CBC News reported recently that the Toronto-based advocacy group Indie Pool, which represents several thousand indie artists in Canada, is calling on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to change content regulations on Canadian radio. The group's president, Gregg Terrence, explained that many Canadian radio stations repeatedly play the same artists over and over again to meet CanCon standards.
The issue has raised some concerns over the future of the Canadian music industry. "To address this situation, a one size fits all solution cannot be administered," says Nick Ketchum, Director of English Radio and Television Policy for the CRTC. "Most people agree that different types of music in Canada should be exposed, because it's better for the whole industry. Who is going to replace the Shanias and Celines? They won't last forever."
The CRTC has responded by calling a public hearing for spring 2006. "As of now we have a policy in place that doesn't force radio stations to play certain artists. There is no distinction between our international stars and up-and-coming acts," Ketchum explained. "At the hearing we will be open to suggestions like maybe increasing content up from the 35% it's at now."
Many smaller artists are happy to see the issue addressed but know the problem will not be solved entirely. "Being a lesser-known indie artist myself, I would be in support of the proposed change in the current Canadian content regulations for radio," says Bramwell Park of the Edmonton folk rock band Bramwell and the Leftovers. "Unfortunately, I don't think this change would solve the problem, but every small step counts. This music business is a very cutthroat, over-saturated rat race, and seeing multi-million [dollar] music marketing campaigns rule the music pool can be very daunting for a small fish like myself."
Phil Klygo, manager of the Toronto based band Elliot Brood, has focused on promoting his clients outside of Canada, partially due to the lack of mainstream exposure at home. "I support anything that helps indie bands receive more exposure, and there is a lot wrong with mainstream radio, but I don't really have time or interest in trying to change [the CRTC's] directives," Klygo said. "My indie artists are internationally known, and we focus a lot on spending time outside of Canada touring."
Though the majority of artists see the proposed CanCon changes as a step in the right direction, various radio stations are resisting the move. In the CBC News report, Dave Farough, program director of Toronto's classic rock station Q107, said, "It's impossible to make new classic rock÷ [Classic rock radio stations] play music people know and love. Why should we be penalized for that?"
Many radio stations across Canada refused to comment on the topic, either not answering requests for interviews or responding with no comment. Marty Forbes, General Manager of Edmonton's 100.3 The Bear, said, "This is obviously a large issue and is under discussion in our company at the current time so I'm not free to comment at this moment."
Ketchum acknowledges that some radio stations, especially those with specific formats, may be wary of the proposed changes. "There may be a problem because if they play oldies or classic rock, there is no new classic music to play," he said. "The CRTC will look at ways to be more effective, and we will not force stations to play certain music but encourage them to play lesser known acts."
The CRTC is viewing this situation as an opportunity to update some of its policies, many of which were created in the 1970s. The last time the Commission had a public hearing on this subject was in 1998, after which it increased the percentage of Canadian radio content to 35% from 30%.
Until 2006 the situation of mainstream radio will be the status quo. But there are alternatives, as many indie artists have pointed out. "Indie music has a strong forum with our university station," says Chris Vail of the Calgary act Vailhalen. "CanCon has already ruined our major label industry by breeding mediocrity. It has also helped create a clear line between mainstream music and indie music, since decidedly independent bands go out of their way to sound different than what they hear on the radio."
"Personally, I'd rather have CanCon cease to exist altogether," Vail said. "Then the Canadian mainstream music industry would have to produce good music which would get played based on its own merits as opposed to its Canadian content."
*Soul Shine Magazine, www.soulshine.ca is a key supporter of indie (and mainstream) music in Canada and around the world. They are one of the only magazines in Canada that choose to support indie artists on the same level as mainstream artists.
Writer: Trent McMartin