Canada an unsung heavyweight of global music, but new Canadian content law could backfire: report

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Canadian rapper Drake.

With a population slightly larger than California, and an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s, Canada is not often thought of as a global cultural heavyweight. However, a new report indicates that when it comes to streamed music, it certainly is.

Canadian artists rank third in worldwide streams of the top 1,000 singles (behind the US and UK), says a new report from former Spotify Chief Economist Will Page, which primarily uses data from market monitor Luminate. Page calls Canada’s third-place showing (along with Australia’s eighth-place showing) “an incredible achievement.”

And it’s not just superstars Drake and The Weeknd who are responsible for that success: Using Spotify’s Echo Nest music intelligence data, the report showed that numerous Canadian artists are currently popular around the world, from Tate McRae and Sum 41 to Nelly Furtado and Tory Lanez.

Page ascribes a fair amount of that success to the global nature of the music streaming ecosystem.

“If not for streaming, for instance, it’s unlikely that we’d see two Canadian artists singing in Punjabi with three of the top 10 songs in India,” he wrote.

But the report cautions that the Canadian government’s plans to regulate music streaming services to encourage the prominence of Canadian music could backfire, if regulators take too heavy a hand in their approach.

Citing data from the IFPI’s Global Music Report, Page’s analysis – which was carried out for Music Canada, a recorded music industry trade group – noted that Canada remains a global top 10 market for recorded music revenues. The country’s growth in streaming subscriptions (up 8.4% in 2022) outstrips that seen in the US (up 5.8%).

“If not for streaming, for instance, it’s unlikely that we’d see two Canadian artists singing in Punjabi with three of the top 10 songs in India.”

Will Page, report on Canada’s Online Streaming Act

And Canadian recorded music revenues have seen a remarkable bounce-back from the era of music piracy – much stronger than in many other developed markets, with revenues doubling since 2014, to CAD $792 million (USD $608.6 million) in 2022, per the IFPI.

“We need to appreciate that very few developed markets can match this claim in such a short period of time,” Page wrote.

Canada recorded music revenues
Music Canada

However, “Canada’s per capita spending on recorded music ($20.03) lags far behind its southerly neighbor’s ($42.78),” the report noted.

And when it comes to Canadian music consumed inside Canada, the numbers are not as impressive as the global ones. Page’s report finds that around 10% of the 10,000 most-streamed tracks in Canada were Canadian, and a similar 10% of artists among the top 10,000 tracks were Canadian.

That compares unfavorably to the UK, for instance, where around 40% of the most popular streamed music is domestic, the report noted, citing data from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

However, while Canadians may consume much more music from outside Canada than they do domestic music, they still appear to support their homegrown industry. In a recent report, Luminate noted that Canadians “strongly support homegrown artists, with 71% of music listeners engaging with music from Canada in 2023, compared to 66% in 2022.”

Nevertheless, it’s the relative weakness of Canadian music inside Canada that prompted Canada’s Parliament last year to pass a new law, the Online Streaming Act, which seeks to expand “Canadian content” regulations from broadcasting into the world of online streaming.

Canada’s broadcasters have for decades been mandated to include a certain minimum amount of Canadian content, and to pay towards funds that distribute money to Canadian production companies and creators.

While many entertainment industry groups supported the Online Streaming Act, many new media and tech companies opposed it, saying that such “CanCon” rules are unworkable in the open, globalized world of the internet. And given how discoverability algorithms work, these rules could actually backfire.

That’s an argument echoed by Page in his report, which lays out a number of options for how the CRTC, Canada’s broadcasting regulator, could approach the issue of mandating CanCon on music streaming services.

If the CRTC were to choose to directly regulate the market, as it has done for TV and radio, it could have the unintended consequence of limiting Canadian artists’ ability to grow into global phenomena, Page argued.

“To illustrate this point, go back in time and think of your local record shop: if they’ve noticed that you’ve purchased an album by a promising Canadian act, rather than saying ‘you’d also love this amazing British act,’ regulating the algorithm could be compared to restricting the store owner to saying ‘you might like this other kinda similar fellow Canadian band’,” Page wrote.

“The risk is that Canadian small fish would be paired only with other Canadian small fish – which is exactly what artists don’t want: a small cohort with limited geographic reach… As Nettwerk Music Group points out, domestic gain could result in unintended international pain.”

Another source of “international pain” for Canadian artists, Page’s report says, could be the growing trend of glocalization – music in local languages is becoming more popular in various domestic markets around the world, shrinking the share of English-language music worldwide.

“For anglophone and francophone Canadian artists alike, the route to European export success is about to get tougher. Navigating these market forces may need help – in the form of a future‑proof music export strategy – from the state,” the report says.

(Page should know a thing or two about glocalization: He’s largely responsible for popularizing the term, with his reports in recent years noting the uptick in popularity of local-language music.)

However, Canada does have one advantage when it comes to glocalization: Its large and diverse immigrant communities, which have ties to their countries of origin. For instance, the report notes that Punjabi is now the third most common language for Canadian songs (3%), behind only English (75%) and French (20%).

Punjabi is “the fastest growing music‑language in Canada right now, thanks to the success of artists like Ikky, Karan Aujla, and AP Dhillon,” the report notes.Music Business Worldwide

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