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Canadian music needs ongoing support by Charles Gordon

Apr 5, 2017

Source: Ottawa Community News

They made a big deal out of the Juno Awards in the city on the weekend, and rightly so. While awards shows are often corny and silly, the very fact that the awards are being given — that there is excellence to celebrate — is what matters.

The Juno Awards, which celebrate Canadian music, have been around for less than 50 years. And that is largely because Canadian music, in all its forms, has only been in the Canadian consciousness for a relatively brief time. For most of our history, whatever Canadian music there was blurred into the identity of North American music. And the bulk of Canadian recordings went largely unheard.

That changed in 1971 when the CRTC introduced content regulations that required that a certain percentage of music played on radio stations be Canadian.

There was a lot of criticism of that ruling, and you can understand it. Music is supposed to be universal, not national, and people should not forced to listen to one form or another.

But those objections presupposed that a free market existed in music. It didn’t. Powerful market forces, particularly in the pop music field, caused a virtual monopoly of airplay by music from the U.S. Radio stations could argue they were only playing the music Canadians wanted to hear, and in effect they were right. But they were right only because Canadians weren’t hearing music by Canadians.

That changed when the CRTC rulings went into effect. Canadian stars — Anne Murray comes to mind — emerged overnight and new ones have been emerging ever since, helped by the CRTC policy that so many people opposed.

Some of those people now argue that those Canadian stars would have emerged anyway, but a look at the Canadian film industry will give you an idea what the music industry might have looked like without the Canadian-content regulations. Many excellent Canadian movies are being made and hardly anyone is seeing them. Cities large enough to have independent cinemas may get a look, but you don’t find much in the way of Canadian content at the multiplex.

Despite the gains that have been made, despite the razzle-dazzle of the Junos, all is not rosy in Canadian music. While we do have big Canadian stars who do well here and internationally, most others struggle, victims of the same forces that afflict artists everywhere — the availability of free or cheap content on the Internet and the tendency of potential attendees to stay home and watch Netflix.

Government funding of the arts, while it is improving, is nowhere near where it should be. Canadians tend to look at the American model, where government funding is unimportant, rather than the European one, where government support is substantial. What we overlook in rejecting the European model for the American one is that Americans have large and generous foundations and wealthy and generous patrons, two things that we mostly lack.

The Junos are a good way of raising consciousness about the musicians we produce, particularly those in the less commercial genres. The celebration should not be allowed to obscure the need for work to be done by artists, by governments, by the corporate sector, and by fans of the music. No matter where it is located, music does not support itself.

© Ottawa Community News