Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 1]

Canadian Music

Maple Leaf

Canadian Content regulations haven’t turned out so well for Canadian Culture. In the music industry, Canadian Content – called “Cancon” – is indicated on a recording by way of the MAPL symbol which appears on the record album dust jacket or CD tray card to indicate the percentage of Canadian Content per recording.

Elements of any recording are broken into four segments:
M is for the composer of the Music
A is for the Artist
P is for the Performance recorded in Canada, or performed and broadcast live in Canada
L is for the composer of the Lyrics.

performing live in the Ontario Place Forum

MAPL symbol, black M and L on white field, White A and P on black field

If I am a Pirate King was recorded by the Canadian acapella group The Nylons in Canada, it could only claim 50% Canadian Content.

25% for the Nylons themselves as Canadian principal Artists, 25% for Performance– recording it in our home and native land. But non-Canadians Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the Lyrics & Music.

Four segments of the circle in black, all white letters

Michael Kaeshammer on stage seated at piano When Michael Kaeshammer records his own compositions in Canada, the recording would be considered 100% Canadian Content. Yet there is no MAPL designation at all on the Michael Kaeshammer Lovelight CD I bought last year at a jazz festival. Why wouldn’t an internationally renowned Canadian performer want a MAPL designation?

The MAPL designation signalling 100% Canadian Content could in fact devalue the product.

So What’s the problem?

The very existence of Canadian Content regulations indicates a lack of confidence that Canadian Content can compete in Canada on the basis of merit alone.

CanCon quotas assume that not only would Canadian DJs choose not to play Canadian music, but Canadians consumers wouldn’t willingly listen to it either.

CanCon rules tell the world that Canadian content is so bad that the only way anything Canadian made can get Canadian radio air play or TV exposure is if it is government mandated.

That message is simply not true.

As many great Canadian acts show, Canadian Music is quite capable of competing globally. Both at home and abroad, Canadian artists have created a great deal of wonderful music over the years.

the blue Twitter bird logoCurrently a 15 year old Canadian boy named Justin Bieber is continuously “Top Trending” on Twitter. (For the uninitiated that means there are so many people “tweeting” about him that his name is on the Twitter front page banner.

Twitter text logohas millions of users worldwide. This is an indicator of extreme fame and a fanatical fan following. In the few minutes since I began typing the Justin Bieber portion of the article, the Twitter Justin Bieber page has racked up more than six thousand Tweets. Since Bieber’s fan base is young girls, and I’m writing this on a Friday morning, there is a very good chance that a many of these tweets are being generated in classrooms.

Justin Bieber's Web Page
Justin Bieber’s Web Page

Granted some of the Tweet traffic consists of people hoping to catch the Justin Bieber wave to get their tweets ReTweeted, and some of it is trashing the young R&B performer. There are whole web pages devoted to dissing the entertainer — now that’s fame. Weirdly enough a good bit of anger is directed at him because all these very young girls swooning over him… Unlike geriatric rock stars young girls have swooned over for years, Justin Bieber is an appropriate age. OMG, he’s not 15 he’s really an old man of 16! But you know what they say– “no publicity is bad publicity”. And the Twitter trend proves it: even those dissing Justin Bieber are adding to the tweets that are keeping him on the top of the heap.

Ye gods! Even Google has a Latest Results for Justin Bieber live feed.

YouTube Superstar

Mural portrays Elizabeth ISo really: who is Justin Bieber? He’s a performer from Stratford Ontario (a small Ontario town, formerly most famous for being the home of the world famous Stratford Shakespeare Festival),

Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that Bieber’s Mom began posting his home made music videos on You Tube to share with family members in 2007. (As an internet savvy mom myself, I’m willing to bet she knew exactly what she was doing.)

Three years later Justin Bieber is a superstar.

Justin Bieber is of course a prime example of my point: Canadians are talented, and given a level playing field can certainly make it in the world of arts & entertainment. The Internet is levelling that playing field, by making it possible for artists to find their audiences. And although I am making the case for talented Canadian artists, the Internet provides the same opportunity to artists in every country around the world, because the Internet breaks down distribution barriers. And as any artist knows, the lively arts do not exist in a vacuum.

Granted, I’m decades older than Justin Bieber‘s target audience, but I will admit that although I have seen the name I had no idea who he was until I saw someone mention he was a Canadian musician on Twitter today. I only mention this because THAT is what the Internet can do.

DRM artificially imposes regionality on DVDs

British pressed DVDs are unplayable on a Canadian DVD player, as Canadian pressed DVDs are unplayable in the UK. Consumers accepted this at first, since the NTSC and PAL video tape formats were incompatable most of us assumed that was just the way it was. The reality is that regional encoding, the DRM that restricts where you may play the DVD you have bought is a DRM additive. Your DVDs would play on every DVD player were it not for the DRM. (My guess is that the reason consumers have so much trouble burning DVDs that will play on DVD players is due to DRM as well. I had to buy two different commercial software packages before I was able to burn my home movies to DVD.)

The Internet allows music or movies released online to be seen and heard everywhere. This is the ultimate distribution network, which will be good not just for our artists, but all the artists who make use of the distribution methods available here.


