Category Archives: Viewpoint
In 2012, Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, a tune performed in the Korean language, topped the Canadian Hot 100 for seven straight weeks, once and for all blowing to pieces the hasty assumption Canadian broadcasters have made that Anglophones are unwilling to listen to songs in a language other than English, an assumption they have parroted over the years, without any supporting evidence, to justify shutting out Francophone songs on English-language radio stations.
Despite the success of “Gangnam Style”, Canada still did not seem to get it. While it was on top of the charts, the Canadian media made no mention whatsoever of the Félix Awards gala, the biggest event in the country to honour Francophone music. Even the CBC which always seems so intent on promoting Canadian music published not a single word on its website about the award winners and the gala. Moreover, the same month that Psy’s Korean tune wrapped up its dynasty at number 1, no Francophone artist was invited to perform at the halftime show of the 100th Grey Cup, a huge national event. The media did not pick up on this snub choosing instead to pick on the choice of Anglophone artists and their performances.
There are some problems with retailers as well.
Issues with iTunes Canada
We have noticed that iTunes Canada considers Francophone music a genre. Whether a song is mainstream pop, hard rock, rap, electronic, jazz, or country, if it is performed in French, it gets categorized as a Francophone song. Moreover, if a Francophone artist releases an album with a couple of English songs, these get labelled as Francophone under the genre. Some may find the Francophone category helpful. But consider that there is no category called Anglophone Music. Songs that are half in French and half in English are considered French songs, not bilingual songs, revealing that Canada has somewhat of a “one-drop rule”* when it comes to music. Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” had a few Spanish phrases; does this make it a Spanish song?
Whipping HMV into Shape
Earlier in the year, the Canadian Music Blog was fighting its own battles. One of the most successful Canadian recording artists from Quebec, who is fluently bilingual and had released albums mainly in French in the past, decided to record a bilingual album, most songs being in English with a few in French. The album peaked at #2 on the Canadian Albums chart published by Billboard. We noticed that record chain HMV in Vancouver was not carrying any copies of the album. We checked the store’s website and noticed that none of their stores in western Canada were stocking the CD. We took it upon ourselves to contact their corporate headquarters and inquire. Their response was as we expected, stating that because the artist was Francophone, mostly popular in Quebec, there was no sense in them stocking the album in western Canada. We contacted the artist’s publicist and passed on the information. He relayed it to her management team. We are not sure what transpired, but we do know that shortly afterwards, all HMV stores in western Canada stocked the album. However, despite being mostly an Anglophone album, the Vancouver store filed it in the Francophone music section.
This is an example of what we can do as individual Canadians to try to rectify things. Although we are not in positions to make sweeping changes, we can perform a few strategic acts that can begin to change obsolete patterns of thinking.
*One-drop rule refers to a historical social classification in the United States by which any person with “one drop of Negro blood” was considered black.
In the new millennium, when pop stars are treated like they are politicians and politicians like they are pop stars; when Quebec is lambasted for considering separation by those who exclude its artists from performing at a national event, when drunkards from the peanut gallery jeer at their own while cheering on the foreigners playing their own sport for them; when the wisdom of acts chosen to perform is questioned rather than the contempt and ill-will harboured by the audience; when, unexplainably, stars are suddenly criticized for lip syncing when this has been going on at the same event for years; when, after weeks of raising awareness about bullying, the latter’s manifestation in booing the young rears its ugly head and goes on unaddressed—all fuelled and driven by the press in the name of increasing Grey Cup halftime show viewership to 6.1 million, up by 44% from last year—one wonders what is happening in this crazy country of ours.
The nastiness of the press can be summed up in a single word: materialism. Materialism is the belief that financial gain is more valuable and important than doing the right thing, that, for example, treating people badly is acceptable provided it leads to the accumulation of material wealth. Morality is the opposite of materialism.
The media has learned that, generally speaking, it pays to praise obscure artists and to denounce the popular. The press has no conscience. It does whatever will result in attracting readers and viewers to the maximum extent possible. The more they attract, the higher the rates they can charge those corporations wanting to place advertisements, therefore the more money they make. The media does not do what is right; it does what is profitable.
When we see something very negative written about a famous Canadian recording artist, not only does it draw us in, it has us telling others about it. Even if we are a fan of the artist, we tell other fans in order to voice our grievances, and these want to see the article too. Readership goes up, lots of comments are added, nasty replies are given, everyone swarms around these trashy articles like a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and this is exactly want they want.
Understanding how the media works and why it operates the way it does helps unburden our hearts and to resist the temptation to read / watch the pieces.
As for Justin Bieber, we hold nothing but admiration. Holding his head up and responding to hatred with love, the youth is more manly than most men, who could learn to do some growing up themselves. We’re better than that, Canada.
