Once upon a time, Canadian musicians were seldom heard on the radio. Canadian-based radio stations used play lists compiled and distributed by their USA affiliates. In the late 1960s, after the Centennial celebrations of 1967, Canadians started discussing this lack of Canadian music. In 1970, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC), under the leadership of Pierre Juneau, set a quota for Canadian content on A.M. radio stations–30 per cent of all music played on these stations had to be Canadian. The quota went into effect in October 1971.
To be considered Canadian, each piece of music had to meet two of the following criteria, now commonly referred to as the MAPL: the music has to be composed by a Canadian; the music or the lyrics of the music have to performed principally by Canadian artists; the production of the musical selection has to consist of a live performance that is recorded wholly in Canada, or that is performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada; and/or the lyrics have to be written entirely by a Canadian.
This Canadian content legislation, now known as Cancon, has played an important role in the success of Canadian musicians ever since it was introduced.
The impact of Cancon was immediate: by 1975, more than 20 Canadian bands were doing coast-to-coast tours–in 1971, only one Canadian band was known well enough for such a tour. Canada’s first musical stars emerged in this time period: songwriters like Gordon Lightfoot; Joni Mitchell; Neil Young; and performers like the Guess Who, Anne Murray and many, many more. Why? Because Canadians finally had an opportunity to hear their music!
Now, the number of Canadian musicians who tour across the country is innumerable. And the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts reaps the benefits of that, bringing in musicians who are traveling from town to town, whose music has been playing on our radios for as long as they have been making recordings.
The Canadian music industry has continued to grow and thrive under Cancon regulations. Canadian musicians have become national and international stars because their music is being heard on the airwaves.
However, recent technical innovations have made a change in Cancon regulations. The CRTC has recently licensed two American satellite radio companies (Sirius and XM) to broadcast into the Canadian market with only a minimal amount of Canadian content–less than 10 per cent. The Canadian music industry is now worried about how this, and the emergence of the iPod and similar devices for downloading and replaying music from the internet, will impact upon our A.M. and F.M. radio stations and on the profile of Canadian musicians.
Every day I am asked by someone in the community if I will book a specific musician–a musician they know about because they have heard his or her music on the radio. If we don’t hear Canadian musicians on our radio waves, soon no one will be asking me to bring any Canadians here to perform. Each of us, after all, tend to buy tickets to see performers we already know we like, rather than taking a chance on an unknown.
We recognize musicians by the songs they play. We need to hear those Canadian musicians on our radio waves, and through these new and emerging technologies. Otherwise, we will simply cease to have a large enough market for Canadian musicians to survive.
Search your own heart for how you decide what music you are going to buy, and what concerts you are going to see. Do you think it is important for Canadian musicians to be heard in Canada? Will you buy tickets to see a musician you haven’t heard before? Let the CRTC or our new member of Parliament, Tony Clement, know what you think about diluting the Cancon regulations for satellite radio stations.
In the meantime, if you want to hear a group whose great rock music has been on the Canadian airwaves for over 20 years, come and see the Northern Pikes perform at the Stockey Centre next week. The Cancon regulations certainly made sure this Saskatchewan rock band was heard across the country. Heavy airplay of their hit songs, Wait for Me, Hopes go Astray, She ain’t Pretty, and Kiss me you Fool, led to seven JUNO nominations. Their duet with Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, Worlds Away, also made it onto television in the mountie sitcom, Due South. Their hit, Truest Inspiration, was an international phenomenon. Whether or not you recognize their name, you have heard the Northern Pikes on any rock station you’ve listened to. Don’t miss this opportunity to see them live.
By the way, for you trivia buffs, the JUNO awards were named for Pierre Juneau, in honour of his work in founding Cancon. His leadership opened the door for the explosion of Canadian music, which we still enjoy today.
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