well damn!


Where Did All The Canadian Music Go?
October 30, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , , ,

Note: here is an assignment/article I wrote last semester for a class, I figured it’s related so I may as well share. Enjoy

Music circles all over the world critically praise Canadian artists in a wide array of genres, but these same artists have a hard time garnering attention from Canadian audiences. What’s going on?

FeistThree years ago I was at a barbeque listening to Feist’s 200 4 release Let it Die. Aside from the owner of her album, no one was singing along to “Mushaboom” or “Inside and Out”. Feist was background music. None of us knew that 2 years later she’d be a Polaris Prize Nominated, Juno-sweeping phenomenon gracing iPod commercials. We were too busy listening to Rhianna and the Black Eyed Peas to pay attention to an established young artist on the verge of a commercial breakthrough.

The music industry has come along way from the days of record players and jazz standards. With the integration of technology and the internet, musicians hold more and more power in their hands to have their music heard by the right people. With the right equipment and computer software anyone can create a decent quality recording and distribute it for minimal cost and with limited help. Artists are able to tour more successfully and venues can draw larger crowds by advertising on the internet. Yet still, international artists like Coldplay and Miley Cyrus are dominating singles charts while Canadian musicians such as Joel Plaskett and K’Naan are pulling up the rear end.

Sure we could blame the media outlets around us, the radio and television, but are they really at fault? Radio stations tailor their music to play what they think their audience wants to hear. Music Directors aren’t just sitting in their chairs and pulling songs out of a hat; larger radio stations perform research to determine which music their listeners want to hear. This research determines which songs are put into heavy rotation. Thanks to the internet, smaller radio stations can immediately find out what these larger radio stations are playing in high rotation and make appropriate modifications to their playlist. Ian Sterling, the current music director of 103.1 Fresh FM admits, “Whenever we do research asking Canadians what they would like to hear on a radio station, typically American music is at the top and Canadian music is towards the bottom.”

While Canadian audiences would rather listen to our American friends, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission regulates that radio stations must ensure that at least 35% of their playlist contain Canadian content, known as CanCon. Canadian content is defined by music that is wholly composed, performed or produced by a Canadian. It’s not a stretch to imagine the difficulties radio stations face trying to meet both CanCon requirements and the desires of the listeners. This explains why artists such as Nickelback and Avril Lavigne receive so much airplay. Not only do listeners want to hear them, but they are also CanCon.

“From a business and radio standpoint, we’d like to play less [CanCon]. [Because] that’s what people want to hear” says Sterling. Unfortunately, radio stations are losing more listeners each year. Think about how much more time you spend listening to your mp3 player than you do to the radio, it’s an epidemic. According to the 2008 Communications Monitoring Report the weekly hours tuned in to the radio have been decreasing by 2% each year since 2003. It’s not in the best interest of a radio station to take a chance on the seldom heard Canadian kids, although Sterling points out, “I think the 35% we do play is pretty good. We give chances to artists who maybe wouldn’t be on the air otherwise.”

Sterling believes, “If you were to ask the listeners without saying which song is Canadian and which is not and you played them [the Fresh FM] music library, including the 35% [CanCon]. The Canadian [music] would be for the most part at the bottom of the list.” Does this mean Canadian made music sub-par in comparison? There are many indicators that suggest otherwise. Each year there are multiple cash awards given to Canadians based solely on artistic merit, for example the Roger’s Media sponsored Polaris Prize, which awards $20, 000 to the best album produced within the last year judged by a panel of Canadian music journalists. In 2008, two Londoners (folk darling Basia Bulat and hip hop extraordinaire Shad) were among the top 10 shortlisted for the prize.

Of course there are also the annual Juno awards, which were recently held in Vancouver. Do you take them as seriously as their American counterpart, the Grammys? Not many people realized the along with the awards galas, Junofest, a weekend music festival is held each year in the host city showcasing current Canadian acts, many of whom haven’t been nominated. “I’d watch the Junos if they were relevant” says one casual listener. It’s not the Junos that are irrelevant, but perhaps Canadians need to be more aware of the happenings in today’s music scene.

Two Hours TrafficOver the past few years, Canadian musicians have been finding business partners in the unlikely form of American television. If you were to revisit the last few episodes of Gossip Girl you PVR’d or pull out a disc from Season Three of The O.C. you’d find many Canadian musicians tinkering in the background. Charlettetown’s Two Hours Traffic has particularly experienced this phenomenon. If you watch Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, The O.C. or Castle you’ve more than likely heard their work. Despite declining record sales industry wide, Two Hours Traffic bassist Andrew MacDonald says, “For us, it has been a way of staying afloat. There is not much money in the music industry for independent bands and licensing music has become a one of the big ways to sustain being in a band. “

That’s not to say Two Hours Traffic are the only ones receiving exposure on the tube. Artists like Sam Roberts, Tegan and Sara and Feist license their music as well, and it’s not just to television shows. Anyone who turned a television on in 2007 is familiar with Feist’s future classic 1234, which aired for Apple’s iPod nano commercials. You probably don’t realize it, but you’re familiar with a few other Canadian anthems as well. Zellers used a series of Canadian artists for the promotional ads in 2006, including Joel Plaskett, The Golden Dogs and The Salteens. Telus is another example, featuring many Canadian artists in their ads. The music our fellow countrymen are producing is good enough for primetime American network television shows and national ad campaigns, so there is no reason to see it as inferior to the music we import from across the border or ocean.

