Suzana Barbosa is a Canadian artist who walked from Los Angeles to the Googleplex (well…not inside the Googleplex) and used her #walkmilesformusic campaign to call attention to the absurdly low streaming royalties that are cannibalizing sales. In a serendipitous coincidence, Suzana’s protest coincided with the release by the Copyright Board of Canada of its new statutory rates for Pandora in Canada. Remember those really low rates that Pandora pays in the US?
The Canadians are now paying less than 10% of those rates for sound recordings thanks to Pandora’s lobbying efforts.
That’s right. $0.000102 per play. And of course the artist’s share is 50%–got your scientific calculators ready?–$0.000051.
So Suzana’s direct action couldn’t have come at a better time in both her home country and in the U.S. as Pandora is trying to do the same to artists in the U.S. in a rate proceeding with SoundExchange.
MTP: Tell us a little about your creative arc, who are your musical influences, what’s your background and how did you get to where you are today musically speaking?
Suzana: I knew from the age of 4 I wanted to be a singer. Due to a tumor I had in my right ear at age 7, I had a 89% hearing loss in that ear. I told the Doctor I wanted to be a singer and he told me that it was “unlikely I would become one.” It didn’t stop me. I joined choirs and music classes as much as I could.
I started singing melodies and writing lyrics from a very young age. I always heard music in my head. I graduated recording engineering school so I could record my own music. I met my music partner Mike Dell (aka Jack Darling) to which we are now heading into a 14 year co-writing relationship.
The 3rd addition to the team was Randall Savoy, who had been in several bands before joining ours.
The 3 of us have incredible strengths and I love what we can create together. We all love different styles of music – from classical to rock, swing, elctro, folk and blues. You can hear bits and pieces of all those elements in our music.
We have a Cabaret/Jazz/Pop group called Suzana d’Amour where I sing in 3 different languages and do a full Cabaret show (nothing to do with being naked). Then there is our indie, folk, electro band called Luminova which is recently new and SO much fun to play.
I have many musical influences, but if I had to pick 4 women that vocally influenced me, I would say – Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, Edith Piaf and Kimbra.. not that I sound like them but women I absolutely adore.
MTP: What’s the Walk Miles for Music campaign about, how did you get started with the idea?
Suzana: Well, along with doing music I’ve always given back hence my side company called I Dare You to Care, where I would coach, or consult others to incorporate some type of daring act for a Cause they care about and follow through with fundraising and Marketing.
I started to think about that. Why have I never dared myself to care? Music! One of the most important things in my life. Something I feel I was born to share. So, the idea was born. At first, I thought I was going to walk across the Country – but I had a 60 day time limit due to a tour I have happening in June. So Coast it was.
Walk the West Coast of California for 60 days. With no money. If people don’t pay for my music, I don’t eat.
And to be honest, I was at my wits end. I had to move out of my apartment because I could no longer afford rent, we had just come back from recording our album in Berlin (which was 3 times cheaper to live then where we currently live) and my band mates had second thoughts about continuing the journey. Everything I had ever known was about to end. I was depressed and tired of the “starving artist” mentality. Then I came across the “Unsound Movie Trailer” to which gave me hope. It was either sink or swim. I chose to swim, full speed ahead. I gave up my apartment, stored boxes at my moms place and used all of my aeroplan miles to support my flight.
I also had something constantly whispering in my ear about finding solutions. I have come to learn, my instincts are always right. So, walking along the coast, interviewing and co-creating solutions was part of my mission. I knew I couldn’t do this alone. My friend Nathan Greene from Imaginology helped me along the way. I set up a webpage, had a rough plan for a route, borrowed a tent, sleeping bag + pad, bought a used baby buggy to put everything in and off I went!
So really, everything happened at the right time.
MTP: We’re very impressed that you actually walked 400 miles! I’m sure this is a much longer story that you’ll tell the world at some point, but give us an idea of what that was like, who you met along the way and what reaction you got from musicians and fans.
Suzana: I actually did just over 500 miles!! It was the scariest but best thing I have ever done. The scariest part was sleeping at night, in the dark, alone in a tent. Although my feet had enough, I loved walking during the day – I was inspired every day. There was about 6 days worth of walking I had to take in rides because some spots on highway 1 were too dangerous. Cops were called on me a lot because I was pushing a baby buggy – and if you could imagine what people were thinking – “Look at that horrible mother pushing a baby on the highway!!”
Some days I just didn’t want to face to judgement, but then I would think about the impact I would have and my feet would just hustle. It also pushed me not to care what other people thought. There were magical moments everyday. The Universe seemed to have been aligned for me. The best part of the journey, were the people I met. The kindness was awesome. I have the most incredible synchronicity stories ever – here are a few.
For instance, met a great couple, Steve + Flora Rodriguez who took me in like I was part of their family. When a police officer stopped me and told me I had to turn back, because it was too dangerous to be on Harris Grade, after I had walked 9 miles UP HILL (no joke) – he asked if I could call anyone. There was Steve. Flora and Steve helped me get a TV interview with KCOY and a radio interview that will be happening soon. Gary + Kyndra, who I met at El Capitan beach, drove all the way up to meet me along my journey, to bring me an abundance of food and band-aids (my poor feet).
