Exec Profile: Stuart Johnston of CIMA


Years with Company: 3
Address: 30 St. Patrick St., 2nd Floor, Toronto ON M5T 3A3
Phone: 416-485-3152 ext. 232
Web: http://cimamusic.ca
E-mail: [email protected]

By Andy Kaufmann

BACKGROUND: Every industry has a lobbying group and in Canada the music industry has the Canadian Independent Music Association, otherwise known as CIMA (pronounced SEE-muh). Three years ago, Stuart Johnson became president of the venerable non-profit. Besides petitioning the government, CIMA also acts as an education and professional networking hub for its more than 230 members.

Decades of Advocacy

Next year is officially our 40th anniversary, but we got together 43 years ago. We were the first trade association in the world to represent the independent music community, so we’re proud of being trailblazers. And the reasons my community got together back then are the same as today. It’s a collective voice of the industry to express our opinions and views to ensure the government understands who we are and that we have the proper legislative and financial support we need in order to thrive.

Education and Exporting

Our members are primarily record labels, managers, publishers, distributors, venues and festivals, folk in the Canadian-owned independent music industry. We provide a number of services to help them expand their businesses. We provide information and networking opportunities and we provide exporting opportunities around the world for them to take their artists and meet people in those markets. Whether it’s pursuing tour opportunities, sync licensing deals, sub-publishing deals, local labels or distribution deals, we try to provide opportunities to pursue those businesses.

I only have a staff of seven. We’re a small organization, but last year we did 22 exporting events in 19 cities and 10 countries around the world. So CIMA, for all intents and purposes, acts as one of Canada’s de facto music export offices. Other countries have their own standalone export offices. Canada does not have one. We’re filling that void.

Music Ontario

Last year, we created Music Ontario, our provincial music industry association for the business community. Other provinces in Canada have music industry associations, but Ontario never did. The mandate for Music Ontario is slightly different in that our membership is expanded to the artist community. We provide a lot of programming, professional development services and education for those emerging artists, baby labels and emerging companies, as well as more established companies and artists.

Legislative Triumphs

After about 17 years, our federal government passed new copyright legislation. For all those years, we were engaged with the government to ensure the Copyright Act didn’t hinder us. We’re always talking to government about funding and legislative issues that affect Canada. We’re fortunate in that we have something called the Canada Music Fund. It’s an almost $25 million fund that helps music companies and artists. It was always a point of discussion whether or not the fund should be renewed and by how much. The federal government came down with its new budget and I’m pleased to say our advocacy efforts paid off. They not only renewed the fund - they made it permanent, recognizing the tremendous cultural and economic impact our industry’s making on our country.

The Funding Advantage

Music’s universal, so the approach to business [around the world] is roughly the same. Whether it’s the states or Britain or Australia or Japan, there is a tremendous amount of similarity between those businesses and the ways they approach the development of their artists. What makes the Canadian industry a bit unique is that we have public support, those public dollars we leverage to provide additional opportunities. We might have other opportunities that, say, British or American companies might not have, only because we have a bigger pot in which to dip to help offset the costs for exporting or developing artists. We’ve got a competitive advantage there.

Your Expanded Office

Music industry associations, whether provincial or national, provide a great service. We’re people in the industry who know what we’re talking about. We use resources like Music Connection or we point people to those resources, as well as provide that personal touch in connecting experts in the field. Half our industry is sole proprietors; they’re on their own. They’re the chief cook and bottle washer and they’re working 24 hours a day. And when they’re not working, they’re not making money. So they have very little resources and time to stop what they’re doing, poke their head up and learn something new or connect with someone. We try to be their expanded office.

Play Canada

In Canada, we have the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission, which is like your FCC in the states. Broadcasters in Canada are regulated to play a minimum of 35% Canadian content. They also contribute percentages of their revenues to a national fund that supports Canadian independent music companies and developing artists. You can imagine the dialogue that the broadcasters and music community have on what level of support the broadcasters should provide. The review is ongoing right now and that’s taking up a lot of our time.


There’s tremendous opportunity for us to provide new and relevant services for the industry. Like any industry, it’s constantly evolving. The challenge is to always seek continuous improvement, to anticipate what the curve is and what the needs are going to be. We’re constantly trying to not only educate ourselves on current business practices but also anticipate what the new practices will be and be there before our members. It’s a constant challenge.

Just Rewards

The biggest challenge is getting through our to-do list and meeting deadlines. It’s not a challenge in the sense that it’s unrewarding. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding because we are as passionate about the music as our members. It might sound cliché, but it’s rewarding when we can provide information, connect people and create opportunities. To see and hear the passion from an artist and have that band reach new levels of success, it’s a wonderful thing.

Be Passionate

Follow the passion. It’s passion that drives this industry. If you can hold onto that passion, feed that passion and develop the craft, good things will happen. If artists can focus on their art and trust their business representation, I’m convinced they will always find success.

Due Credit

I have to give credit to my staff and board of directors, because it’s those people that make things happen at CIMA. I may have the president’s title, but it really is a team effort. My board of directors volunteers their time to ensure CIMA runs well from a strategic point of view. And my staff executes the programs and services. Quite frankly, I don’t know how they do it so well. Half the staff has been working here between 15 and over 30 years, so these are dedicated professionals with the passion, knowledge and drive to make sure our members get what they need. I couldn’t do it without them.