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.]

Forward to Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 2]Forward Navigational Arrow


Jumpin’ Jive

A spiralling clock face with clock hands on the inner curves of the spiral


As always, it seems I am running late.

I don’t think I used to always be late for everything.

During my first year of college I lived with my chronically late sister and her husband. I remember being really very angry with her that we were late for my grandfather’s funeral. (No matter what, she always blamed being late on her husband. Now her ex-husband.)

I think I was better when I was on my own, but then I got married. Great guy, everybody loves him (even me) but he brought new meaning to the word “late”.

He seemed really brilliant when he pointed out that it’s better to arrive late than to get in a car accident and possibly not arrive at all. Of course, after decades of being late for things (to the point where people seriously contemplate lying to us to ensure we don’t miss the wedding, say…) here I am blaming my husband. But it IS him. Really. It should have been a clear tip off when we were dating and arranged to meet at the movie theatre where we were supposed to see a double bill with a group of friends. I ended up sitting in the lobby for two– count them two — movies. And I married him anyway, go figure.

Yes it’s frustrating. And sometimes it is my fault that we’re late. But not usually.

The advantage is, when things I am doing take longer than I think they should/will etc., my “late” husband understands. Awesome.

That seems to happen more and more. Maybe it has to do with getting older, time sure seems to be whizzing past at an awesome rate. I seem to be awfully busy doing so many things and yet everything takes longer to get done. Like my novel. Still not finished the first draft, but I will be soon. Really.

Cover Art for the novel Grease Town

This post was ACTUALLY supposed to be a review of Ann Towell’s “Grease Town”, but I’m not finished reading it yet. It isn’t a big book, not like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (thanks Pavel), which I’m pretty sure will require a much larger investment of active thinking. I’m holding off on that one until I can give it full attention after my first draft is done. Gone are the days when I can juggle a half dozen books and eight subjects in and given school day.

In the interests of getting the first draft finished, this will be my last blog post, with the possible exception of my promised review.

my music

My last post was my personal look at Country Music, which was the music I grew up with. Today I want to talk about the music that I listen to now.

Although I’m happy to be in the audience, music is really important to me. I must have music to write to. Music can help lift me out of crankiness, or it can lay down the mood I need to write. You know it’s a good sound track when you have no idea there was one after the movie is over. Soundtrack albums are excellent music to write to. If it’s a good soundtrack, it is perfect for laying down a background in my mind.

Fun, upbeat music is always a bonus. I love the Arrogant Worms and Jimmy Buffett for fun alone. I love music with good and clever lyrics… I’m a word person after all. Annie Lennox and Paul Simon have some of the most beautifully crafted lyrics going. It can be a story, or it may be words or pseudo words that sound good together. And I’m just learning about Zydeco and Acadian music.

Like much of the rest of the world I discovered Scott Joplin and ragtime with the movie The Sting, but still I only just heard of Stride Piano last summer when I heard Michael Kaeshammer for the first time at the The Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival. That was when I first heard Julie Crochetière sing too. She’s such a versatile performer that dozens of different words are used with varying degrees of accuracy in attempts to label her.

Because although I like a lot of different types of music, really, my very favorite music is jazz. Naturally.

In the 1940’s musicals were the equivalent of the rock videos of today. I wasn’t born yet, but I grew up watching black and white movies on TV.

Close up laughing portrait of Cab Calloway

This is one of my favorite musical sequences of all time. Beginning with rakish young Cab Calloway (hubba hubba) performing one of his standards (well it is now, it may not have been then) and introducing the Nicholas Brothers in one of the most spectacular dance numbers ever seen on film.

Although himself no slouch on the dance floor, Cab cleverly yields the stage to the Nicholas Brothers because he knows nobody can touch them.

Since the film clip from Stormy Weather is of decent quality I recommend watching it in full screen format.

Pouring Beer at a college party

I’ve always wanted to be able to dance.

Somehow when I hit my self-conscious teens I lost any ability I may ever have had. This sad reality was compounded in college where I avoided having to dance because I spent parties tending bar. (So that I wouldn’t have to hit the dance floor.)

I love music (well. hey, somebody has to be the audience) and I have great rhythm sitting down where I can bop til I drop… until I stand up that is. That’s when the “bop” evaporates.

I’ve been told that my inability to dance is all in my head and that I can’t possibly be that bad… until people try to dance with me.

A long time ago in an apartment far far away

When my friend John worked on the movie Mrs. Soffel with Mel Gibson, every woman John knew begged and pleaded to be his date for the wrap party.

This was when Mr. Gibson‘s popularity was on the rise– the Year of Living Dangerously poster graced my living room wall at the time.

That is still one of my favorite movies… thank you Peter Weir.

Now you have to understand that John is a natural dancer. Grace and rhythm flowed out his pores…. he could dance like magic because he loved to dance. Even so, because we were such good friends John agreed to take me— two left feet and all– to the wrap party (woo hoo!).

But only on the condition that I learn to dance first. Eeek.

The Year of Living Dangerously Poster with a bit of Raiders on the side

John drilled me and made me practice and miracle of miracles got me to the point that I wouldn’t embarrass him. Thanks to John — this amazingly terrible dancer — me — not only had the opportunity meet Mel Gibson (who was actually a very nice guy) — but I even got to dance with him.

Thanks John!

Sadly without regular drilling (John moved far away and my husband is not a good enough dancer to rise above my failings) my dancing has fallen into even worse limbo… Hmmm, perhaps “limbo” isn’t not the best choice of words. Anyway, my husband and I have talked about taking ballroom dancing lessons for years. Maybe now is the time.

Maybe its time while we still have moving parts.

One last bit of inspiration:

Cab Calloway and his Orchestra in a Fleischer Studios Betty Boop cartoon.