Music Industry

A Discussion Worth Having: Does Cancon Still Make Sense?

The chattering hasn’t stopped since Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said that “everything was on the table” with an impending review of Canada’s cultural and broadcasting policies. Has Canada grown up to the point where we don’t need this kind of old-school protectionism anymore? What about the institutions and business that rely on Cancon as it is? What do we do about the Internet? What’s the future of the CBC–or even the CRTC, for that matter. These discussions are already getting heated.

This article from Canadian Musician magazine pokes the cultural bear a little more. It’s definitely worth a read (and not just because I’m quoted it in.)

Canadian content regulations worked. It’s just an accepted fact, even by many of its critics. CanCon succeeded in creating a music industry and infrastructure where none existed on Jan. 18, 1971, the day Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s government made it law to play Canadian music on the radio. To the extent that Canada now regularly produces nationally and internationally successful artists who are signed to Canadian record labels, record in Canadian studios, and work with Canadian managers, agents, promotors, publicists, and others while selling out Canadian venues and festivals, there is common consensus that CanCon has succeeded well beyond most expectations. But 45 years later, we have a Trudeau as prime minister and, with the exception of a few tweaks, the same CanCon system. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the cliché goes.

“The current system is, I would not say broken – in fact it’s not broken – it is, however, in need of adjustment at some point in the very near future,” says Canadian music and radio guru Alan Cross. “You are going to have people that insist that the status quo is just ­fine simply because they’re making a good living o‑ of the status quo, and then others saying the status quo is not working for them whatsoever because they are not part of the original infrastructure and are becoming either ignored or marginalized.”

How the CanCon system can and should be adjusted to bring it into the 21st century has become the debate. CanCon is still a system designed for an era where terrestrial radio and cable television were the largest cultural gatekeepers. That position of strength has eroded with the rise of the Internet and all the related media and technologies it enables.

Radio programmers, understandably, are upset they must play by rules that don’t apply to streaming services or Internet radio. Meanwhile, acknowledging that Canada is producing global superstars like Drake, The Weeknd, and Arcade Fire, some in the music industry want changes to incentivize playing emerging acts to avoid radio stations filling their CanCon quotas with acts that “don’t need the help.” And then there are those who make an argument for the status quo as it pertains to AM/FM radio and say it needs to be extended, in some form, to Internet services. Of course, there are also some who take a more laissez-faire approach, essentially arguing, “Congratulations, CanCon worked. A strong Canadian music industry was built and now it can fend for itself.” Everyone has a stake and a legitimate opinion.

Continue reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38519 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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