Tag Archives: Canadian Music Industry

Making Massey-Hall Memories

Published 11/3/2021

By David McPherson

SOCAN Words & Music regular contributor David McPherson has just released his second book, Massey Hall (Dundurn Press, 2021), which tells the story of the legendary 127-year-old Toronto venue – where a debut performance on its iconic stage has always served as a cherished dream of musicians across the country. The book is out, and within weeks of this writing, after a massive series of renovations, the hall will re-open for business. So we’re marking the occasion with a few of David’s own memories of seeing unforgettable shows at Massey Hall. The book is available here, and you can follow David  on Twitter and Instagram, at @mcphersoncomm and @masseyhallbook on both platforms.

I’ll never forget my first time stepping off the Shuter Street sidewalk in Toronto and entering those three red doors. The magic inside the walls of Massey Hall was palpable. It hit me immediately and has never left. I felt the spirits of the artists and entertainers that had passed through that entrance before and stood on that storied stage over the past century. Little did I know that night that one day, I would write a book about this iconic and culturally significant venue. I’m humbled to have had the support and confidence of the Massey Hall team and my publisher (Dundurn Press) to tell this tale. Just like Hart Massey gave this living landmark to the City of Toronto as a gift in 1894, being given the privilege to tell the building’s story was an incredible honour – one I didn’t take lightly.

From that first concert I saw at Massey Hall (The Pretenders, March 1, 2000), I’ve made sure to take communion at this church of music regularly in the ensuing years. I’ve seen countless shows there, and each remains ingrained in my brain for different reasons. All I need to do is look at the ticket stub and my mind reels – flashes of that night return, a smile creeps onto my face, and for a brief moment I’m lost in the music of another Massey-Hall memory.

For some reason, I’d never seen a show at Massey Hall until I moved to Toronto in the late 1990s. In high school, I lived more than an hour away, in Kitchener-Waterloo. Many of the concerts I attended – in what for me was then considered the “big city” – were at venues like Maple Leaf Gardens, Exhibition Place at the CNE, The Forum at Ontario Place, and Kingswood Music Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland. What strikes me is that all these venues where I saw some of my earliest concerts (The Who, The Rolling Stones, Steve Miller Band, Tragically Hip, to name just a few) are now gone, but Massey remains. That in itself makes the Grand Dame of Shuter Street that much more unique.

In high school, concerts were experiences that allowed me to escape my thoughts, share musical moments with best friends, and do what teenagers do. For example, I remember getting beers while underage at the Golden Griddle before an Iron Maiden show at Maple Leaf Gardens. While my dad and I saw many Maple Leafs games at the Gardens during my formative years, seeing a concert with my father wasn’t something I’d even consider. I learned to love Jimmy Buffett, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Joni Mitchell by sifting through his vinyl collection, but that was where the musical relationship between me and my dad ended.

Following my graduation from University, the gap between our musical tastes – once as wide as a forest – narrowed. We found common ground; the logical next step was to attend shows together. And attend concerts we did: The Guess Who, The Chicks, The Eagles, CSNY, and so many more. Since then, I’ve seen more concerts with my dad than anyone else – many at Massey Hall. It’s no surprise I dedicated my newly published Massey Hall book to him. We saw Lightfoot. We saw Daniel Lanois and Emmylou Harris. Jackson Browne solo, and later Bruce Cockburn. One of my favourite all-time shows I’ve seen anywhere was at Massey with my dad: Neil Young during his Chrome Dreams II tour in 2007.

This past summer, on my birthday, I received one of the most special – and unexpected – gifts from dad: a seat dedication at the revitalized Massey Hall, with the following inscription: “David W. McPherson. Author (Massey Hall, Dundurn Press 2021). Music is the elixir of life.” What made this gift even more meaningful is that my dad also bought a seat right next to mine for himself with the following dedication: “Barry D. McPherson. Concerts Together, Forever.” It was hard to not get emotional when I first opened this gift. I can’t wait to return to Massey Hall this Fall to see those seats, soak in the magic of the rejuvenated venue, and share another night of music with my dad.

As a music journalist/reviewer, I’ve covered many other shows at Massey over the years, including Lucinda Williams, Barenaked Ladies, Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle, and John Hiatt with Lyle Lovett. Seeing my favourite songwriter John Prine for the first time (September 16, 2006) was yet another magical night.

