Why a change to SiriusXM's programming may mean huge losses for some P.E.I. musicians

P.E.I. singer-songwriter Alicia Toner says when one of her songs is picked up by a station on SiriusXM satellite radio, she earns 50-75 per cent of her income for the year in royalties alone.  (Mike Bernard - image credit)
P.E.I. singer-songwriter Alicia Toner says when one of her songs is picked up by a station on SiriusXM satellite radio, she earns 50-75 per cent of her income for the year in royalties alone. (Mike Bernard - image credit)

When Alicia Toner hears one of her songs playing on SiriusXM, she knows there's a much-needed paycheque coming her way — to help keep her music career afloat.

In fact, at times, Toner says royalties from the satellite radio company have added up to 50-75 per cent of her income for the whole year.

"The price of gas and inflation has gone through the roof. So touring is very difficult to make any money. One hundred streams from a streaming platform gets you about half a penny," said the P.E.I. singer-songwriter.

"But if you're lucky enough to have a song on satellite radio, that song, every time it gets a spin, makes about $44 American. So if you've got some regular rotation on a station, that's some serious, reliable income you're making."

'Awful and terrifying'

So, when she heard SiriusXM had decided to end its contract with CBC Radio 3 and CBC Country — channels focused on promoting up-and-coming independent Canadian artists like her — she got worried.

"The general reaction and consensus is that this was quite awful and terrifying for the indie Canadian music scene," said Toner. "The fear when these things start to get taken away, it's 'how much longer can I continue to do this?'"

Richmond Lam
Richmond Lam

Russell Louder knows the feeling. The Island musician, now living in Montreal, had two songs playing on SiriusXM this fall, through CBC Radio 3's channel. They said thousands of dollars in income are at stake.

"Inflation has made it next to impossible to tour," said Louder. "But I was like, 'at least I can count on, if I get 100 CBC spins, I can count on four grand American to tie me more over for the next three months.' That's how I was operating. And then to find out we don't have that anymore, so suddenly, right before winter, people are shocked. Labels are going to fold. Artists' careers are going to end."

New music channels 

SiriusXM's contract with CBC — which also included two French music channels — ended Oct. 1.

On its website, the company said ending the contract with CBC provided an opportunity to "leverage SiriusXM's in-house team and update some of the channel programming."

Since then, SiriusXM has launched a handful of new Canadian music channels. In an email to CBC this week, a spokesperson for the company said the new channels "allow us to further deepen our commitment to Canadian music."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

'There needs to be an overhaul'

But at this point, Louder said it's uncertain whether their music will be picked up by other SiriusXM channels.

Louder and Toner are both hoping this sudden loss of satellite radio royalties will serve as a wake-up call for the music industry.

"Streaming is the most popular platform right now," said Toner. "It's taken over most things, and I don't think artists get paid fairly for it. There needs to be an overhaul, because if that's where the majority of people are consuming their music, unless you're getting millions of streams, you're not making any real income from a streaming platform."

"We shouldn't have to rely on one single contract, one single form of income. But all our other forms of income that we're pursuing as artists are not functioning," added Louder.

"We're running on empty here as an industry, and it's going to get to the point where the only people that can make music are the people that afford to, and I hate that."