The Canadian Liberal minority government has promised to re-introduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act within the first 100 days of being re-elected.  

A stated objective is to ensure “foreign web giants” contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian stories and music. Put another way, the government is looking to even the playing field between traditional and digital media. 

You may be wondering a few things from that statement. First, why do we need regulations to “even the playing field,” and second, why did the previous efforts to update and revitalize the Broadcasting Act not succeed? 

The Need for Digital Canadian Content Rules 

In 1971, the Government of Canada recognized a problem: Canadian music wasn’t being played on Canadian radio, but foreign artists (mostly American) were. 

This meant that non-Canadian artists received the vast majority of radio airtime. Money flowed from Canada to support foreign talent rather than our Canadian talent. 

As a result, Canadian Content (“CanCon”) rules were implemented for radio stations. The CanCon rules require that at least 35 percent of music broadcast by radio stations during peak hours must meet a defined minimum level of “Canadian.” In Québec, the level increases to up to 65 percent for French-language radio stations. The rest of the “traditional” sector (television and cable) also has its own CanCon rules.  

Those rules have been enormously successful in ensuring that Canada has its own cultural industry and Canadian voices, creating, sustaining, and building a significant source of monetary, emotional and cultural value. There are few, if any, aspects of Canadian culture that foster as much national pride and value as the success of music made in Canada. 

Today, we’re facing a similar but new challenge: Canadian music isn’t sufficiently prominent on internet-based services. 

As digital services become the primary source of music consumption for Canadians, this lack of prominence presents a major issue for Canadian creators. 

A comparison of SOCAN’s royalty distributions to SOCAN songwriter and composer members demonstrates the disparity between traditional media (radio and TV) and digital media (online music services): 

Traditional Media Royalties Graph

English Digital Media Royalties

Without modern CanCon rules built for now and the future, we will continue to see a catastrophically unfair decline in the success of Canada’s music makers – from 34 percent of royalties collected on traditional media distributed to SOCAN writer members, to barely 10 percent of royalties distributed to Canadian songwriters and composers through digital media.  

The transition from traditional media to digital media continues to increase as more and more Canadians turn to digital services to discover and listen to new music. 

So, the question is: How can we safeguard the success of Canada’s creators on digital services?  

The answer is to bring the Broadcasting Act into the digital era, to enable the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the CRTC) to explore rules relating to a modern and fair version of CanCon. 

It is impossible simply to transpose traditional CanCon rules to the digital world. That is, to require 35 percent of all content on digital services be Canadian. The digital realm works differently. 

Traditional services “push” content to consumers. It’s possible to mandate that some of the content that’s pushed must be Canadian Content. 

By contrast, users of digital services “pull” content from those services on-demand. It’s not realistic or even possible to mandate that users pull Canadian Content. 

These are complex issues that would become open to review by the CRTC as part of a broader regulatory mandate over digital media services. 

The CRTC has shown itself to be an effective administrative means of implementing Canadian cultural policies in traditional media. The organization can continue to play that role in the digital world, now and in the future, as new solutions are crafted.  

Bill C-10: The First Attempt to Reform the Broadcasting Act 

The previous federal government introduced Bill C-10 to allow the CRTC to regulate online undertakings. However, the initial draft of the bill excluded social media services, which meant that these digital platforms—some of which are the largest and fastest-growing in the world—could escape regulation. 

The social media exemption was ultimately removed from the bill, but other amendments were added to state explicitly that users (and the programs they upload) were not being regulated by it. As a result, Bill C-10 targeted the broadcasting activities of the platforms, not Canadians.  

Despite this clear exemption, critics of Bill C-10 continued to conflate in the media that the freedom of expression of users was under attack. This controversy ultimately overshadowed what the bill worked to accomplish: to level the playing field between traditional services, which operate under CanCon regulations, and digital media services, which do not.  

The controversy around Bill C-10 was an unfortunate distraction from the vital issue: The Broadcasting Act must be reformed for the digital era. For a law that hasn’t been updated since 1991, it’s imperative to continue to sustain and build Canadian-made music, so that we can continue to benefit from this nationally and globally successful industry and source of invaluable cultural pride. 

Unfortunately, Bill C-10 ultimately expired on the order paper when the federal election was called in August of 2021, leaving the obvious, necessary and vital addition of digital services to the Broadcasting Act in limbo.  

What’s Next? 

The newly elected government has confirmed Broadcasting Act reform as one of its top priorities, promising to introduce new legislation in the first 100 days of coming into office. 

This will be a watershed moment for Canadian cultural policy. 

SOCAN Vice President,  Member and Industry Relations, Vanessa Thomas, presented SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards to the co-writers of three chart-topping country songs, during the 2021 Canadian Country  Music Association Awards week: Tenille Townes’ “Jersey on The Wall,” Tim Hicks’ “No Truck Song,” and James Barker Band’s “Over All Over Again.”