Other shows I witnessed before the Hall closed for three years of a multi-million-dollar revitalization: Jason Isbell (Aug. 29, 2017), and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony (Sept. 23, 2017), that saw Bruce Cockburn and Neil Young inducted on the same night, with Whitehorse, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, William Prince, Randy Bachman, Ruth B, and others paying tribute to these legends.

And then there were my last two pairs of shows before the temporary closure, both in 2018. The first was a 124th Birthday bash for the hall in June, where Whitehorse was the house band, and guests included Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts, and Jim Cuddy. The last time I walked through those three red doors for a show was on Canada Day 2018, when I watched Gordon Lightfoot play in his home-away-from-home, where he’s performed more than 165 times.

As I write this blog, the re-opening of Massey Hall is just a few weeks away. It’s no surprise that Gord is set christen the newly-renovated hall with three shows. I can’t wait to see Lightfoot play in his hometown venue, with 2,800-odd like-minded souls. Maybe I’ll see you there, or at another upcoming show. Until then, long live live music… and Massey Hall Forever!

More about David McPherson

The Empowerment of Sitting in a Circle

Published 09/28/2021

By Howard Druckman

(Originally posted in June of 2019)

When I attended the 2019 Manito Ahbee Indigenous Music Conference and Awards in Winnipeg. One of the first things that struck me was the fact that, for the first day of the conference, all of the 50-odd participants were gathered in a single circle. Sounds like such a simple idea, right? But it’s incredibly empowering.

It places the moderator, and the five or six invited, knowledge-sharing experts, on the same non-hierarchical level as the attending musicians seeking that helpful information. As five or six microphones are passed freely between all participants, everybody who wants to ask a question gets to do so. Every question gets answered, often by more than one of the experts, or fellow musicians. Everybody’s welcome, everybody can see each other, everybody gets to be heard, and everybody – from novices to experts – gets to share their insights.

On the second and final day of the conference, the format was revised into a “goldfish-bowl” style, with an inner circle of about eight seats – each with a microphone – at a round table, and an outer circle of the rest of the participants. Without any specified subject, those in the inner circle discuss whatever issues or strategies are on their minds; anybody in the outer circle is free to move to the inner one and speak their mind, as others who’ve already spoken move back to the outer circle. Again, everybody gets their chance to say whatever they want to, and the content flows freely.

The “big-circle” and “goldfish-bowl” formats are the most effective I’ve seen for sharing knowledge, live, at a conference. They’re practically revolutionary, especially when compared and contrasted with the format of most music industry conferences.

At almost all other conferences I’ve attended over the past 30-odd years, almost all of the four-at-once sessions involve several experts and a moderator onstage, talking amongst themselves, before an audience of industry hopefuls. The “question-and-answer” section at the end is five minutes long, if that. The audience members rush the stage at the end to try and ask a question or two, and perhaps three or four of them get to do that. Even in the “one-on-one” consultations, each musician gets about five minutes with each expert, and they alone receive the knowledge – it’s not shared among the many. All of this is nowhere near as effective.

There’s so much to learn from how the First Nations music community operates, and I look forward to that process. Let’s start by sitting in a circle.

Time to get the picture on screen composers’ royalties

Published 07/7/2021

By Amin Bhatia

My SOCAN quarterly statement, August 1994: Okay, wow. What was normally a couple of grand at best was in the tens of thousands. What? Was this an error? Nope.

Nearly 25 years later…

My SOCAN quarterly statement, August 2017: Okay, wow. What was normally tens of thousands was now a couple of grand at best. What? Was this an error? Nope.

I remember questioning my career choice of writing music for film and TV: some projects are okay, but others are awful; the business is tough on our loved ones; the hours are insane.

And then I got that first cheque in August 1994. That animated TV episode, just starting to do well, airing on CBS, would get me around $400. Now, on Netflix, it gets $4.

Quite simply, a large part of my catalogue has moved from broadcast to streaming. Streaming pays cents to the dollar. After years of investing in so many projects and growing my business, I’m now in trouble. Stop everything. Cut back on suppliers, reduce my assistant’s hours. Talk to my wife. We’re gonna be downsizing.

