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Stereo Freeze 7.22

July 22, 2009

This article was largely inspired by some recent discussions, and is comprised of a few old ideas that have found expression again in current debates concerning the music industry in Canada.

Indie Industry: Canadian Music’s Middle Ground.

There are a couple of things to mention off the top: one being the Polaris Prize, the topic of an article I posted a few weeks back in which said award was used to illustrate some observations regarding way the music media functions in this country. The short list for the award has since come out, and despite a response that came to us from one of the co-ordinators, defending their process and disagreeing with my point of view, the list proves the point made in that article a few weeks back exactly. The second thing that needs mentioning, and the point at which we’ll pick up the thread here, are the recently published statements regarding the Canadian music industry from Greg Ipp of Unfamiliar Records. The points he raised primarily revolve around the FACTOR and VideoFACT grant systems, which I’ll mostly stay away from here, but, many of the points he raises are applicable to the state of things by and large, and that’s what we’ll be looking at, with a particular eye on media representation. Before going any further, here is the closing paragraph from Ipp’s letter:

The state of the Canadian music industry is at once great, and terrible. There are amazing independent labels working their asses off to put out solid music. Guys like Flemish Eye, and Global Symphonic, and Constellation. But there is also this vast mass of well-funded mediocrity that dominates our Polaris Prize, that taints our Junos, and that completely blankets the MMVAs. Wouldn’t it be great if our grant system were there to allow the black sheep to shake things up? To supply the necessary funding that a well-deserving, if unknown talent needs in order to compete, without the help of an entity already known to the judges? The status quo is maligning our industry, and lining the pockets of those who are willing to play the game.

Exactly. This kind of criticism from someone doing well at the moment in and outside of Canada is great to see. Now, I want to state that this zine (regardless of the tone of some things I’ve written) isn’t based on any sort of obdurate notions of the inherent superiority of all things unfunded and unsigned – i.e., just because it’s industry it’s bad kind-of-thing. Looking at the lists of FACTOR grant recipients for 2009, one can see that it’s not all boring junk getting the money, and the grants are helping some good artists get out on international tours and such. But something’s wrong with the emerging artists section, take a look at that. Faber Drive? Most Serene Republic? Stars? New Pornographers!? Come on, emerging artists? That’s serious money, too. And yeah, the Metric video thing is pretty conspicuous: $40, 000 for a video? That’s twice as much as anyone else got. Anyway, as Ipp has pointed out, this is about representation, not what’s good or bad, and some artists are not even getting a chance. Furthermore, this kind of thing keeps some artists from even applying for grants, which is no good at all.

We’ve seen remarkable changes in this country in terms of musical proliferation since the early nineties, and one of the things that’s been happening in the last few years is a melding of indie and industry. For a long time in this country, the two were very separate, but there is a middle ground where they now meet. In today’s climate, it’s no longer just big and small, and there is a certain stratum of artists who have, for all intents and purposes, made it in this country; a stratum of artists that, more often than not, is represented in the media as the new, exciting, cream of the Canadian music crop. Not quite popular popular, but, in today’s industry climate, they’re getting big, and they constitute a new level of industry in Canadian music. It is this stratum that, more often than not, ends up on award lists, grant lists, and media playlists, as has been clearly evidenced recently. So, the question is: when certain groups are getting most of the attention, resources, and ultimately credibility, what chance will other groups who don’t have the same connections have? The Canadian industry is (and always has been) very protective, even protectionist, in regards to home-grown talents, and it’s easy to end up an outsider. This is something that will be addressed next time, when we’ll be looking at Cancon regulations, because it’s an old, yet still pertinent issue that goes back to the late sixties/early seventies. The Canadian scene sometimes seems kind of small for such a massive country, when you think about it. A scene still growing, which certain media outlets and particular tastes have fostered and maintained, and a scene whose large-scale expressions are so frequently middle-of-the-road. A scene that doesn’t like it when participants criticise it, as some of the commentary and responses to Ipp’s statements illustrates.

What I often equate this aforementioned stratum of artists with more than anything else is Radio 3. There is a sound to Radio 3, and there is a certain sensibility it purveys as a media outlet, I find. CBC has an undoubted media monopoly in this country, and when Radio 3 emerged, it quickly became the perceived source for new Canadian music, even though it kind of just came along and did a lot of what campus/community stations had already been doing for decades. Radio 3 has ended up being more legitimate than community broadcasters for many people though, and has been central to this indie industry we’ve got going on now. Nobody can argue that Canadian music isn’t more developed now than ever, but, with all the stuff coming up throughout the last fifteen or so years, you’d think there’d be lots to choose from, no? So why is it that many people aren’t aware of much of what’s actually out there? Perhaps because a lot of it is still under the surface, sometimes acknowledged, yes, but not getting the same attention. Isn’t that what grants are for? There are tastes behind every media outlet, and even though the music media in this country has always been relatively liberal, it’s never been very adventurous. And that is still the case. With all the artists out there trying to do something, why is it that so much of the stuff coming to the surface and getting the breaks seems so bland? Perhaps it’s because there are more molds to fit into now than there were in the past? One thing is for certain, when you have government-administered systems for grants and content regulation and such, you inevitably get bands who know how to function in those systems getting out ahead. Good connections and industry know-how will take boring bands a long way in a system that seeks to promote national culture and identity in art.

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