Heather Ostertag, CM – President of Heather Ostertag and Associates
By Sherrilynn Colley
Quite often we have heroes in our lives that we wish could be friends, less often we have friends who become our heroes. Such is the case with Heather Ostertag, President of Heather Ostertag and Associates and Past President of FACTOR Canada. Her consulting firm specializes but is not exclusive to music. I met Heather about 6 years ago when she was doing a consult for a young musician and now consider her a mentor and friend. I was immediately struck by her contrasting characters of kindness and compassion and blunt honesty and directness. These qualities allow her to quickly assess strengths and weaknesses and formulate a personal plan for artist development. Her intuitiveness, ability to read people, political acumen and being a “good soul” has contributed to her success and longevity with more than 40 years in Music.
As I have gotten to know her over the years I would describe her as one of the nicest “forces to be reckoned with” in the Canadian Music Industry. It was only after this interview that I fully realized just how much she has not only left her fingerprint on the Canadian Music Scene but how she has impacted the international Music Industry with her vision and power.
Ostertag prepared for her path graduating from a Communications program at George Brown College after being inspired by her mentor Duff Roman, an on-air personality at CHUM Radio and original President of FACTOR. “Duff made me realize just how important it was to be a good communicator in any field.”
Heather believes that it is extremely important to give back and continues to mentor numerous women including a young artist named Roveena. When I asked her to name someone in the music industry that she admires she quickly responded with her close friend Peggy Pegi Cecconi, Vice President and the unsung hero from SRO-Anthem (the label by Rush which was signed to and purchased by Ole Media Management and is now rebranded as Anthem Entertainment). “Peggy Pegi is knowledgeable, classy, loyal, she values integrity and “calls it as it is” with no B.S. She came up through the ranks, knows everyone and is respected everywhere” “ Pegi guided me over the years through my tough spots and being on Team Pegi meant good advise and that she would always have your back.” Cecconi now has her own consulting company which is called QOFE (Queen of F…ing Everything).
With so many amazing accomplishments over the years, it is no surprise that Heather is a member of the National Order of Canada – which is the highest degree of merit, an outstanding level of talent and service or an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity. This honor is presented by the Governor-General on behalf of the Canadian Monarch Queen Elizabeth 11. Ostertag joins the ranks of musician industry greats like Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen and the Tragically Hip. The Order of Canada’s motto translated from Latin means “they desire a better country.”
Ostertag has certainly made it her life mission to improve the music industry in Canada and her work as the first and only female President of FACTOR Canada (a publicly and privately funded national program that supports musicians) has been emulated and set standards throughout the world.
Her work with FACTOR began in 1985 as the Director of Administration, then Director of Operations in 1988, Executive Director in1990 and finally President from 1995-2006. Key changes that she established were Reporting to the Board of Directors, which led to a change process to revitalize and grow FACTOR to be effective, visible and efficient. This grew the annual budget from a seed money base of $200,000 to $20 million in 2010 with FACTOR providing more than $14 million annually to support the Canadian Music Industry.
Ostertag also crafted and recommended to the Board FACTOR’s initial Governance Document that was adopted. Subsequently, the Department of Canadian Heritage engaged the services of the Governance Institute of Canada to conduct an audit of the foundation. The success of this governance is reflected in a report that stated: “FACTOR has clearly defined conflict of interest policies and codes of conduct, with solid procedures to ensure they are properly implemented”.
Also under her leadership, they secured a new five-year commitment from Canadian Heritage for the continuance of the Canada Music Fund. She administered a $20 million funding budget and managed administration expenses of only 12.5% of total revenue. In 2008 she developed a stabilized funded strategy that had just over $9 million in funding in 2010 when she left FACTOR. She also built a Contingency Reserve Fund leveraging a prudent and careful investment strategy that has the intended purpose of covering FACTOR’s operational expenses for a minimum of one year should funding cease. Monies from this fund were eventually used to purchase a building for the foundation. The building which doubled in
value within three years was paid for in cash with no funds from FACTOR’s benefactors. The fund has since been restored to over $900,000
Ostertag positioned FACTOR to be the world leader in Domestic Talent Development. She became Canada’s representative as a keynote speaker to foundations, industry, and governments in Britain, Australia, Holland, Finland, China, and the United States all looking to replicate Canada’s program.
