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Quebecers listen to less local music; Artists hope the Bell C-11 will change that

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MONTREAL — Quebecers are increasingly streaming music online, but they’re also listening more often to francophone artists, a trend members of the province’s music industry hope to reverse with a new federal bill.

MONTREAL — Quebecers are increasingly streaming music online, but they’re also listening more often to francophone artists, a trend members of the province’s music industry hope to reverse with a new federal bill.

The provincial statistical institute said in mid-December that about 30% of physical albums sold in Quebec in 2022 were by Quebec artists. But on streaming platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Google Play Music, local artists accounted for less than 8% of the plays.

Such statistics worry David Bossier, a musician who sits on the board of the Union of Artists, a labor organization that represents musicians and other artists.

He said in an interview that a lot of the music people listen to on the internet is recommended to them through algorithms, adding that algorithms serve a global audience and tend to recommend popular artists who perform in English rather than French.

He said Quebec’s cultural identity would be weakened if Quebecers knew less about the province’s musicians in recent years.

The result is that audiences in Quebec aren’t exposed enough to his music; he doesn’t know it well enough, said Bossière, who is one-half of the electric duo Alfa Rococo.

He said 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.

By law, foreign online broadcasting services must reflect and support Canada’s bilingualism by placing great importance on the creation, production and broadcast of original French-language programming.

Bossier says artists make money every time their songs are streamed online — but not much: 1 million plays on Spotify would generate $5,000 in revenue. But artists also use streaming platforms to build an audience that will buy concert tickets, leading to bookings at major festivals.

Bossière said that if new artists could not build an audience, they would struggle to make a living as musicians.

“In the end, it will reduce the impact of music from here on the masses and weaken our cultural identity.”

In November, Statistics Quebec indicated that only four of the fifty most listened to Quebec artists on streaming services came from the province. The No. 1 artist in Quebec was folk rock band Les Cowboys Fringants, at No. 16.

Eve Barry, executive director of the Music Industry Association of Quebec, said that while Quebecers want to hear local music, they have difficulty finding it. Record stores used to feature local music prominently, Barry said, along with the Quebec Recording, Audiovisual and Video Industry Association, in an interview.

She said that while CDs were still the dominant mode of consumption for Quebecers, local artists accounted for about half of sales.

She said that music consumers can’t search for what they don’t know, so they rely on algorithms and curated playlists. She added that streaming platforms do not give enough visibility to Quebec artists.

Barry, who also supports Bell C-11, said music plays an important role in Quebec culture.

“It is a social bond, we all have memories associated with certain songs. I think for example of the songs of my adolescence, people of my generation share memories associated with these same songs. It is part of a collective heritage.”

But critics of the bill, which would put streaming services under the oversight of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, say it would not necessarily help Quebec artists.

Nathan Wisniak, Spotify’s head of artist and brand partnerships, told a Senate committee last September that his company’s platform allows users to discover artists they’ll never hear on radio.

“For example, seven out of the ten most-aired French-Canadian artists are indie rappers, and only two of those artists are currently on the French-Canadian radio charts,” he told the panel. He said users should retain “control of their listening experience”.

The bill, which has passed the House of Commons, has come under fire from content creators who fear it will not meet Canadian content requirements, and civil liberties advocates who reject increasing government regulation of the internet.

It’s unclear how government regulators will use the new powers granted under the law, said Sarah Bannerman, a professor of communications at McMaster University.

While members of the Quebec music industry hope the law will force the platforms to change their algorithms, she said this may not be the CRTC’s approach. The regulator can use promotions to support Canadian content or require broadcasters to make certain types of content easier to find.

Bannerman said the streaming service’s algorithms should be made available to independent researchers and the CRTC. Recommendation algorithms are not neutral, she said, adding that they tend to favor trending content and can also contain racial and gender bias.

Bossière said that increasing the visibility of Quebec artists on streaming sites is essential to a healthy Quebec music industry and a strong culture.

When we celebrate a national holiday, when we celebrate something, when we celebrate our culture, it is often through music. »

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

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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