Canadian arts and culture is serious business

Over the years, I’ve heard people disregard the Canadian arts scene as a “true business”; one that doesn’t “pull in the bucks” or contribute to a strong economy. It might be seen as an industry in which a handful of people paint, sculpt, perform magic, or sing and dance to loved ones and a moderate YouTube following.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Canadian arts and culture serves as an entryway to a prosperous economy securing people financially — and providing them with an outlet to unwind.

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But what counts as arts and culture, specifically?

It’s not just influential singers dominating the airwaves, dancers gracing a stage, or big-time comedy festival performers; it’s the exhibitions and recitals you gaze at and listen to in libraries, of which artists have dedicated their lives to the creation and staging.

Culture is the heritage resources, archives and historical organizations, independent film festivals, and exquisite artwork which has defined our the high culture of our generation.

According to Statistics Canada, $7.7 billion was invested collectively from the municipal, provincial and federal governments in 2010. This employed 600,000 people in the arts and culture sector, producing $40 billion for the Canadian economy — a 500 per cent return on investment.

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In reality, Canadian’s cultural sector in monumental. It employ as many people as the agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas industries combined.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial in Calgary and author of The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada’s Economy, concluded that, next to New York and California, the province of Ontario houses the third largest entertainment economy in the world.

Canadian tourists who partook in arts-related activities in 2009 — watching a production in a village, attending a concert, or exploring heritage buildings — generated $3 billion for the Canadian economy alone.

Believe it or not, investing in the arts helped Canada to climb out of the 2008 recession.

Simon Brault, senior director of the Canadian Council for the Arts and former president of Culture Montreal, vocalized that the gross domestic product share in 2007 catapulted by 4.4 per cent, when $400 million was spent on arts and cultural activities: namely sidewalk show, plays and music festivals.

Even though people weren’t spending money on anything during that time, the sector produces domestic products and services, rather than relying on international trading.

By purchasing a ticket to the Stratford Festival or Big Music Fest, a season pass to a theatre, or pottery from an artist-in-residence, you’re contributing to the growth and stability of the Canadian economy by investing in a very profitable sector. If one year of regular arts engagement can produce $40 billion, imagine what five or 10 years of investment can do!

Music artists must establish a brand

Published on FAME Canada: March 1, 2015

We see thousands of music industry hopefuls covering top 40 hits on popular video and social media websites, and performing on streets and in our local pubs. They endeavour to create a reputable name for themselves and be recognized for their talents. 

It’s by no means an easy feat. Music – and entertainment, in general – is a rigorous business requiring tenacity, confidence and determination. It can take people years to even get discovered by a record label or artist manager, with no guarantee of a successful career.

Those who stand out from the crowd possess raw talent, an unforgettable aura, and most importantly, something by which people remember them.

Technical ability is half the battle. To truly shine in the music world and encourage ongoing discussions among consumers, an artist must think about their “personal brand.” They must ask themselves, “When I finish performing a song, what would a fan associate with me? What is my secret sauce?”

A personal brand is similar to that of a corporation’s. It’s the way someone markets themselves and their careers. It’s a way of conveying your “secret sauce” or a special quality that pokes through thick competition.

Let’s take a look at a couple influential artists who have established a strong brand.

Taylor Swift has taken the industry by storm this past year. Her transformation from country star to pop sensation has been well-received by music consumers. She’s known for being communicative to her fans, appreciating their support, and giving back to them. She’s positive, quirky, and an inspiration to people, especially since the release of “Shake It Off” from her 2014 album “1989.”

When Lady Gaga performs, you never what’s going to happen. What colour makeup or wig will she wear? What outlandish outfit will she sport (her “faux-meat dress” has its own Wikipedia page, and there are written chronologies of her Video Music Award outfits)? When she releases her next single, what’s its theme going to be? When people watch her on television or listen to her music, they discuss her fashion choices and musical style. Her popularity goes beyond her vocal ability.

For an artist to create a brand, they should conduct some self-reflection by writing a list of their inner core values and beliefs, and deciding how you want your fans to think of you. A personal brand is built on the thoughts and opinions of others, so how you present yourself to the public is paramount.

Once you’ve outlined these things, you should integrate your core values and style of music, which essentially creates your public image. In Taylor Swift’s case, her core values include giving back to people, so she makes a point of doing so at certain times of the year. It’s not necessarily related to her music. 

You might be someone who wants to be noticed in music, and who wants to be favourably discussed by people who will become your fans.

When you’re writing a song or performing at a venue, think about your “secret sauce” or “ingredient.” What sets you apart from the crowd and the competition? Of what quality will someone think when they hear your name?