Last month the Canadian government announced its budget for 2012. While it had been widely speculated that the CBC – a long-time target of the Conservatives – would suffer a hefty blow, the hammer finally dropped with the public broadcaster having to cut 10% of its operating budget over the next three years.
Though a 10% cut has been listed as $115 million, additional financial costs (estimated at $85 million) plus an extra $25 million in severance packages means the shortfall will likely hit somewhere closer to $225 million.
That’s a lot of cash to simply wipe off the books. In response, the CBC has begun to roll out its reduced-budget strategy- one that includes necessary cuts.
While the immediacy of these cuts have drawn a massive outcry from supporters, lost in the discourse are the significant and damaging long-term effects on Canadian culture. One of the greatest and most underreported long-term losses will be suffered by the Canadian music industry.
The CBC is closing six regional recording departments
The most troubling loss to the CBC is the quiet closure of six regional music departments and their recording facilities. CBC Radio has planned to shut down live music recording in St. John’s, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and Edmonton. This means all live recordings will be limited to four markets; Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.
Now, this move likely won’t affect Canada’s established artists. You’ll still hear your Blue Rodeo and Tegan and Sara concerts. It just means they’ll be coming to you from the same four markets as opposed to the Regina Folk Festival, the National Arts Centre, or many of the unique settings across the country that currently participate in national broadcasts.
While this may not bother some music listeners –“what does it matter where the recording comes from?” – it deals a significant blow to organizations in smaller markets that benefit from the exposure that CBC Radio provides.
More critically, this move hurts the up-and-coming artists outside of the four remaining markets. Touring musicians may get recorded the next time they swing through Vancouver, but what about artists trying to build a career in their hometowns? What happens to the next generation of musicians who may not have the resources to travel?
Traditionally, the regional branches have done a tremendous job of promoting local talent, and giving up-and-comers radio exposure. Music departments in Calgary and Edmonton produce a wide variety of Albertan content for Canada Live and other national programs, while provincial shows like ‘Key of A’ put a strong emphasis on broadcasting Alberta artists.
A Matter of Relevancy
A key component of the regional recording facility is the relevancy that it can bring to a smaller artist. Take a band like The Sheepdogs, who had their live sets broadcast on CBC Radio long before they ever achieved commercial success. The broadcaster helped a band from Saskatoon establish their presence on a national stage, before they even left Saskatchewan. By the time they played a large market like Toronto the CBC had already helped them build an audience.
Now, even if a band is able to get to one of the four remaining markets, it will be significantly more difficult to achieve the regional or national relevance necessary to be broadcasted. What’s more, a reduced live recording quota means competition for the available airtime will be fierce.
Though CBC Radio intends on maintaining their programming mandate, I can imagine that with the commercialization of Radio 2 it won’t be the up-and-comers filling the playlist. With the government reduction, we risk losing the valuable resources that help develop our emerging musicians.
This isn’t to say the CBC is the lone factor in a band breaking out of smaller market, but that should be the role of our public broadcaster; to draw Canadian culture out of the woodwork and give it a national stage. To support The Sheepdogs, so that a band from a small town in the prairies can make the cover of Rolling Stone. At a time when the industry is struggling as whole, losing one of our most supportive programs will be heavily damaging to the music community.
Loss of Live Broadcast
One could argue that the introduction of CBC Music (the new online streaming service) comes at an opportune time. I’d agree. The service provides artists all across Canada the chance to submit their music for broadcast on the online channels. This will be a valuable tool going forward. However, what the service won’t account for is the loss of live recording.
This will have a serious impact on audiences who enjoy live musical acts that rarely, or simply cannot travel. For years, fans of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra have been able to tune in across the country to hear the latest performances. Without a recording department in Winnipeg, the cuts quickly spell the end to the WSO reaching national audiences.
While CBC Music will offer a different set of opportunities, at the end of the day it’s the loss of the live recording that hurts our industry the most. Live performance is the backbone of what makes music great, and Canadian culture suffers when that experience can’t be shared.
If I really want to hear a band’s record, I’ll go listen to the record. The essence of what the CBC does best, is capture the live moments across the nation that you can’t experience anywhere else. There is little that is more important to the development of Arts & Culture than that, and with a government cut that restricts our ability to grow Canadian culture, we stand to lose a lot.