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FYI

Gary And Me, And FYI

I’m deviating from the norm with this column, but there are things to be said as FYI transitions to its new owners who launch the Billboard Canada brand today.

Gary And Me, And FYI

By David Farrell

I’m deviating from the norm with this column, but there are things to be said as FYI transitions to its new owners who launch the Billboard Canada brand today.


I’ll start at the beginning when I walked into Gary Slaight’s office a little over 15 years ago with a lot of history, a few dollars in my pocket and an idea to revive the idea of a Canadian music industry journal. Gary is not the easiest person to read, but in the moment, he was warm, grabbed onto my idea without hesitation and said he was in. Neither one of us had any idea how much the idea would end up costing or how long our partnership would last, but it did, and it cost a bundle, and I think, guardedly, we both think the money was well spent.

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Most who read the newsletter and the enormous body of content amassed over the years think the cost comes down to paying writers. It’s a good part of the cost, but as FYI gained traction, the IT costs started to balloon. It’s an unseen cost of doing business, and I’m enormously indebted to Slaight Music’s digital magician Barnaby Marshall for keeping the site up, accessible, searchable and easy for us writers to interact with. In the last number of years, the site has been routinely bombarded with bots whose one objective is to take a site down or access data that they can use for pernicious purposes. IT costs ballooned in recent years, but we were never compromised and never taken down.

To his credit, and much to my surprise, Gary has never really meddled in my editorial domain. Over the years, he has suggested a few story ideas and, on two occasions, chided me for coverage that he felt was lopsided, but he’s not a micro-manager, and he has given me great latitude to decide what’s newsworthy and what the priorities are.

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I’ve worked with a lot of news organizations over the years, and I have to say unreservedly he has been the best of the best, which is not to say he’s always been happy with me. We’ve had our ups and downs. There was a period of time when my life was a disaster, and it showed. He can be a hard taskmaster, but there’s a side to him that is almost fatherly. He isn’t one to rant and scream or be abusive. He has an unnerving ability to cut through to the chase with those eyes of his that could chill a polar bear. This said, he has always been encouraging…and stern. He wants to know where I’m spending the money and to have a grip on the annual budget. But he’s been generous and never questioned a fee submitted by an outside writer and never questioned my expenses which have always been accompanied by receipts.

Working with writers has been my greatest joy, and overseeing an editorial budget has allowed me to commission some big-name talents and keep those I trust–writers/journalists who can cut through the hyperbole and turn in sparkling copy on deadline. 

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In the good old days, freelance writers had a range of publications to write for; unfortunately, only a few paid well. Today, the market is threadbare, and a lot of online publications are asking writers to work for pennies or less. It’s a crime, but it’s part of the evolution of media struggling through challenging times.

Working with writers has been a joy, and I’ve always tried to pay fairly, and the Slaight organization has, by and large, paid within seven to 14 days of an invoice being submitted. I hear horror stories from writers who wait 30 or even 90 days after submitting an invoice. Not my writers. Gary runs a tight organization, and he understands that writers have expenses.

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In this and in many other ways, he has been and is a class act. I owe him much, as does the Canadian music industry and the many acts that have been featured over the years. It seems everyone reads us and sees the need for what we do–but few have stepped up to the plate to help financially. And by some quirk of fate, we miss all the requisite requirements for receiving grants. Want to host a party in Australia or Europe? That works. Getting money for a trade publication that promotes the industry and not a private enterprise? Sorry, but that’s not within the grant mandate.

I’ve had a marvellous ride with Gary, Derrick Ross, and the Slaight Music team. I’ve been an outsider on the inside and have eternal gratitude owed to Gary for this wild ride that had me writing once a week, six times a week, then three times a week and then back to once a week. Last week’s total was 46,515 words, and our cumulative total is an astonishing 14.8 million words.

And the Slaight Music team: Gary has a nose for hiring talent. Derrick has proven to be a god-saver on many occasions. He listens and has a heart, as do the rest of the team. They are all loyal, show kindness, and are exceptional in their areas of expertise. I watched Gary dealing with many oversized egos at Q107. He hired them because they were extraordinary, and he was there for them when they misbehaved. He didn't turn on them.  

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As we separately looked at a 16th year, I think we both knew that we’d had done our tour of duty together, which is when, out of the blue, Mo Ghoneim and Richard Trapunski quietly approached us about acquiring FYI and incorporating it into the new entity known as Billboard Canada. Mo is president, and Richard the editor-in-chief. The negotiations were fast and smoothly executed, allowing me as much autonomy to continue with the FYI editorial as in the past. They have a bold vision for the future, including honouring the intent and cred of FYI and, importantly, maintaining a searchable database of stories that FYI has published over the years.

I'm told the full integration of the database will be completed in two weeks. It’s not an easy task and has to be tested and re-tested. Meantime, Kerry Doole and I will continue for the near future talking by phone at 5 a.m. on Thursdays as we run a test on the newsletter and proof the content on the website. We’ve been doing this for I don’t know how long. It’s part of our weekly routine, too, comparing notes on what the lead items are and what goes into the “buckets” that collect and collate a lot of news snippets. KD has been my partner in crime for over a decade, and he's as reliable as he is accomplished and kind.

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I can’t speak for Kerry, but I receive approximately 350 e-mails daily. Maybe 150 on Christmas Day. I can’t possibly read them all, but it takes several hours out of a day to wade through them, categorize and label them and try to get the most important winnowed down into digestible bites.

In summation, hats off to Gary, and I’d love it if you let him know his kindness has been worth it; To the new team that has taken FYI under its wings, it’s as surprising and uplifting as that day I first walked into Gary’s office with an idea and having him unequivocally say ‘yes. Let's do it.' When he decides to act on something, he's committed, and that's that.

Gary, I know I’ve driven you crazy over the years, but it’s been one heck of a ride, and we did something that needed doing and did it with grace and friendship when no one else was willing to step up.

Sincerely:

David C. Farrell

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Billboard Canada FYI Bulletin: Canada’s Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Distributes $78 Million in Royalties
Photo by Nik on Unsplash
Business

Billboard Canada FYI Bulletin: Canada’s Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Distributes $78 Million in Royalties

Also in this week's business news roundup: a new SOCAN board, CMW's future, and one musician's pitch for the return of cassettes.

Canada’s Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) posted 2023 royalty income of $78M, according to data released last week. That’s an 8.9% increase over the prior year. The income is paid out to affiliated music publishers and self-published songwriter/composers and collected companies that either physically or digitally reproduce member compositions.

CMRRA president Paul Shaver said he is “thrilled” by the increased revenue result. “We are witnessing a significant uptick in music consumption, Shaver stated, adding that he sees a trend that “highlights the vibrancy and vitality of the industry, and which also emphasizes the growing demand for music across global audiences.”

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