Over the Border and Into the Clubs: Canadian Indie Music Makes a Sound Case for Reciprocity

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The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) today releases a new cultural industries report that illustrates the opportunities and challenges that exist for Canadian musicians seeking to play shows and do business in the United States. The report calls on fairness and reciprocity when it comes to US immigration and tax policies as they relate to Canadian artists.  

Over the Border and Into the Clubs: Canada’s Independent Music Industry and the US Market quantifies the risks, costs and difficulties that impact Canadian artists who seek to promote their music in the United States. The report explores how Canadian independent musicians face considerable barriers to performing, touring and promoting themselves south of the border. These include: problems with obtaining visas and completing other paperwork, high withholding taxes that limit capital for funding tours, and behind-the-border issues (such as the regulation and infrastructure of the music sector) that increase lost opportunity costs.

“International expansion is key to the growth and development of a large number of successful Canadian independent music companies,” says CIMA President Stuart Johnston. “The challenges of accessing markets such as the United States, however, can be many. Getting across the border is not always efficient, in no small part because of the costs, complications and unclear procedures associated with the existing visa system. There can also be a significant impact on our artists’ and their business representatives’ cash flow resulting from the United States’ inflated withholding tax policies.”

“The US market is critical for independent artists from Western Canada, for both audiences and business partners. Unfortunately the current visa process is a significant barrier for those artists needing to tour south to build and maintain sustainable careers. True reciprocity at the border would be a major step forward,” says Manitoba Music’s executive director, Sean McManus.

With support from the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), CIMA commissioned the Centre for Trade Policy and Law (CTPL) at Carleton University to conduct an economic and policy analysis of the value of the US market for Canadian musicians, as well as the volume of Canadian artists who perform annually in US venues. The report provides industry members with specific policy recommendations to improve both labour mobility and tax penalties for Canadian musicians and their domestic business representatives.

Over the Border makes a compelling case for why American policies ought to be changed to encourage: a) equal treatment for Canadian musicians travelling to the United States, b) reciprocity with respect to taxes, and c) the promotion of independent music as part of a federal government trade strategy.

Key findings from Over the Border: 

  • Red tape at the border keeps Canadian music out of the United States
  • The Canadian market is small and Canadian companies believe it is important to access American audiences
  • Canadians want to expand and invest south of the border but face obstacles, despite existing trade agreements
  • Over 60% of Canadian firms said the time and money they spend on border-related processes is burdensome
  • Work permits can be hard to obtain, and excessive taxation of revenue can create major cash flow difficulties
  • This is especially prejudicial for small companies, who make up a majority of the Canadian music industry
  • Music is a global export, meaning that greater labour mobility is conducive to a healthier, vibrant music industry

 A copy of the report, Over the Border and Into the Clubs: Canada’s Music Industry and the US Market, can be found at www.cimamusic.ca.

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