Why I Hate (And Love) Canadian Content Laws

wpid-nickelback300.jpegI was reading Lousy Canuck’s blog today, and there’s a post there called Skepticon: Not My Canadian Pride! which I quite enjoyed. I was going to write a post mentioning a few more of those small cultural differences that separate Canadians from Americans, but it was suffering from a terminal case of TL;DR and I didn’t think it was worth posting. But it did get me thinking about our Canadian Content laws, and I figured I’d mouth off about them a little bit. Because I have a blog, and bloggers mouth off on things. Win.

By way of explanation, Canada has laws in place that dictate that magazines, radio programs, and all sorts of other stuff have to have a certain amount of Canadian content. Personally, I think the spirit of these laws is a fine thing. Especially in our current Western World, we are inundated by American culture, and requiring our broadcasters to give a push to the locals is a good thing. But the trouble is in the Nickelbackery.

The argument always made is that Canadian music just isn’t as marketable as it’s US counterpart, and that’s what we industry insiders call “horse shit”. The biggest reason Canadian artists languish in Canada and eventually move to the US is because they get so little support from the Canadian system. Despite being mandated to put Canadian content on, the business of radio doesn’t like the idea of not playing the same dumb 40 songs over and over again, so they gravitate to individual bands and overplay the hell out of them. A good example is Nickelback.

Now, I know. EVERYBUDY HATEZ NICKLEBAK. I’m no exception. I think they are formulaic and overblown. But once upon a time they worked their butts off. The toured like mad and earned a place at the table. Because their sound was easily marketable on a top forty station format, they were picked up and made huge. They brought a few Canadian bands with them out of obscurity (Theory Of A Deadman, Default) and it sounds like a real success story, right? Nope. Both of the bands that got noticed because of Nickelback sound far too much like Nickelback. They were collectively referred to by many as Theory Of A Nickelfault. Lame. And more importantly, they cluttered up the airwaves to satisfy the Canadian Content laws. Quickly, Canadians became bored.

By contrast, the Barenaked Ladies were a Canadian success story. They had a six song demo casette they made for South By South West, they¬†played a song from it on Speaker’s Corner, they managed to get enough people interested in their tape that it got picked up by national record stores, and became the first indie album to reach Canadian platinum sales status. Then they released Gordon and were huge.

In Canada. In the US, nobody had ever heard of them.

Of course, Canadian radio suddenly knew who they were and overplayed If I Had $1,000,000 until Canadians were sick of it. By the time their second album came out, they were a hard sell to Canadians, and despite being a kick ass album, it wasn’t successful. Top two complaints: “I’m so tired of If I Had $1,000,000″ and “but it doesn’t sound like If I Had $1,000,000″. Contradiction? Yeah, kinda a lot.

Do you hear much Barenaked Ladies on the radio? I don’t. They’re Canadian, but we killed them. They made us love them and then radio made us hate them. In that regard, they were very much like Nickelback, though the origins were different (and Nickelback always sucked). But in both cases, we see bands that are more reviled than they ought to be because of a bad implementation of Canadian Content legislation.

Meanwhile, I can name you dozens upon dozens of bands just from My Home Town alone that would make you happy in just about any genre. The only genres I couldn’t point you to are the ones that I don’t really listen to. Most if not all of those bands are unlikely to achieve commercial success, and it’s not because it isn’t a product that could be made commercially successful. It’s that they can’t get attention from anyone but the people who go out to their gigs. They might be able to do some touring, and they might use the internet to get a bit more of a foothold, but the odds are they will never see anything other than college radio play, and it’s all because we abuse those CanCon laws.

Hey. Radio guys. I know, you don’t read my blog. It’s cool, unless you’re Chris Rivest, I don’t read your blog either. But if I can be allowed to¬†pretend that you do for a moment, why not support your music scene a bit? Why can’t you get some local bands, the guys like Spencer Jo or Cowpuncher or The Keith Morrison Band (yeah, I mentioned my own band, eat me) or Truck or The Rigormorticians or The Ativans or The Electric Revival into rotation? I’m not saying put on a special hour a week for us, we all know that your typical listener would turn away for that, but they’ll enjoy a song or two interspersed through all the other gak you play.

It’s funny, but when those people, the guys who listen to your radio stations, when they come to our shows, they are always blown away. They always say to me how surprised that this is all happening right here in Our Home Town. It’s sad, really. You have musicians who want to make music, people who love to hear it, and radio shitheads who want to profit off the combination, and nothing gets done.


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About biguglyjim

Like a caterpillar that spins a coccoon and emerges as a walrus with a mohawk, Big Ugly Jim has become something unexpected. Raised a fine young Christian boy in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Jim began to question his teachings, first evaluating the wisdom of other religions and eventually realizing that none of them seemed any more accurate than any other, and not a one of them made a lick of sense. Today, Big Ugly Jim is a musician, a Business Analyst with Large Oil Company Whose Name Is Not Important, a music promoter with the Calgary Beer Core, a writer of fiction and non-fiction, a prick, an atheist, a father, an ex-husband, a role model, a horrifying vision in a red speedo (or at least he would be, if ever that happened which IT WOULD NOT), an announcer, and soon to be an officiator of weddings. Also, he's nice and does dishes. Jim continues to live in Calgary, spreading his filthy doctrine of free, critical thinking and appreciation for music.

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