Keep the music alive
Published: 16 Sep 2015
When the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) reached out for help, David Wood FCCA, CFO of the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), was at the ready. With a career in the music industry spanning 16 years, Wood applied his financial acumen to rescuing a Canadian cultural tradition. Two years later, with a strategic plan, a new governance model, board of directors and management team, the CSHF is poised for success.
In serious financial difficulty by the end of 2011, the not-for-profit devoted to recognising Canada’s finest in songwriting and composing across the country, was in dire need of restructuring. It was then that SOCAN decided to make a strategic acquisition, one that would ensure that the legacy left by such composers as Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and other inductees to the Hall of Fame, would continue to be lauded for years to come.
Since its inception in 1998, the CSHF has held seven induction ceremonies, but going forward ‘SOCAN was the natural home for the Hall of Fame’, says Wood. ‘We just had to figure out how to make that happen under our umbrella, while still preserving the independence of the brand and the leadership of the original organisation.’
SOCAN, another not-for-profit organisation, represents the performing rights of more than 100,000 Canadian members, with licensing agreements across Canada and royalty distribution services to its members and affiliated societies around the world.
As such, it has substantial operating revenues that approached C$253m (£154m) in 2012 and an operating budget of C$46m. In 2012, SOCAN purchased the assets of the CSHF to fund the payment of the organisation’s debts and, upon legal advice, wound up the company and created a newly registered not-for-profit of the same name.
Four representatives of the founding organisations (the Canadian Music Publishers Association, the Songwriters Association of Canada, APEM from Quebec, and SPACQ from Quebec) were appointed to the newly created board, along with four SOCAN directors, and a representative of the record industry. SOCAN appointed Lisa Gaglia as manager of the Hall of Fame, and much of the management, finance, marketing and legal is done by SOCAN.
As CFO, says Wood, ‘I saw not only the operational efficiencies around the restructuring, but ways to turn the organisation around through using our managerial expertise and applying our business culture. Just because you’re a not-for-profit, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t utilise sound business acumen and solid strategies for growth in whatever you do,’ he says.
As project champion at SOCAN, Wood initially presented two reports to his board, explaining first how a new strategy for the restructured organisation would operate as a separate entity under SOCAN, and how the new Hall of Fame would be governed going forward.
According to Wood, revitalising the CSHF required fresh ways of achieving its mandate, while remaining financially sustainable. ‘To reach a wider audience with limited resources we needed to leverage new and existing partnerships,’ he says. One such avenue was to work with Crescent Group, a website design firm in Toronto, to deliver a new, accessible and content-rich website to replace the outdated cansong.ca site.
According to Wood, the new website has the potential to contribute
to CSHF’s objective of raising awareness and educating the public about Canadian songwriters.
‘The redesigned site will provide for an enhanced user experience,’ says Wood, ‘by expanding search functionality, including information about the history of Canadian songwriting and music, and showcasing the Hall of Fame’s audiovisual archive that has been converted from tapes and reels to a modern digital format including apps and tablets’.
‘Second, a sustainable solution to the organisation’s education mandate was devised using a subscription-based service in schools, whereby children will learn using music as the medium,’ says Wood. ‘Schools can subscribe to the service and have access to curriculum-approved subject matter in a variety of subjects.’
In this effort, he explains, SOCAN is partnering with Magic Lantern Media, the biggest online education provider in Canada, to build a curriculum called ‘Educating Through Music’. ‘What this will do,’ he says, is ‘use songs that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame to get Canadian music into schools, to get people to learn about Canadian music while using it to teach other subjects – history, geography, literature, art – all sorts of subjects’.
Third, the Hall of Fame will have a partnership with the National Music Centre in Calgary, a C$150m state-of-the-art facility, which will highlight the story and contributions of Canadian songwriters and will include CSHF rich-media content and inductee artefacts.
Finally, a new concept of monthly song inductions into the CSHF will lead up to headline songwriters being inducted in the main gala ceremony. The song inductions will be accompanied by new-media initiatives that will leverage video content on the web and through other partnerships.
The skills brought to the table reflect Wood’s long history in the music business and include a strong sense of diplomacy. As he explains: ‘The rescue has been financial, but the project has really been about being a liaison, about bringing parties together to make sure we can agree on how the organisation is going to be run. I guess it’s those sorts of skills really that have got me this far – like decisive decision making for example, because as you can imagine we’ve had to make hundreds of decisions to get this far.’
In 1995, Wood decided to leave his position in the financial services sector in the UK to explore the world. Following his passion would lead him to the music industry. ‘I’ve always been hugely interested in music and film, and I wanted to use the skills I had in an industry that I liked,’ he says.
Armed with a professional accounting designation and a love of music, Wood joined the music industry in 1997 and entered PRS for Music, the UK-based mechanical and performing rights organisation. He then became CFO of the International Music Joint Venture in Amsterdam and joined SOCAN in 2002.
Beginning his tenure as director of operational audit and special projects at SOCAN, Wood’s role was to audit the large media customers or licensees – such as TV stations, radio and cable – which provide the bulk of SOCAN’s funding.
In January 2004, he became finance director, which progressed into VP Finance, then CFO Finance in 2006. As well as working on the CSHF rescue package, as CFO of the largest music industry-related organisation representing songwriters and music publishers in Canada, Wood has a big role overlooking operational audit, budgeting and financial reporting, taxation and investments. ‘Without engaged finance and audit teams I could never have been able to devote so much of my time to the CHSF,’ he says.
To nurture a financially stable future, the CSHF will continue to follow the initiatives outlined above, leverage external partnerships and run the day-to-day operations by using existing SOCAN infrastructure and employees. ‘The support from the rest of SOCAN has been amazing,’ says Wood, ‘allowing us to keep costs at a minimum’.
Wood will keep a close eye on the ongoing operations of the newly formed company, not only in his role as its financial steward, but through his commitment to the artistry of Canadian composers and passion for the music industry in general.
‘In addition to helping achieve a sustainable future for the CSHF, this has been a challenging journey for me and the rest of the team,’ says Wood. ‘I have learned a great deal about the Canadian music industry and met some wonderful people that are committed to the organisation and its goals. I’m looking forward to helping the Hall of Fame achieve great things in the future.’
Ramona Dzinkowski is an economist and business journalist living in Toronto