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Stereo Freeze 8.25

August 25, 2009

This week, the last in the recent series of articles on Canadian music and media. This time, the legacy of MuchMusic in the nineties.

MuchMusic and the New Canadian Pop.

The end of August 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of MuchMusic. There’s not a whole lot of attention being paid to that really, but then again that might not come as much of a surprise, as, who really pays attention to MuchMusic anymore? I was looking for it recently on TV, actually, and couldn’t even find it (although there is a channel that runs old episodes of Test Pattern, for some reason), so I can only assume it still exists. But where is this going? Well, to pick up from where we left off last time, MuchMusic, along with Brave New Waves, was, in the small town context, the only exposure many had to Canada’s emerging new pop in the nineties.

It’s tough to think about MuchMusic without getting a bit nostalgic if you’re of a certain age group, and the number of times I’ve encountered that fact in conversations speaks to how pervasive the channel was among young folks in the nineties. I can only really speak from my own small town nineties experience here, but everyone watched MuchMusic, right? As stated last week, if you lived in a place that had no shows going on or no campus/community radio, you largely missed out on what was happening with new Canadian music in the early nineties, as it wasn’t really being played anywhere else. And even of the two aforementioned nation-wide sources, Brave New Waves’s timeslot meant very few people ever heard whole episodes, if any at all. Usually, people just ended up with tapes of the first hour. MuchMusic also had some fairly marginal timeslots for its programs that focused on non-popular stuff, but adhering to cancon regulation was a bit more of a task for them than it was for the CBC, and Canadian videos (good and bad) were thus incorporated wherever possible. Now, video had its heyday in the alternative era, it was a good time for the video as an art form, but also as a marketing tool. Everyone was doing videos, even small bands, and MuchMusic played them. This is where MuchMusic had things covered, because it was not only in touch with the video thing, but also with what was going on in Canadian pop. The new Canadian pop really did awaken in the age of the video, and that meant that MuchMusic was a particularly effective avenue for it.

What? MuchMusic played music? An unfortunately clich├ęd statement to make now, but, yes, they certainly did at one time. Quite a lot of it. There were certain programs and blocks of time that you could usually catch great stuff in, like Much East and Much West, The New Music, Indie Street, City Limits and The Wedge, to name a few. This stuff was important to a whole generation of kids in this country whose only media exposure was all mainstream. Also, the channel was a central entity for Canadian music, and that was important. Perhaps more importantly though, it let viewers know that music was happening in this country, offering at least some airtime to bands who were not getting coverage anywhere else.

So here’s a question, based on what we’ve been talking about in this series of articles: was MuchMusic in the nineties an example of positive media exposure for new groups? I’d say so, to an extent, at least for a certain period of time. By the late nineties though, things had changed. A lot of groups had gone, alternative had become radio rock, and MuchMusic’s programming was changing. It wasn’t too much longer before the internet would change the way it all worked anyway. By the time MuchMusic had lost its relevance, the internet had already begun taking over all the functions of terrestrial broadcasters. New groups, new methods, new interest and confidence, had all arisen, and Canadian music had reached a brand new level.

So, in the end, maybe it’s never really worked out in terms of major media exposure for new Canadian groups, but they’ve managed quite well regardless. Canadian pop is still young, but its profile has changed remarkably over the last decade or so, and so has the way bands go about things, which puts us in an interesting spot these days.

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