I met another amazing couple, Brian + Rhonda Jean, while camping at Pismo beach. I walked over to introduce myself for safety reasons and I ended up staying an extra day because I fell in love with the both of them. Brian is an amazing guitar player and they absolutely adore each other. Turns out, Brian is a stats professor at Taft Community College and developed an app called TC-Stats – to which creates pictures of data in milliseconds that would take hours by hand with large data sets. Brian will be taking my “music appreciation” and “artist-musician” surveys and providing me with a summary of findings once we’ve received enough submissions.
OH! and this one. I landed at Pfieffer state park and Hip Nic (3 day music festival) was happening. It was a “coincidence” this Festival was happening. So,I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to interview musicians and ask them a few questions. I asked the organizer if I could get in, he said no. I asked if I could volunteer, he said no. Then magic happened. I met a fantastic musician Ian Moore who ‘happened’ to have an extra ticket and generously gave it to me! It turned out, he had been feeling the same way and has aspired to find sustainability for musicians too. [MTP: Ian Moore is from Austin and is based in Seattle.]
First 5 minutes of being in Santa Barbara, Musician Rich Stranger asks me if I have a place to stay and when I say no, he says, “you are staying with us!”
It goes on and on.. I could go on forever. It’s been awesome. I should write a book.
MTP: What is your feeling about streaming services in general? Any that you particularly like or dislike?
Suzana: This is what I think. If I were being paid a salary, streaming my music or playing for venues that only want to offer the door and 10% of bar sales wouldn’t be such a big deal. We need to come together as a community and support our local musicians. I don’t think anybody realized what impact streaming would have on the average artist. I know I didn’t, and I was in it.
There needs to be some type of regulation and there are fantastic organizations like the Content Creators Coalition that are fighting for our copyright protection, but the real issue is awareness. I don’t think people understand the impact they have when they decide to stream a song. I was guilty of it too. The impact is catching up fast and technology moves much faster than the court system. So, we need to take a grass roots approach and help other people understand ‘we need their support’.
Many people I spoke to along the way, told me they had no idea artists were struggling. They assumed they were successful. The image of someone on stage seemed to equal fame. Which is absolutely untrue.
MTP: I saw that you intended to end your walk at the Googleplex! Is that where you ended up and if so how were you received? Did anyone from Google talk to you?
Suzana: My intention was to end up at googleplex but it didn’t happen. I wanted to set up a time with someone and I got the run around. [MTP: Walking 500 miles wasn’t enough?]
I will be having a discussion with google eventually but this is about building an alliance, not war. I need to focus on what I can change now.
Instead I got to interview Unsound Movie director – Mikael “Count” Eldridge – which was a goal of mine.
MTP: As a Canadian artist concerned about streaming rates, I can’t help noticing that the Copyright Board of Canada just announced webcasting rates that are 10% of the already astonishingly low rates in the U.S. These super low Canadian rates don’t just affect Canadian artists as they apply to all recordings played in Canada, so your action is no doubt greatly appreciate by artists everywhere. What’s your reaction to these new Canadian rates?
Suzana: I read this article by Michael Geist: The Copyright Board of Canada Music Streaming Decision: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly which was, ironically, posted on my birthday.
The board largely rejected the arguments of Re:Sound
“We are unconvinced that non-interactive and semi-interactive streaming cannibalizes sales of CDs or downloads. Though the Objectors’ evidence and arguments in this respect are not without contradictions, we agree with them, for the reasons set out in paragraph 157 below, that non-interactive webcasting is similar to over-the-air radio. We find that neither over-the-air radio nor non-interactive webcasting is likely to cannibalize music sales; if anything, they are likely to stimulate them.”
I am disappointed. But the only reason I know this happened was because I am inundating myself with this information. I wonder if all of the musicians knew of this, we would gather together? There isn’t enough awareness going on.
MTP: What do you have planned in the future for #walkmilesformusic?
Suzana: This is my vision – Start the Abundant Artist Alliance – Creating sustainable living for artist-musicians.
* Abundant Artist Alliance – pay, already, professional artist-musicians a salary.
* Build residencies around the world, where Artist-musicians can record and craft for 3 – 6 months.
* Build an alliance with people who want to contribute to the entrepreneurial success of artists
* Build an alliance with music and non-music profit companies and construct a win/win business model
* Bring awareness on the importance of supporting artist-musicians directly.
Something amazing happened one day while sitting at my desk and doubting this crazy idea. I could feel that this vision was already alive, existing, waiting for me to meet it. It was the most amazing feeling I had ever had. This may take me a lifetime but all I know, is that I must become part of the solution, not the problem.
I know that I can’t do this alone. If you want to help be part of the solution, please go to www.walkmilesformusic.com.
MTP: Thanks for your inspiring commitment to making artists’ lives better! We’re really impressed with your extraordinary effort to bring awareness of the streaming problem to all creators.