling to earn a living,” deWaard and his co-authors write.

With recession putting a chill on song spending in 2022, higher-profile instances of artists like deals like Bieber’s  signing away their rights are fewer and farther between than what we saw in the spending spree of 2021. At the beginning of 2023, John Fogerty even struck a deal to finally reassumesecure his majority stake in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s publishing catalogue after struggling to do so for the past 50 years. Then known as the Blue Velvets, the members of Creedence signed away their distribution and publishing rights in an exploitative contract to Fantasy Records in 1964. When their success arrived in the late ’60s, Fantasy reaped the benefits and used the residuals to fund a series of other label and catalogue acquisitions, before merging with Concord Records to form Concord Music Group (now just Concord) in 2004. Fogerty purchasing back his own song rights marks a recent weakening in the acquisition trend. 

Writing about the trend shift in a November dispatch from his bi-monthly music business criticism newsletter Penny Fractions titled “Recession Looms Over the Music Industry (Part 1),” David Turner characterized the moment as “the deflation of the song catalog space.” 

“The amount of money raised over the last few years means that there will certainly be a market for a certain catalog but appears from reading press over the last year there’s def[initely] a higher threshold for what buyers may want,” Turner told New Feeling in an emailed comment. “Major labels already showed this in only publicly announcing deals with artists like Bob Dylan or David Bowie, not some 90s producer with a couple platinum albums to his name. They obviously weren’t super keen on jumping into the market and now are probably feeling fine. They might’ve overpaid for some rights but at least it’s for premium works.”

Despite recessionary headwinds, new firms have continued to emerge.

At the start of December, Jamar Chess (grandson of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess) and other industry veterans began the Wahoo Music Fund with the explicit goal of purchasing Latin music catalogues, seizing on that market’s surging growth in the US. 

In the same month, The Verge reported former Tidal COO Lior Tibon and vice president of business development Christopher Nolte had raised $7 million in seed funding for their venture Duetti. Self-described as a financial technology startup “aiming to provide independent artists with new and empowering financial solutions,” the firm says it is interested in “democratizing access to catalog monetization opportunities.”


“I think any firm like this that exists at a smaller scale is likely just a few former execs who don’t wanna take a pay cut or a title stepdown and thus are doing a startup then so they can be reabsorbed into a bigger firm but with a bit more clout,” Turner comments. “When you look at the failed sale attempts by Concord Music [the publishing division of Concord] and Round Hill’s recent statement of spending $200 million, 2022 may imply these firms are still ready for someone to take them off the market.”

Drawing a comparison to Alamo Records’s emergence from 300 Entertainment, Turner argues the absorption of smaller players would be consistent with a trend in the music business (in 2021, Alamo sold a major stake to Sony Music Entertainment). Unlike artists or producers with impressive sales to their names, smaller labels represent investment niches that can attract future equity partners.

There’s still a lot of ‘dry powder’ (financial capital) sitting around, especially with private equity (two trillion give or take), who will look for deals during the coming recession,” deWaard explains. “The biggest ‘song management firms’ (Hipgnosis, Concord, Primary Wave) will probably keep at it, especially Hipgnosis with its huge Blackstone fund. I imagine many of the smaller firms (Round Hill, Reservoir, HarbourView) will bleed whatever they can and sell, either to a bigger fish like Hipgnosis, or to a traditional label. The Big Three (UMG-WMG-SMG) are in the copyright cartel business and they will continue to strengthen their catalogues with huge acquisitions.

“It seems a very likely outcome will be even Hipgnosis eventually sells to one of the big labels, who have the long term global institutional capacity to exploit copyright to its fullest extent,” he continues. Despite an aggressive growth strategy, 2022 brought a sudden drop in interest in music catalogues, and having built its song portfolio on ~$1.6 billion of capital from eight placings since 2018, the company’s access to capital significantly narrowed in 2022 with tightened spending. (For a deep dive into Hipgnosis’s trajectory, read this entry in Alderbrook Companies founder and managing partner Jimmy Stone’s Leveling Up Newsletter.)

“Influx of capital in this space distorted things, but doesn’t really shake off the longer term trends,” Turner points out. “The trajectory of consolidating song rights and music publishing dates back to the 80s.” 

That trajectory has historically set labels down a cyclical path of efficiency finding and further debt raising for future acquisitions, sowing material losses for artists and other music labourers in its wake, with further consolidation and more of the same down the line. Meanwhile, the big three labels’ strengthening media conglomerate oligopoly further augments and cements their platforms, homogenizing the listening landscape and devastating the range of opportunities across the board. With investment firms and asset managers variably building up publishing portfolios or supplying funding towards others doing the same (Eldridge supplied some of the funds resulting in Springsteen’s sale to Sony), their increased ubiquity (and their debt-happy growth strategies) in the space suggests the effects of future consolidation will be even further exaggerated.

The deals keep coming, with few signs of letting up.

Far from signaling a redistribution of industry wealth into the broader music ecosystem, the sudden surge of cash into the pockets of legacy hitmakers actively devalues the basic act of creating music by transforming it into a means to further production.

According to a report Turner co-authored with researcher Kaitlyn Davies and entertainment lawyer Henderson Cole, in 2021, both Spotify and Apple made the case to the United States Copyright Board that recent publishing catalogue purchases should in fact prove that the copyright fees that interactive streaming companies pay to rights holders should be set to the lowest rate in history.

“As for smaller musicians, it’s yet another obstacle to a living wage,” deWaard vouches. Placing the issue in the broader context of the trend toward cultural financialization, he urges artists to reject modernity and embrace tradition, so to speak. “In my opinion, old tactics like unionization, antitrust agitation, and public media are going to be far more effective than any new finance, crypto, or Web3 nonsense.”