In some ways, Canada is an instructive model of how different ethnic groups can co-exist peacefully while still retaining the distinctive and attractive qualities of their respective cultures. In simple terms, we can call this “unity in diversity”. But the isolation that separates what have been dubbed the “two solitudes”, namely English-speaking and French-speaking societies, stubbornly batters on, despite the best efforts of so many creative and dynamic individuals and organizations across the country who have striven to build intercultural harmony and understanding.
The corrosive discord between the French and the English has gnawed away at the backbone of Canadian society, crippling its progress and staining its reputation. This one issue, which Canadians are still far from having adequately resolved, should be regarded as the most vital confronting the nation at the present stage of its social development.
Whether from Victoria, Québec City, St. John’s, Windsor, or Iqaluit, old or young, rich or poor, naturalized or native-born, all Canadians must lend their assistance to the common mission of uniting the two solitudes. Whether Francophone or Anglophone, neither has the right to claim absolution from such an obligation. It must be consistently demonstrated in every activity of daily life, no matter how insignificant, whether in homes, schools, offices, social gatherings, recreational facilities, meetings, conferences, galas, and radio and television broadcasts.
Such an issue goes far beyond the callous limitations of political and economic policies and the passive virtues of tolerance and mutual admiration. It calls for genuine love, sincere respect, true humility, indiscriminating fellowship, contempt for any and all manner of criticism, and a keen sense of justice tempered by wisdom. Overall, it calls for magnanimity on the part of both groups.
SEGREGATION AND DISCRIMINATION
To discriminate against either party, on the grounds of its being numerically in a minority, economically inferior, or culturally distasteful is a flagrant violation of the Canadian spirit. Acceptance of any division in the ranks of its citizens is alien to the very principles and ideals on which the country was built. Every segregation of Canadians based on culture or language must be completely obliterated if we are to pilot the world into global concord.
The only form of discrimination that should be allowed is one not against but in favour of the minority. In sharp contrast to much of the rest of the world’s countries who conveniently choose to ignore, oppress, or extirpate minorities within their respective realms, all Canadian citizens, communities, and institutions should feel it to be its prime directive to nurture, encourage, uphold, defend, and promote every minority group that resides within its confines.
Let Anglophones attend to and allow themselves to openly receive the contributions Francophones wish to make and acknowledge them ardently and graciously. Let them cheer and promote French culture not only within the Canadian landscape but to the greater world abroad. Let them become experts of and the chief supporters of French arts and artists. Let them make efforts to master the French language. Most importantly, let them be the first to uphold and defend Francophones in the face of unjust treatment or a lack of representation.
Let Francophones display a warm response, an eagerness to move beyond dwelling on past injustices, and a strong resolve to remove any traces of suspicion that may still linger in their minds. Most importantly, let them encourage and assist Anglophones, through their experience and advice, to develop a strong and unique culture that moves beyond imitation of British and American influences.
Let neither group think that the solution to such a deep-rooted problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can be settled quickly or easily. Let neither think that the efforts required to overcome the discord call simply for an extra measure and brief discharge of gallantry. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the resolution of this problem to rear its head when favourable circumstances appear prompting political bodies to pass an array of dry regulations and policies.
Rather, let them generate bonds of friendship that go beyond formal arrangements of public policy, no matter how successful such arrangements are in breaking down the barriers of mistrust and ignorance. Let the two groups intermarry so that their offspring can claim loyalty to neither side, embrace both cultures, and master both languages. Let them set their sights on nobler and loftier pinnacles of excellence in accentuated acts that exemplify to a cynical world the shining example of magnanimity of which Canadians are so renowned. And, in so doing, let us fulfill our glorious destiny.
Many Canadians pride themselves on thinking of their country as being far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of social development, citing that we are multicultural and bilingual. Yet, when we turn on the radio in Canada, we hear music that is performed in only one language. Canadians do not seem aware of the fact that, in most of the rest of the world, this is not the case.
For example, if you were to travel to Shanghai, China, and turned on the local Top 40 hit radio station, you would hear songs not only in Mandarin but in Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, French, and English all of which are languages unintelligible to nearly all inhabitants of that city.
In reality, Canada, in many ways, is lagging far, far behind the rest of the world in embracing multiple cultures and languages. In fact, Canadian broadcasters will not even air music in both official languages on a single station and has over the years behaved in defiance of Canada’s official policy of bilingualism, segregating music based on the language in which it is performed. It has even frowned upon songs that are bilingual and refused them airplay.
This presents tremendous irony. On the one hand, Canada encourages its Anglophone youth to learn French, having required them to take French lessons in grade school and built a number of French immersion schools across the country. On the other hand, however, the Canadian broadcast industry contradicts this by not airing Francophone songs on English radio stations, one of the best ways to introduce Anglophone youth to the French language and inspire them to learn it.
What is additionally absurd is that, despite this, English songs are frequently played on French radio stations in Quebec. This means that we have a national double-standard.
FLIMSY ARGUMENTS FROM THE CANADIAN BROADCAST INDUSTRY
The Canadian broadcast industry has cited three reasons for their refusal (with only the very odd exception) of airing French songs on English radio stations.
