Fun: An American takes a look at Cancon policies

We Canadians have lived with Canadian content regulations on the radio and in other places since 1971, so we’re used to the idea of this sort of cultural protectionism. We’ve also come to appreciate artistic subsidies and programs like FACTOR and Starmaker as necessary bulwarks against the never-ending tsunami of exports coming from our neighbour to the south.

Forbes magazine–an American publication, of course–take a look at Cancon.

On Jan. 28, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto hosted the fourth annual Digital Media at the Crossroads Conference. The music panel at DM@X analyzed the music industry through the lens of Canadian cultural policy. The focus on cultural policy in Canada is in stark contrast to the musical landscape in the United States, and here is why.

Canadian cultural policy is driven by the fact that the population of Canada is only one-tenth the size of the United States. To support local musical artists, Canada has to cover the costs over a smaller population. So if local Canadian labels and management firms want to offer a $3M signing deal to an artist, in most cases, they would have to turn to private and public subsidies for support, since the Canadian market alone cannot support that kind of advance. In the absence of such support, the Canadian talent pool would not succeed unless Canadian artists moved south to the larger market. The cultural influence of the music industry in the United States would otherwise dominate the sector.

Canadian cultural policies that support music are two-fold. First, the CRTC sets a 35% quota for all commercial radio stations. The Cancon quota generally requires that 35% of all musical selections played by the station must be Canadian. To qualify as Canadian, the selection has to meet two out of four criteria: (1) the music is composed entirely by a Canadian, (2) the music or lyrics are performed principally by a Canadian, (3) the musical selection is recorded in Canada or performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada, and (4) the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian. The second support mechanism is to subsidize new and emerging Canadian musicians through financial support from broadcasters and the government.

With these two supports in place, Canada has had remarkable success.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

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