As Canada’s music industry adapts to the realities of doing business in the digital era, CMRRA has forged ahead by securing some of the strongest rates globally through direct licencing deals with online music services.
CMRRA Vice-President of Legal and Business Affairs, Veronica Syrtash, leads the collective’s recently-bolstered Business Affairs team, including its negotiations with online music services.
“CMRRA recognizes the need for business to continue with some certainty, not just for ours and our clients’ sake but for the licensees’ sake too,” she said. “Direct deals allow us to process payments quickly without waiting for tariff decisions or appeals and help remove ambiguity about the royalty rates our clients are being paid in Canada.”
Syrtash proactively reaches out to digital services operating outside of Canada who may be looking to launch in Canada, whether or not expansion is imminent.
“Our team is continuously looking for ways to work with new services to ensure the rights of our music publisher clients are well represented and the licensing process is made easy,” she said.
Expanding into Canada is not always a top priority for online services, who typically launch in larger markets like the U.S. and U.K. first.
“We’ve made a point of going to the U.S. to meet companies who haven’t shown up yet to say we’re open for business and we don’t want this to be a scary process for you,” she said.
“If the reason you’re not here has to do with the licensing process, lets help you figure it out because we want to see your business here – more business is good, more competition is good.”
As Canada’s leading music reproduction rights licensing collective, CMRRA represents the vast majority of rightsholders whose works are being reproduced by online services on any given day.
“We’re the largest collective there is for reproduction rights in Canada,” Syrtash noted. “We want to ensure that we continue to be great to work with for both rights holders and rights users.”
It’s been almost two years since CMRRA announced a landmark licencing agreement with YouTube to compensate rights owners for the use of the reproduction right in Canada.
The deal, which took years to negotiate, created an entirely new revenue stream for CMRRA and represented a major step forward for rights administration in the Canadian territory.
Syrtash worked closely with Google’s North American head of music publishing business development for YouTube and Google Play Music, Carletta Higginson, to structure a deal that worked for both sides.
“Our relationship with Veronica and her team has been wonderful from inception,” said Higginson. “We’re really pleased with the deal we negotiated and it’s one that’s going to ensure the financial success of CMRRA’s members in Canada.”
Both parties came to the table with open minds and a willingness to embrace unchartered territory. Despite the length of the negotiation process, Higginson found the CMRRA team enjoyable to work with and committed to ensuring their members saw financial success.
“CMRRA were dedicated to getting the deal done, as were we,” she said. “It was a very collaborative experience and I would highly recommend working with Veronica and her team on closing out a deal.”
Syrtash also worked closely with Spotify’s Senior Counsel for Content and Distribution, Darren Schmidt, to close a deal between CMRRA and Spotify.
“Veronica and her team are good, tough negotiators,” said Schmidt. “We look forward to continuing CMRRA’s and Spotify’s productive partnership into the future to bring the best music to our Canadian listeners.”
Elizabeth Miles, Director, iTunes and Apple Music Legal, also had a positive experience with CMRRA, adding that “Apple is delighted to partner with CMRRA to bring music to listeners in Canada.”
As agents of the rights holders, rather than owners of the rights, CMRRA never makes rate-setting decisions without consultation with the Canadian Publishers Committee (CPC).
As part of its acquisition of CMRRA, SXWorks established the CPC to oversee and maintain the advancement of the interests of music publishers’ business in Canada. The CPC provides direction on Canadian advocacy, tariff, and rate-setting activities.
“CMRRA is very much focused on protecting the value of the reproduction right in and of itself, and negotiations are conducted with the purpose of obtaining the best value for it on behalf of the publishers we represent,” she said. “We accomplish that by working closely with the CPC and talking about the reproduction right specifically.”
Technology companies have been actively hiring talent with music industry experience into their business teams hoping to bridge the gap between technology and music, presenting more opportunities for CMRRA to strengthen existing relationships with licensees.
“Everything starts with a good relationship so even though most of us are lawyers, it’s a business affairs department because we’re really concerned about our business and the licensees’ business and just making it all work together,” she said. “Any good negotiation starts with a good relationship, so it’s important we have the proper groundwork for that.”
CMRRA recently complemented the business affairs team by hiring two new lawyers, Andrew Hunter and Laurie Gelbloom. Andrew will act as the main point person on all licensing agreements, while Laurie will focus on enforcement.
In addition to ongoing relationship-building efforts with online services, CMRRA, through the business affairs group, has also turned its attention to the independent record labels with the recent creation of an independent label relations role. Vicki Bonomo stepped into that role in 2017, coming to CMRRA with many years of label-side experience both working for a major label and volunteering with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS).
Picture – CMRRA Business Affairs Team (from left to right): Laurie Gelbloom, Vicki Bonomo, Veronica Syrtash and Andrew Hunter