1. Anglophones are unwilling to listen to music that is performed in a language other than English.
2. Those few who want to listen to French songs can simply tune in to the French radio stations.
3. Québec artists do not need the rest of Canada to purchase their music in order to earn a living; they can simply sell it in France which has a much larger population.
It is important to note that these are the key and principal arguments on which the entire foundation of all music segregation in the country has been based.
The problem with the second argument is that, if an Anglophone cannot understand French fluently, he is unable to enjoy the DJ chatter, radio shows, and other features of the French radio stations. Moreover, because of this lack of understanding, he cannot pick up on the titles and artists of the songs and learn any background info on the singers. If he hears a song he likes, he cannot purchase it because he cannot pick up on its name, name of the artist, album on which the song appears, etc. In contrast, if the odd French song were played on the English language radio station, Anglophones could learn much more about the song and the artist and acquire some insights into the meaning behind it.
The third reason is as ridiculous today as it was in the beginning. Francophone artists have as much luck scoring hit singles and albums in France as Anglophone artists do in the United Kingdom. Europe has never been terribly friendly towards airing Canadian music.
GERMAN YES, GAELIC YES, OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF FRENCH NO
That leaves us with the first argument. This is the key argument broadcasters have used again and again to justify their barring of Francophone music both on English radio stations and television channels. A number of French language performances have in fact been cut from intended broadcasts over the years on Canada Day and other occasions (See an example HERE). French language performances do not happen during the JUNO awards. They were underrepresented during the Vancouver Olympics. The CBC Music website does not list even the biggest Francophone artists in the country. Record stores in western Canada do not stock much Francophone music and relegate such CDs to the “international section” as if they were imported from another country or at least from a “distinct society”. And Canadian Anglophones wonder why Quebecers are talking separation!
First off, the Canadian broadcast industry has never been able to provide a single shred of evidence in support of this hasty assumption. In fact, there has been ample evidence over the years that such is not the case. English radio stations were more than happy to play Falco’s German language songs “Der Kommissar” and “Rock Me Amadeus” and all English speakers who could not understand a word of German loved listening to them. They also loved playing Ashley MacIsaac’s “Sleepy Maggie” though no one could understand a word of Gaelic. But when it came to French, a language that was an official language of the country, radio said “No.” When pressure finally had them make an allowance with Mitsou, they shut down the operation soon afterwards by turning her into a centerpiece of controversy over a steamy music video.
A FAILED EDUCATION SYSTEM?
Let us suppose for a moment that the first argument is true. French songs are aired and a number of people complain that they cannot understand the lyrics. (I bet if these same people were asked to quote the lyrics of their favourite English songs, they would be unable to do so.) What would such a phenomenon say about our education system? Presumably after all the taxpayers’ money spent on the French immersion schools and French programs in public schools, after all the teacher training, and text books and curriculum development, our youth are graduating from high school without being able to understand French? How come?
MARK THE ASSUMPTION REFUTED, PERMANENTLY
This week, once and for all, the flimsy argument that broadcasters had used time and again for years, that Anglophones were unwilling to listen to music performed in a foreign language, was debunked and rendered a myth in one fell swoop. PSY’s “Gangnam Style” is the #1 most popular song in the country, topping the Billboard Canadian Hot 100. The song is performed in the Korean language. Last time I checked, most Canadians are not fluent in Korean, but they love the song anyway. And what is more, the same radio stations who refused to air Francophone songs because they stated Anglophones were unwilling to listen all began playing the Korean song like mad. Did they refuse to air the song and dismiss Anglophones who liked it by telling them to tune in to their local ethnic station? Not this time. How come?
This is not to say that we should not rejoice that Canada is becoming more multicultural with the airing of a Korean song. This really is a cause for celebration. But if we are going to air German songs, Gaelic songs, and Korean songs, we really should be airing songs in the other official language too.
FRANCOPHONE ARTIST: Excuse me, Mr. Vancouver radio station program director, my song is #1 in Québec, would you consider airing it on your radio station?
PROGRAM DIRECTOR: Is it a French song or English song?
FRANCOPHONE ARTIST: French.
PROGRAM DIRECTOR: I’m sorry, but most of our listeners in Vancouver are Anglophones; they’re not interested in listening to songs performed in a foreign language. We have a number of French and ethnic radio stations in the city. Perhaps you could check with them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with our deejays.
Five minutes later…
PROGRAM DIRECTOR: Okay guys, we’re now adding PSY’s “Gangnam Style” to our playlist…
The concept of supporting our own does not mean that we only buy Canadian music; it simply means that we give priority to our own artists. In essence, it means that we only buy music from abroad if we love it, but we buy Canadian music as long as we like it. Remember that only Canadian artists can sing with Canadian accents, use Canadian English in their lyrics, sing about issues to which Canadians can relate, add some choice French words and phrases into the songs, and make a style of music that appeals more to the Canadian ear.
