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Nova Scotia

Quebecers are listening to less local music; artists hope Bill C-11 will change that

MONTREAL — Quebecers are increasingly streaming music online but are less likely to listen to francophone artists, a trend members of the province’s music industry hope new federal law will reverse.

MONTREAL — Quebecers are increasingly streaming music online but are less likely to listen to francophone artists, a trend members of the province’s music industry hope new federal law will reverse.

Around 30 percent of physical albums sold in Quebec in 2022 were by Quebec artists, the province’s statistics institute said in mid-December. But on streaming platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Google Play Music, local artists accounted for less than eight percent of plays.

Statistics like these worry David Bussières, a musician who sits on the board of the Union des artistes, a union representing musicians and other artists.

Much of the music people listen to online is recommended to them by algorithms, he said in an interview, adding that the algorithms serve global audiences and tend to recommend popular artists who perform in English rather than French.

Quebec’s cultural identity is being weakened when Quebecers are less aware of the province’s musicians than they have been in recent years, he said.

“The result is that Quebec audiences aren’t exposed enough to their music; they don’t know it well enough,” said Bussières, who is one half of electropop duo Alfa Rococo.

Bill C-11, currently before the Senate, would help increase Quebecers’ exposure to local Francophone artists by requiring streaming platforms to promote local musicians, including Francophone artists, he said.

According to the bill, foreign online streaming services would be compelled to “reflect and support Canada’s linguistic duality by emphasizing the creation, production and broadcasting of programming in the original French.”

Artists make money every time their songs are streamed online — though not by much: One million plays on Spotify nets $5,000 in revenue, Bussières said. But artists are also using streaming platforms to build audiences who buy concert tickets, leading to bookings at major festivals.

If new artists can’t build an audience, they will struggle to make a living as musicians, Bussières said.

“Ultimately it will reduce the impact that music from here has on the public and our cultural identity will be weakened.”

In November, the Quebec Bureau of Statistics announced that only four of the 50 most listened to artists in Quebec via streaming services were from the province. The #1 Quebec artist was folk-rock group Les Cowboys Fringants at #16.

Eve Paré, executive director of a Quebec music industry association, said Quebecers want to hear local music, they just have a harder time finding it. Record stores used to feature local music prominently, Paré said in an interview with the Association Québécoise de l’industrie du disce, du spectacle et de la vidéo.

When CDs were the dominant way Quebecers consumed music, local artists made up about half of sales, she said.

Music consumers can’t search for something they don’t know about, so they rely on algorithms and curated playlists, she said. And streaming platforms, she added, don’t give Quebec artists enough attention.

Paré, who also supports Bill C-11, said music plays an important role in Quebec’s culture.

“It’s a social connection, we all have memories of certain songs. For example, I think of the songs from my teenage years; people of my generation share memories connected to the same songs. It’s part of a collective heritage.”

But critics of the bill, which would bring streaming services under the remit of Canada’s Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission, say it won’t necessarily help Quebec artists.

Nathan Wiszniak, head of artist and label partnerships at Spotify, told a Senate committee in September that his company’s platform allows users to discover artists they’d never hear on the radio.

“For example, seven of the top 10 most-streamed French Canadian artists are independent rappers, and only two of those artists currently appear on the French Canadian radio charts,” he told the committee. Users, he said, need to be “in control of their listening experience”.

The bill, which passed the House of Commons, has also drawn criticism from content creators who fear they are failing to meet Canada’s content requirements, and civil rights activists who oppose increased government regulation of the internet.

Sara Bannerman, a communications professor at McMaster University, said it’s unclear how state regulators will use the new powers granted under the bill.

While members of Quebec’s music industry hope the law will force platforms to change their algorithms, she said that might not be the CRTC’s approach. The regulator could rely on advertising campaigns to support Canadian content, or it could force streaming companies to make it easier to find certain types of content.

Bannerman said streaming services’ algorithms should be made available to independent researchers and the CRTC. Recommendation algorithms are not neutral, she said, adding that they tend to target popular content and may also have racial and gender biases.

Bussières said increasing the exposure of Quebec artists on streaming sites is critical to a healthy Quebec music industry — and a strong culture.

“When we celebrate the Fête Nationale, when we celebrate something, when we celebrate our culture, it’s mostly through music.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 31, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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