THE BACK PAGES

Settling the score

If you think the responses to the CBC hockey contest are passionate now, just wait

SARMISHTA SUBRAMANIAN August 25 2008
THE BACK PAGES

Settling the score

If you think the responses to the CBC hockey contest are passionate now, just wait

SARMISHTA SUBRAMANIAN August 25 2008

Settling the score

THE BACK PAGES

music

If you think the responses to the CBC hockey contest are passionate now, just wait

SARMISHTA SUBRAMANIAN

On Canada Day this year, Dan Cleary, the Newfoundlandborn Detroit Red Wings star, returned to his hometown to show off the Stanley Cup with his name engraved on it. Harbour Grace was abuzz, and Shawn Lidster, who lives in nearby Brigus, braved the crowds with his three young boys to catch a glimpse of the parade. Traffic foiled the plans but, stirred by the occasion—a hometown hockey hero, all those flags—Lidster sat down that evening and wrote It’s Hockey Night in Canada, an upbeat Tom Petty-style rock number. He then recorded it on a Boss digital recorder with his red Sammy Hagar Washburn guitar and some drum loops, his nine-year-old, Dylan, acting as studio engineer.

A couple of weeks later, he uploaded the song to the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada theme song website.

Lidster, a 46-year-old who calls himself a full-time dad and part-time songwriter, admits his isn’t a high-gloss production. “My room where I’m standing, it’s just barely enough room to sit down in a chair. I got the mike set up on a bunch of egg cartons on a little 2!/2-foot mike stand, and it’s a 25year-old mike,” he says. His back up singers on the “hey heys” in the chorus are his sons: Dylan, Jake (age 7) and Alexander (2). But he hopes the judges will hear the potential in the song—

“The little fella, the two-yearold, started singing it right away, so I figured I have half a chance,” he chuckles. Lidster actually won a songwriting contest once, in Australia, where he lived for a time. The prize: that red Sammy Hagar guitar.

Onjune 19, the CBC announced the details of its contest to find a new theme to replace the beloved “dunt-da-DUNT-da-dunt” theme written by Dolores Claman. Lidster’s is one of about 4,200 tracks that have poured in— around five times the 500 to 1,000 entries expected, says Scott Moore, head of sports at the CBC. With two weeks to go, every day there are more: songs with titles such as Slap Shot, GOAL!, Anthem OfRockin Proportions and Fasten Your Jock Straps. There are pounding rock instrumentals galore and punk-pop songs like Danny Lovelock’s Game Face, which

the 23-year-old aspiring musician from Peachland, B.C., admits he wrote sixyears ago, about meeting a girl. There are pieces with blitzkrieg shredding solos (are we a nation of guitar wankers?) and clarion trumpets and ’80s newscast synths, even a clever “found sounds” collage—made up entirely of looped cat yowls, baby screams and gunshots. That last one, Logan Aube’s Hockey Scores, is one of the highest-rated, and a blogosphere celebrity boasting several YouTube remixes of its own.

Among the jam-band musicians and tinkerers, music teachers are well represented.

Craig Cassiis is a retired high-school music teacher from Winnipeg who writes compositions for church choirs. He says he entered because “it’s so different from the usual kind of music I work on. I was attracted to it like a magnet.” One enterprising teacher has sent in a video clip. The Long Shot, by Davis Givan, is a bit of homemade naïf animation reminiscent of vintage NFB shorts: a puck sailing across the land, over his hometown of Nackawic, N.B., “Home of the World’s Largest Axe,” over the Parliament Buildings, helped along by the Canadarm—all to a mellow guitar-and-keyboard score. Another theme is pounded out admirably on a piano by a boy,

Robert Fraser Burke, who looks about 13. All are available at anthemchallenge.cbc.ca to be heard, commented on, discussed.

As, indeed, they are. If the contest was launched in part to start a happier national conversation about hockey and the CBC, it’s working. Of course, once you get people talking, there’s no telling what they’ll say. In the coming weeks, as the euphoria of the early days gives way to the business of choosing a winner, the CBC, like the rest of us, may discover what a can of worms a wildly popular contest tied to an iconic TV show and a national sport can be.

For now, a lively community has formed on the site; some posters appear to leave only occasionally for air. The feedback is often generous. “Brilliant!!!!!! This is a winner! What a powerful hook!” gushes eman_cbc. “Why isn’t this guy on the CBC payroll already?” asks neelix. There are helpful suggestions: “Perhaps move it up a semitone on the second half. This will create suspense and excitement.” The site may even have its own Simon Cowell, as one poster dubbed the highly prolific rjmcdl— “sometimes overly mean, but only because... he wants you to try harder.”

In the age of American Idol, anyone can be a musician, but even more important, everyone’s a critic— sometimes to amusing effect here. “Catherine—you’ve put the loops together well but it’s only looping; what did you compose yourself?” brownstonemom inquired about a submission by Catherine Gauthier of Refuge Cove, B.C., that is all orchestral score with no apparent loops whatsoever. (Brownstonemom admits she did use GarageBand loops, the pre-set percussive and melodic riffs available on Mac computers and a tool of choice for many entries.) “Good clear opening,” another poster wrote of St. John’s resident Rico Yetman’s contribution, Warz. Indeed—it’s Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, overlaid with some electronic beats. “It’s called sampling,” the author sniffed, to a listener who’d caught on.

