Friday, April 19, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: Qualifications for local airplay


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Every so often the call to require more local music to be played on local airwaves is heard. The radio stations are not doing enough to promote local artistes, it is said, so they must be forced by law and policed by regulation to make them do so.

Some countries have had such laws on their books for years, like Canada. In fact, you constantly hear the Canadian example cited as if it were the Holy Grail, or the textbook on how to force radio stations to play more local music.

Of course, no one advocating following where Canada went four decades ago tells us how the policy and regulations, known collectively as Canadian Content (or CanCon) – would be adapted to the Barbados context.

Presumably there would be no such need: we would just grab the law and its regulations off the Internet and change all instances of the word “Canada” to the word “Barbados.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but let me be as gentle as possible: The whole Canadian Content thing? Still highly controversial and polarising even now, 40 years on.

And the regulatory body policing it – the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – seems to be even less popular than the rules themselves, which are so arbitrary and have turned out to be so unintentionally ridiculous that some people argue they are actually holding back the further progress of the Canadian music industry.

If you want just a little taste of this long-standing debate, go to Wikipedia and type in “Canadian Content.”

It is very easy to read, since at least 40 per cent of it was written in Canada.

Truth is, you can read all about it very quickly, but I advise you to slow down to savour the delightful parts, like when they had to change their own rules because implementing them meant that the Bryan Adams album with the hit Everything I Do (I Do It For You) did not qualify as Canadian Content. (Adams was born in Canada and he co-wrote all the songs. So why not?)

However, if you are deemed to have been resident in Canada for six months before you put out your album you could have been born in Outer Mongolia (which I hear is a nice place) and you would still have qualified at least on one count for Canadian Content.

You see, to get the Canadian Content seal (and it is exactly that) you have to get two out of the four requirements under the system known as MAPL:

M is for Music – as in music written entirely by a Canadian,

A is for the Artist – as in the artist who mostly performs the music is Canadian,

P is for Performance – as in performed or recorded wholly in a  Canadian studio, and

L is for Lyrics – as in lyrics written entirely by a Canadian.

Ah, the devil is always in the details. See that little word “entirely”? They used it twice. That’s what embarrassed them about Adams.

You see, he co-wrote all the music and lyrics for that album (Waking Up The Neighbours) with a very accomplished Zambian-born British record producer, Robert John “Mutt” Lange.

Now, here is where the laughs come in: If Adams and Lange had said one was the writer of the music entirely and the other the same for the lyrics, it would have been okay under Canadian Content. But they both co-wrote everything, so it couldn’t.

As a result, they added another rule to allow for collaborations.

Even if you take the side that, while not perfect, the Canadian Content rules had the effect of saving emerging Canadian artists of the 1970s and onward from being completely swamped by music from their southern neighbours, as many people do, others will say that it also hindered them.

Why? Because, they say, the same rules allowed stations to play a lot of old Canadian artistes to achieve the quota rather than constantly giving new artists the chance to shine.

The argument is also put for several specific cases where artistes did indeed get national attention in Canada, which was great, but did not break out into the wider world until some deejay in the United States or other country gave them a break without any help from their Canadian regulatory friends.

No matter how much you want to promote some worthy local sector – and music surely falls into that category – it is bad policy to try to give it monopoly power over even a portion of the market.

Just look at how well that policy has succeeded in building the local manufacturing sector. Was the cost really worth it?

Even if there may have been some justification back in the day, there is little or none now, and such protectionism only makes the fat cows fatter while the poor ones still starve.

Why? Because those that succeeded were probably going to do so anyway, and once they got that leg up (to mix metaphors) they were able to use the protectionism to their own advantage, ironically making it harder for new local entrants to gain traction to get going as well.

Today, there are so many social media tools for self-promotion of music that you can get heard much more easily, so the playing field that led to such content rules no longer exists.

Despite all the good that Canadian Content was intended to do, the major criticism of it remains that it just allowed new artists to survive in the “small” Canadian market, still awaiting discovery by someone abroad in order to become really big. There are other ways we can and should be promoting our artistes and helping them to succeed abroad, and we can look at them in a future article.

But forcing radio stations to check passports in order to give local artists airplay over foreigners is not on my list.


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