We are happy with the number of Canadian artists and songs appearing on the charts. Laws governing radio airplay have helped with this. However, we do not wish to continue seeing most of the Canadian artists lie at the bottom of the Canadian Billboard Hot 100 while the top positions are occupied by foreign artists. All we can do is identify those singles which have a better chance of climbing to the top, but it is up to you to listen to them and buy the ones you like. Supporting our own artists who are working hard to earn a living means that we download them through official channels and buy them.
Canadian recording artists are all on the same team. It was never about competition. Each artist with heart and soul prepares his or her own unique dish as a contribution to a sumptuous banquet dinner. We who partake have the freedom to choose to feast on those dishes that appeal to our own taste. It is not a time to be a stick in the mud, to criticize a particular dish, or try to convince someone that the dish he is eating is unsavoury. It’s a joyous party that should serve only to bring us all together in a spirit of unity to enjoy the great “food”.
We have identified the following seven singles as having the best chance of climbing to the top of the charts based on their momentum. Please take a few minutes, give them a listen and buy the one or ones you like. For your convenience, we have provided links to YouTube videos so you can listen to them and links to the iTunes site where you can download them for a price cheaper than a cup of coffee. If you’re broke, no worries. You can help promote these awesome Canadian songs by voting for your favourite.
Let’s Get These to the Top of the Charts!
Suzie McNeil will be one of the presenters at a symposium put on by The Songwriters Association of Canada. The 2012 Songposium will take place tomorrow in the Toronto area and will cover the following themes:
1. Anatomy of a Hit -Breaking down the art of creating a hit song.
2. Creative Digital Marketing -How to market yourself on the web.
3. Pitching to Radio - What it takes to get on the radio
4. Demo Evaluations - Get your song critiqued by Pros!
More info can be found HERE.
Suzie posted the very interesting question on Twitter this afternoon, “What do you think makes a song a hit?”
Here are some responses:
Nicole: A song that the artist’s fans can relate to and the support of the artist’s fans.
Cynthia: singable tune, singable lyrics + touch the heart, great bridge, singer connects w/audience.
Andrea: A great vocal line and lyrics that connect with the listener. And artists should sing like they mean/believe every word !!
Martin: a good hook!
Brent: melody and great vocal so u shouldn’t have any problem there
Mary: catchy lyrics that people can relate to and a singer who really believes in the lyrics and the song
Sarah: i think a song that isnt really that shallow & that they believe in. a song that people can realte to.
Craig: A lot of money and good perks for programmers
We contributed, suggesting: songwriting #1, promotion #2, and arrangement / production #3.
What do you think? What makes a song a hit?
Before Canadian artists begin cranking out new albums this year, we wanted to conduct a poll to see what your favourite Canadian album was last year. For this particular poll, we’re just going to limit answers to the five best-selling 2011 Canadian albums worldwide. Perhaps you didn’t like any of them or perhaps you liked all of them. But, if you had to choose one, what would it be?
I was travelling on an intercity bus one time. A young woman sitting across from me noticed I had a few CDs with me and, tired of her own, asked if she could borrow one. I handed one to her which I especially liked. She looked at it and commented that she had never heard of the artist. “It’s really good,” I reassured her. She refused to listen to it because the artist had never been played on mainstream radio and asked for something “normal”. I complied and handed her some.
A couple years later, in a similar situation, I handed the stranger a CD from a popular singer. He became somewhat hostile. “When I ask for music, I want real music, not that popular Top 40 crap!” I handed the rebel the most obscure stuff I had on me.
Both instances mentioned above reveal that there are folks out there who are so weak that they allow their musical tastes to be dictated by prejudice. They are not judging the music for itself but deem all music good or bad based on whether it is popular or indie. Notice that there are a number of blogs out there listing the “best” Canadian albums of the year, and what they call “best” are actually albums from the most obscure artists in the country. (Some of them may throw in one or two more well-known artists to give their lists some credibility.) This is among the stuff white people like.
Prejudice can take on other dimensions as well. Some will refuse to listen to anything featuring instruments that need to be plugged in, preferring squeaky acoustic guitars with perhaps a squeaky violin thrown in for a squeaky clean sound. Of course, ignorance prevents them from realizing that they are listening to these unplugged instruments on a plugged radio / turntable / MP3 device / CD player, the speakers of which are synthetically reproducing the sound made previously in the recording studio. The opposite prejudice exists as well, though seemingly not as common.
Another form of prejudice revolves around the recording artists themselves. Some will resist liking the music of a particular artist because of his age—whether he is under 21 or over 51. Others will listen only to male singers or to female singers.
It must be a sorry state of being when one doesn’t allow himself the freedom to listen to anything, oppressing his tympanic membranes with so many restrictive regulations.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us call ourselves on these, let go of them, and judge the music for itself rather than kowtowing to these narrow, shallow, and deafened proclivities. What makes a piece of music enjoyable has nothing to do with how popular or obscure it is, how the different musical sounds are made, or the age or gender of the performer(s). When we look at a beautiful painting, do we care about the age and gender of the painter, what type of instruments he used, or how many other people are familiar with or like it? Certainly not.