Contest entries have come from all over, though B.C., by mid-July, had taken to the task like no other province, supplying close to 20 per cent of tracks, according to the Geor-

• gia Straight. And none more than a fellow from Saltspring Island, named Randy Bachman, who’s submitted no fewer than seven. Is it the Randy Bachman, as one poster wonders, and as the CBC news site reported? The former Guess Who member and Order of Canada recipient wasn’t available to comment, but the CBC’s Moore says Bachman definitely planned to enter. “As soon as we announced the contest, he called me up and asked if he was eligible. He said, ‘It would be a dream of mine to have a song of mine open Hockey Night in Canada,’ ” recalls Moore. Of course, if you believe the comments posted, Bachman’s songs aren’t up to the job—but he may be grateful for such encouraging words as “Too raunchy. Although Randy has a good imagination. Good effort,” from rjmcdl, or “Good job! Check out mine.”

It brings up an interesting conundrum. The CBC’s Moore said back in June that the ideal result would be “a fabulous piece of music composed by an 11-year-old in Red Deer. But realistically, a lot of the good entries might be from professionals.” In fact, there are tracks from a Michael Kulas—who some speculate is the musician from the celebrated British band James—and from the group Harlequin.

Myles Goodwyn, of April Wine, has entered. (His presence has earned a warmer reception from fans than Bachman’s.) Moore expects other marquee names to submit. “We’re told the highest-profile entries end up coming in the last 48 hours,” he says. “Part of that is so that nobody else can do a version of their song and enter it.” The notion of competing alongside their heroes thrills some, but it won’t make everyone happy. “They are icons, and I have total respect for them,” says Lidster of Bachman’s ilk. “But in one way it’s kind of unfair, where they’re kind of established and stuff. Why didn’t they go after them before they put the contest out? I thought it was a great opportunity for people like myself to get a little bit of exposure.” Givan agrees.

Nothing puts a dent in the camaraderie faster, it seems, than a rock star’s songs being showcased in the “featured anthems” gallery. As islandgirll9b wrote, “Why on earth is worldfamous Randy Bachman being featured for yet a 2nd time??????... How’s about giving an unknown a chance for a big break and some well-deserved exposure! ! ! ” “Another of Randy’s

‘The little fella, the two-year-old, ^ started singing it right away so ^ I figured I have half a chance' J J

Anthems is featured today,” groused another poster. “Is Randy picking the featured ones?... Is he going to be one of the judges? Is the fix in? Should I bother entering?”

On the other hand, some pros have beefs of their own. They may even be forgiven for viewing the contest as part of an amateur movement that encroaches ever more on their profession. Along the lines of the Anthem Challenge, an upcoming CBS show Jingles, by Mark Burnett, will have amateurs create ad jingles. Gene Simmons of Kiss is judging, and a former American Idol contestant, aptly, will host. But, Larry LeBlanc, former Canadian bureau chief of Billboard, points out that writing a theme takes a unique talent. Great TV themes—Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible, Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn—axe much more than good songs; they’re suspenseful, dynamic pieces of music that galvanize the visuals. “There are specialists who do this kind of work,

and we have them in this country, and they should have gone there first,” LeBlanc says. Some may forget the CBC didn’t stumble onto the original theme; Claman was an established jingle writer. For some professionals, the contest is a lost opportunity. “Why would anyone want to compete with 5,000 people?” says one, who opted out. “And if it’s all set up to be a reality show, which it is, then it just comes down to the public viewing and who they care about. It’s a circus.” He says none of his friends in the business have entered.

Like some insiders, he was also put off by the contest’s terms. While the winner gets $100,000 plus 50 per cent of royalties, the CBC keeps the remaining 50 per cent—the publishing royalties—which it will donate to minor league hockey. While it’s increasingly common for private production companies to squeeze a portion of the writer’s royalties, this composer was disappointed to see a public broadcaster apparently do the same. And $100,000, while a respectable sum, is not magnanimous, some argue; Paul Anka made millions on his theme for The Tonight Show (though he “gave” Johnny Carson 50 per cent of the royalties in exchange for the job).

Moore insists the CBC routinely buys out authors of news themes, for instance, for $50,000 to $70,000 (no royalties), and that the current offer is a pretty good deal. “There’s got to be a guarantee that we’re not in a similar situation as we were with the last theme, where 10 years from now, the composer is holding us up for ransom,” he says. The rules have been vetted with Nettwerk Music Group, which represents the likes of Avril Lavigne and is helping to run the contest. “They’ve told us these types of rules are fair, and we’ve gone probably an extra nine or 10 yards to make sure that they’re exceedingly fair.” Nevertheless, a blog has sprung up, called Hockey Rights in Canada, detailing what its Toronto-based author, Joe Clark, feels are the pitfalls in the rules. Clark, a self-appointed watchdog/advocate on TV closed captions for the deaf—he was dubbed “the King of Closed Captioning” by the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago—finds the CBC’s stipulation that the winner sign over “moral rights” appalling. When you waive moral rights, he writes, “they can cut up, mangle, change or ruin your work at will and there’s not a single thing you

can do about it.” He notes that all five semifinalists waive these rights—even if they don't win. “I remember telling Dolores many years ago that given the history, she’d have to shoot me before I let her sign a moral rights waiver to the benefit of the CBC,” says John Ciccone, Claman’s agent and the head of Copyright Music and Visuals. Ciccone suggests that with that waiver, the CBC could also conceivably license the theme out very lucratively—to Home Depot? Molson? Viagra?—with no input from the composers.

