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Buffy Sainte-Marie is still finding pleasure in the song after all these years.Matt Barnes

The legendary folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, 74, is among 10 artists vying for this year's Polaris Music Prize, an award that will be handed out at the Carlu, on Sept. 21. We spoke to her about the high cost and rewards of being in the music business.

Your album Power in the Blood is shortlisted for this year's Polaris Music Prize. How familiar were you with the prize before the nomination?

Pretty familiar, because I'm a big fan of [2006 Polaris winner] Owen Pallet and I'm also friends with Tanya Tagaq, who won last year. I think it's a great idea. For one thing it includes all genres, which is a very important reality in the lives of musicians and songwriters who don't necessarily go along with the genrefication that developed in the late sixties. The record companies needed to know what bin to put you in. That was a handicap on artists, I think. Another important thing about Polaris is the money.

The prize this year has been boosted by $20,000, up to $50,000 for the winner.

You know, it's so hard for an artist to stay in the business, with the economy being so upside down. The airlines, therefore, are forced to gouge. So are the hotels. Everyone's feeling the financial crunch. It really costs a lot of money to get to an audience.

My hangup with the Polaris has to do with what I see is ageism among its voters. Bruce Cockburn's great album from 2011, Small Source of Comfort, probably never had a chance. Neil Young has never been short-listed either.

I'm a fan of both of those guys. You know, I don't feel any different than I felt in my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. That's another crock that we get handed, that as every year your life goes by, your life deteriorates. For me, that has not been true. I've had ups and downs just about every week of my life. But I feel strong. Also, I do ballet. It's kind of like joining the Navy. I don't recommend it, but it's sure good for you.

What about your songwriting these days?

I think I'm better now than I was yesterday. I'm pretty much the same girl I was when I first got into show business. The business part of it is very hard. Because you will be cheated. You just have to accept that. And yet the songwriter part, the artistry part of it, is so rewarding that I think most of us would do it even if we had to pay to do it.

What about the audiences and the awards?

Awards? They're nice. Applause? It's nice. But the reason to get on the plane is the same reason you wrote the songs in the first place. It's meaningful to the songwriter. It's meaningful to the artist. And it's a pleasure to play songs you really believe in, and that you believe might help somebody else figure out their day.

The Polaris Music Prize gala takes place Sept. 21, 8 p.m., $50, The Carlu, 444 Yonge St., ticketfly.com; live streaming at music.cbc.ca.