Detroit, U.S. is guilty of sending acid rain to Ontario and polluting the living daylights out of Windsor. The American city has the highest violent crime rate in the country. Despite being the center of the continent as far as automobile manufacture is concerned, they dis on their own glory by having the highest rate of motor vehicle theft in the United States. Furthermore, guess which American city is at the top of the list when it comes to rates of aggravated assault? Yes, Detroit. They really do become aggravated easily, so aggravated in fact that the city’s citizens are scapegoating a Canadian rock band for all of their woes. When it was announced that Nickelback would be performing at the half-time show of a football game, they launched an angry petition against it.
Yes, a boring NFL game that has four downs instead of three, a game that is being played on a Thanksgiving that is in November instead of October. The city’s team which bears the same name as the CFL’s BC is one of only four to never qualify for something called The Super Bowl. We can sympathize with their frustration. But trying to stick it to the tuft of plumage on Chadley Kroegster’s chin is a bit misplaced. With a metro population of about 4.3 million, the city’s petition has managed to gain only 6,500 signatures to attempt barring a rock band that has sold 50 million albums worldwide.
It was the Detroit Lions football club themselves who chose Nickelback as the recording artist they wanted to perform at their halftime show. Many petitioners are saying that Detroit has produced so many better acts. And guess whom they are citing? Eminem – a rapper – and Bob Seger. Riiiiiigggghhhhtt.
Sure, Nickelback’s style is not for everyone. But you can only laugh at how touchy the crime-infested city is. If they would concentrate their energies into making better quality cars like the Japanese and Germans, rather than having temper-tantrums over Canadian rock bands, they’d be putting their time to better use.
Update: Whatever happens in Detroit, Nickelback will be performing at the 99th Grey Cup at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. More on this HERE.
Our review of Canadian Music Critics: ★☆☆☆☆
There are bizarre human diseases in which the body decides one day to attack itself. Biologists scramble to find the cause and a cure. Physicians do the best they can to minimize the symptoms and ease the patient into an inevitable death. But such a phenomenon is not confined to the human body; it also exists in the body politic. What happens when a country decides to attack its own successful citizens? And we’re not talking attacks with the sword but with the mightier pen.
I remember playing on the beach on Vancouver Island as a child, building sandcastles. Once the castle was built it was boring to sit and look at it, so I would knock it down. This is what Canadian music critics and entertainment journalists like to do with our celebrities. If you read the reviews of the new releases and concerts of established Canadian rock stars (and I do not recommend that you do), you would find that these critics use the same old arguments over and over again in an attempt to dethrone a pop king or queen. All of these arguments are flawed right down to the core. And, here, we are going to list them and refute them one by one.
Roles of Recording Artist versus Record Company
A key to exposing the fallacies of such arguments lies in understanding the different roles played by the recording artist and his record company. Music critics are often guilty of ignorance in this area which is unacceptable given that they presumably have obtained some kind of educational certifications that helped gain them employment.
In general, the artist is responsible for creating the music and performing it. Promoting the recorded works and the artist’s concert tours are the responsibility of the record label, not the artist. But we are continually hearing music critics blame the artist for a decline in record sales or poor attendance at concerts. They assume that the cause of this is not a lack of promotion from the record company but that there must be something wrong with the artist’s music or performance abilities. Such a faulty assumption is unbecoming of an entertainment journalist.
Because they pin the poor sales and attendance on the artist instead of the record company, they reach to find fault with the music or the artist’s performance skills. They point out that the artist is not smiling on the album’s cover photo, criticize the costumes the performer wears at his concert, magnify the slightest incidence of the vocalist hitting a note off-key, suggest that the artist has failed to reinvent himself, etc. The problem with this is that many artists who are guilty of these have enjoyed huge record sales. It is not enough to make good music and dazzle as a performer. Large finances and resources must be diverted to promoting the recordings, getting them aired on the radio, shipped to the record stores, and advertising the concerts in all forms of media. When a conflict of vision and disagreements between the artist and his label begin brewing, the company will be less motivated to promote the artist’s new material.
Below are some common jabs that the press likes to take at recording artists and a refutation of each of them.
Charge #1: The artist’s album sales are in decline
What artist doesn’t have declining record sales these days? Of all the Canadian albums released so far this year, none has been certified platinum. Bryan Adams’ last studio album, 11, failed to go even GOLD in Canada. The multi-award-winning album The Suburbs from the Arcade Fire has not been certified GOLD either. The last Canadian albums to achieve diamond status in Canada were releases from Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain way back in 2002, nearly ten years ago. Things aren’t any better in the United States, the world’s biggest market for music sales. Consider that, while Katy Perry’s album Teenage Dream tied Michael Jackson’s record for generating five #1 singles, it has sold only 1.8 million copies in the U.S. Jackson’s Thriller, in the 80s, sold 29 million copies.