Of course, a public contest is unpredictable. The CBC may well need to edit, and edit heavily, pieces with a germ of a good idea. Down the road, Moore says, it could waive those rights for composers who didn’t win so they had full rights to their song. “And the winner will see an immediate financial return, plus an annuity over the years, and they get to say they’re contributing to hockey in Canada,” he says. (Why the arrangement with minor-league hockey at all? “In our research about the brand,” Moore says, “our viewers are telling us Hockey Night in Canada needs to act as sort of the Ministry of Hockey in Canada. This was the perfect opportunity.”)

Meanwhile, the contest’s huge success must present an unenviable challenge to the CBC. The director who approved Dolores Claman’s theme had to listen to only a handful of pieces—and even this was a surprise, Claman suggests in an interview.

Claman always thought she was the only composer submitting. It was only recently, when she read the stories, that she realized there may have been others. Now the CBC has a pool of thousands and is looking for an instant “anthem”—a daunting task for all involved. How to choose? Producers could be forgiven for throwing it open to Canadians if only to avoid being saddled with that responsibility themselves. A volunteer jury of about 100 will narrow the 4,000-odd submissions to a short list of 100. What Moore calls a “blueribbon panel” will whittle that down to five. A TV show set to air Oct. 4, hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos and aided by a public vote, will boil those down to two finalists, to be played back to back during a doubleheader game—when the public will vote again.

All five semifinalists will be produced by Bob Rock, the legendary producer of Motley Crüe and Metallica. A man who produced

jingles before moving on to rock bands, he may be an inspired choice. “They need a hit, and I love making hits,” Rock says from his home in Maui, where he’s recording the Tragically Hip. It will be reminiscent of his jingle days—a song a day, for five days. But the possibility of working with a total unknown, he says, “is the coolest thing about it.” Rock has had friends and family call, threatening him: “You’d better get this right.” He recalls being in the U.S. when the hockey theme story broke. “People in a funny way think we’re silly, caring so much. I’d just say, ‘You don’t understand.’ ”

As for the panel, Don Cherry and musicians like Tyler Stewart of the Barenaked Ladies have joined, though not everyone leapt at the chance. LeBlanc was invited to judge. A former music editor for the CBC who’s worked on the corporate side, choosing jingles for ad campaigns, he said no thanks. “Listening to a hundred themes—there’s a skill to that,” he explains. “I said, ‘Excuse me, are you being paid?’ The guy from the CBC said yeah. I said, ‘Is your audio

'There are several good efforts,1 says Claman, 'but after that, most of them don't go anywhere’

guy paid?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Are the people putting up the music being paid?’ ‘Yeah.’ Why would I be the only unpaid person there? This is my living, this is what I do.” One jury member he knows agreed to do it, but anonymously. “Whatever we pick,” he told LeBlanc, “we could be the most hated people in Canada.”

That depends. “There’s no question there’s some gold in there,” says the CBC’s Moore.

The woman who inadvertently launched this national talent search has heard some of the entries, too. “There are several good efforts,”

Claman says graciously, “some good ‘riffs,’ but after that, most of them don’t go any-

where. So far I haven’t heard anything that ticks all the boxes for me, but I haven’t listened to them all.” There’s also a chance the theme could wind up the ultimate example of writing by committee. This is the kind of process that produces Canadian Idol winners—and they’re not generally burdened by problems of longevity. But we’ve seen better results of “crowd-sourced” creativity, too. The SkyDome, as the Toronto sports stadium was once known, was so named by a citizen, Kellie Watson of Wallaceburg, Ont. Even our nation’s flag was the product, in 1964, of a work by committee. Thousands of suggestions came in from the public (although the winning flag arguably came from a pro: George Stanley, a historian and dean of arts, with help from the government graphic artist).

Still, as a public-relations move, the contest has already done its job. Across the country people are excited—not just those who have submitted, but their friends, families, com-

munities. There are Facebook pages devoted

to entries, and YouTube videos. Some play their submissions live. Anyone who calls Shawn Lidster can get a hit of his hockey anthem: he’s recorded the song on his voice mail. His enthusiasm is catching—and a reminder of what this means to people, whatever their professions. Moore says that given the obvious passion for music, he’s suggested a yearly songwriter contest to the CBC along the lines of the Eurovision competition. But that’s down the road. “I’d never in a million years think I’d win,” Lidster says about the Anthem Challenge, “but even if I could get to the next round, just get noticed.” Then he’s told who’s producing the final five contestants. “Bob Rock? No way!” he says with a reverent hush. “Wouldn’t that be incredible?” M