We Canadians love talking about our music scene and its place in the world. Last week, Josiah Hughes and Mark Teo published a thoughtful – and controversial – essay called "Canadian Music is Boring." A few months ago, The Grid and The New York Times caused a stir when they used the preponderance of Toronto acts on American "best of 2011" lists to argue that Toronto might be the greatest music city in the world. And every year, the arrival of the Polaris short list sparks a heap of soul-searching about the nature and character of "Canadian music."
All that talk puts a lot of attention on the idea that musicians are good for Canada. But we don't talk as much about why Canada is good for musicians.
Of course, there are challenges. We're geographically spread out, which makes it difficult to tour. I've driven the 13 hours it takes to get from Saskatoon to Winnipeg in a heavy snowstorm. You need a lot of perseverance! Compared to other countries, at least. When my band got off the train from London to Glasgow last summer, the promoter asked us with concern, "How was the trip, are you guys feeling OK?" We were puzzled because it was only a five-hour trip. That's nothing to a Canadian.
Canada's independent labels still need nurturing to attain the size and international reach of the U.K.'s indie infrastructure, where an artist like Adele can use an independent label as a launchpad to ears around the world. And after touring the U.K. and Berlin, it became clear to me that, with a few exceptions, the sound systems at our venues could use some serious upgrading.
That's me being lovingly honest. The kind of honesty you reserve for family and close friends. Even though you recognize their faults, you love them all the same. When you push them to get better, it's because you actually believe in their potential.
I could see myself living in a place like London, England (well, not really – I can't afford it). But, there are a few reasons why I chose to build a career in Canada.
Funding bodies such as the Ontario Arts Council, FACTOR and SOCAN aren't meant to help musicians live easily, by any means. But they can give a boost in the early stages, when you're earning very little money from music but still need to focus all your time on songwriting and rehearsing.
I think of them a bit like venture capitalists in the high-tech world: they pick the acts that seem most promising and seed them with a bit of money. Not everyone makes it, but some of the most talented and hardest-working go on to create special things.
2. A healthy mix of people.
The immigration explosion that began in the 1970s has created the perfect breeding ground for new sounds. Living here, I get to collaborate with musicians from a huge range of different musical traditions. I doubt I'd have gotten so into Bulgarian throat singing if I lived anywhere else! Creating new things is in our blood.
3. A promising future.
We're a culturally young country that's still figuring itself out. Our past isn't cemented in global music history.
We probably haven't seen the best days yet. But maybe that's because they're just over the horizon.
on Jul 26, 2012