Theme Week: Music - Day Three

A continuation of my thoughts on music in my life... also, as I mentioned yesterday, these writings aren't totally current, so use your imagination a little, eh?

Patriotism (or, My country's music is better than yours…)

Sparing all the “I AM … Canadian” clich├ęs of the past, I will admit that there is some patriotism in my music collection. This is probably for a number of reasons. It's not so much that I dislike music from other countries, or that I believe Canadian artists are getting the shaft as compared to the ever-growing and encroaching American market, but just that I feel that Canada has something special to offer in their musical style. Not to say that Canada has a distinct musical style as a nation - more like there are generally differences in what becomes 'big' in Canada as opposed to what makes it in the U.S. Maybe it has to do with market size and demographics. It probably does. Who am I kidding? Maybe it's not really attributable to cultural differences.

Sure, Canadians are different from Americans in a lot of ways (let's not get into THAT), but the truth is that there appears to be a broader variety of music getting radio play in Canada. Of course, the CRTC and their 'Canadian content' legislation can definitely play a part in that. We hear Canadian music on our radios and watch it on our music video television stations because we have to - the government says so. Would we as Canadians listen to music made in Canada if we had the choice? I can't say. If it were up to the listeners to decide radio programming, it might just as well sound like an American pop station, for all I know. What I do know is this: Canadian music, perhaps lacking true, unique sound, lacks not in originality.

Some would like to think that for every band in Canada, there are likely 100 American bands with the same sound. I'm not sure I agree with that. My tastes are not patriotic, per se, but more driven to appreciate the differences in music, and the truth is, I'm quite proud of the fact that the Canadian music scene has brought some of the bands it has to the world scene (or, even just within Canada). The cultural diversity of Canada is reflected well in its diverse music industry. From the east and west coast Celtic (apologies for the over-used word) sounds to various bands whose sound is seemingly irreproducible, Canadians have a scene that they can be truly proud to be a part of.

Many popular Canadian bands will never gain international (American?) success, but will flourish in Canada. I would have no trouble creating a long list of bands who are generally considered “deserving of international success”, but who cannot crack the American market. So, what happens? Canadians in Ontario drive to New York State to see them play in small town bars (or small bars in big towns) for half the price, and a fraction of the attendance associated with the sell-out tours in Canada. Similarly, Vancouverites drive to Seattle for the same reason. Many a story have I heard of the New York bar where there were mostly Canadians in the audience. The truth seems to be that Canada does not market their music in such a way as to be conducive to success across the border.

What I have noticed, however, is the way that the American market seems to expand. It does not take a genius to figure out that when a sound gets big, any number of 'sound-alike' bands will emerge in the next year (or however long the expected life cycle of a pop band is, these days) to flood that genre of the market. Boy bands, alt-grunge bands, and something I call 'angry-girl-with-guitar' are examples of this. You may or may not know of which I speak. One appears, and the next thing you know, there are others, tripping on the coattails of their success. The positive side to this, I suppose, is the ability to find bands that sound like the one (or two, or three) that you like, and to get more enjoyment out of a particular sound. I am positive that the 8-15 year old girls who scream through boy-band concerts are elated that there are at least 9 bands in the continental United States (and in Canada, I might add - we are not ignorant to cashing in on the success of neighbouring music scene trends) who have nearly identical sounding albums. The more the merrier? Maybe so. I shudder to think that the duplication of popular sounds is edging out the unique, fresh sounds of lesser-known artists whose music is infinitely listen-able, but the market has no time to devote to going against the grain of trendy-ness. Even more horrifying is hearing someone tell you that someone you know as a product of the Canadian scene has been labeled as American once they cross the border with any amount of success.

Now, you might think that I am one narrow-minded, patriotic fool. I do realize that every culture (or country in some cases) has its own sound, and their own, unique industry as far as music is concerned. I am merely drawing attention to the Canadian scene, as I am infinitely more qualified to comment on that one than that of any other country. I have learned, however, that the Australian scene is equally as interesting as I dig deeper into it (with the help of downloadable music, of course).

I have little doubt that every country has musical patriots. Personally, I would like to meet them and have them share their obsessions with me. Show me where the truly unique sounds are. The excitement I felt upon finding a band from Australia recently that completely grabbed my attention is surprisingly similar to the feeling I get from listening to something that was made in Canada. However, without friends in far away places, or without well-equipped internet music-libraries to sponge off, it is difficult to truly expand your library of lesser known import bands, and therefore more challenging to seriously get to 'know' another country's music scene. I am grateful that the global marketplace is growing in imported CDs, whatever the lag time from 'home country' release dates. I can rest easy knowing that the most recent release of my latest 'Aussie' band will likely not hit Canada for another two years (their third full length album was the first to make it to Canada, two years after original release, and yet different in content). At least I have the internet to provide me with the generally un-obtainable music from afar.

Spreading the world of Canadian music to friends afar is my specialty. I highly enjoy imbuing my country's treasures on those less fortunate (read: non-Canadians). Ha! But seriously…it is with great pleasure that I share my enthusiasm, no matter how strange it may seem, with those people who are out of touch with the Canadian music scene, either through geographical constraints, or through the general inefficiency of the world music market. It is not exactly easy to seek out bands from another country to get a taste of their music if you don't know who or what to look for. Similarly, artists are constrained by international agents for representation (i.e. if an artist has no representation in your country yet, you will find it difficult to hear anything of them).

Therefore, I am the liaison. I play the role of the benevolent ambassador - a bearer of musical gifts, as it were. I cannot be sure that anyone with whom I share my enthusiasm for Canadian music will recognize the sounds as Canadian or just 'North American”, but at least I have provided the link and opened a door or three. I can only hope that those artists who are shared fervently by their global fans are receiving the attention they are due. More importantly, my wish is that those who listen will gain something from the music they experience. At times, it is difficult to gauge whether this is the case. I can only speak from personal experience. I know what I feel, and I know what others say. I cannot tell what they truly feel. Music is indeed an international gift. We should share the indulgence.


Posted bythemikestand at 9:01 AM  

5 stepped up to the mike:

brianna said... 9:23 AM, February 07, 2006  

As one of the recipients of much gifted Canadian music I can't say that I'm capable for identifying a "canadian sound." Do you feel upon hearing a new band any sort of "oh they're canadian, I can tell!" twinge based on the music alone?

Either way -- the gifts are much appreciated.

themikestand said... 9:32 AM, February 07, 2006  

Well, not every time. Maybe seven times out of ten. ;)

It does usually depend on the genre of music: sissy-punk and Creed sound-alikes don't really stick out for me.

And, maybe it's because we have wicked Canadian content laws on the radio and TV around here, so we can play "Canadian or Not Canadian?" with our mass media.

sween said... 11:34 AM, February 07, 2006  

No big revelation to add. Just thought I'd throw in a "Keep up the good work!" on this whole theme week.

One of us actually needs to write something with some substance...

Babs said... 5:26 PM, February 07, 2006  

Very much liking your theme week. :)

themikestand said... 9:08 AM, February 08, 2006  

Thanks guys... I wasn't sure how this whole theme week thing would play out, or if anyone would read -- or if I'd actually lose the tiny readership that I have.

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