HALIFAX—With his extravagant wiry beard, thick black-rimmed glasses, and a mop of unruly hair, Ben Caplan doesn’t look like a typical businessman.
But the Halifax-based musician is one of many Canadian artists who are at the helm of their careers, handling the business side of their music.
It’s a rising trend in the music industry, said Caplan.
“If you want to make a living as a musician, particularly as a songwriter, I think you have to have some entrepreneurial sensibility,” the folk singer-songwriter said in a recent interview, sipping black coffee from a white ceramic mug at a bustling north-end Halifax cafe.
“You’ve got to be able to treat it like running a business and to think about it like running a business because essentially that’s what it is. You are a small business owner and you are an entrepreneur.”
Caplan said he has a support team that includes a personal assistant and a manager, but he’s ultimately in sole command of his career. He has helped develop his concert posters and marketed his gigs on social media.
“There is almost no way at all … to just go from nothing to making a living in music. There’s this period of needing to invest in your own business,” said Caplan in a baritone voice, his long frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“There aren’t labels handing out money to people on experiments. Those days are gone.”
Even Juno Award-winning artists are jumping ship from major labels to take full control of their careers.
Toronto R&B artist Jully Black, who left Universal Music several years ago, said self-represented artists are not a trend but “evolution.”
“Trends come and go. This trend isn’t going anywhere,” said Black in a recent phone interview from Toronto. “It’s change and it’s transformation. … Part of it is evolution.”
Black said she left the label in part because she wanted to have control of her creative expression.
“It’s about being able to receive the support you need and being able to reach the fans without any sort of middle person,” said Black, who has been in the business for nearly two decades.
Learning the Music Biz
A Toronto-based program says they are filling a void in the Canadian music industry by helping artists learn how to run their own careers.
Vel Omazic, executive director of Canada’s Music Incubator, said the innovative program teaches artists about the business of the music industry.
He said nowadays, industry officials like labels and publicists are not willing to work with artists until they have established a “viable business.”
“They’re not simply entertainment. They’re running a business just like anybody else. They have the same challenges and the same dreams as others to be profitable,” said Omazic, whose program sees about 40 artists per year.
Omazic said technology and social media have played huge roles in empowering musicians to run their own show.
Because of the accessibility of technology, artists can produce their own music more easily, whereas a few decades ago, you would have needed the backing of a label, or thousands of dollars, said Omazic.
Marketing has also been made easy through social media, he said.
But Omazic said artists also shouldn’t expect to find overnight success.
“That whole myth about throwing your video up on Youtube (and being discovered) is like buying a lottery ticket,” he said in a recent interview.
“It’s about putting in the time and putting in the work … and the artist is really left to their own devices to work up to the point where they have a business. There’s no short-cut.”