Duncan McKie

Duncan McKie
President and Executive Director, CIRPA
Founded in 1975, the Canadian Independent Record Production Association (CIRPA ) is the trade organisation representing the independent sector of the Canadian music and sound recording industry. Duncan McKie was formerly Vice-Chairman of Pollara, Canada’s foremost strategic public affairs and marketing research organisation. He spent much of the last few years researching policy issues for the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) and was appointed President and ED of CIRPA in May 2007.

Given the changing face of the business, is now a good time to be a Canadian indie?
It could be, if you organise yourself correctly. Coming in with a blank slate, I don’t think the first thing you’d think about would be trying to maintain a business based entirely on the sale of recorded music. The music company of today has to keep within its doors the various other revenue streams: the recording, tours and festivals, and other digital rights, which include music for movies and television and forms of digital distribution like mobility. Some of our companies have reorganised themselves to focus on the 360 model, which just means "we’re looking out for the artist who’s at the centre, then all these spokes of the wheel generate and drive back revenue to the artist, who shares revenue with the company.” It’s a natural extension of what’s been happening up to this point, driven by the loss of revenue from recordings.

How is this 360 model different from the old days, when major labels essentially "owned” everything their artists did?
The terms of trade with the artist have changed. The artists now are smarter; they have better representation. The terms of trade are more in the artist’s favour than they’ve ever been, and I think it’s only [independent] companies who can do it because the big companies, having been all split up, can’t get back together again. It would be difficult for Universal to handle your label and your publishing rights — they can’t. They’ve got two separate corporations that deal with that, whereas a smaller company can do all of it. There’s a lot of flexibility.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for indie music in Canada?
Canada has always been an exporting country. Every year we produce about 2000 new pop music discs, and we have a back catalogue of something like 35,000. But it doesn’t help to produce more if you’re not getting them out to the public, selling them and monetising the production. One of the problems we face is promotion and marketing of our products both in Canada and abroad. The first challenge is, if radio does not play new Canadian music, we’ve lost one of the most important partners in the promotional cycle and value chain. [Radio says that] the music is no good, well, that’s undermined daily by people like Leslie Feist, who take their music abroad, get their music on iTunes commercials and sells 200,000 discs and go to the top of the digital charts. It just shows you that if you get behind the good Canadian acts in Canada, you can do more.

Another challenge is competition from [artists from] every country in the world that want to sing in English. They’re entering the entertainment marketplace knowing there’s a real demand for English rock/pop music. And where’s the market? China, India, Japan. So you’ve got to get out there in person, talk to people, make an impression and take your acts with you. We need money and support to do that and hopefully the returns will be something we can build on for the future. In November, we’re taking 21 companies and four acts to Japan with the support of the Canadian and provincial governments. Beyond that we’ll look at China, Korea, and the big digital marketplaces. We need domestic strength and support and subsequently we can sell abroad with confidence and show a track record.