A report by the IFPI found that sales of music from debut artists in 2010 were only one-quarter that of 2003. In the United Kingdom, over three-quarters of music downloads online are unlicensed. Overall global music sales were down 25% from 1999 to 2008. CTV news reported that Canadians bought a total of 31.4 million albums in 2010 (including digital sales), which was down 11 per cent from 2009.
The economic downturn in 2008 and rampant piracy amidst easy access to digital music via the internet mean that people are spending less on music these days.
Music critics, rather than doing their jobs by researching and delving into the stats, simply blame individual artists for not selling as many records as they used to, concluding sloppily that this can only be attributed to the artist’s newer music being substandard.
Charge #2: The artist’s concerts are no longer well-attended
Canadian critics are guilty of short-sightedly looking only at the attendance of an artist’s concerts in Canada, not in the rest of the world. If a Canadian singer’s concerts sell out in the rest of the world but not at home in Canada, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with the singer. Box office receipts from concert tours of all artists fell by 12% in 2010. The Canadian economy is in bad shape and Canadians are smart in prioritizing their spending during tough times. We won’t even go into the mortgage situation in Vancouver.
Moreover, because all artists are not selling many records these days, there is less revenue being generated with which record companies can promote the concert tours of their artists. Many fans have complained that they found out about concerts after they had already transpired. Critics, rather than considering these facts, blame low concert attendance on the artists’ performance techniques, inability to adapt, and the quality of the new music itself. They should know better.
Charge #3: The artist’s audience is comprised mainly of teenage girls
We can understand why misogynists and youth-haters would be intent on pointing this out. But for most people who do not embody such prejudice, what’s wrong with that? Are females or teenagers less important as people? Note that if a rock star’s concerts are attended by mostly 30-something males, critics will never mention this in their reviews.
As with the first point in CHARGE #2, Canadian critics do not take a look at the artist’s fan base outside of Canada. There are Canadian artists whose fan base within Canada is a certain demographic but a totally different demographic in other countries. This fact has been pointed out by a number of recording artists. Tears for Fears, for example said that, in Europe, their concerts attracted mostly males but in North America, mostly females.
An interesting question which entertainment journalists fail to ask is “Why?” There are a number of reasons for this. It could be that radio stations in Canada whose listening audience is comprised of, say, teenage girls, are the only ones who play the artist’s music, so naturally, this demographic is the one who is familiar with it. On the other hand, in other countries, stations that have an older or male audience may be the ones who showcase the artist’s tunes. Different countries may also have different conceptions of the kind of music people of various ages and genders are supposed to like which may influence an artist’s fan base.
But these unthinking music critics in Canada have failed to consider these truths.
Charge #4: The artist has nothing significant to say
We have addressed this argument previously. In brief, music critics who grew up in the 60s and 70s expect current music to reflect the themes popular in those times. Music was a big part of the hippie movement those years and began to embody rants about society’s problems: military conscription, the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, and so on. These days, artists who do not take a political stance are seen by these has-beens of hippiedom as not doing their jobs. If we look at the history of rock and roll, however, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Pat Boone, and Elvis did not delve into the political arena much. They sang about love, romance, and relationships. In fact the term “rock and roll” was a metaphor for you-know-what. Today, when recording artists sing about personal life, like the founders of rock did, they are branded by flower-power critics as bantering on about nothing.
Charge #5: The artist is having difficulty making the transition from teen to adult star
We have addressed this before. In short, making a transition from a teen star to an adult has been a problem for American singers, not for Canadians. But Canadian critics blindly follow along with their American counterparts, parroting the same concerns which do not apply north of the border. They go on and on about how an artist needs to reinvent himself in order to maintain his fan base or attract new fans. Paul Anka, Ginette Reno, Andy Kim, Claude Dubois, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and Avril Lavigne all started out as teen stars and all continued their success into their adult years. Many of them became even more successful as adults.
Charge #6: The artist is greedy despite being filthy rich
Critics tend to emphasize how recording artists are filthy rich and despite this are still trying to milk money out of people every chance they get: selling merchandise, opening clothing lines, charging exorbitant prices for their concerts, etc. If you’re going to attack anyone for being rich and greedy, corporate executives and CEOs are the ones to target, not recording artists. There seems to be a misconception in society that celebrities are the richest people in the world. Not true. A star can earn seven digits. A superstar can earn 8. But it all stops there. CEOs of large companies earn 9 or even 10 digits. Remember too that most of the revenue from records and concerts go to the record company; normally only 10% goes to the artists themselves.
Charge #7: The artist is guilty of using product placement in concerts
As an extension of CHARGE #6, journalists accuse artists of “product placement” at their concerts, despite the fact that merchandise and memorabilia have always been a big part of concert tours. This certainly is hypocrisy on the journalists’ part as the newspapers and magazines they work for are littered with ads. Companies pay these tabloids money to post ads of their products so that extra revenue can be generated. It’s the same thing.
