Is It CanCon?
It’s the question I’ve been asked at least once a week for the 15+ years I’ve been in the promotion game. “Is my single Can-Con?” The answer I generally give is. Possibly.
The reason I’m always hesitant to simply concede an affirmative Can-Con status based on the loose information a manager or label provides me stems from a general misunderstanding of how that status is reached within the music industry. My misgivings are generally rebutted with “it’s close enough, no?” But in the Con-Con game, close enough doesn’t cut it. Here’s why. If you tell a radio station that a song is Can-Con and they play it under that guise, they’ll count it as such in their “promise of performance” report to the CRTC. As you know, the very existence of the Canadian Content law is for radio stations to play a minimum of the percentage of Can-Con they promised in their broadcast license application to the CRTC (which is renewed, on average, every 7 years). If a station fails to meet that clause in their license they face fines and possibly revocation. As you can imagine, like any of us with laws in society, stations generally play exactly the required amount of Can-Con, with perhaps a razor-thin buffer. Just like how you drive faster than the speed limit, but not quite fast enough to get you a ticket (hopefully).
That said, if a station is playing a song they’ve marked as Can-Con and it turns out not to be (especially if it becomes a hit) they could end up being in violation of their license. I for one do not want to be on the receiving end of a call from a radio station telling me that I’m the reason they ended up in hot water. Which is why I’m hyper-sensitive to the guidelines as they’re written by the CRTC, and not the common perception that exists.
That said, here is a link to the guidelines, as written by the CRTC:
The official language, as per the CRTC regulations, reads as such:
To qualify as Canadian content, a musical selection must generally fulfil at least two of the following conditions:
- M (MUSIC): the music is composed entirely by a Canadian
- A (ARTIST): the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian
- P (PERFORMANCE): the musical selection consists of a live performance that is recorded wholly in Canada, or performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada
- L (LYRICS): the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian
The key takeaway is that you need to satisfy at least 2 of the components of Can-Con, the M, A, P or L. But this is the part where things can go awry. These guidelines are, somewhat intentionally, full of grey area. Remember, the whole point of Can-Con is to help Canadian musicians, so the CRTC tries its best not to leave anyone out on a technicality. It’s in that grey area however that some confusion lies. And that’s the part that has me on the phone for hours at a time with artists, managers and labels, helping them discern the nuance of the regulations. I’ll breakout some of the most questioned scenarios below. Where some of the curiosities lie are that you can also count half-points when entering a song into DMDS, but only on the M and L tabs (Music and Lyrics). But before we get there let’s look at how this law defines a “Canadian.”
For the purposes of the MAPL system, the CRTC’s Radio Regulations define a Canadian as being one of the following:
- a Canadian citizen
- a permanent resident as defined by the Immigration Act, 1976
- a person whose ordinary place of residence was Canada for the six months immediately preceding their contribution to a musical composition, performance or concert
- a licensee, i.e. a person licensed to operate a radio station
Again, lots of grey area here if you go looking for it. I should also mention that you must be able to provide the corresponding paperwork to this regard, ie: passport, permanent resident card, birth certificate, etc. Yes, it’s that serious. We are dealing with a government agency, remember — ever try to renew your drivers license without all the required documents?
So let’s dive into the solutions that are available. It’s at this point that I’m going to emphasize that these are guidelines only and that I, nor Frontside Promotions Group, or any of its subsidiaries, are responsible for any interpretations you or your associates make based on the scenarios presented here. At the end of the day, it is entirely your responsibility to confirm your specific situation against the official CRTC regulations as they are written.
Let’s begin with the easiest scenario, that of a solo artist. Things get more complicated when you’re dealing with bands, to say the least, and we’ll touch on that further on. At its very core, if the artist is a Canadian citizen and they write and perform all of the lyrics and music on the single, it’s Can-Con. Notice that I said single and not album or ‘music.’ When trying to determine Can-Con status, you’re only looking at one song at a time, specifically the song you plan to send to radio for airplay. In this case the song would tick off the MAL boxes. Where they recorded it (or P) is irrelevant. Should they happen to record in Canada, that’s an extra point giving them the full MAPL, but remember, you only require two of the four to qualify.
