by Tabassum Siddiqui
Keziah Myers was primed for a career in music long before she entered the industry. Now the executive director of ADVANCE, Canada’s Black music business collective, Myers grew up in a musical family — her dad was a well-known bass player in the gospel scene; her mother studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, focusing on voice; her opera-singer aunt performed around the world; and her uncle was the vocal coach for powerhouse Canadian singer Deborah Cox.
Being surrounded by music from an early age set the stage for Myers’ own passion for music — though she ended up going in a slightly different direction. While she also learned music herself and played the flute, violin and piano, it wasn’t until she went to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., that she began to think seriously about working in the field.
“I was in the music industry before I knew I was in the music industry,” Myers says with a laugh. “I think I always knew performing wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I loved music. And when I was in university, I was able to connect with JD Era [Joseph Dako], a rapper who was there on a basketball scholarship but who had a song on [Toronto radio station] Flow 93.5. And when he told me about this, it wasn’t really something that I was starstruck by because my background was already in music, but it was a good opportunity for us to build a further relationship.”
Myers began to promote the shows JD Era was playing at school and off-campus, using the skills from her communications and business marketing program to spread the word about her friend’s music.
“You don’t really learn about the music industry in school — even now, you might go into business and do your BA or business administration degree, but you won’t necessarily learn about music or entertainment as being a business,” Myers points out.
During that time, Myers, who was already focused on a marketing career and busy doing internships with high-profile companies like Proctor & Gamble and Kraft Canada, moved into a house with JD Era and some other friends — a place that would serve as a creative springboard for some now-notable names.
“The entire industry started showing up at my house,” Myers recalls. “Drake was learning to rap at the time, so he was there — and so were many others, like Roxx [Alonzo Thornhill, who went on to become Drake’s personal trainer] and Ken Masters [founder of XYZ Music Group]. It became this revolving door of what we now know as the heavy hitters in music. And most of us still work very collaboratively to this day.”
Being immersed in that communal scene led Myers to start thinking more seriously about a career in the industry side of music. She quit her marketing job and took an unpaid internship at an entertainment marketing firm — the first step in a groundbreaking career that over the years has seen her lead marketing and label operations at Universal Music Canada, music licensing initiatives at Entandem, and A&R operations at SOCAN, where she was instrumental in ensuring diverse hiring, improving operations, and enabling the organization to better serve its members.
She’s now building on those efforts at ADVANCE — which is working to develop an infrastructure for the betterment, upliftment and retention of Black people in the Canadian music business — after joining the collective as executive director in March 2021.
ADVANCE came about from a push by industry veterans Vivian Barclay, Craig Mannix and Miro Oballa (who all sit on the group’s advisory board) to make concrete movement towards change following years of discussions about the lack of Black presence in the Canadian music industry, particularly in leadership and decision-making positions.
As one of the few Black women leading a major organization in Canada’s music industry, Myers is cognizant of the importance of representation, recalling that she saw few others like herself and didn’t have many mentors during her path to working in the sector.
“I have been inadvertently prepping for this position for probably my entire career. As one of a very small number of Black women in the industry, I didn’t really have people to look up to in the spaces where I eventually saw myself being. There’s Vivian Barclay [general manager of Warner/Chappell Music Canada], who continues to be someone who is representing us as Black women in very high-profile spaces. But beyond her, that was my only connection to someone on the industry side,” Myers notes.
“So I navigated the music industry, taking with me a lot of what I had learned in university about networking, and also what I had observed in these very corporate spaces where representation wasn’t there. And then I also took with me the pride that I was raised with: I am supposed to be here; I can be here; I deserve to be here,” she adds.
“Forging forward and navigating through that as a Black woman has allowed me to see various sides of the industry, but also given me hope that we can overcome those areas where blinders were on or exclusion was happening, and talk about making bigger tables and having more voices in different spaces.”
The key ways ADVANCE works to bring about that change are through advocacy, education and programming — including collaborating with organizations like CMRRA on initiatives to ensure Black music workers and creators have all the tools they need to succeed in the industry.
“We have been working with CMRRA over the last number of months trying to figure out the best way to support Black music professionals who might need more knowledge of publishing, mechanical rights and collections. It’s almost a little bit of a world unto itself, and not one that gets the spotlight like record labels, marketing firms, or publicists do,” Myers explains.
“There’s a lot that goes into a mechanical license and the distribution of a royalty, or the splits between publisher and creator — and so ADVANCE and CMRRA have been working on a job-placement program, whereby a person who is interested in this particular space will have a six-month period where they actually get to work alongside one of CMRRA’s clients and learn about the industry,” she continues.
“We will be opening it up to those who are already on the business and industry side, but also artists and creators. We recognize that creators can be self-managed artists, and maybe also self-published, so this gives them an opportunity for them to learn what publishing looks like through the lens of a music publisher — just letting them know that there are multiple streams of revenue that they can and should be taking advantage of.”
Working to ensure better representation in the industry means Myers is always thinking about the future of the industry, including challenges facing the sector and how to best address them.
“It’s important to keep people up to date with what is going on from a digital perspective. What are NFTs, and how are they and blockchain affecting publishing? How can the industry pivot to incorporate these royalties and how they stream through blockchain into the system — and no matter where your song is, or in what form, you will receive a royalty in real time? But we have to think about what the infrastructure around all that will look like. It continues to pose a challenge because technology is ever-changing,” she says.
“The other challenge that I see is that the publishing space is not as diverse as it should be. So when we’re looking at publishing and having representation, it really benefits a company when you have an understanding of how business is done, or how deals are made — for instance, how sync happens in Bollywood, and what that looks like for the community, which is different than it what it may look like for the rap and hip-hop community, which is even different than what it would look like for the jazz community.
“If we look at how business is done in various spaces, then we will be able to better create products that service everybody, and ultimately provide wins for everyone.”
Myers’ bridge-building work continues outside of her main role at ADVANCE — she’s on several advisory committees and juries, including for MusiCounts, FACTOR, the Juno Awards, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and others.
“Part of advocacy is having your voice heard. So when I’m on boards or participating on juries, I’m also looking at it from a vantage point of, ‘How can I lean in and support this organization? How I can offer insight from my voice being in the room?’ And then that often turns into meeting others in this place where we can collaborate on programming initiatives.”
From her current perspective as an industry leader, Myers knows how important bringing people together can be in working toward ensuring that everyone has a place at the table. She thinks back to a time when she helped Juno Award-winning R&B singer Savannah Ré, then a fledgling performer and songwriter, to better understand the publishing side of the business through meeting with music supervisors.
“She had some songwriting credits already but wasn’t immersed in the music biz yet,” Myers recalls. “It was an opportunity for me to recognize what full-circle looked like — how some conversation about licensing could also lead to an artist connecting with an A&R department, who could ultimately connect with her manager.”
From her early days with a ringside seat to a burgeoning hip-hop scene, to her rise to becoming a trailblazer in an industry that supports that same creativity, one thing has always been at the heart of Myers’s work, she says: her love of music.
“Passion continues to drive passion for whatever you’re doing. I am a huge advocate for letting young people know that if you love something, there’s no reason that you can’t be a part of it. Not everybody can be Drake — the reality is that the numbers are not in your favour. And you may not even really like rapping, but you think that the only way you can be in the music industry is by way of performance,” she says.
“My passion is music, but I don’t work ever on the creative side of a song — but every day, I work with creatives. And I’m surrounded by an industry that is just as passionate as I am in terms of the love of entertainment and music. And in my case, it’s been important seeing Black women in spaces that 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, they would not have been.”