On the Subject of CanCon…

A note from Jordan at Ryerson University arrived today:

I’m working an a news feature assignment about the relevance of CanCon on the radio with consumers using online sources to discover new music more and more.  

It’d be great to get any sort of statement from you about CanCon’s relevance in today’s music industry and how the music industry today is different from how it was when CanCon was established.  

One person I spoke to said that without CanCon private radio stations wouldn’t play Canadian artists, but that CanCon should be mandated to require more diverse genres and artists.  

Any thoughts? 

Glad you asked.  Here are some things to think about:

1.  It’s still very important for radio to have a quota of CanCon.  Because we sit next to the largest exporter of popular culture in the known universe, we have to make sure that we’re not swamped by American culture. However, at 35% (40% for some stations), that CanCon level is probably too high given how much Canadian music is actually consumed by Canadians.  Figures I’ve seen say that natural level of CanCon for radio–a level equal with the public’s actual appetite for the stuff–is about 25%. But because CanCon is such a politicized thing, no one will even entertain a reduction.

2.  That being said, it’s ridiculous that the 35% level applies to all genres.  What about classic rock or oldies stations?  Canadian music wasn’t as developed back in the 60s and 70s as it was today and there was a lot of BAD music being made. It’s crazy that these stations are mandated to play substandard music.  (Actually, what they end up doing is playing more of the same Neil Young, April Wine, Rush, Guess Who, etc. songs over and over and over again.)

3.  All that being said, radio is no longer the cultural gatekeeper it used to be.  WIth the unregulated Internet, people are free to seek their music from anywhere.  Why should radio continue to labour until heavy quotas when the Internet has no such restrictions?  

None of the above reflects on the talent and vitality of Canadian music.  We punch far, far above our weight when it comes to competiting in the global markets.  And we must, MUST continue with some kind of system for promoting music in our country.

But how much Canadian music should Canadians be required to listen to on the radio?  What is the appropriate level of legislated music listening?  That’s a debate that will go on for a long, long time yet.

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.

One thought on “On the Subject of CanCon…

  • April 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Feel I must respond to Alan's answer here. While I think we agree on the important points (why we have CanCon regs, why we must keep them), your framing of some of the arguments against are simply wrong.

    On the percentage issue I have nothing really to say, there was a lot of debate about what the proper number should be and reasons were presented but your 25% argument is fairly valid. But the idea that radio stations are operating under some great burden having to play Canadian music is ridiculous. It is fairly simple to schedule a minority percentage of your music choice as Canadian, and is the least they can do for the access to Canadians using public spectrum.

    The competing with online sources argument is an interesting one and valid, though the internet clearly hasn't killed radio yet (a long way from it). But yes, radio broadcasters need to work harder there is some competition in town. I find it sad that the first thing broadcasters think of when faced with some competition is getting rid of the thing that makes them relevant and Canadian. Being different is important and one way is to be hyper local to combat the global nature of online sources.

    It is also silly to say that CanCon regs for genres like classic rock force stations to play the same songs over and over. Some of your examples listed have hundreds of songs (Neil Young has released 42 albums, Rush 26 albums) to choose from. Programmers choose to play the same songs, not CanCon regs.

    But it the last paragraph with the language that misses the entire point and skews the arguments into irrelevency. No Canadian should be forced to listen anything on the radio – and they are not! Listening to the radio is a choice people make. Nor is there a level of legislated music listening. Canadians are free to never listen to music if they so desire. These are such dangerous and incorrect ways to express the anti-regulation argument. CanCon regs ensure Canadians CAN have ACCESS to Canadian music, and are not denied that access due to commercial interests dictating the play of U.S. artists. Nobody is forced to listen to anything!

    Sorry for the rant (I'm not even a musician or work in the music industry) but CanCon regs are vitally important. Without them we wouldn't have the musical success that Canada has had here and abroad and while I think a healthy debate on the issue is good, framing it with falsehoods means that can't happen.


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