Music by VICE

Canadian Musicians on the Difficulties of Breaking Into America

Several prominent Canadian artists give their take on self-censorship in Canada.

by Sonreal, Mish Way, and K-os
Nov 12 2015, 3:13pm

Being a musician in Canada can feel like an uphill battle. You can choose to receive government grants and stay local, which risks the chance of you never breaking beyond a country whose population is less than that of California's. Or you can take a risk elsewhere, venturing into uncharted territories in the hopes of attracting fans. But if you choose the latter option. prepare to answer some questions as to why you've decided to take your talents to South Canada. A recent piece on NPR states that Canadian content is either made as "entertainment for export" or "entertainment for Canadians," making it seem like if you choose to get government grants you're essentially making insular art that can't reach beyond your borders. That's simply not true, a point that Rich Aucoin has kindly expanded on in this Noisey piece. We've also asked a few of our other favourites to weigh in on this debacle, and their opinions are all below in their own words:


Photo by Geoff Fitzgerald

The Canadian Con Tent
And Camping in it

The artist is a very deceptive fellow
For he or she is always trying to describe the indescribable
The artist is the eye opener and the one who sees the future
The artist is the entertainer, the clown and the jester's dilettante
And yet... despite being a walking contradiction
It is through the artist that we learn how to live

I'm supposed to write an article about why the Canadian artist has to be stripped of their Canadian identity to make it in America

But I will do no such thing!

As a Canadian artist I don't obsess about my status in America
I never have and I doubt I ever will.
Does Kanye west obsess about his status as an artist in Canada?
I doubt that very highly
Although, I did meet him shopping at Nomad on Queen Street

For the record - I do obsess over Q- tip, Bob Dylan, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Andre 3k and BLack Thought
because they shaped me.
Those artists never pandered to the rules of American Pop Culture
They were never stripped of their identity.
Their individuality made them the legends they are
That is the beauty of America.

The Canadian Con-Tent has nothing to do with the artists that reside in this country or even with those who chose to seek fame & fortune down south in America
The Canadian Con has more to do with the a type audience existing in Canada...
An audience that doesn't know how to love themselves simply as they are
Just like the girl who's pretty without make-up and doesn't know it
A majority of the active Canadian Pop Music consumers hide their face behind the foundation of disposable '2 week rap', hand dancing, and big radio voices on mouths
Smeared with Instagram filtered lipstick.
It's embarrassing - but it's fun.
I remind you to take everything I say here with a grain of salt
As I am currently listening to Vangelis and John McLauhglin ON blast.
I am a music nerd and snob of the highest degree
It's a genetically inherited trait handed down from my Father
If Noisey is givin' me these big blog bars...
Imma spit tho!

Even if it's jussss for entertainment
Check it out ::

The Canadian audience don't really care bout Canada
When Drizzy Drake was blowin' up we spoke frequently
People tried to shut him down
No one cared
Then he got down with Lil Wayne and Young Money
What happened next... is Legend
He was 'so far gone' that everyone jumped on the jock...
After his struggle
This is what I mean
We don't know how to love our own in their natural form
Like the dude who gets no love from the girls at high school until he makes out with the head cheerleader
It would seem that getting love from an American blog is the make out session needed to prove that a Canadian Artist is upper echelon material in his own country
They put up a parking lot.

But which comes first tho
The Chicken or the egg
Do artists seek love in America exclusively then as a side effect get love in Canada?
Do artists seek to get love in America so that they actually do get respected at home
Who knows.
A chicken is just an egg's way of becoming another.
See what I did there?
I reckon... probably not.

When it comes to my reality
I love artLife in Canada
My musical material is derived from the street so I feel privileged that I can walk them and be respected
My snapchat name is 'captaincaniduh'
And on my latest album cover I rock a Canadian Tuxedo holdin’ up a hockey stick.
Trust me...
This kid bleeds red and white to the death.
I don't believe Canadian artists have to strip themselves of their Canadian identity to be famous in America
I just think that as an artist you have to want that type of USA fame
And that type of USA Fame is not available in Canada
It's not for sale
So the artists that really want it...
have to be.

Mish Way

There was no way White Lung was going to only tour across Canada endlessly wasting gas, time and money doing 12-hour drives between towns when we could go down the coast and cover more ground and get ourselves out there and have four-hour drives between towns. It's just the reality. Have you ever toured across Canada? It's beautiful, but it's a money suck and really, there are only certain places you are going to have great shows that give you a reason to trek the 15 hours to come back.

I said this in a Noisey piece and it sums up how I feel about the Canada/America dynamic:

I’m Canadian, so to me America has always been like that annoying big brother who can’t express himself with words, so he teases you mercifully and kicks your ass on the regular—just so the two of you can hug it out afterwards. He’s ignorant to everything except for his own interests and peacocks as though he’s the best thing in the room. He pisses on his lawn whenever he wants to because “it’s his Goddamn property.” That’s what I think of when I think of America and I like it. It’s so unpretentious. No rules.

Son Real

Photo va SonReal's Facebook

I think the reason why many Canadian artists are massive locally and not in the U.S isn't necessarily because of their Canadian references, but their music blew up in their hometown so fast that it no longer made sense to take the financial hit and do all that groundwork over again in the US. Canada has a great music market that can be sustainable (obviously on a lower level than America) on its own. Obviously, if every song is about Canada it's going to cater more to Canadians but in many instances that's not the case.

Follow k-os on Twitter.
Follow Mish Way on Twitter.
Follow SonReal on Twitter.

White Lung
Mish Way