Locking down the Internet with bad laws like the UK Digital Economy Bill, the American DMCA and bad treaties like CETA and A.C.T.A. is intended to stop this Internet distribution revolution in its tracks. This is why the big media corporations are pushing for these laws: so that they resume total control of the international distribution. For the past fifty years or so they have been the “gatekeepers” who decided what artists could have the opportunity to find an audience. They held this power because they controlled the major distribution for the entire world, not because they had any particular ability to discover or promote talented acts. Citizens are beginning to fight back through initiatives like The Wellington Declaration because a free Internet is incalculably valuable to us all.

World Famous Canadian Musicians

The following is just a very small sampling of the many Canadians who have shared their music and our culture around the world.

Unfortunately many of these websites are flash dependent which will make them inaccessible to a lot of people. I was particularly impressed with Paul Anka’s site, which offers flash or non-flash versions. If you’re interested in finding out more about these artists, all are featured in Wikipedia and included on the Wikipedia: List of Canadian musicians which doesn’t scratch the surface of great Canadian artists.

The problem with Cancon is that it creates a self fulfilling prophecy.

When radio or TV stations are forced to adhere to a quota system, they will follow it because they must, but the moment the quota is filled, the door slams shut. They certainly are not going to exceed the Canadian content quota.


Under the Commercial Radio Policy, 35 per cent of all music aired each week on all AM and FM stations must be Canadian. In addition, 35 per cent of music broadcast between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday must consist of Canadian content.

Canadian Content Rules (Cancon), Media Awareness Network

The easiest way for any broadcaster to manage filling this quota is to ghettoize Canadian music identified as MAPL. Segregating your 35% Cancon in a separate area makes it easier to ensure that you will meet the quota. Once this onerous task is done, you can now play what you WANT to play. Since broadcasters are forced to play Cancon, it is unlikely they will ever exceed the quota.

That’s why so many of today’s independent Canadian Artists are deliberately NOT identifying their music as MAPL.

Do the math. 100% Canadian content allows Canadian musicians a shot at 35% of the Canadian dial. Is it any wonder that more and more Canadian musicians are not stamping their work with the stigmatizing “MAPL” label?

Without the Canadian content MAPL designation, suddenly 65% of the dial is open for your music.

Canadian Independents are making use of the Internet to distribute their music internationally. When you’re making your tracks available for download, MAPL isn’t an issue. And if you’re selling CDs internationally MAPL may well be a handicap.

maple leaf leaning left[I’ve been working hard on my novel which is part of why this article has taken so long. The other part is that it has been growing… since the draft was pushing 4,000 words– long even for me– I decided to break it down into manageable segments.

[Novel permitting, I hope to publish Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 2] Canadian Film & Television next week.]

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13 thoughts on “Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 1]

  1. CanCon is there because they want us to stay un-American. Except we only watch American tv, movies, music, etc. Our sports are wholly American. Our accents are too, plus our food, way of life and even our clothing. There is no such thing as Canadian Culture, it’s a joke. We already are American, and to shove second rate Canadian crap down our throats while all the actually talented Candadians are in USA masquerading as Yanks makes every intelligent person on Earth think Canada is stupid and silly. Thanks government! Again……

    • Certainly our fashions have been influenced by our near total diet of American culture. But years ago I was told American co-workers that Canadian Football (CFL not soccer) was superior to American football. I’m not one to judge, as it seems to me that today’s televised sports seem more like reality tv than actual sporting competitions. Live sports in which we participate are something else again. Baseball was the big one when i was a kid, but in my little corner of Canada it has been thoroughly supplanted by soccer for my child’s generation.

      Mostly Canadians watch American media because we believe (wrongly) that our own is inferior. Canada has long had a rich cultural heritage, once celebrated by the brilliant work of the NFB. Even the CBC has produced good work on the rare occasion it has risen above the politics that normally weighs it down. A case can be made that the North American English Accent prevalent in American media is more Canadian than American.

      Like our American friends, the food Canadians eat is based on a mixture of indigenous food and the cuisines brought here by various waves of European settlers, so certainly there is similarity in our diets.

      I agree that the idea of CanCon is to keep us “Un-American” (and give Canadians jobs) but I very strongly disagree with your contention that there is no Canadian Culture. Not because so many talented Canadian creators flock to the American culture capitals (although an argument could be made that so many Canadians must certainly be Canadianising American culture) but because Canadian Culture is in fact thriving for the first time in decades thanks to technological advances that make it possible for us to both digitally self publish our own creative works and then distribute them both at home and abroad. This is effectively breaking the stranglehold the handful of multimedia conglomerates (aka “the copyright industry”) have imposed on us for most of the past century. Pretty nearly any Canadian can go out and make a movie, record a song or publish a book. And that’s a good thing.

  2. As a fan of Canadian 80’s synth and punk, I love the MAPL. It helps me identify Canadian content which I am looking for. Often times these bands music has not made it to YT and very little info exists. Just another perspective. It’s not all bad:)

  3. I know its an old post but man is it ever stupid.

    And then pointing to a boyband-prefab starlet as your example of cancon is just putrid.