Next time you’re at a barbeque, don’t dismiss that Arkells’ album playing in the background, the next time you hear about them they may be dominating their airwaves of our American friends.



Top 5 Discoveries of 2008

I feel like 2008 was a great year for me musically. Prior to this year I was always stuck in some sort of musical rut, listening to the same things over and over again but I think it’s safe to say that my collection has grown immensely, and so has my appreciation for music. And that my friends is why I’m presenting you with my top 5 musical discoveries of 2008.

5. CBCRadio3.com
I had the itch to listen to more Canadian grown indie, and Radio3 just fueled the fire. Independent Canadian musicians submit their music to the New Music Canada website and the folks at radio 3 play their favourites of the thousands of musicians. R3 features an eclectic basket of music, from punk to rap, pop to country. I’m a religious listener of the podcasts and I’ve bought many albums based on the sole listen to one song on Radio3. Thanks!
CBC Radio 3 Green
4. Two Hours Traffic
The first time I heard “No Advances” I knew that Two Hours Traffic were something special. I impulsively bought Little Jabs, and it quickly became the soundtrack to my summer. It wasn’t before long when my 10 and 12 year old sisters heard the album and became attached. These guys know how to write catchy hooks, sappy love songs and win a girl’s heart.
Two Hours Traffic
3. The Dress Whites
I love pop music, and these boys wear it well. I immediately fell in love the first time I heard “The Whale”. I became hooked and began repeatedly listening to their tracks on NMC, I gave in and ordered My God, The Shame!, and after 4 months, I finally had my copy. Don’t fret, it was well worth the wait. It’s a hook-filled power-pop album that could have easily been transported from the 1960’s.
The Dress Whites
2. Joel Plaskett Emergency
I picked up Ashtray Rock in the last week of last year and immediately fell in love. It fulfills my love for concept albums, and it’s so clever. Plaskett is an excellent songwriter and has quickly become one of my favourites. Ashtray Rock explored a plethora of musical styles and I can’t wait for JPE’s release Three in 2009. (More on this release later this weekend)
Joel Plaskett Emergency
1. Hey Rosetta!
Into Your Lungs is a record I cannot put down. It touches the concept album fanatic in me, and the high school band geek who loves intricately composed opuses. I see this album as a grand operetta with various movements. It’s huge but so tight! The vocals are dead on, each song is delivered with precision and the album tells a wonderfully vague story. You don’t know what you’ve been missing until you’ve heard this album.
Hey Rosetta


TOTW: Week of July 7

A Polaris Prize inspired list

1. Two Hours Traffic – Backseat Sweetheart
Even my 8 and 10 year old sisters appreciate this record, it’s that good.

2. Basia Bulat – In The Night
She’s from my hometown, so I think I’ll give her record a listen

3. Black Mountain – Queens Will Play
I can’t quite decide if this record is strong enough to be on the list, but this is a solid track.

4. The Weakerthans – Sun in an Empty Room
Another solid record from one of my favourite bands, it fits really well together. And the webisodes are hilarious.

5. Holy Fuck – Milkshake
Holy Fuck this is a good album. I saw the album on vinyl the other day and I almost bought it, even though I don’t have a record player.

I’ll discuss my qualms with the list later this week



Polaris Prize Ramblings

Today on Grant Lawrence Live, Grant has sparked conversation about this year’s Polaris Prize Nominees, since the cut off date for nominations is quickly approaching.

After reading the list of suggested nominations, I realized how much Canadian music I’ve bought in the past 6 months, and how much of my music collection qualifies for the prize.
Reunion Tour (the Weakerthans)
Kensington Heights (Constantines)
LP (Holy Fuck)
Welcome to the Night Sky (Wintersleep)
Little Jabs (Two Hours Traffic)
In the Future (Black Mountain)
Elephant Shell (Tokyo Police Club)
Marriage (Attack in Black)

Compared to the amount of my collection that qualified for 2007’s and 2006’s prizes
Ashtray Rock (Joel Plaskett Emergency)
The Reminder (Feist) which is really part of my mom’s collection
Twin Cinema (The New Pornographers)
Tournament of Hearts (Constantines)
(The first three made it on to the shortlist for their respective years)

Of that first list, I’m thinking LP and Reunion Tour will make it on to the shortlist, I’m really hoping to see Little Jabs and Welcome to the Night Sky make it and while it would be nice to see Kensington Heights up there, I don’t think it fairs well against the other stuff out there. Same goes for Elephant Shell and In the Future. But others see it differently, a lot of people think that Kensington Heights and In the Future will make it to the shortlist. We’ll see in a few months I suppose.

On a completely unrelated note, the Faint are back?



TOTW: Week of May 12

1. Two Hours Traffic – Sure Can Start
There’s something about this track that just hits me. Maybe it’s the riff or maybe it’s the lyrics. But it’s most likely the combination of both.

2. The Coast – No Secret Why
This song is very reminiscent of Matt Good, and I really like it. PS it’s the song on the 2nd YouTube vid on their MySpace

3. Plants and Animals – Bye Bye Bye
Apparently this week’s theme is “artists reminiscent of other musicians” because this song reminds me of Queen.

4. The Memories Attack – Love in the Time of Hate
I heard this on the radio the other day, and it has a catchy riff. It reminds me of something, but I can’t figure out what!

Woodhands – Dancer
Sometimes, I can’t decide whether I hate or love this song.