As FACTOR President she is spear-heading the creation of a national structure ensuring all Canadian talent have fair and equitable access to FACTOR and supporting programs. Next under her leadership, they successfully linked provincial associations which afforded the numerous music industry associations with an opportunity to share and exchange information in a manner that had previously never existed. This significantly contributed to a stronger and more viable Canadian independent music industry. An interesting example of FACTOR’s impact is a $5000 grant to Nickleback which allowed them to “make it” and results in supporting Canada back through taxes and eventually joining Heather in receiving the Order of Canada – talk about full circle.
Ostertag shares that “It wasn’t always easy in a male-dominated industry and at first I had to lead from within the organization. It was different times for women executives and I always preferred to handle my complaints directly one-on-one with male colleagues and some good advice helped me along the way. “I remember being frustrated about something a male colleague said that annoyed me but after I stepped back I realized he was right” He advised me to “Quit whining” and said, “Power isn’t something that is given to you – it is something you take” After I really heard what he was saying, I knew it was time to step up to plate and own my power. That advise impacted me on how I conducted myself in business and taught me to keep my personal life independent of my career.”
FACTOR is not the only organization Ostertag impacted, she won the Industry Builder Award for working with the individuals and helping them develop the Provincial Music Industry Associations coast to coast to coast. Once this was done they brought together the Provincial Organizations to form a national exchange of info that has enabled the entire music industry to develop in Canada. She was also the Chair of the Canadian Country Music Association for 6 years a volunteer position she took to “give back”. She also got involved with the Country Music Association of Ontario. At the helm, she drafted the concept, applied for funding and secured money though government and private sponsors for the “Road to Independence” a yearly conference that provides authentic insight, empowerment, and suggestions for those pursuing careers in the music industry. I have attended this conference as it was eye-opening, informative and affordable.
Ostertag’s list of professional organizations and honors are too numerous to mention but the Order of Canada was her crowning achievement and meant so much to her father who was passionate about supporting Canada. He insisted on buying Canadian and cherished and promoted “all things Canadian.” She revealed “It was the only work-related thing that he ever attended and it made it mean that much more because of his pride in me. It was so humbling to hear the accomplishments of all the other Order of Canada recipients and it makes wonder how you were chosen or if you deserve this, incredible honor.” It made me examine “What was my impact on Canada and how did I “Desire a better Country” as the motto states?”
Here is a list of some of the awards Ostertag has received that are significant to the music industry. Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal; Industry Builder Award – East Coast Music Association; Hank Smith Award of Excellence, Canadian Country Music Association; Jo Walker-Meador International Achievement Award, Country Music Association (USA); Brian Chater Industry Builder Award, Canadian Music Week; Appointed a Member of the Order of Canada; Integrity Award, FACTOR Board of Directors; Harris Alumni Award for Excellence in Music Industry Education; Inducted into the RPM Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame; Ruth Hancock “Friend of the Industry”, Ontario Association of Broadcasters; Honorary Lifetime Director, East Coast Music Association.
What advise does someone inducted into the RPM Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and over 40 years in the music field have for other women in the industry? “A lot of the industry is still about whom you know and the value of networking and connections is as just important as talent, skills and drive.” Her advice to artists, “Don’t rush into signing anything, do your due diligence and be sure you have a lawyer look over your contract” She believes that “you must bring a lot to the table and continue work even harder after you are signed” and adds “the big machine is not even going to be interested until you are established so you need to be your authentic self and be prepared to work hard in an over-saturated market.” Don’t try to sound like anyone else, be that unique individual not anyone else – just be you.” she adds, “You will be the last one to get paid so be aware of the new trends in technology and social media, revenue streams and what can get you to a level that creates interest, sponsorship, and support for your music”
What is next for Ostertag? “I no longer work 60-70 hours a week and I try to reserve some time to be available for my family and the projects or artists that I am interested in.” She also carves out time to travel, work on her fundraisers like the “Panty Schmooze”, read, listen to music and cook. I have had the pleasure of dining at her house and her culinary skills are legendary. When I asked her who her dream dinner guests would be she chose “Leonard Cohen who I was lucky to meet and has this amazing vibrational energy that he puts out, John Lennon for his lyrics that are like Leonards so haunting and pure and Katie Laing for her courage to come out about her sexuality and live in Alberta with the courage to admit to not eating beef” Well I guess we know what wouldn’t be on that menu, but what a dream guest list and a chance to be in the presence of greatness. This is exactly how I feel when I am at Heather’s dinner table. It feels like an opportunity to have a brush with greatness, and a chance to listen to the fascinating stories of the people and the lives she has known. What an honor to know a true agent of change and get a glimpse of the powerful insight of a “force to be reckoned with.”