Current Canadian music has to not only battle against American acts to get played on radio but heritage Canadian acts.
Canada has long had a flourishing music scene. Canadian country is alive and well with acts in Western Canada travelling far and wide. Canadian rock bands have delivered exceptional-quality music on par with the greatest songs of any other region of the world.
Canadian music artists overall have delivered high-quality work that often goes unnoticed by mainstream audiences.
What Is Up With Canadian Radio?
Canadian radio is dominated by some big names. There is CBC-Radio Canada, Radio-Canada Montreal, Sirius Radio Canada, and others. Across these, of course, you get not only music but news, commentary, comedy, and all sorts of entertainment.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of Canadian radio. It is immediately evident that Canada has a few major problems.
Despite the fact that independent artists are dominating much of today’s music climate, they’re still struggling to get airplay in formats dominated by classic rock playlists, 1990s rock and pop, and more commercial music.
Sure, there are many exceptions to the rule but they often come from Canadian artists that have achieved record sales abroad first.
A name like CBC, Canada public radio’s top brand, certainly offers some support but overall there’s still a battle to get airplay.
Why Is Radio In Canada Failing To Support Canadian Music?
A large part of the blame has to go to the radio stations themselves and the programming directors 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 they can rely on listening wanting.
If one thinks about the more alternative stations that some markets claim to boast, such as Indie88 in Toronto, they do a little bit better but there is still a heavy reliance on past years’ modern, grunge, and classic rock with some newer Canadian artists peppered in.
Even those newer Canadian artists still have to fit a rock-friendly description. New hip-hop in Canada or dance and EDM have nowhere to go.
While the music industry is constantly evolving – from the rise of vinyl records sales worldwide to the necessity of a social media presence for music – for whatever reason, Canadian radio is routed in supporting legacy acts. Yes, legacy acts more than deserve their music played. Of course! However, newer artists also need a chance to find their audience. When a radio format leans too heavily on songs written decades ago, that doesn’t serve the culture of today in any way.
Is radio in Canada playing enough independent Canadian music? Simply put, no, not in all genres. Analyzing alternative radio stations in Canada’s five largest markets – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton – as much independent music as is played, it’s not equal across all genres. Not anywhere close.
Furthermore, look at who is Canada’s biggest artists.
Too many of the Canadian artists being played get that exposure after having made their name in the United States and other non-Canadian markets. Artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Bon Iver, Alvvays, and countless others have had to go to non-Canadian markets to popularize themselves prior to getting Canadian airplay.
Is Canada Capable Of Building New Musical Artists & Supporting Homegrown Music Culture?
There is a massive problem. 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 supply the Canadian music scene with a strong flow of homegrown talent. The potential is there but there is simply not enough focus on it.
Yes, there are efforts that have been made by 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. Every significant Canadian artist has had to go elsewhere to seek success.
Compare this to the BBC. The BBC offers extensive musical artist development programs and initiatives. They routinely display live music festivals via live streaming. They offer recommended playlists and maintain massive sway in radio.
By comparison to the UK and the BBC, Canada does not even come close and Canada could if it were to try.
This won’t even go into a comparison between Canadian radio and US radio. Any country can learn this lesson. For a country that wants their music culture featured on a global stage, they must invest in the artists and provide them the opportunity to create their music. This takes not only funding but having the platforms to feature these artists, get their songs out, and allow them a fair chance at making a living.
In our view, there needs to be more effort for those in the Canadian radio industry to support and develop Canadian artists. The stations that are pulling their weight, with regard to these efforts, need to be rewarded and should continue to seek out new music.
This is one of several major music industry problems that the music business domestically in Canada 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.