    Im sure you can use the same logic to the CFL while you are at it.

    The single biggest problem for bands is to get airplay. By a country mile.

    even here in quebec the french language rules are pretty much useless because the system can be gamed
    (and french stations BEG the CRTC every year to go all english with no limits and that they would be still encouraging young musicians.) The top 10 french songs on the palmares (those top 30 lists are also gamed… a recognized star can linger at 28 for weeks while a young act can be #6 one week and then disappear out of the top 30 because they decide) take up 50% of air time. And guess what consists of that airplay? Love songs a la celine and prefab Star Academie karaoke products (where the deals are already in place before a winner is chosen). Bands like Les Cowboys Fringants which are like Phish in the sense they can gather 20-40,000 fans in teh province at the drop of a hat get no airplay. Bands like Chango Family can play Montreux Jazz Fest a few times, headline the outdoor festivals here and abroad and still not get air time ( I could say the same for Thomas Jensen, Polemil Bazar, Dobacaracol and others who get more airplay in europe than here).
    The system is sufficiently gamed as it is with Cancon and french radio rules that making it a free for all would in no way make it easier for canadian artists EXCEPT the products like Bieber and Idol type synergy deals which creates the product and then tries to find a face for it. And dont for a minute think its any easier in the heavily controlled US music industry where Clearchannel controls all the airwaves (thanks to Clinton, they made a bad problem simply horrible) and their bastard offspring LiveNation controls live music and ticketbastard rapes both musicians and fans alike. its just the US is so much bigger than you can make a nice career playing live music. In quebec a tour consists of 12 dates max, rest of canada maybe 20. You cant be a travelling band here. Maybe that try like Ottawa’s Nero for the past decade have to play also in the states to get to 140+ gigs a year.

    ive been doing music as writer, musician, sound engineer, promoter, roadie and every possible job for the past 3 decades

    • Just so you know, the Nylons were in no way a pre-fab boy-band. They were an extraordinarily hard working talented group of really good singers who made a well deserved name for themselves. Not long before this photo was taken they’d opened for Hall & Oates in Montreal, and they were better than the headliner imho. I’m inclined to think that they were hurt by CanCon because it placed them squarely in the Canadian ghetto. But you don’t have to diss Canadians, there is a great deal of talent here, and it makes me angry Canadian artists have traditionally had to go to the US or Europe to make a name so they can get played here.

      But that’s not the point: your comments illustrate my point, actually. Because CanCon hasn’t done any favors for Canadian artists. The ones that get airplay are the ones picked by RIAA. And it is just as bad in the USA, and around the world. It’s the same handful of companies dictating what gets airtime around the world.

      And of course, that’s a big part of why radio is dying. The Internet is knocking radio silly.

      Things are changing right now; and maybe as we evolve, a handful of artists won’t be mega stars in the future, but a heck of a lot more of them will be able to make a living at it. And they’ll be able to create more. If Allison Crowe was with a traditional label, I doubt she would have been able to produce even half as much as she’s done as an independent. And chances are even better that she wouldn’t be making a living from her music.

      Unless our government rolls over and plays dead for American special interest groups (which they may well do by passing laws like C-11 that will make it harder for Canadians to compete) we will do just fine.

    • p.s. I just checked out the talented Les Cowboys Fringants on YouTube, and I will make a point of looking for the other acts you’ve mentioned. I think one of the best ways to get your music disseminated online is to utilize Creative Commons licensing. Among other things, that opens uo Jamendo as a means of distribution, as well as allowing fans to help promote you.

  4. Apples and Cummins engines.

    The reality is that no, Canadian content could not compete in a neutral market. That’s because the neutral market is biased toward those artists who have the largest marketing engine. Canadian artists will forever have lower representation in Nashville and London because they happen to be in Canada, and local talent is cheaper to find. Without trade protectionism for in situ artistic support you end up with the situation in Europe and much of the world during the 1970s and 80s – almost all movies, tv shows, and music bearing US labels and people in the Maldives arguing about Dallas and Dynasty.

    This doesn’t mean CanCon is a great implementation. It just says that Britney Spears would be far more omnipresent in Canada than she is were there no attempt at control. *It’s more profitable for labels to control what we listen to, and to limit this to a smaller number of mega-artists than to support a diversity of artists.*

    The internet is creating cheaper content and cheaper marketing. This does reduce the ability of labels to control what we listen to or to limit the diversity. But it doesn’t mean the government can relax its efforts to prevent pure capital control of what is presented to Canadians via radio and video. There is already evidence of ‘traffic shaping’ to promote specific shows on internet video sites to the detriment of other shows, demonstrating that big content producers are adapting to changes in the market place by developing new ways to do exactly the same thing they used to do.

    Maybe CanCon accounting can become much more granular. Maybe they can require streams to maintain a minimum of 35% CanCon throughout the stream (or to operate within a half-hour framing of 35%) – easily possible with current technology. But let’s not throw out the idea that Canada Is Not The USA. Don’t let our cultural transmission become a commodity.

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