Breaking the Vicious Cycle
The vicious cycle of a recording artist’s decline goes something like this. Canadian entertainment journalists work hard to build them up. When they feel that the artist has become too big for his britches, they become infected with the spiritual disease of sourpussdom, and switch their role from cheerleader to a stick in the mud. No one’s going to read a journalist’s article if he is wired for sound listening to a great record. So the critics become jealous and begin tearing the artist down. Those who are gullible enough to fall for it stop buying the artist’s records. Low record sales spur the backstabbing journalists on their vindictive crusade which leads to even less support. While the artist continues enjoying huge popularity in the rest of the world, he falls from grace in his own country, something about which we, as Canadians should be very embarrassed.
It’s time to smarten up, people.
See also: Ridicule for Profit
On the eve of the 50s, one of the oldest and easternmost countries in the world adopted a western political ideology called communism. Five years later, in the West, modern popular music, coined rock and roll, was born. The totalitarian regime declared all western music decadent, and for a decade beginning in 1966 anyone suspected of harbouring any western literature or music was interrogated and persecuted. Alanis Morissette might well point out: isn’t it ironic that the country’s authorities banned all things western in the name of an ideology that was itself a western creation! Totalitarian regimes—and there have been many around the world, some of which still exist—believe in one elite group of people having rights, privileges and authority over and above everyone else. This group dictates to people what music they can and cannot listen to.
Canadians often declare their pride in living in a country where this does not happen. But are we so sure? Consider the reality that we often mock, persecute, and ostracize our associates for the music they choose to listen to. In fact, we have effectively created an environment in which many people call themselves “closet fans” of an artist because they feel they do not have the democratic freedom to listen to what they like, as opposed to what their authoritarian peers are instructing them to listen to.
We are bombarded with messages—both subtle and overt—from our peers, from the press, and from society about the kind of music and the type of artists we are supposed to like based on our gender, age, race, and so forth. Often these messages make little sense. For example, males are told they are not supposed to fancy female singers despite the fact that men (to be politically correct, heterosexual men) have a natural attraction to the female voice. Sometimes an individual with aspirations of world domination, surrounded by his cronies, insists that a certain genre of music “sucks” and masses become suckers by kowtowing to his opinion.
We often view such attitudes and behaviours as juvenile, immature, and a folly of youth; however, such tendencies manifest themselves in adults too. So-called double-think prevents us from realizing that society’s deification of the sovereignty of personal opinion lies in direct conflict with the foundations of democratic freedom. The latter implies that all have the right to decide on their own likings, tastes, and favourites without others attempting to meddle by using peer-pressuring manipulative behaviours like ostracizing and ridicule.
The individual cannot hope to change those who ignorantly follow the patterns of communistic, dictatorial, or totalitarian control of other people’s tastes in music or admiration of certain recording artists. It is society’s responsibility—whether parental or in schools—to provide a proper education to those within, which must include instruction on how to treat others and respect everyone’s right to their own personal likes and dislikes.
What the individual can do is not to retreat into the cowardice of closet-fanhood but to declare without any trace of shame the names of the artists he loves. Even if he is the only one of his gender, race, or age-group who admires a particular artist, he is proud to declare his love. And if all the world’s people mount a vilifying attack, he will remain unshaken and perfectly composed.
Let us shed the oppressive shroud of restricting our listening to singers we are supposed to like and begin opening up about those recording artists we really do like.
We often get asked whether we’re a dog or a cat person. Although many of us are both, most seem to prefer one to the other. In the realm of rock and roll, a comparable question would be whether you’re a piano or guitar lover.
The shortcomings with most musical instruments is that they sound pretty plain by themselves and only dazzle when they are played in an orchestra, especially since they are monophonic (only one note can be played at a time—no chords). Moreover, brass and woodwind instruments like flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, and trombones are played with the mouth, meaning that you can’t sing and play simultaneously. Although played by hand, I haven’t seen people sing while playing the violin, as it would be difficult, clenching it under your chin.
Acoustic Guitars and Pianos
The most practical instruments to learn would perhaps be the piano and guitar. They are both polyphonic and have richer sounds. And one can sing while playing them.
Guitar enthusiasts will point out that the guitar is more versatile. You can carry it around with you, performing at parties. You cannot do the same with the piano and have to hope that the target venue has a piano in the room. Another point he will make is that, in terms of live performances, like rock concerts, pianists are pretty boring in that they cannot strut their stuff around the stage, having to remain seated while playing.
Piano lovers will argue that acoustic guitars inevitably make annoying squeaks with every chord change, like someone scratching their fingernails down the chalkboard. I suppose this can be corrected with nylon strings but those are usually reserved for classical guitar. The piano enthusiast will also point out that the sound pianos make is much more sophisticated than a guitar.
