Miranda Mulholland  Photo: Ivan Otis
Miranda Mulholland Photo: Ivan Otis

A Conversation With .. Miranda Mulholland

I was a recent guest on Blair Packham and Bob Reid’s In the Studio radio hour at Newstalk 1010. Exiting stage left was someone Blair insisted I meet. Blair described her as a major talent and force. That was easy to recognize. Some people walk around in a thousand watts of beaming light.

Miranda Mulholland was in with the guys to promote her festival – Sawdust City Music Festival --which starts tonight in Gravenhurst, Ontario. She’s known for her illustrious work with Great Lake Swimmers, Jim Cuddy, The Mahones, The Peelers, the Bowfire violin posse, the television show Republic of Doyle, and, recently, Soulpepper Theatre. She can be heard with her duo Harrow Fair with Andrew Penner on a remake of “When the Levee Breaks”, written in 1929 by the husband and wife team, Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. Miranda and I had words a day or so back.

Is this the first year for you and Sawdust City Music Festival?

Yes, it’s the first year of its kind. It runs three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday with Friday being our kick-off (@Sawdust City Brewery Station), then a main event on Saturday with the Jim Cuddy Band (historic Opera House/VIP reception and Super VIP – Jim Cuddy meet and greet), also a songwriting circle that day, then on Sunday a big show on the music barge at Rotary Park.

How did raising funds to mount this go?

Most of it is free. The main show with Jim Cuddy at the Opera House is sold out, and we also sold out our VIP packages. As far as the free stuff goes, we are passing these beautiful handmade boxes for donations at all of the shows and hopefully people will be generous and support the artists. We have some great sponsorship. TD Bank came on board, Whiskey, Solar Share, - a lot of great people have helped out.

Where and when did the idea for a festival spring to mind?

August last year and it’s been a full year. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say I was thinking about starting a festival. I’m still learning and have learned so much in the last year. It’s insane. I spent all of July in New York City with Soulpepper Theatre performing in the show Spoon River as an actress and it was amazing. We were heralded in the New York Times and I got to perform in cabarets every night with a bunch of killer jazzers – George Koller, Colleen Allen…

Robi Botos?

Robi was there for one day but had visa problems.

It was an amazing opportunity. The city is fantastic and the audiences were welcoming and generous. If you are going to go to New York go with a hit show. It was so beyond over the top from what we expected. So grateful for that!

The producer Albert Schultz taught me a lot. He’s an incredible fundraiser and visionary. We all play a bunch of different characters. I have this interesting scene where I’m on a train track and play the fiddle and sing along to it. Here’s a fun fact, the train that’s in the show came about when I was at my cottage in Gravenhurst and recorded the train from my dock and played fiddle along with it and sent to artistic director Mike Ross. It’s actually the Gravenhurst train that’s in the play.

The production is based on Edward Lee Masters letters called Spoon River anthology. It’s a whole bunch of people walking through a graveyard reading the tombstones and each tells a story about that person’s life buried beneath. (244 poems in anthology spoken by deceased residents).

What else this summer?

I did this artist advocacy piece for the Economic Board of Canada. I’ll be doing a speech in the fall in Ottawa about this and leading into copyright reform with the government and repeating my keynote there. It was such a great thing to do for me knowing a lot of artists reached out to me and said 'I’m behind you and this has happened to me.' I think transparency is such an important thing. When we are honest with each other and transparent about what we are making, then we can convey the real problems, the desperation. If people don’t know what’s actually happening – the consumers – they don’t understand there’s a direct line to them streaming your music for free on Spotify and the difference that makes to you, the artist.

How profitable is Spotify? – many of these start-ups survive off investment dollars. Witness Soundcloud implode.

They are not very transparent either and it’s difficult to know. You can take YouTube which pays the lowest in streaming royalties. I just started listening to this amazing podcast called “The Butterfly Effect.” It’s John Ronson and he explores what happened when somebody invented PornHub. It’s like the YouTube question personified. He identifies the guy who didn’t want to pay who started the company, which then became so profitable - he bought up all of the other companies and now porn is available for free around the world to anyone of any age. You used to have to submit a credit card as verification of age but now that’s out the window. Look, what has happened to the whole eco system because of this one person who is now fabulously wealthy creating the framework where people can upload whatever. He claims he didn’t steal anything even though he created the mechanism for pirated porn. It’s the Google thing. We are not using your music, we are a pipeline. We didn’t put those goods in the window therefore it’s not our fault. There’s no accountability. I found it absolutely fascinating one person and not a corporation was benefiting and is incredibly rich from PornHub.

What I find bizarre is there are millions who actually upload themselves to these sites and there are faces and folks who know them – not for profit, but for attention.

There are so many ethical questions around that. Who’s getting consent? There’s a whole generation involved and so many implications. When you take that back to the music question – people have grown up with streaming and don’t value it the same way. It’s oh, whatever.

There was a time you could upload a video on YouTube and pull down five to ten thousand views with a decent music visual, now you are fortunate to hit a hundred.

There’s just too much.

I think it’s an archival entity now, not a promotional tool.

Fair enough. It’s still number one if kids are looking for a song – it’s where they go. The dividends are so poor – at least Spotify is trying. This is why copyright reform is important and there are things the government can do. We are actually subsidizing big tech companies in the valley – they are safe harbors.

There are so many great things about performance and the one thing is the space between the artist and the audience – that experience. I will never get sick of that and that to me is the most valuable thing!

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