This is the new reality that composers who write underscore for film and TV are facing. Never mind COVID (did I really just write that?), it’s streaming that has been far more devastating. The up-front dollars we get paid at the beginning of the project barely cover the work involved in creating the music in the first place. It’s why there are residuals. If one invests their time and talent in a project, and that project becomes successful, the composer shares fairly in the success because music played a role every bit as important as a cast member. But now we’re all getting minuscule amounts compared to a couple of years ago.

And that’s me, a successful composer with clients and a catalogue. For someone at the start of their career, the whole game has just been called off.

“Never mind COVID, it’s streaming that has been far more devastating”

Broadcasters follow rules set by the CRTC to share a portion of advertising revenues. SOCAN then distributes these revenues based on performances, via registered cue sheets, to both the composer and the publisher. Each side receives an equal amount, with the writer’s share and publisher’s share split 50/50. This is the broadcast model. This is the way.

While SOCAN has licensed the streaming companies (Streaming Videos On Demand, or SVODs), the dollars paid per performance are much lower, and no Canadian content rules apply – yet. Production companies increasingly demand full ownership of our copyrights as a condition of engagement. As a result, composers are being shut out of the other revenue streams that used to come our way: reproduction royalties in Quebec and in Europe, and of course, the publishing revenue we used to enjoy. Not to mention future revenue streams.

We’re slowly making progress on this issue, thanks to SOCAN, the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), and La Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec (SPACQ), as well as our many sister organizations around the world. Europe and Australia have made great progress both in music and in news content, another area of erosion where the creators are no longer able to make a living from their work because of streaming and social media.

Some of the work that these organizations are pursuing include:

  • mandating CanCon quotas on SVODs, and the promotion and discoverability of it;
  • the collection of streaming reproduction rights royalties from SVODs;
  • copyright retention, and participation in publisher’s share of performing rights and reproduction rights, for composers; and
  • incentivizing the use of Canadian screen composers in foreign productions which shoot in Canada.

So, what can screen composers do in the meantime? Refuse buyouts. Educate clients. They’re not evil; they just don’t know. For composers, insist on proper allocation of the writer’s share. Retain copyright in your work whenever possible. And if a client insists on taking ownership of your work as a condition of engagement, insist on retaining a portion of the publishing rights and revenue. These rights are the composer’s, after all. And if this is overwhelming, then get a lawyer. They have one, you may need one too. No one should be able to demand that you give up ownership of your property if you want to keep it. French Canada has much of this already worked out, so English Canada needs to catch up.

If this sounds alarmist, I’m sorry… but I’m also not sorry. This is serious. If we don’t solve streaming residuals soon, it’s game over for writing original music in film and TV.

About Amin Bhatia

What is private copying?

Published 12/9/2020

By Lisa Freeman

A “private copy” is a copy you make of your music collection for your own personal use, anywhere, anytime. Private copying presents a unique challenge: technology keeps making it easier for consumers to copy music, but it is not always possible for music rights-holders to authorize, prohibit or monetize those copies.

In recognition of this challenge, Canada’s Copyright Act was changed in 1997 to allow Canadians to copy music onto audio recording media for their private use. In return, the private copying levy was created to remunerate recording artists, songwriters, composers, music publishers and labels for that use of their work.

How it works: rights-holders are paid a small royalty (a ‘levy’) whenever a business sells a product that can store copies of music. Consumers get their music anywhere, anytime; music drives up the value and sales of tech companies’ products; and music creators get paid for unlicensed private copies. Everybody wins!

For many years since its creation, the private copying regime was an important source of royalties, generating a total of over $300 million for over 100,000 music rights-holders. Unfortunately, the regime has been limited since 2008 to a single medium, now virtually obsolete: recordable CDs. That means royalties have plummeted from $38 million in 2004 to $1.1 million in 2019 – even as annual copying activity more than doubled.

You may think that nobody makes copies of their music collections for private use anymore, because we’re all just streaming now. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that Canadians still make billions of copies of their existing music collections, for listening offline. What has changed is simply that those copies aren’t on cassette tapes, they’re on phones and tablets. And guess what? Only half of those copies are paid for through licensed music services.

Our most recent research shows that there are 5.95 billion tracks of music currently stored on

Canadians’ phones and tablets, and that half of those copies are unlicensed. Unlicensed, and no levy – that is a lot of revenue out of the pockets of creators and their music company partners. The Copyright Act has not kept pace with technology, leaving rights-holders unpaid. Shouldn’t every copy count?

