Much less music: why Canadian-made music videos could be in trouble
A CRTC ruling could make it a lot harder to make a music video in Canada
In 2005, Saint John filmmaker Greg Hemmings and crew of friends got together and made a music video for the Halifax-based Jimmy Swift Band's "Two Hands on the Wheel."
Shot on short ends of leftover 16 mm film that Hemmings had hoarded in his freezer, the video was financed in large part by BravoFact — a program created in 1995 to help artists produce short-form projects, whether scripted or documentary, that could be shown on Bell Media.
The video for Two Hands on the Wheel aired on MuchMusic: a coup for the young filmmakers that played a small, but memorable, role in cementing their career paths.
"Nobody could afford to make a music video back then, because film was so expensive," said Hemmings, now the CEO of Hemmings House Pictures. "So BravoFact was incredibly important."
Last week, a decision issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission axed the requirement that Bell Media contribute to either BravoFact or MuchFact, which since 1984 has provided millions of dollars in funding for Canadian music videos every year.
Under the old rules, the CRTC required Bell Media to fund a certain percentage of Canadian content.
Music NB executive director Jean Surette said last week's CRTC ruling is bad news for Canadian artists — who often need to submit a video to be considered for showcases and festivals.
Harder time competing
MuchMusic might not exist in the same format as it did in the 1980s and 1990s, he said, but "the internet has made high-quality music videos more crucial than ever for emerging artists."
If there's no grant money available for artists to make videos, he said, Canadian musicians will have a harder time competing with their American counterparts when it comes to assembling a package to show the juries for festivals and showcases.
Hemmings said the CRTC decision is also bad news for consumers.
"I think that the thing that is really special about being Canadian is that we are such rich storytellers," he said. "The National Film Board is rich evidence of that. It makes me nervous when we see programs and grants that support the artistic telling of stories get eroded."
Given Canada's proximity to the U.S. and the volume of content being created stateside, he said, it's all the more important to make sure Canada's independent artists can do good work.
A little goes a long way
The program doesn't need to be costly, Surette said.
"You don't need $20,000 or $30,000 for a video -— there are a lot of great videos out there that cost much less than that that get a lot of traction online," he said.
"I'm not a big proponent of relying on government to fund everything," he said, "but there are certain things we as Canadians need to continue to fight for. It's so critical that we retain our Canadian identity and not define ourselves based on American media."
Although both MuchFact and BravoFact are continuing to accept applications in anticipation of next year's funding deadlines, Surette and others are concerned the CRTC changes could, within a few years, spell the end of the program.
Surette said that could hamper young talent from being able to compete with their U.S. peers.
"Videos that are produced to put online might be used to promote a new tour, or a new album," Surette said. "That's where folks are seeing and sharing them."
"Let's say an artist is at a certain place with their career: they've maybe got support from a label, and they want to rise to the next level. But not all artists have the capacity to put out a high-quality video," he said.
"And without that, it's going to be hard to compete."
With files from Information Morning Saint John