Media @ McGill

Canadian Music Industry Policy 1968-1998


By Richard Sutherland

The dissertation is an account of the development of federal Canadian music industry policy from approximately 1968 to 1998. During this period a number of separate policy initiatives in broadcasting and copyright and cultural policy eventually converge in the mid 1980s as a policy field for the Canadian music industry, centered largely on the sound recording sector (the term music industry is used in order to include the music publishing sector). The field of music industry policy is largely an effect of or overflow from these policies. Moreover, although they constitute the Canadian music industry policy field, these policies also remain immersed in the other fields where they originated. This argues against any single rationale for music industry policy development and rather for a set of diverse but interrelated concerns.

This study shares a number of characteristics other accounts of Canadian cultural policy(notably Raboy, 1990 and Dorland 1998). Like them it is historical in its orientation and relies heavily on analysis of documents from policy actors both inside and outside government. However, a substantial part of its argument is that the terms on which cultural policy is developed vary enormously from case to case, both in terms of sector and constituency. It is therefore less concerned with assessing the merits of this set of policies in relation to larger questions concerning the public interest or of national identity, and more concerned with detailing the processes and through which these particular policies emerge and cohere. Not only does the field emerge relatively late in comparison to other cultural industries but the concerns and perceptions of both the music industry and of the relevant policies have also been distinct from those of other so-called cultural industries. Most strikingly, there is much less concern with the distinctively Canadian quality of the music produced in this context. The result has been a policy discourse that appears less conflicted by the tension between culture and industry that the term cultural industries originally implied. It might be suggested that this is because of the nature of music as an art-form. Instead, the dissertation argues instead against any essential opposition between economy and culture and examines cultural policy development as an ongoing and necessarily open-ended process that is to some extent constitutive such categories.

The policies have been grouped for analysis into three separate clusters: Canadian content regulations in radio broadcasting, copyright revision and the Sound Recording Development Program. Each has a different path of development and brings with it a distinctive set of concerns involving the music industry. These differences are important for understand the fluidity and constructed nature of policy development. However, the dissertation will also describe how the links (conceptual, technological, administrative and economic) between the different clusters are made and how they make these policies to cohere as a field.

The first of these clusters is Canadian content, specifically Canadian content for music in radio broadcasting. The enactment of these regulations in 1970 is of particular importance in developing a distinctly Canadian music industry in policy terms. Although the industry’s existence was still a matter of debate at the time, it was invoked both as a necessary resource for and as a potential beneficiary of a policy which was part of a larger project aimed at asserting Canada’s sovereignty over its broadcasting system. It is also worth noting that these regulations were formulated in context of a close relationship between radio and the music industry that evolved in North America in the wake of television. Managing this relationship is one of the important links between all three clusters.

The second cluster is the Sound Recording Development Program (SRDP), announced in 1985. This program is itself closely related to the consequences of Canadian content regulations and of the Canadian talent development commitments of broadcasters. The need to ensure an adequate supply of music to meet Canadian content requirements was seen as best carried out by the independent Canadian recording sector. It also appeared that funding from the government for this was perhaps a necessary counterpart of the original policy to ensure the ongoing production of recordings and the financial health of the sector. As a policy instrument it was modeled on similar subsidy programs for other cultural sectors, such as book publishing and film and indeed a part of its justification was based on its affinities with these industries. Yet its distinctive administrative structure, through a private foundation overseen by the radio and music industries, reflects a distinctive set of concerns and configuration of interests.

Copyright revision, the third cluster was for a long time sequestered from the mainstream of cultural policy and even now is only partially under the jurisdiction of cultural policymakers; copyright is also a commercial issue and part of a much broader concern with intellectual property and industrial policy. It remains closely bound up with trade because of its international scope (much of the policy development in copyright takes place in terms of treaties and international bodies) and its development can be linked to a more liberalized Canadian trade policy. This international dimension is also apparent in the ongoing involvement of the Canadian branches of major multinational recording labels in Canada in this issue As with Canadian content and the SRDP, some of the copyright concerns specific to the music industry (neighbouring rights, for instance) also aim at managing the relationship between radio broadcasting and the sound recording industry.

The conclusion will reiterate both the heterogeneous origins and constructed coherence of music industry policy and will attempt to highlight some of the implications this study might have for the examination of cultural policy generally, particularly in Canada. Because the field of music industry policy continues to evolve and develop new affiliations, the conclusion will also suggest some of the ways in which this study might provide useful background for assessing some of the key music industry policy issues that have emerged subsequently, particularly those associated with digital technologies.


Dorland, Michael (1998) So Close to the State(s). The Emergence of Canadian Feature Film Policy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Raboy, Marc (1990) Missed Opportunities. The Story of Canada’s Broadcasting Policy. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.