With minimal revisions to the Copyright Act, the private copying regime would be restored to what it was originally intended to be – a flexible, technologically-neutral system that monetizes private copying that cannot be controlled by rights-holders.

Specifically, our proposed amendments to the Copyright Act would allow the regime

to apply to both audio recording media and devices. CPCC also proposes minor revisions to the Act to clarify that this exception to copyright infringement does not extend to offering or obtaining music illegally, whether through an unlicensed online service, stream-ripping, or by stealing an album from a store – such activity remains illegal. The private copying regime is for copying that cannot be controlled.

Passage of these amendments would make it possible for the CPCC to ask the Copyright Board of Canada to approve a levy on the smartphones and tablets where Canadians now make their private copies. The Copyright Board would ultimately determine the value of any approved levy on devices, but CPCC’s proposal is a levy that is a small fraction of the cost of a device, comparable to the average levy payable on a smartphone in Europe: around CDN$3, or the price of a cup of coffee. That would generate about $40 million in royalties per year.

With help from supporters, we have been asking the Government to amend the Copyright Act to ensure that the private copying regime is made technologically neutral. Moving forward with this legislative change will create a true marketplace solution for the music industry, which will help to restart the Canadian music economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, the Government is reviewing copyright reform legislation to be tabled imminently, acting on what they heard in the recent Parliamentary Review of Copyright. We need your help to ensure that private copying reform is high on their agenda.

How can you help?

There are a number of ways you can help:

Lisa Freeman is the Executive Director of the CPCC.

About Lisa Freeman

PR During Protests

Published 10/1/2020

By Dalton Higgins

During these last number of months, it has not been just another day at the office for me. As an African-Canadian owner of one of Canada’s leading boutique PR companies, that just happens to specialize in Black music (i.e., rap, R&B, electronic), long before the social protests, posting of Black squares, and sharing of hashtags, I have pretty much seen, heard, and witnessed all kinds of repulsive anti-Black racist acts that would make your head spin like a helicopter. Right here. In Canada. While being based in “multicultural” Toronto.

When we talk about structural and systemic racism in Canada, it means looking at what’s around you, looking at facts (and not feelings), and looking at real measures of equality, like representation. There’s no hard data that’s been collected or compiled in Canada (yet) to spell out how companies are faring as far as hiring and retaining Black staffers in the music and entertainment PR field. (The U.S. has always been 20 steps ahead of us when it comes to compiling race-based data.) According to Data USA, only 7.15 percent of publicists are Black  (non-Hispanic).

But you don’t need to rely on statistics at this juncture. Our industry is small. Just go to all of the major awards shows, industry confabs, music festivals, and conferences, like I do, and you’ll see that our presence is scant to non-existent. JUNO Award winner Jessie Reyez, who isn’t Black, was so offended by the lack of Black representation at Canada’s major labels, that she listed out all of the woefully low percentages of Black staffers who were gainfully employed, on a recent CTV special, Change and Action: Racism in Canada, and said, “That’s not acceptable.”

Given that the numbers of Black management companies, booking agents, entertainment lawyers, commercial radio Program Directors and Music Directors, music presenters, venue owners, etc., in the entertainment industry in Canada are minuscule, and because all of these jobs have a naturally symbiotic relationship (i.e., “65 percent of my clientele comes from referrals”), you can see that the playing field could never be even here.

I’ve also always been a strong proponent of the idea of “building your own table,” and business ownership – serial entrepreneurs move a certain way – but that has more to do with the fact that I grew up reading about the exploits of the late Afrocentric business titan Marcus Garvey, who insisted that Black people need to own businesses, properties, the means of production and distribution, to have a more self-fulfilling existence.

Also, the facts are that if I hadn’t been a long-time media practitioner in both Canada and the U.S., my company would be dead in the water. I won’t lie. We’ve been in demand, and busier than ever over the last five years, but that might be more because we deliver results, and oftentimes have to work five times as hard as the perceived competition. (Many Black kids are told by their parents that due to anti-Black racism they have to be 10 times better than whites, and may still only get one-half the results.) And I ain’t talking about competing PR companies either.