Now what if the artist is Canadian, but they co-write the songs with one other person who is not Canadian? Well in that case, if the co-write is a 50/50-split, they would receive half of an M and half of an L (which combine for 1 of 2 points required). So you still need either an A or P to qualify. That can be achieved if the project is wholly “recorded” in Canada (P) or the music or lyrics are principally performed by the Canadian (A). The definition of the A becomes very important in more complex scenarios as we’ll see below.
Moving to bands, the first question is generally, is everyone Canadian? If yes, then you can basically apply the same breakout as we have above. Where it becomes tricky is when you’ve got one or more members that are not Canadian and/or you record the single outside of Canada. So let’s look at a situation where 2 of 4 band members are Canadian, they split everything evenly and they recorded the single outside of Canada. Right away we know that P is eliminated, so we’re fighting for two of the remaining three qualifying points. In this case we can count half of the M and the L since they split everything equally (and this must be formally registered as such in SOCAN, ASCAP, BMI etc as you may be asked to provide proof). So now we’re looking at the A. And this is where what role each person plays in the band can make a difference. For example, if the singer is Canadian, you’ve got the A. This is one of those grey areas that are solved with “the lyrics are principally performed by a Canadian” (more on this in a second). If you’re stuck with a Canadian rhythm section however, you might be out of luck as it’s going to be difficult to prove that “the music is performed principally by a Canadian.” My advice on that one, either make sure you have a Canadian singer, or record your project wholly in Canada. There are so many great studios and producers across the country, support them or they’ll go away.
Staying on the singer front for a moment. Let’s use a different scenario, that of an international band where the only Canadian in the bunch just happens to be a talented and charismatic frontman/woman. You may find that a song qualifies as Can-Con simply because of that person and their role in the band. For starters, your singing Canadian locks up the A for “the lyrics are performed principally by a Canadian.” Again, if you record wholly in Canada, you grab the P and you’re done. Without the P, you can still qualify for an L if your singer wrote the lyrics, but pay close attention to the qualifier “the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian.” This will need to be proven via your songwriting registration (the same is actually true for an M if “the music is entirely composed by a Canadian”). If it’s a co-write situation between the Canadian singer and one other member of this international group, and both wrote 50% of the music and lyrics, you’d score one-half M and one-half L, equalling one full Can-Con point, which, when paired up with the A, would give you the two full points required to qualify under the regulations. But what if the writing was a “Nashville split,” with all the group members receiving equal credit for the creation of the song? Then, I’m afraid to say that your talented singer won’t be able to pull you through. Without recording in Canada, that would mean you only pulled in an A and a fraction below one-half of the M and L (ie: 33% for a 3 piece band, 25% for a 4 piece and so on), which falls short of qualifying.
With all of that said, the next question that comes up is based on covers, collaborations and “remixes.” Over the years there have been many examples of seemingly international singles being Can-Con. The easiest to explain is a cover, so I’ll start there. The basics of it are, if a Canadian artist covers an international song, it qualifies as Can-Con with an AP if: A “the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian” and P “the musical selection consists of a live performance that is recorded wholly in Canada.”
Now, collaborations. This tends to be most relevant in the CHR/Dance world and that’s generally done in one of several ways. The simplest being that an international artist provides the music and a Canadian adds the AL by: writing and performing all of the lyrics. There are also ways that songs get there with half points on ML as well as a full point on an A or P, but we went over that in the band segment.
Which leaves us with “the remix.” By far this Can-Con logic leaves me the most concerned and, where possible, I try to avoid it. There is a ton of grey area in both the guidelines and their implementation here. For example, the biggest part that is misunderstood is the qualification of the P. There is some belief that if the remix is done in Canada, this somehow qualifies it as Can-Con. However the guideline reads “the musical selection consists of a live performance that is recorded wholly in Canada.” By the very nature of the word “remix” you’re talking about taking parts that were previously recorded and altering them. And even if that did count, it would only be one of two parts. From there you’d still need to get an M, A or L. All three of which would require very substantial contributions from a Canadian acting alone (or in conjunction with another Canadian), which in most remix instances is not possible, or at the very least done in a way that undeniably meets the criteria of the guidelines.
I hope this helps the next time you find yourself in the grey area, wondering aloud “is it CanCon?”