Fame, no fortune
'i'm a canadian recording success story. and i'm broke'.
"my financial life is about as depressing as my songs," says canadian singer kathleen edwards. but "you've got to spend money to make money," says the fledgling star who opens for the rolling stones at the upcoming sars benefit in toronto.
five years ago, kathleen edwards was trying to break into the ottawa music scene, playing local coffee shops and pubs for $50 a night. on july 30, she's opening for the rolling stones in toronto, crooning to half a million fans for the sars benefit concert. but even though the 25-year-old alt-country rocker is taking the stage with mick and the guys, she's got nothing in the bank to show for her newfound fame.
"i'm a canadian recording success story," she says. "and i'm broke."
sure, ms. edwards has the backing of maplemusic in canada and rounder records in the states, with whom she's released a hugely popular debut album, failer. she's been lauded by music bible rolling stone magazine as one of the 10 artists to watch in 2003, she's taken the hot seat on the late show with david letterman, and her soulful and emotionally charged songs are being compared to those of lucinda williams. but forget the glitz and glam of rock-star life. ms. edwards isn't being chauffeured around in stretch limos. she's still driving her 1988 chevrolet suburban and renting an apartment in downtown toronto.
"i think there's a big misconception that musicians make money," she says, explaining, 'There are very few artists who've been able to break through and sell records to make money." of course artists see some of the profits, but they get paid last. before she can think of saving a cent, ms. edwards has to recoup her record company's losses from non-stop touring, which averages about $10,000 a week. she says record companies are "like a bank. they loan you the money to go and tour, but you owe them the money back."
while ms. edwards is happy with the three-and-a-half dollars she makes for every album sold, saying it's a good price compared to the $1-a-copy other artists get, it still takes her a long time to see any of that money. take pop sensation avril lavigne, she says, who probably didn't recoup expenses until she sold two million cds. any money ms. edwards is left with goes back into her business. but she says the payoff of gaining new fans outweighs the financial struggle. "it's a risk," she says, "just like everything else."
only a handful of years ago, ms. edwards took a big risk when she focused on her music career rather than going to university. at the time there was no way she could live off her music, and worked in a coffee shop while playing in ottawa pubs and cafés. when she was 19 and 20 years old, she started getting bigger gigs at bars like barrymore's and zaphod beeblebrox in the byward market, making $100 a show.
with some financial help from her parents, ms. edwards recorded an ep to take on tour. she spent $150 to $200 a day to record her songs in a local studio, compared to the $1,000 a day big studios charge. she made 500 copies that she sold at gigs, but ms. edwards says she probably gave away 200 cds, making $15 a copy on the other 300. the whole project cost $3,000, a deal compared to the $30,000 to $40,000 spent on the average canadian album. "it sounds like it, too," she laughs.
she wrote her own press releases, and was picked up by local media, including the ottawa citizen and the ottawa x press. then ms. edwards booked her own tour across canada.
"i went from ottawa to victoria and back in my suburban," even sleeping in the back of her truck. her big break was playing with jane siberry at winnipeg's west end cultural centre.
after her ep, ms. edwards moved to wakefield, que., to focus on songwriting. waitressing to get by, she says she was "really hurting" financially. "a couple of times there," she says, "i thought i was going to lose my mind." when she didn't have work, ms. edwards says, "sometimes i'd wake up in the morning, trying to figure out how to make five bucks to eat some dinner."
then her grandmother died, and with the money ms. edwards inherited she went on to record the demo of her debut album. the project cost $5,000, and while it was "a bit rough around the edges," it caught the attention of her manager, patrick sambrook, who also works with canadian up-and-comer sam roberts.
while she says a lot has changed during the past few months, "my financial life is about as depressing as my songs." but ms. edwards realizes she is at the beginning of her career, explaining, "you've got to spend money to make money," and funnels everything back into her fledgling business.
while she can't afford any extravagances or make any big investments right now, "i have ideas about how i'd like to spend my money," she says. after following the jet-set life of her diplomat father, calling many places home, including korea and switzerland, ms. edwards dreams of having her own house. she also plans to put her future earnings into vintage guitars, which range from $2,000 to $150,000. she says they are a "rock solid investment because there's only so many out there and they have huge cultural history behind them." take the 1959 les paul standard, which she calls the stradivarius of guitars, now worth us$150,000. with only about 5,000 in circulation, she says it's the best vintage guitar on the market.
for now, ms. edwards says she's just waiting 'to see the light of day when i have a little money left and i can go out and buy a guitar -- or get my suburban fixed."
karen van kampen