Make Music, Not Mines.

How Cultural Exports Could Revolutionize Nunavut’s Economy.

By Thor Simonsen | Creative Director, Hitmakerz

In the last decade, the global music industry has undergone tremendous changes. Although many of the changes have been bad – illegal downloads, plummeting CD sales, etc. – the amount of overall music purchased by consumers has actually gone up. In fact, after many years of decline, the amount of money in the industry (including money going to the artists) has finally begun to climb.

Furthermore, technology now allows for cheaper and more decentralized means of production, and with a globalizing world and improvements in translation technology, sales trends are steadily moving away from established markets like North America and Europe towards audiences in developing markets around the world.

This is great news for artists who value equal access to opportunity, but it may be especially beneficial for Inuit artists living in Nunavut. Nunavummiut, because of their small population and unique Inuit culture, can expect growing global demand for music and other cultural exports. Due to the currently limited supply, this demand has the potential to create massive economic value for Nunavummiut now and going forward.

Due to these trends, cultural exports like music could one day be a realistic alternative to mining for economic growth in Nunavut. In fact, cultural exports may prove to be more financially beneficial to Nunavummiut, since the majority of earnings would remain in the communities. And unlike mining, cultural exports pose no risk to the environment. Furthermore, it would likely also bring the added benefit of strengthening and reclaiming Inuit culture, which may help alleviate many socio-economic problems that arise from loss of identity.

Since 2018, Hitmakerz has maintained a presence in southern Canada in order to build relationships with seasoned music industry professionals and organizations to strengthen ties between Nunavut and the country’s centres of musical export. What we’ve discovered is an incredible interest in Indigenous artists – especially those from “exotic” regions like Nunavut – not only in Canada, but globally. Countries like Germany, Australia, Singapore, and others are actively seeking Inuit artists to participate in global tours, showcases, education, licensing, and other export-related activities.

Prominent acts like A Tribe Called Red, Tanya Taggaq, and Jeremy Dutcher are blazing a trail for other Inuit and Indigenous acts to follow, and the success of the next generation will likely continue to grow.

But the window of opportunity may not last, and we’re at a crucial time for the Government of Nunavut and other economic development organizations to foster this growth to ensure a healthy growth of the arts industry in Nunavut and the subsequent prosperity for Nunavut artists.

There is evidence that such support can have massive impacts on an economy with nominal investments. Take South Korea, who, in the late 1990’s, invested heavily into K-Pop. Today, music brings in US $3.5B each year! There is absolutely no reason why Nunavut could not follow in this example, and as we speak, cities across Canada (including Ottawa, London, and Toronto), as well as cities and regions across the world, are actively implementing music development strategies as a way to ensure economic growth in the future global economy. It would be timely and prudent for Nunavut to do the same.

Which brings us back to Hitmakerz and the Nunavut artists we help develop. Since 2016, Hitmakerz has released 5 studio albums with another 4 currently in production. We’ve travelled to communities all across Nunavut to provide songwriting and music production workshops and donate recording equipment to arts organizations in each community. The reason for this work is to inspire and train the next generation of artists. The company’s mission is to “create sustainable careers in the arts for Nunavummiut”. We’re well on our way in reaching this goal, and to date, Hitmakerz has played a pivotal role in helping launch and further the careers of prominent Nunavut acts like Kelly Fraser (Sanikiluaq), Aasiva (Pangnirtung), Angela Amarualik (Igloolik), Joey Nowyuk (Pangnirtung), Shauna Seeteenak (Baker Lake), and many more.

In 2019, Hitmakerz released Ajungi, our first “showcase” album. To make this album, a call for demos was put out, and a number of promising artists were selected. These artists were then flown to Iqaluit to record at Hitmakerz Studios. During their stay and afterwards, they were provided with mentoring and training opportunities. The album was professionally produced and marketed across Canada and internationally. The album garners great reviews and lots of media coverage for the project and the individual artists, helping to promote the artists as well as the territory in general. Because of their participation in the Ajungi album, several of the selected artists are now leveraging the success of the album to continue making music and for some, it could mean the opportunity to begin working in the music industry full-time.

Despite the recent positive changes in the industry, Nunavummiut still face many unique obstacles and barriers to success. The remoteness of the communities from southern hubs, slow internet and phone access, as well as lack of local capacity and music infrastructure are a few examples. The socio-economic problems seen across the territory add an additional layer of challenge for the ambitious Nunavut artist.

At Hitmakerz, our goal is to utilize our strengths – the power of mentorship, training, cultural reclamation, the global interest in Indigenous arts, and the government support available – to reach our goal of helping create sustainable careers in the arts for Nunavummiut. Throughout the last few years we’ve developed a platform to help aspiring artists enter the music industry workforce successfully. Below is the process we’ve used successfully in the past.

We begin by giving Nunavummiut youth access to basic recording equipment (a laptop and microphone), either as individuals or in partnership with local arts organizations. This allows them to hone their skills and ‘find their voice’.

Next, we work with them to develop a realistic and effective career plan, enabling them to monetize on their art in industry-standard streams of revenue – eg. Live performance fees, publishing royalties, artist grants, training opportunities, licensing/merchandising, sponsorship, copyright share sales, etc. The career plan development often includes various forms of training, mentoring, and sometimes travel.

Next, we help them apply for support to bring their creative vision to life – this is usually in the form of an album, tour, music video, merchandise, etc. We then market their product and help them maximize the profits. Throughout the process, the artists are learning and internalizing highly valuable (and transferable) skills – including skills like media production, marketing, project management, accounting/financial management, leadership, proposal writing, performance, copyright administration, legal, and more.

It begins with developing a relationship with the artist, and ensuring that they understand the opportunities and challenges therein. We have a vested interest in helping them succeed, since their success is our success. Once they reach a certain level of professionalism, we have recording contracts ready for them to sign. This contract includes extremely beneficial, customized clauses for management, marketing, publishing, accounting, and more. We even provide free independent legal advice from a music lawyer for the artists to ensure their protection against any legal inexperience. Through it all, we strive to be completely transparent with our artists, creating agreements that have the interests of all parties in perfect alignment and harmony.

With the music industry on the rebound, and a wave of support from fans and the governments, the time for Inuit artists to make the jump to full-time professional careers in the arts is now. At Hitmakerz, our goal is to help “make it real” and turn the dreams of Inuit artists into reality.