Thomas – along with SOCAN CEO Jennifer Brown, SOCAN Board of Directors President Marc Ouellette, and SOCAN’s Jean-Christian Céré, Kathryn Hamilton, and Sara Dendane – presented the No. 1 Award for “Jersey on The Wall” to Townes in London, Ontario, during the CCMA Awards weekend, Nov. 26-29, 2021. The song was co-written by Townes, fellow SOCAN member Gordie Sampson, and Tina Parol (SESAC), and published by Red Brick Songs. It reached the top of the Billboard Canada Country Chart on Feb. 1, 2020.

The SOCAN team also presented the No. 1 Award for “No Truck Song” to Hicks and his team. The song was co-written by Hicks, fellow SOCAN member Jeff Coplan, and Bruce Wallace (BMI), published by Tim Hicks Music Inc., and scaled the peak of the Billboard Canada Country Chart on July 4, 2020.

As well, the SOCAN team presented the No. 1 Award for “Over All Over Again,” by James Barker Band, to Barker. The song was co-written by Barker with fellow SOCAN members Todd Clark, Gavin Slate, and Travis Wood, and attained the zenith of the Billboard Canada Country Chart on Sept. 25, 2021.

SOCAN congratulates all of the songwriters and publishers of these chart-topping songs!

SOCAN member Allison Russell has earned three nominations for the 64th annual Grammy Awards, to be held Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, and broadcast live on CBS. Russell’s song “Nightflyer” was nominated for both Best American Roots Music Performance and Best American Roots Music Song, while Outside Child was recognized  in the Best Americana Album category.

Drake earned two nominations, which he later withdrew: Best Rap Album for Certified Lover Boy and Best Rap Performance for “Way Too Sexy” (featuring Future and Young Thug). Alex Cuba’s Mendo earned a nomination for Best Latin Pop Album, while Joni Mitchell was honoured in the Best Historical Album field for Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967). And Caribou was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Recording, for “You Can Do It.”

Daniel Caesar was featured (along with Giveon) on Justin Bieber’s single “Peaches,” which garnered four nominations: Best R&B Performance, Best  Music Video, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. The Weeknd was featured (along with Lil Baby) on Kanye West’s “Hurricane,” which got a nod for Best Melodic Rap Performance.

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was nominated for Best Orchestral Performance, for Florence Price, Symphonies No. 1 in C Minor & No. 3 in E Minor, recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was also nominated in the category of Best Opera Recording, for Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc.  In addition, the interpretation of Winterreise by Joyce DiDonato, with Nézet-Séguin as her accompanying pianist, is in the running for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.

Rupert “Sevn” Thomas is one of the co-writers of Giveon’s “Heartbreak Anniversary,” which is nominated for Best R&B Song. Nathalie Bonin contributed to three songs on the album Women Warriors: The Voices of Change, nominated for Best Classical Compendium. SOCAN member and music archivist Kevin Howes earned a Best Album Notes nomination for his contributions to Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology.

While not directly nominated, SOCAN member producers Joseph L’Etranger, Murda Beatz, and Yonatan Watts found their work with Ariana Grande nominated twice, for Best Pop solo Performance (for the song “Positions”) and Best Pop Vocal Album (for Positions). Similarly, professional songwriter Jenna Andrews co-wrote the BTS hit song “Butter,” which was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Producers T-Minus and Carl Williams contributed to “Pride is the Devil,” by J Cole (Featuring Lil Baby), which earned a nod for Best Melodic Rap Performance, while Kaytranada (who won two 2021 Grammy Awards) contributed to H.E.R.’s Back of My Mind, nominated for Best R&B Album and Album of the Year. SOCAN member producer Alexander “AC” Castillo worked on Mis Manos by Camilo, nominated for Best Latin Pop Album.

Kanye West was nominated in the Best Rap Album field, for Donda, which includes  songwriting and/or production contributions from SOCAN members The Weeknd, DRTWRK, Bo1-da, and Sean Leon. In the same category, Drake’s nominated (then withdrawn) Certified Lover Boy includes contributions from 20 fellow SOCAN members: Noah “40” Shebib, Nineteen85, Alex Lustig, GOVI, Monsune, Charlotte Day Wilson, Anthoine Walters, PartyNextDoor, OZ, Nik D, Noel Cadastre, Maneesh, WondaGurl, Jarrel The Young, Eli Brown, Kenza Samir, Preme, O. Ojelade, Steez, and P. Ring. Doja Cat was nominated for Album of the Year, for the deluxe edition of Planet Her, to which The Weeknd contributed.

Ron Korb played flute and served as associate producer on Divine Tides by former The Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Ricky Kej, which was nominated for Best New Age Album. Ryan Ofei appears as a guest singer on a live recording by U.S. gospel collective Maverick City Music, Jubilee: Juneteenth Edition, which was nominated for Best Gospel Album.

Please note that SOCAN is currently reviewing the entire, extensive list of 2022 Grammy nominations to determine any other member nominees, and may update this article accordingly.

SOCAN congratulates our Grammy-nominated members on this huge achievement!