By Isabelle Speerin
Originally from St. Catharines, Meg Symsyk has helped shape the success of countless local and global artists in her 25-year career as a Canadian music industry trailblazer.
She spent her formative years listening to Canadian band Rush and rock station 97.7 HTZ FM, broadcast from a historic building known to locals as ‘The White House of Rock’.
“It’s ironic because I ended up working with Rush and, of course, Neil Peart was from St. Catharines,” she muses. “It’s so funny how pieces of your life all kind of fall into place.”
Sports-driven and competitive in high school, Symsyk often traded late-night parties for pre-dawn rowing training sessions, a sport renowned for dedication and teamwork. She later went on to study at Western University with the intention of finishing a BA in economics degree and pursuing a career in business consulting. After being elected to student council in her final year, Symsyk was tasked with running campus Orientation Week, Homecoming and Club events while being on the University Students’ Council board of directors that oversaw a $14 million operating budget. That experience laid the groundwork on how to work with stakeholders and distribute funds fairly and equitably and how all the pieces work together. Symsyk balanced her studies at Western by working part-time for Entertainment Productions, a music company responsible for booking bands at Western’s campus bars as well as being involved with the campus radio CHRW.
“The head of Entertainment Productions at the time, Pete Stanbridge, became a mentor and is probably the reason I began my career in the music business,” she notes. “Much to my parent’s chagrin at the time, I took a hard left and went to work at Universal instead of the financial sector, and that’s how it all started.”
Symsyk spent the next decade in radio promotion and artist marketing at Universal Music, working with artists like Nelly Furtado, Queens of the Stone Age, Gwen Stefani, Rufus Wainwright, Beck, Rush, and many more.
“I am quite lucky because I worked the Interscope, Geffen, A&M, DreamWorks, and Roadrunner labels while at Universal,” she said. “It was a great era of music and I remember at one point on SoundScan, I had marketed the top four records in Canada.”
She spent the next eight years with the company, handling global marketing, media for world album releases and tours, including Rush’s first TV appearance in 30 years on Colbert, their award-winning documentary, and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I went from a major to an indie,” she noted. “But I also got to work with Ray Danniels on touring and Pegi Cecconi on publishing, a publishing powerhouse in her own right, and had amazing mentorship in those arenas.” Pegi Cecconi was a valued member of CMRRA’s board of directors for over 25 years and mentored Symsyk to join boards such as CARAS, FACTOR, and the Music Managers Forum.
In 2016, after Rush finished touring, Symsyk joined Last Gang Records/eOne to head up international marketing and management for a roster including Azealia Banks, MSTRKRFT, Death From Above, and Dragonette. Once the pandemic hit, she re-evaluated her career working in the international music landscape and was selected as FACTOR President and CEO, stepping down as Chair of the Board.
Amy Eligh from Arts and Crafts Music Publishing, a familiar face to many in the publishing world and at CMRRA, was appointed as chair of FACTOR’s board.
“I had the pleasure of working alongside Amy on the board when I was Chair and she was responsible for helping to develop and spearhead the Songwriter Development program,” said Symsyk. “It’s been a pivotal moment for FACTOR with the emergency fund programs and modernizing of programs in progress, and Amy and the board have been so supportive.”
FACTOR is one of the most significant sources of investment support designed to assist in growing and developing the Canadian-owned music industry to produce and promote a diversity of Canadian music in a world of choice, to be competitive at home and abroad, and to contribute to Canada’s creative economy. At its core is aiding Canadian artists connecting with audiences everywhere via programs which augment investment in marketing and promotion, touring and showcasing, producing music videos, and creating digital content.
“I knew I had a lot of experience to offer and had worked in all the different sectors FACTOR funds from small developing acts to global acts,” she recalled. “The timing just seemed kismet.”
Symsyk’s focus has since been on streamlining FACTOR’s funding programs, introducing greater flexibility, reducing administrative burdens, and ensuring programs align with the fast-paced marketplace.
“We’ve switched a lot of our programming design around to make funding applications less of an administrative burden, especially for music companies,” she explained.
She’s also made meaningful changes, one of which is updating FACTOR’s touring programs to allow childcare support to be included in an artist’s touring party.
“I’ve seen firsthand when artists like Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado had their first babies and continued working by bringing them on the road,” she said.
Symsyk also made a point of hiring staff with extensive music industry experience across all divisions like PR, artist relations, radio, sales and distribution, and video production. By spearheading initiatives that streamline programs and reduce administrative burdens, she has opened doors for aspiring creators, particularly those from underrepresented communities.
FACTOR funds close to 2,000 artists, bands, music publishers to support songwriter initiatives and other music companies annually. In fact, the last three fiscal years have seen the greatest number of applications and the highest volume of funding in their 40 plus year history. According to Symsyk, the organization looks at a variety of criteria and metrics to determine if applicants are demonstrating growth and engagement with their audiences.
“There are many different pathways to success,” she notes. “And that’s why we’ve expanded our programming so regardless of where you’re at in your career development, if you’re building audience and investing in artists – we have a program for you to continue growing.”
Meg’s advice to music publishers and songwriters seeking funding is: “Whether as an artist, songwriter, label or publisher, it is important for creators and those who work with them to be familiar with all the available funding and collection options that are available. Organizations like FACTOR and the CMRRA exist to support the ecosystem.”