From CanCon in the streaming age to AI: U of A experts weigh in on all things music ahead of the JUNO Awards

The JUNO Awards are in Edmonton on March 13

EDMONTON — There’s a debate over how to protect Canadian content (CanCon) in the streaming era as an update to Canada’s Broadcast Act, known as Bill C-11 or the Online Streaming Act, is set to become law.

Critics of CanCon protection consider it censorship and say it’s no longer necessary in the 21st-century. University of Alberta professor of popular music Brian Fauteux, however, believes Canadian content protection is as crucial today as it ever was.

Since the 1970s broadcasters have had to include a certain percentage of CanCon in their programming, a system that helped artists stay financially afloat through royalties. In the age of streaming services, however, Fauteux’s research shows that the big music streamers — such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube — don’t benefit emerging or less-known artists, especially Canadian artists. Their algorithms tend to promote those already enjoying global success, while giving mere support to acts that haven’t yet hit the stratosphere. As Fauteux explains, “it means an artist like Drake does amazingly well, others not so much.”

He would like to see streaming companies invest more in Canadian content, and is calling for further public money for music and cultural production. Fauteux would also like to see Canada demand a critical examination of streaming algorithms. “We need to keep thinking about whether there are better ways to continue investing in and supporting Canadian culture through these new gatekeepers.”

Music and AI

Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute) is the first AI Partner of the JUNO Awards. As part of their JUNO Talks events, Amii will showcase how AI, music, and sound can meld together. Each event is presented by Amii Fellows and U of A scholars:

Studies show that music heals. Professors Michael Frishkopf (Music) and Osmar Zaiane (Computing Science) are combining AI and soundscapes (such as sounds of the rainforest, ocean or ambient noise) to counter the stress of patients in the ICU.

Music can take Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons to the next level. Levi H.S. Lelis (Computing Science) can speak about Bardo – an AI tool that analyzes players’ speech and emotions to find the right background music.

For anyone missing a limb, playing an instrument may not be easy or even possible. Researchers at the U of A’s BLINC Lab, including Patrick Pilarski (Rehab Medicine), are building smart prosthetic devices so everyone is able to showcase their musical expression.

To speak with any of these scholars, please contact: Sarah Vernon | University of Alberta communications associate |