Sep 032013

I mentioned yesterday that I missed a lot of metal news over the last 10 days due to the head-wrecking week-long visit to Seattle by the rest of the NCS staff. This post is about one of the things I missed, and it seems kind of important.

On August 28 the Calgary Herald published a widely read article about a new set of Canadian government rules that went quietly into effect on July 31.  The new rules were announced on August 7 by Jason Kenney (above), the Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism. They change the fees required under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program for applications for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). Although it doesn’t appear that the new rules were specifically targeted at local music venues in Canada or the touring bands from other countries that they book for shows, the impact of the rules will directly and dramatically impact those activities.

In essence,  local Canadian businesses who want to the ability to have foreign workers work at their establishments on a temporary basis must apply for an LMO, which gives them permission to do that. This requirement applies to Canadian bars, restaurants, and other venues who want to book international artists for performances. This has been true for a long time, but before the recent rule change, as the article explains, “the fee was simply $150 per band member, maxing out at $450, and that was a one-time fee for them to simply enter the country, which allowed venue owners across Canada to share the nominal cost or book them separately at no extra charge.”

Under the new rules, however, “any venue with a primary business other than music but which also books bands or performers must now pay an application fee of $275 per musician and those travelling with the band (tour manager, sound person, guitar tech, etc.) when it applies for a Labour Market Opinion, or LMO, to allow those outside workers to perform and work in their establishment. That’s also in addition to an extra $150 for each approved musician and crew member’s work permit.”

The article quotes Spencer Brown, the longtime booker for downtown Calgary venue The Palomino — which hosts a mix of local, national and out-of-country acts:

“If I have a one four-member American band at the Palomino, I’m looking at $1,700 Canadian just to get them on the bill — and that’s on top of paying out a sound tech, paying for posters, gear rental, paying the other bands, staffing,” Brown says, explaining there have been tweaks to the LMO in the past, but nothing this drastic or, in his eyes, damaging.

“Concert promotion at this level is, in itself, a high-risk occupation. So this has just put it through the roof. There’s no way to start already $1,700 in the hole and break even. It’s impossible.

Perhaps making matters even more precarious is that should the application be rejected, for whatever reason, the money is non-refundable and would once again be required upon resubmission.

Government officials have pointed out there are exemptions under the new rules that include “musicians in a band performing several tour dates in Canada” and “musicians and buskers coming to Canada to perform in festivals”. The problem is that such musicians “must not perform in bars and restaurants”. That means, as a practical matter, that larger venues which exist solely for concerts and festivals get off the hook, but smaller venues that provide opportunities for less well-known bands — i.e., almost all metal bands — will take the hit.

Although the rules seem geared to give Canadian businesses an incentive to hire Canadian workers instead of temporary foreign workers (can you say “protectionism”?), it’s pretty obvious to those of us in the metal scene that it will wind up damaging local Canadian bands, in addition to the bands from other countries who will see their opportunities for Canadian tours dwindling. The article quotes Leanne Harrison, owner of a Calgary-based artist management and booking company, the SIN Agency:

As she sees it, the previous, more liberal LMO was actually a benefit to the indie artists of the country, providing them opportunities for greater exposure by performing as an opening act for mid-range international bands.

“It’s going to impact us in a lot of different ways,” says Harrison, who found out about the changes from another popular Calgary venue that will be adversely affected, Dickens Pub.

“Bigger agencies are now going to stack their tours even more with their own artists and there will be less and less opportunities for young up-and-coming bands to get what we call resume builder gigs. . . . It’s an opportunity to say, ‘We shared the stage with.’ They get in front of a bigger crowd, they can build new fans that way, they get their name out there that way.”

This really does seem like a poorly conceived idea, at least insofar as it applies to touring musicians. And before any Canadian chauvinists jump my ass, let me say that I am well aware of the ridiculous American visa policies which routinely prevent non-US metal bands from crossing our own borders. When it comes to protectionism, the US bows to no one.

So what can we do about this? Well, one thing we can do is to sign a petition at that was launched by Carlyle Doherty, a man who has worked in the Canadian music business for years. He makes a pretty compelling case, in addition to the arguments summarized above, that the new rules will be bad for Canadian bands and for Canadian music fans. I encourage you to go HERE to read what he has to say and to sign the petition — it’s not limited to Canadians.

And if you’re the cautious type who would like to hear both sides of the argument before signing, here are links to a counterpoint I found, as well as the Canadian government’s August 7 press release making the announcement of the rule change. I don’t find the counter-arguments convincing at all as they apply to touring bands, but you can make up your own minds.


