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A little name-dropping

By Terry Joseph
May 10, 2003

Celine Dion, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Joni Mitchell, Nelly Furtado, Shania Twain-apart from being globally famous (and consequently rich) female singers, what other situation do they share?

Okay, so you're not up to speed on female singers. Try to identify a common denominator among these male musicians: Paul Anka, Bryan Adams, Oscar Peterson, Neil Young, Robert Goulet, Maynard Ferguson, The Guess Who, Barenaked Ladies, The BT Overdrive, Men Without Hats.

Perhaps you'd have more luck with actors. Mel Gibson, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, William Shatner, Yvonne de Carlo, Donald Sutherland, Mary Pickford, Mike Myers, Michael J Fox, Glen Ford, Brendan Fraser, Dan Akroyd, Shannon Tweed, Raymond Burr, John Candy, Christopher Plummer, Lorne Greene, Jay ("Tonto") Silverheels.

Or in general entertainment, what about Monty Hall, Le Cirque de Soleil, Art Linkletter, Rich Little and Alex Trebek? Film directors Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof/Jesus Christ Superstar) and Arthur Hiller (Love Story)? Or the founders of Warner Brothers (Jack L Warner) and MGM's Louis B Mayer?

Gave up?

Well, it's easy, really. Although you probably came to know them and their work via the American entertainment industry, they are all Canadian superstars who first came to public attention because that country's Government has -from jumpstreet-demanded exposure of homegrown talents, via a strict quota system that applies to all media; making it mandatory to include set percentages of Maple Leaf content in all broadcasting.

For all the political rhetoric about attaining First World status and Vision 20/20, that fundamental level of assistance to the performance arts is still a source of major conflict here between broadcasters and artistes, the latter group reduced to marching in the sun to get across what telecommunications authorities in many developed countries have long institutionalised.

But don't take my word for it. Let's drop a few more names. In the April 2003 issue of Applaud magazine, a music industry source that indexes the business environment, writer Richard Flohil asked a number of executives from multinational labels, artist-management companies and publishers to offer their explanation for the success of Canadian entertainment products.

In the article headlined "How Canada became #2 as an international source of music talent", Denise Dolan, president of Sony Music Canada, listed key factors in the development of that country's industry and explained its current level of global reach.

"First of all, there's a lot of raw Canadian talent to work with and the sheer underdog drive to succeed," Dolan said. "Like it or not, the Canadian content regulations (quotas) have served to give a real leg-up to artistes seeking to gain access into the international market.

"In turn, those regulations helped to build an infrastructure that supports new and emerging talent as well as offering continuing support for our established stars," she said.

It was a view echoed by some of the entertainment industry's most influential executives. Vancouver-based agent and manager, Sam Feldman said:

"Initially, I thought Government support for the arts, particularly the quota rule, might have hurt successful artistes, because their success might be seen abroad as only the result of regulatory support, but ultimately it built a cottage industry, both business people and artistes learnt their craft and those with the talent can now bring it to the world."

The tsunami-strength wave of sales and success for singers Alanis Morissette, CÚline Dion, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain and Sarah McLachlan has music industry executives all over the world wondering if there is something special in Canadian water. There may well be, but the Canadian government can take credit for not just the potable stuff but a lucrative entertainment sector it irrigated.

Having seen the tremendous success of an initiative that began way back in the 1930s with the creation of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (precursor to CBC) to provide an alternative to US radio broadcasts pouring in from across the border, the Government has not let up.

In 1971, Canada wrote it into law, making it a federal offence to air less than the mandatory 30 per cent of homegrown content on radio, then extended it to television and, in January 1999, instead of relaxing the rule, raised the bar to 35 per cent; with a promise to increase further in 2005.

Local lobbyists are asking for a 50 per cent quota and, from all indications, while they may not succeed in getting that figure, Government has been showing some interest in establishing an introductory quota, a task rendered formidable by the stance of the local Publishers and Broadcasters Association, which insists that free trade means precisely that.

But it is not free trade in the way that Matouk's seasonings can do battle with soy sauce. American artistes enjoy considerable advantages and the cultural domination of Hollywood, cable-tv, comic-strips and transnational giants like Coca-Cola help to reinforce the concepts they set to song.

The key is, of course, getting radio executives to voluntarily show some love for home-made music products, rather than the cuss-bud CDs that come from abroad, or all the marching in the streets will come to little more than hip-hop versus shoe-sole.

If we need to follow something from North America, it may be time to look at Canada instead. After all, what's in a name?


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