The journey of the Black publicist in Canada means sitting idly by, as all kinds of mediocre rock, indie rock, country, and folk acts generate more local media attention at home than some of our world-class rap, R&B, and electronic music clients. Ironically, they’re able to generate significant media attention in far larger media outlets in the U.S., including Billboard, SPIN, or Hypebeast, and who are streaming more, have larger socials, and who have a lot cooler cachet.

The sheer dominance of contemporary Black music (e.g., rap, R&B), from a streaming and sales standpoint, stands in stark opposition to what gets covered in Canadian media. It’s the pink elephant in the room. If we were to treat the music media world like a genuine meritocracy, and base it on sales, youth culture, market penetration, growth potential, the cool factor, and whatever other metrics you want to use for what’s relevant in music or the zeitgeist, you would be seeing and hearing a lot more Black music on TV, radio, in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. But the facts are, you just aren’t in Canada.

I don’t even want to get into the normalized micro-aggressions I have to endure while running my company and doing my job. Is there a reason administrative staff (or security guards) in mainstream media houses and corporations who hire us always ask me in this distrusting way, “Can I help you with something?” when I land in their lobbies, intimating I don’t belong there, when it’s clear I’m there for a meeting, or to assist my client? If I were a white guy, there’s no way they would be walking over to me, and asking me these asinine questions. Maybe the next time I get that “Can I help you?” routine, and I will respond “Uhhh, yes you can help me, by moving out of my damn way, as I’m here to tend to the needs of my Grammy-nominated/JUNO-winning/best selling client, please and thank you.”

As a Black publicist, I also sadly have to spend an inordinate amount of time educating people in general about race, ethnicity, and music history. Because I’m Black, it doesn’t mean that I only represent Black artists. I represent the interests of all kinds of white, Asian, Indigenous, South Asian, and  Latin American artists, largely because there’s a genre hybridity that has been happening over the last 20 years. Many good contemporary musicians, across cultures and racial designations, don’t really believe in being stuck in genre silos.

Also, Black music and culture influences the music creations of everybody. Always has. Where do you think the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” got his direct musical inspiration, guitar-playing style, and dance moves from? C’mon now, are you telling me that you don’t know (Bo) Diddley? Don’t ever judge a book by its cover, as I quickly learned while working for a few years with the so-called “world” music scene in Canada. It’s a scene that might arguably be the most problematic, when it comes to dealing with issues around race, representation, colonization, and other questionable employment practices, but I’ll save that for another column.

What does the future hold for PR professionals of my ilk? We essentially want nothing to do with the old boys’ network. Why? Because homogeneity bores us. And my time is, quite frankly, better spent building a New Boys (& Girls!) network that’s a lot more interesting, and that will represent contemporary demographic and music realities. Despite what some of the few remaining gatekeepers are doing (we see you), the music forms you’re supporting are dying a slow death. Not because of anything I’m writing here. It’s because of the people. Music consumers. They want more hip-hop, R&B, Afro beats, electronic music. Or maybe it’s a hip-hop world, and you’re just living in it?

Despite all of these daily anti-Black industry annoyances, I’ll always be working with my talented clients to get their stories out. I still get a great high landing a major media hit for my clients, both big and small. And it’s true that you’ll likely always catch me hanging out and partying with both my emerging and celebrity clients. Even while Paris is burning.

About Dalton Higgins

Canadian ingenuity conquers self-isolation with adaptation

Published 06/24/2020

By Howard Druckman

More than three months have passed since self-isolation was imposed by public health regulations in necessary response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s been a hard 100 days for music-makers.

In an era where digital streaming is already the predominant form of listening to music, with meagre royalty rates, live performance was one of the most reliable ways for those who make music to make a living. With live concerts shut down, music creators have turned in full force to live-stream online concerts to survive – whether through digital “tip-jar” contributions, tickets for the performances, or royalties from the SOCAN Encore program.

Even as restrictions begin to ease in some regions of the country, the first wave isn’t over yet, and the possibility of a second wave still looms. So the scarcity of live performances may last longer than initially expected.

The good news is, Canadian ingenuity is conquering isolation with adaptation. A handful of musicians have applied their creativity to the challenge of presenting actual safe, in-person shows during the pandemic. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the solutions they’ve come up with are pretty elegant.

