New music library offers new revenue stream for Indigenous musicians

Nigel Irwin is working with Toronto-based music company Bedtracks to create a stream called Storytellers. Irwin realized it was a chance to open up a whole new market — and revenue stream —for Indigenous musicians.
Nigel Irwin works on a mix at Bedtracks in Toronto. (Zoe Tennant/CBC)
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Cree musician Nigel Irwin isn't in the music business for the money — he's in it because he loves the craft.

But, when given the chance to work with samples to create an all-Indigenous library of production music, he jumped at it.

Production music is the type of music that turns up in ads, on film scores and in podcasts.
Nigel Irwin is a Cree artist who creates and remixes music for the Storytellers library. (Zoe Tennant/CBC)

Irwin is working with Toronto-based production music company Bedtracks on their new Indigenous library called Storytellers. Irwin realized it was a chance to open up a whole new market — and revenue stream —for Indigenous musicians.

"I'm more interested in the cultural impact that it could possibly have," Irwin said.

"It's the first Indigenous music library and it's the first opportunity that filmmakers are going to finally have to be able to find music for their productions — knowing that this music is from the communities in which these stories are coming from," said Oliver Johnson, the creative director for Bedtracks.

As an Indigenous person, that evokes something quite deep in me and I hope that doesn't get lost in what we're creating.- Nigel Irwin, Cree artist

The library was created in partnership with the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival. It launched in November with more than 300 tracks made and mixed by Indigenous musicians.

Artists who contributed to the library include electronic act Wolf Saga, cellist Cris Derksen, Anishinaabe group Chippewa Travellers and Inuit throat singing duo, Silla. 

The best production music evokes emotion in the listener. The Storytellers library strives to do this, and to fill a gap by offering tracks made and mixed by Indigenous artists.

"Ultimately, you want it to emotionally convey what you're trying to do," Johnson said. "What Silla gave us … you can't help but to listen to it and conjure up images.

"That's the hallmark for creating music for pictures — being able to listen to it and have it conjure up an image to help tell that story."

Wolf Saga's music is featured in the Storytellers library on Bedtracks. (Michael Alexander/Facebook)

Like Irwin, Johnson sees the launch of the library as just the start. Eventually, Bedtracks wants the library to be completely Indigenous operated.

"Our role in this is to help get it off the ground," Johnson said. "We've set in place a multi-year objective to have this company and this library in this catalogue run and marketed and owned and produced and creative directed within the Indigenous community."

Irwin hopes other people feel the same things he does when he hears Silla's throat singing or the Chippewa Travellers' big, loud drums.

"As an Indigenous person, that evokes something quite deep in me and I hope that doesn't get lost in what we're creating," he said. "I hope it evokes the same feeling, maybe for a new generation — or for a different set of ears."


Want to hear some of the music being produced? Click the Listen button at the top of the page.

With files from Zoe Tennant