Does 'niche' Canadian music need its own video streaming platform?

The creators of think so, and they're getting ready for a 'tsunami of interest' when the website launches on Oct. 14.

The creators of think so, and they're getting ready for a 'tsunami of interest'

Zheng player Dailin Hsieh performs during the Canadian Music Centre B.C.’s Unaccompanied concert series. (Jordan Nobles)

The Canadian Music Centre (CMC) has announced the launch of Picanto, a video streaming platform for original, predominantly Canadian contemporary music.

"Approximately 66 per cent Canadian," specifies Glenn Hodgins, president and CEO of the CMC, during a conversation with CBC Music. "That's the goal of the whole platform in terms of content, in terms of artists."

Hodgins says Picanto has been seven years in the making, and he credits the Canada Council for the Arts' Digital Strategy Fund with providing the means to actually pull it off.

"Discover, listen, play": Picanto's motto summarizes its mission to "find and promote the amazing work being done by Canadian music creators and performers in the vast sea of digital content that has become our daily lives." In addition to providing a platform where artists can connect with audiences, organisers aim to be catalysts for the creation of new video content as well.

Exactly what kind of music videos will be available for streaming on Picanto? What opportunities does the platform offer to Canada's music creatives? How will it differ from existing video-streaming platforms?

We spoke with Hodgins and Stephanie Conn, Picanto's operations manager, to find out.

Why did you decide to create this new digital platform?

Hodgins: Everybody's trying to become digital. What we think is lacking is a coordinated dissemination strategy. So, we aim to [...] have the resources to market and promote. And then the other thing is, there's a need for funds in order to create these videos. Those are two big reasons why we created it.

What kinds of music will be featured on Picanto?

Hodgins: It's what we would describe as niche music. There are nine genres: jazz and improvised music, Indigenous music, intercultural music, sonic exploration and musique actuelle, electroacoustic, vocal/choral, chamber music, opera and orchestra. So, the first entry point into Picanto is: do you fit into one of those genres?

Conn: We should also note that sonic exploration — basically anything can be justified going in there. We don't want limitations. So if you don't feel you fit in any of those [genres], you're doing sonic exploration, and we want you, too.

Hodgins: And while there is an emphasis on contemporary music, it isn't exclusively contemporary music. We do want to encourage interesting programming ideas where [for example] there's a reference to something from the baroque, inspiring somebody to do a contemporary work. You know, innovative programming where there are commissions involved and referencing older works — as wide a range of collaboration that's possible.

How will Picanto serve this community in ways that existing platforms such as YouTube cannot?

Hodgins: We're not aiming to be exclusive. There are lots of ways to disseminate your material, but we feel that we'll best serve it if we can create one go-to place for all this music. As our funding base is put into place, we will be able to beef up our staff support and then start to fund. 

The Canada Council funding did allow for a small amount to go toward creation. That's how we funded our 7 X Festival. As the funding model grows, which I'm sure it will, then we will be able to fund more.

Conn: Another way that it's different is the discoverability factor— which is part of our tagline, "discover, listen, play." It's true you can find a lot of things on Vimeo or YouTube. But through our genres, you will find music with some commonalities. Or, after viewing a video, you could go to that artist's profile and see other videos they're involved in, and through them you would find their co-creators and their videos. So, the idea is to create a network of different music collaborations and communities. And by drawing people to one central hub — Picanto — we're hoping to accomplish that. We hope it'll be good for artists and for listeners.

The website says you get access to a curated selection of diverse genres. Could you explain how that curation works?

Hodgins: It's limited, of course, to the nine genres, and also [to] the quality of the audio and video, so that's the limit to curation right now. But as we have funding and start to do live streaming and start to do content contributions toward production, then that will steer us toward a juried selection process, which is the way we'll do it.

What is Picanto's business model?

Hodgins: Not for profit, as a division of the Canadian Music Centre, so it does have charitable status. We have a recording label [Centrediscs], and all of that's distributed through Naxos, so we are accustomed to everything being streamed and we manage royalties for composers and recording artists.

Conn: There will be pay-per-view coming in which we plan to give 75 per cent of whatever revenue comes from a video's play and purchase to the artist.

So, let's say I'm a composer/pianist, and I've made high quality videos of my own works. If I create a profile on Picanto, can I upload my videos to the site?

Hodgins: That's absolutely right. One important point about that is that the artist retains the copyright and ownership. So one condition of being able to upload is you have to demonstrate that you have the rights to make it public. But that's all you have to do. There's no membership fee and you have the choice to determine whether you want to stay free or whether you actually want to put a price tag on it. We've been told to anticipate a tsunami of interest, just given the circumstances that people are facing in the performing arts world.

The CMC will host Picanto's online launch on Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Details here.