Drive-In Concerts. The first planned drive-in concert (a live performance at a drive-in theatre ) in Canada that I heard about was by Québecois duo 2Frères. Then July Talk and Brett Kissel announced theirs, and more have followed, including Ottawa’s RBC Bluesfest with the NAC. It sounds like a  good compromise to experience music live in-person, from the safety of your car. I love that it’s rejuvenating drive-ins, which had been languishing in quaint, nostalgic memory. A similar rooftop “drive-in” rock concert was planned for Prince George, British Columbia. Also in a similar vein, new organization Hotels Live is launching the first-ever hotel balcony concert series in Canada, not unlike  Martha Wainwright’s balcony singalong in Montréal.

Micro-Concerts. Musicians can safely play to one person, or household clusters of two or four people, at a time. The Festif! Festival in Charlevoix, Québec, undertook a “doorway tour” series where musicians play one song in front of someone’s home, then move on to the next house. Calgary’s Matt Masters is booking curbside concerts for fans from the top of his mini-van to people in front of their homes. His fellow Calgarian Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is opening up his backyard for four-people-at-a-time micro-concerts.  In Esquimalt, British Columbia, Jeff Stevenson stands on the bank of the Gorge Waterway, and serenades groups of boaters. Stéphanie Bédard, in Québec, is doing something similar with her “Lake Tour.” Montréal’s Dear Criminals played 72 one-song live shows in three days, at the Lion d’Or club, to two people at a time.

Mobile Stages. Musicians can actually tour, using portable venues that will maintain physical distance. This Fall, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald also plans to play farms across Canada, to 10 people a night, in a travelling open-air venue he built, “The Greenbriar.” Similarly, The Io Project is a new “anti-COVID” mobile stage that can safely allow live shows for up to 250 people, watching in household clusters of two or four people, isolated by plexiglass.

Some Other Ideas.

* How about a series of courtyard concerts, where musicians play in the courtyards of designated apartment buildings, while tenants enjoy the music from the safety of their own balconies?
* Or the inverse of that, where the musicians in a band each occupy a separate balcony in an apartment building, and play together, for an assembly of safely-distanced tenants in the courtyard?
* Perhaps solo musicians could be booked to play at regular intervals along hiking trails, or pathways in public parks, safely distanced, so people getting out for exercise during the pandemic might stop to hear some live music, enhancing their journeys.
* Municipalities across the country might allow restaurants to host patio performances, to further improve the outdoor dining experience (although Toronto ruled against them during its recent relaxation of regulations to combat the pandemic).
* Why not allow live shows at any central gazebos in public parks, as long as the audience maintains (moderately enforced) social distancing?

These smart adaptations prove that different kinds of in-person live shows are still available to us, and offer a few rays of hope that there’ll be more to come. Here’s to the next wave of creative thinking that helps to get us even further back to live.

About Howard Druckman

COVID-19: This Too Shall Pass

Published 04/2/2020

By Alan Cross

One night in early 1348, a rat scuttled down a street in Florence, Italy. It was a stowaway on a merchant’s cart hauling goods from the port of Livorno. Or perhaps it came with cargo from a ship docked somewhere on the east coast carrying goods from Greece, Crimea, and other points East.

Hitchhiking in the rat’s black fur were fleas infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the trigger for bubonic plague. As a result of Florence’s non-existent sanitation and hygiene practices, the rat population exploded, and with it, cases of the Black Death.

By the end of the year, Florence had become an epicentre of the pandemic. And in just three years, 50,000 people – half the city’s population – had died.

But a strange thing happened. The plague began to change humanity’s view of the world. People began to question their very existence and the reality around them. Instead of being focused only on the church and making it into heaven, people started pondering their current situation as living beings. This new attitude, which we now call humanism, came to dominate the discourse of scholars, intellectuals and artists.

This radical shift in thinking led to the Renaissance, which took stagnant European society from the Middle Ages to the modern age. Florence (and Italy in general) entered a period where much great art was produced, from painting and writing to architecture and poetry. In fact, the term “Black Death” (mors nigra in Latin) first appeared in a poem written in 1350 by a Belgian astronomer named Simon de Covino.

Music, of course, was also greatly affected.

After centuries of creating music based around Pythagorean tuning, a new musical language based on polyphony emerged. The printing press – a Renaissance invention – made it possible to distribute sheet music across the continent. We began to see our first musical stars in the form of composers and performers.

