Comprehending Can Con

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Lately I've been working on a self-imposed project regarding the radio industry, part of which has involved some judicious analysis of the Canadian Content standards imposed by the government run CRTC (radio & television commission). For those of you that aren't aware, the CRTC requires a certain level of programming be Canadian on a daily basis. So if you're wondering why your favourite pop station plays excessive amounts of Hedley or Drake, CanCon is the reason.

Back when CanCon was first introduced, it was admittedly kind of a joke. You only needed to have 25% of your weekly playlist be Canadian music, and it could air at anytime. By the time the 90s rolled around, this number was bumped up to 35% - both on a weekly basis, and during peak hours from 6 AM to 6 PM. Given that the average hour of programming has 10 to 14 songs, this averages out to about 4-6 songs per hour needing to be part of the MAPL system. That is, Canadians had their hands in at least of two of the following: the music composition, the vocal performance (artist), the production, and the lyric-writing.

On one hand, the fact this system really strengthened itself at the same time as the Canadian music scene went stratospheric points to the fact that CanCon 'works' to develop new artists, which at the end of the day is what it's all about - providing a platform for Canadian musicians to celebrate their individuality and actually work as a musician (no matter what element of the MAPL system they're involved in) for a living.

On the flip side, 35% is awfully high, and doesn't really do tons for Canadian artists. Basically if you're lucky enough to have a breakout single (or a one hit wonder) you'll get airplay - and plenty of it - creating a false sense of popularity and credibility. I remember being a youngster in the 90s and thinking "I can't stand The Tea Party and Moist but they must be HUGE given how often MuchMusic plays their tunes!" If CanCon didn't exist, I doubt a good chunk of the musicians the proliferated in the 90s would have been as big as they are - but is that a good thing or a bad thing if a decent number of them only produced mediocre work at best?

The other problem with the 35% rule is if the goal is to develop new Canadian talent, the sheer lack of new Canadian talent again makes this a bit of a throwaway rule, and has actually made popular music even more disposable than the name 'throwaway pop' implies. More often than not, you'll hear a slightly dated Avril Lavigne or Nelly Furtado tune on a popular music station in order to make their CanCon targets. This works out well for the stations because neither artist is obscure enough to prompt a switcheroo (wherein you go channel surfing), but in terms of developing new Canadian talent? Well, it's not. Instead what you've got is very skewed radio station formats that don't want to risk overplaying Drake's latest single too many times - they essentially have twenty to forty 'must play' songs during the peak hours, 95% of which probably don't include any Canadian music whatsoever. They then pepper each hour with various Canadian tunes that are either current (and where hot Canadian artists are a godsend) or a tiny bit out of date, such as singles from their previous albums.

My overall thought is I like the idea of Canadian Content, on paper. Just like communism sounds good on paper. Artists like Hedley would probably be nowhere with it, so that's kind of nifty. On the other hand, I think it's seriously messing with the airwaves and allowing for more diversity on what we hear when we tune in for some free music listening. There's plenty of up and coming acts from other parts of the world that would love the exposure, but weirdly Canadian radio only responds (at the moment) if a song BLOWS UP and is thus worthy of their very limited 'hit list'. It makes us behind the times in the latest trends and artists, unfortunately, which in turn has many folks switching off their radios altogether in favour of their personally crafted iTunes mix.

My suggestion on how to fix the CanCon issue? I think I'd reduce the total requirement for CanCon a bit during peak hours - down to 30%, but keep the 35% for the overall week. I'd also make a requirement that on hit music stations, 10% of the tuneage should be released in the last two years, or perhaps 5% in the last year, to make music directors a little more creative in mining new Canadian talent. I'm sure that overcomplicates things which is why they make it a flat 'rate' of 35%, but I guarantee if you sat down and looked at a chart station's playlist or even just flipped on the radio when tackling a major house project for the day, you would easily recognize the issues I'm talking about.

- Britt's On


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