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What the Nielsen Report Say About How Canada Listens to Music

Francophones spend money and Canadians want to experience "real" music on a "real" medium.

It's not a record shop unless it has every variation of your favourite Lana Del Rey record

In their ongoing mission to reduce real live human beings to organisms that merely exist to carry out monetary transactions, Nielsen recently released the “Nielsen 2014 Music Canada Report” which outlined the patterns of Canadian music consumers. Behind the math stuff, asinine buzzwords, and dehydrated terminology (“Vinyl LPs”) the report offers a glimpse into the nature of Canada’s confused and much maligned music culture.


With listening habits empirically laid out, an analysis of our national aesthetic can be made and judgements can be doled out swiftly. For example, one of the most interesting findings in the report showed that 2014 was the biggest year for vinyl album sales in the Soundscan Era (for non-industry types this means since 1991). Over 400 000 wax records were sold in 2014. Out of those vinyl sales, only half of the top 10 represented records from currently active artists. Teens who have too many Billabong t-shirts bought 4,000 Bob Marley records, while Led Zeppelin takes up three whole spots with 8,100 records sold between albums I, II, and IV.

Fun Fact: David Gilmour is Michael Keaton's older brother.

This means people actually paid money to hear David Gilmour self-indulge in 10 minute weak-ass solos on their shitty turntables. To boot, the active artists on this list like Jack White, Foo Fighters, and the Arctic Monkeys are essentially sonic sound-alikes of the aforementioned musicians. The Arctic Monkeys actually topped the list with 4,100 records sold. Clearly, this a reflection of the purchasing attitudes of the much beloved "I was born in the wrong generation" millennials who imagine a world where all songs are steeped in blues guitar and classic rock. Going as far to believe that the vinyl experience makes for authentic listening (the same versions of the older sounds—just watered down and without the pain, context, and oppression) on what they consider to be a “real” medium (a wax disc that scratches and warps easily and isn’t uploadable to an iPod). As a result, their purchasing habits are increasing at a record pace, and the Nielsen data reflects this.


For some, vinyl offers the sweet taste of alternative "indie" culture. It offers the feeling of being on the outside without actually emotionally investing yourself in anything. The albums that Canadians are buying are the ones that you see at the checkout line in Urban Outfitters, not the ones you’d find in your local record shop. What the report tells us is that vinyl can only be considered a fad if idealization of the past ceases to exist. In addition, there’s also a strong consumer base in French Canada who are willing to pay for only certain types of music. Case in point, the top three albums sold across the entire country are from Francophone artists Bobby Bazini, Serge Fiori and Fred Pellerin. Bazini actually breaks the 100,000 threshold with 102,000 units sold, while Fiori comes scarily close with 99,000 units sold. This is incredible, considering that the Francophone population makes up only 20% percent of the country. What does this say? Either Francophones really like to support their own, or maybe that they feel that it’s necessary, considering the dominance of English Canada.

There's something tragically beautiful about that couch. What that is, only Bobby Bazini knows.

Looking at the report as a whole it appears that we can make the assumption that Canadian music listeners are rationally ignorant. They are satisfied with the radio hits and have no incentive to delve deeper into other genres. Although, that’s not a terrible thing. The concept of rational ignorance comes out of economic literature, but it has historically been applied to many other fields, including the study of cultural policy. For most Canadians, keeping up with new music is hard enough so music nerds shouldn’t be bemoaning the fact that the majority of the country doesn’t care about Toronto’s thriving noise scene, shoegaze bands from Vancouver, or guitar pop geniuses from the Maritimes. The process of educating oneself about the diversity of Canadian music has a cost that manifests itself in time commitment. This very same time commitment of scouring through Bandcamp is what my professor would like to call an “opportunity cost,” meaning time could be better spent exercising, staying informed about public affairs, or raising children.

However, there is an outlier of the population that gets a marginal benefit from immersing oneself in the absolutely insane amount of music that gets released every year. These are Noisey writers, college students and curmudgeons who used to be in terrible punk bands that opened for Fugazi once. A lot of these people wish that Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or Ed Sheeran satisfied them, but they don’t. Let us celebrate that the majority of our nation is, at least according to Nielsen, not part of this suffering.

Mitch Jackson is a writer living in Ottawa - @gladst0ned