Interestingly, when rock ‘n roll music was born, both the guitar and piano were integral instruments in the genre. The traditional rock and roll band had drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and piano. On occasion they’d throw in a sax or flute to spice things up. However, music critics here seem to have lost sight of this fact.
A number of current rock bands and recording artists stick entirely with guitars and don’t touch keyboards. Music critics have never complained. One of the current British bands did the opposite. They left out the guitar and recorded all their tunes on various keyboards (more common in Europe). Despite tremendous popularity, American music critics censured them for the lack of guitars, revealing a double standard in the industry. They said that guitars are necessary to make it big. I guess they’ve forgotten all about Billy Joel and Elton John. Traditionally, keyboards were an equal player in the realm of rock but, as of late, there has been a tendency in the United States and Canada to favour the guitar. Sadly, the band bowed to the pressure and added guitars into the mix on their third album. They lost many fans and gained none. When keyboardist Gowan switched to guitars under pressure from his record company, he did not sell more records.
In China, the piano has always been much more popular than the guitar: both in terms of learning an instrument as well as in their rock music industry. Keyboard and piano pop rule on the other side of the Pacific and Atlantic.
Keyboards / Synthesizers and Electric Guitars
Chord-changing squeaks are not as apparent with electric guitars. And, with the “keytar”, the pianist can excite during concerts by dancing around the stage while playing. If you learn the keys, you can play synths which have thousands of different “voices” making things more fun. Electric guitars can be hooked up to synths as well accessing the various voices.
It seems that most recording artists these days can play both instruments. It’s pretty much expected. Some may learn the piano during their childhood and then teach themselves guitar later on. As a performer, then, you can rock around on stage with the guitar but also sit at the piano and perform sweeping ballads. If you’re a good singer, can play both piano and guitar, and can compose music to boot, you’ve got it made.
I still have to ask, though, as a listener of music, do you prefer guitar or piano-driven songs?
In the past couple of years, American entertainment journalists have, in the spirit of vinyl, transformed themselves into broken records and repeated the same questions about newer recording artists. One of these is how current or recent teen rock stars are going to make the difficult transition into successful adult stars. To many Canadians, this question makes little sense. The reason they are posing it is because, in the United States, many teen idols have been unable to replicate their success after they have become adults. I am not an expert on American music so will not attempt to list names of such artists.
In a blind act of ignorance, these critics have been asking the same question of Canadian recording artists. But for Canadian teen idols, the question does not apply. It would be like asking what Canadians are organizing for Independence Day celebrations. If we look at the history of Canadian popular music, we find that Canadian teen idols have had no problem continuing their success as adult singers. In many cases, they became even more successful as adults.
We can excuse the American journalists for their ignorance; they are ethnocentrically assuming that other countries face the same problems they do. What is inexcusable, however, is when Canadian journalists begin parroting the same questions the Americans do in asking whether a Canadian teen star is going to be successful as an adult. They should know better.
Let’s take a look at some of the successful Canadian teen stars over the years and whether or not they were able to score bit hits as adults.
Canada’s first teen rock star was Paul Anka. He was 16 years old when he topped the charts with “Diana”. At 18, he again topped the charts with “Lonely Boy”. When Paul was 33, he scored a #1 hit called “You’re Having My Baby” and later three more top 10 hits in the mid-70s. No problem for him.
Bobby Curtola was Canada’s next teen idol. In his case it was a matter of his deciding (with encouragement from Anka) to change his recording career into a more lucrative venture as a regular performer in Las Vegas as an adult.
Ginette Reno was a teen star scoring hits like “Non Papa” and “Tu Vivras Toujours Dans Mon Coeur”. As an adult singer, she has been even more successful, scoring massive hits and selling many records.
Andy Kim was another teen star. “How’d We Ever Get This Way” and “Baby I Love You” were his first huge hits in 1968-9. He was 16-17. As an adult, he scored the big hit “Rock Me Gently”.
Claude Dubois was 18 when his mammoth hits were released: “J’ai Souvenir Encore” and “Ma petite vie”. He had no trouble scoring hits as an adult up to the present day.
Celine Dion was a huge teen star. And she became a name all over the world as an adult. The same is true for Alanis Morissette. She scored six hits as a teen and her albums achieved gold and platinum certifications. As an adult singer, she became one of the biggest names in the world.
As for Avril Lavigne, it’s the same story. As an 18 year old, her biggest hit was “I’m with You” which made it to #18 on the charts. “Complicated” peaked at #21. But as an adult, she has done even better: six top 10 hits so far, one of which became the 3rd best-selling single of all-time worldwide by a Canadian artist.
There were also a number of Canadians who were teen stars as members of rock bands. As adults they enjoyed equally successful solo careers.
In conclusion, Canadian artists have not had any trouble carrying their success from their teens into their adult years. Americans take note and don’t try to rub your own misfortunes onto our recording artists. Canadian journalists: make your questions applicable to our own artists rather than plagiarizing foreign concerns.