Getting into the nitty gritty of Canadian radio, it is evident that Canada has a few major problems. Despite the fact that independent artists are dominating much of today’s music climate, they still struggle to get airplay over classic rock playlists, 1990s rock and pop, and more commercial music.
The internet has bred itself an elite underground of darlings that have proven to be unable to infiltrate mainstream circles. There are many exceptions to this rule, yes, but overall independent artists seem to be unable to establish themselves in the pop culture lexicon outside of their immediate surroundings.
A large part of the blame has to go to radio stations who have, over time, shown to be less interested in presenting new, cutting edge music and more interested in supplying listeners with the music that radio executives think that their listeners want. If one think’s about the more alternative stations that some markets claim to boast, such as Toronto’s The Edge and Vancouver’s CFOX, there is still a heavy reliance on past years’ modern, grunge, and classic rock with the only Canadian artists peppered in having to fit this type of rock-friendly description.
Is Canadian radio playing enough independent Canadian music? Simply put, no. Analyzing alternative radio stations in Canada’s five largest markets – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton – we see that the average listener is roughly thirty years old and much of the Canadian artists being played are being played after having made their name in the United States and other non-Canadian markets. Artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, the Sheepdogs, Bon Iver, Alvvays, and countless others have had to go to non-Canadian markets to popularize themselves prior to getting Canadian airplay.
This identifies a massive problem in that Canadian radio is not building Canadian artists like it should be. Instead of taking chances on promoting new artists, Canadian radio remains saddled with the same hits and songs from decades earlier. This comes at the expense of the Canadian artist. If you ask any independent Canadian record label or independent Canadian band or artist, radio is still a holy grail of sorts and has a positive effect on everything from ticket sales for live shows to record sales. As a distribution method, radio still has the opportunity to build new artists and to supply the Canadian music scene with a strong flow of homegrown talent. The potential is there. It just needs to be mastered.
There are efforts that have been made from programmers, such as those at the CBC, to push Canadian-made artists and/or to find Canadian artists however in the years of doing this, the CBC has been unable to find and develop these artists into mainstays in the Canadian music industry.
Comparing the Canadian radio landscape to that of the United States or the UK, one comes to understand how far behind it is. There needs to be more efforts for those in the Canadian radio industry to support and develop Canadian artists, and the stations that are pulling their weight with regards to these efforts, need to be rewarded and should continue to seek out new music.
Analyzing the data, there are same huge problems that the industry is going to need to address if Canada is ever going to have a fully formed commercially successful music scene that is not dependent upon non-Canadian markets to sell it.