Let’s skip ahead a few hundred years. As the world’s population recovered, Europe was hit with a series of plagues. Henry VIII spent a time in self-isolation as a result from the Sweating Sickness outbreak of 1529. Then a great epidemic hit London in the early 1600s.

Once again, anxious times led to an outbreak of great art. Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra in 1606. And at exactly the same time, composers like Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel began musical experiments that would later be known as the Baroque movement, something that would influence music for centuries to come.

Again, fast-forward a couple of hundred years. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of the unhealthiest cities in the world was New Orleans. The heat, humidity, the swamps, and the constant visits by ships from the Gulf, the Caribbean, and beyond, made it a transit point for disease like influenza (a worldwide outbreak in 1889-90 killed at least a million people), cholera, encephalitis, yellow fever, and more bubonic plague. Yet New Orleans found time to invent both ragtime and jazz, the dominant form of North American music during the first half of the 20th Century.

When jazz spread everywhere in the 1920s, was that a joyful reaction to the end of the Great War, or an expression of relief after the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 burned out? Maybe both.

Consider, too, the HIV/AIDs crisis of the late 20th Century. How much great art – music, theatre, novels, film, dance, and so on – was inspired by that terrible time?

Now think about where we are today. It’s dire for the music industry. No one’s touring. Music venues are closed. Music sales have cratered to their lowest level since the 1960s. Even streaming is down, as people look to other sources of entertainment to pass the time while they’re locked down. Musicians, crew, promoters, agents, managers – everyone associated with the art and business of music has been sidelined from their usual ways of working.

But it might not be all bad. Already artists have found creative ways to reach out to the public through various forms of live streaming. Others are inevitably using this time to write, and experiment, and record at home. How many bored young people have finally picked up that guitar, or sat at a piano, only to discover that they have a natural talent for music? Manufacturers have made synth apps available for free so that people can fool around with them. Will that result in something unexpectedly great? I bet it will.

When this is all over, we could find ourselves with more great music than we know what to do with. The fall of 2020 and the early months of 2021 has the potential to be very exciting. And while virtual concerts and live streams will continue, society wants to be physically present when art is on display. The gigs and the tours will come back.

Meanwhile, if you’re an artist, keep a daily diary. Write down everything you’re feeling and any observations you have of the current condition of humanity. Document what’s going on the best way you know how. Who knows what kinds of creative breakthroughs will result?

Above all, hang in there. Stay safe and stay healthy. Concentrate on what you do best. As in the past, these anxious times will inevitably produce great art. And you just might be the person to do it.

About Alan Cross

Wouldn’t it be great if CBC Music/ICI Musique played all-Canadian music for two months?

Published 03/18/2020

By David Myles

Posts on the SOCAN blog Music.People.Connected. offer the opinions of the contributors only, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of SOCAN.

I had just finished sound check, was eating dinner pre-show, when the presenter came to tell us that New Brunswick had just issued a proclamation limiting public gatherings to fewer than 150 people.

Our show was cancelled, as well as every other gig we had planned for the next couple months. I was not alone, every musician I know was in a similar situation. You could see it everywhere.

Touring is our primary source of income. Now, without that revenue stream, the other sources of income become vitally important.

I was thinking about all this, while I was reading everyone’s posts, when it hit me: what would it look like if CBC Music/ICI Musique played all-Canadian/Franco-Canadian content for the next two months? It seemed easy and direct – a simple way to make a big difference.

The infrastructure already exists for SOCAN to collect the royalties and for CBC to program the music 24 hours a day.

CBC Music/Ici Musique’s mandate is already to support Canadian/Franco-Canadian music, their job is already to be engaged with it, and their on-air personalities already love it. And 24-hour Cancon might allow them to expose listeners to Canadian music that they haven’t already heard.

This would benefit Canadian artists, across all scales of the sector. From musicians cancelling a club tour, to Jessie Reyez, who was going to open the biggest tour in the world for Billie Eilish. Imagine how heavily invested she would have been in that tour, “all in,” with all the merch that was manufactured, for example.

CBC Music/Ici Musique taking this kind of action would make a real difference in the lives of all sorts of Canadian/Franco-Canadian musicians. It’s a tremendous opportunity.

Now is the time for them, and us, to rally around our creative community.

About David Myles