  1. Citizens of all countries around the world need to demand their Government remove themselves from their pocketbook. The above article is just insanity. These types of taxes are abusive, as well as punitive and we should collectively resist them!

  2. These laws are outrageous, I don’t understand how anyone could have thought it was a good idea.

    When this is the man in charge of our country, you know we’re not doing so well…

  3. It’s hard enough getting decent acts to play more than 2 dates in Canada. This is not a good incentive for bands to change that. Petition signed.

  4. Thank you for mentioning the counterpoints. That’s why I wrote my article. I like people to make informed decisions and think things through before jumping on the runaway “band”wagon. Also, nice to meet you! I’ll check out your other posts. Cheers!

    • Thanks for the comment Angela.

    • Hey Angela, I’m not convinced of the value of this new legislation yet. Also, there were a couple points in your article that I (and many others posting about this) take issue with and that you haven’t responded to.

      1. “Do Canadian musicians want to pay for venues to bring in acts that take their gigs away?”
      This isn’t the way it works. (I noticed that in the gov’t release they seem to think that’s how it is, too, but it’s not.) If an international band comes to town and plays a show, they’re not taking that show from anyone; in fact, if they weren’t playing that show then that show simply wouldn’t have existed in the first place. Further, that international band coming and playing a show actually does the opposite of what you suggest, and provides an opportunity for a local band to get much needed exposure. As a member of several small bands, I can say with confidence that, by far, the biggest shows we have played that got us the most exposure (or got us “more jobs” to use the government’s completely irrelevant language), were opening for international bands. To sum up, international bands don’t take our gigs away; on the contrary, they tend to provide us with the best gigs.

      2. “I was sad to hear from some musicians that they were concerned about who they would OPEN for if American bands wouldn’t be gigging in Canada. I wonder if they’ve ever thought about being the headline act?”
      Bands don’t just choose to headline, they have to earn the privilege of headlining by playing lots, proving their worth, and gaining fans. How do they do that? By opening shows. What are the best shows to open? Ones that have a large crowd as opposed to a smaller crowd. Which shows tend to have larger crowds? The ones with headlining bands who have already established their worth and gained a large audience. There are only a limited number of large-scale, local bands, which means that if you want to play bigger shows consistently, you have to play with non-local bands. THEN, you get to headline.

      Most importantly though, you and the government seem to be looking at this issue completely differently from anyone who is actively involved in their music scene. Bands from other places aren’t taking our jobs. They’re playing shows that we want to watch. Lets not make it harder for them to do that than it already is.

  5. i heard about this last week but wasn’t aware of the petition, i’d be more than happy to sign

  6. I don’t believe I can give my opinion on United States visa policy, given I’m on a government computer and immigration is what I do. I’ve never been involved in the visas for performers, but my understanding is that they don’t need to pay for each individual gig in the US.

    Some US visa fees are based on reciprocity, i.e., the US charges the same fee that the other country charges. I’m not sure on the specifics of how that works, but I wonder what impact this might have on Canadian acts who want to tour in the US.

    It would require some research on my part, but it seems like this could be a great way for Canada to completely stagnate their own indie music scenes, shutting off any interchange between Canada and their biggest trade (and culture) partner. That would be a shame, especially considering how vital Canada’s metal scene is.

    • Man, and I thought this scenario couldn’t get any worse. If this led to reciprocity by the US, it would become even more seriously damaging to the scene. A trade war in metal (music, that is)!

      • I have to caution that I don’t know how the reciprocity would be calculated, given that the two systems are charging on a different transactional basis (per gig vs. per visa). I think there is also a distinction drawn between a processing fee that is used to defray the cost of reviewing the visa application and an arbitrary fee.


          It looks like right now we only charge Canadians for an E visa, which, off the top of my head, I think is known as a treaty trader. I have no idea what that means, exactly. If I remember right the performer visas are P and O visas, which have no fees.

          Now that I’m on my home computer and free to share my personal opinion (not that of my employer) I will say that our system isn’t bad in the least. People only have problems with it if they assume too much. For example, Master showed up without bothering to get visas, assuming that, being from a Visa Waiver country, the Visa Waiver Program would allow them to perform on tour. Gee, let me Google that for you. Oh my gosh, you don’t even have to click on any of the results to find out that this plan raises some red flags.

          OK, to be fair, I’d have to do some research to find out exactly which visa to apply for, but it can’t be that hard to go to the US embassy/consulate and ask somebody.

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