Listen to Canadian radio for five minutes and you’ll be swamped by Canadian music content, or CanCon. That’s because we have rules ensuring that 35% of radio is Canadian. But would we be better without them? Sarah Botelho reports.
The Canadian music scene. It’s relatively big, somewhat bold, but still fairly uncertain of its identity. It’s the awkward little kid trying desperately to follow in the footsteps of its cooler, older (if somewhat chubbier) sibling, America.
It’s no secret that Canadians are pretty talented. We brought the world the music of Alanis Morrisette, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, and for a brief window of angst-fuelled time, Avril Lavigne. Due to Canada’s close proximity to the U.S., our government has always feared becoming an extension of American culture. In 1971, Pierre Juneau of the Canadian Radio-Television Commission, argued that, “Canadian broadcasting should be Canadian.” Prior to this, Canadian broadcasting had pretty much been a pawn to transmit American talent. The likes of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young felt they had to take their music south to make something of themselves. The American music industry was poaching our talent and filling our radio waves with their own.
To rectify this, the Canadian Content rules (or CanCon) stepped in. This is basically a collection of regulations that apply to all forms of Canadian broadcasting, from local college radio to commercial stations. The regulations differ from level to level, but popular commercial music stations (such as 99.9 Virgin Radio) are required to have at least 35% of their music from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, be purely Canadian – AKA, the artist must be a permanent resident of Canada, a Canadian citizen, or have been living in the country for 6 months prior to creating their music.
But do these regulations actually help struggling Canadian musicians make a living doing what they love? We can’t say for sure. To see how these content rules affect the success of artists, take a look at the two newest and biggest additions to Canadian music – Magic! And Shawn Mendes.
As a card-carrying Canadian, you may have been reminded of the ear-wormy reggae tune, “I’m gonna marry her anyway.” But would anyone else have the same experience? On the Canadian Music Billboard Chart, Magic! ranked #30 with “No Way No.” Shawn Mendes slotted in at No. 28 with “Stitches.” Turning to the American Music Billboard Chart, Magic! was no where to be found on a list of 100 songs and Shawn Mendes didn’t appear until No. 69. Both the Canadian and American Billboard Charts had the same No. one song: “See You Again” by American artist Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth.
So yeah, maybe these CanCon laws are forcing Canadian radio stations to play more Canadian content. But it still isn’t translating to the same international success that American musicians seem to attain. And moreover, are we only playing the music of Magic! because we need out daily dose of Canadiana?
The thing is, with all the new technological advancements that allow music junkies to stream music (Spotify, Soundcloud, Songza), which isn’t governed by these CanCon laws, people can now listen to whatever they want. Nowadays, it’s becoming progressively harder to ensure Canadians are listening to native content.
And let’s not forget the Juno Awards. No where near the level of the American Music Awards, the Junos remind us year after year that radio stations and popular music awards are more likely to promote those who have already attained success (most of whom have done so south of the border), instead of recognizing notable, up-and-coming Canadian talent.
Once upon a time CanCon was a great initiative, but it only assures that our broadcasters meet the minimums. The artists that make these quotas are often dated, from major labels or simply god-awful.
To challenge this misrepresentation of Canadian talent, the government should instead focus more on supporting the diversity of Canada’s music scene, specifically by promoting emerging artists and creating more outlets and avenues to help them achieve international success. Canada is a great country made up of overlooked talents. None of them should feel like they have to leave the true North strong and free to chase an American dream.
What do you think of CanCon rules? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.