Canadian music isn't a genre. Despite the numerous commentators on American music radio that prattle on and lump it all into one giant melange, like any country, we've got an exceptionally diverse music base. Watching the Junos on Sun. night was an opportunity to really understand how far the Canadian music industry has begun to develop and diversify further, despite the much smaller domestic market.
In comparison to the Grammys--probably the most pompously meaningless award show ever created outside of the MTV Music Awards--the Junos were positively abuzz with actual musical talent. Bands like Nathan won best roots (group) album, with Wintersleep netting best new group. Independent music darling Feist swept the board, name-dropped Canadian music superlabel Arts and Crafts and still managed to kick Avril Lavigne's punk ass up and down Stephen Ave. It was truly a night that, very publicly, proved Canada's music industry isn't just America's little bro, something that's quite the shock for nay-sayers who rag on the Canadian music industry.
There's a tendency for people to slag the Canadian music industry because of its mainstream representatives. When sludge-rock acts like the Trews, Theory of a Deadman, Finger Eleven and Nickleback are your go-to groups to fit into the CRTC CanCon regulations for the radio and MuchMusic, people inevitably knock the industry that manages to pinch off those turds. As most aren't brain-damaged enough to actually spend hours hooked up to a computer or radio to listen to the so-called "cool music," they rightfully feel that these highly publicized Canadian bands are wholly derivative and infinitely lamer than their American counterparts. This is where the Junos and other award shows can actually do some good.
The Junos, despite numerous fundamental flaws, are at least an opportunity for mainstream Canadian music fans to get a bit of the smokey indie flavour our country has to offer. When bands like Wintersleep get to hop on stage and talk, it allows for them to get more hard-fought exposure. It also lures music journalists into writing stories about the band--journalists who might not otherwise spend an ounce of time on the act because they see no sexy angle. This isn't the case when an act gets to be known as "the Juno Award-winning Wintersleep."
Publicity, good or bad, is tantamount to success for any group. If people aren't talking about you in one way or another, you might as well not exist. To draw a parallel between the old "tree in the forest" analogy, if no one has heard of groups like Cadeaux or Â¡Forward, Russia!, does it really matter that they exist? Nope.
This is why people tend to knock the Canadian music industry: mainstream radio's music programmers refuse to expand their horizons and instead play tracks from groups who have already reached mainstream success. Although some feel these are just market forces at work, all things being equal, many indie bands only reach proper success when they're introduced into the public eye--look at Metric and Feist.
While events like the Junos are a good resource for acts that have had more success in the indie community, even big-name bands like Metric or Broken Social Scene had to spend thankless months on the road relentlessly plugging their albums. Before the Internet, the only way to get publicity was to hope and pray that local music journalists would give you a bit of press in a local zine. Now in the age of the Internet, companies like the CBC have suddenly gotten even more involved with music promotion--giving Canadian bands a big boost in their publicity.
Anyone who has spent an hour or two listening to the CBC Radio 3 podcasts hosted by Grant Lawrence will be able to find something to latch on to. One set can go from a sombre singer-songwriter, glorious pop-punk to hip-shaking electronica. Not only is it free, but anyone in the world can download it. Local bands like the Summerlad have even been featured as part of the "track of the day" on the CBC Radio 3 podcast feed, propelling their music from coast to coast. Groups like the Sunparlour Players and Immaculate Machine have experienced boosts in their popularity when they've been featured on the main podcast or had their CBC session beamed down into the iPods of people subscribed to the feed.
This kind of publicity is completely positive: there are no strings attached and no money switches hands between the group being played and the podcaster. Unlike articles in music magazines or newspapers, you can immediately hear these groups and the kind of music they're making. For people who don't have access to college radio stations--anyone who has lived in a small town will know the dread of having to choose between stations that play '80s hair-metal or country music--or even alternative music stations, this can be a huge boon.
At the end of the day, though, there will always be some crap on mainstream radio. That's what happens when you try to appeal to everyone's tastes. Bands often appeal to no one's tastes, but still manage to get play. The good thing about when the Junos recognize independent bands is that they get publicity. The road to getting a Juno is often a hard one and it's beneficial to our culture that groups like the CBC are willing to help these younger or lesser-known bands get the publicity that will start them on their road to stardom.