Karen Bliss Rewinds CMW '23 In 1500 Words

Pictured with Ms. Bliss is Mary Megan Peer. Read on for the full synopsis.

Karen Bliss Rewinds CMW '23 In 1500 Words

By Karen Bliss

It felt like the old days down at CMW this year, not just because way way back the conference was held at the Harbour Castle but because I was a sleep deprived machine, down at the hotel every morning by 9 a.m. and saw it through until end of day. I met some cool young people excited about their ventures, whether it was making music or creating a forward-thinking company, and ran into so many people I like and admire. My personal highlights were hearing the stories of Michael Chugg; interviewing Mary Megan Peer, a woman I have twice profiled for Billboard's Women In Music (2021 and 2023); and soaking in everything Chuck D and B-Real had to say. I also enjoyed moderating two panels, Unlocking the Future: Music Creation & Innovation Tools (that required quite a bit of homework) and Activism on the Global Music Stage (more in my wheelhouse). A big thanks to Neill Dixon, Andrew Valle, Kristen Campbell, Sari Delmar, Heather Glenn and their staff for making CMW a great one and inviting me to be part of two panels and a keynote.


Canadian Music Week (CMW), which just wrapped up its 41st edition, was a resounding success this year (June 8-10), drawing a “ballpark 2500” delegates down to Toronto’s lakefront Westin Harbour Castle, CMW president Neill Dixon tells FYI Music News.

“Amazing week,” he continues. “This was the most fun I have had since before covid. There was so much energy in the air that it felt like the heydays of past CMWs. Numbers were also up, nearly double of 2022.”

Dixon adds that highlights and full sessions of this year’s conference will air throughout the summer on the RBC Virtual Voices web series. Sign-up is free on

The festival component ran June 5-10 in numerous local venues, big and small,, and there were four separate awards shows, three at the hotel and one off-site: the Canadian Live Music Industry Awards, the Sync Awards, the Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame Luncheon, and the Indies (held at History.)


Last year, the conference was a hybrid in-person/virtual event due to the pandemic, but there was barely any mention of the C or P words this year. Seems a long time ago now that the music industry was paralysed and now, if CMW is any indication, it’s back in action and full of young artists and entrepreneurs ready to give this industry all they've got.

But covid wasn’t the only thing not on everyone’s lips. Last year’s all-the-rage NFT hot topic was replaced by the crucial industry-changing rights issue, artificial intelligence (AI), which came up in some of the talks regardless of the intended discussion synopsis with many pointing out its good (a new tool to enhance and speed up tasks and creativity) to evil (copyright infringement, market flooding, lack of the thing that connect music to humans and humans to music: emotion.)

Almost all the panels, keynotes and awards were packed with veterans, rising talent and newcomers, and traffic was constant in the corridor at the hotel where exhibitors, such as young entrepreneurs Ajene Watson’s Dot Hip Hop lifestyle domain and Joseph Pinho's on-demand merch company Mod Inc. were set up alongside Trebas Institute and Music Declares Emergency, and then some.


For those new to the industry or just wanting a refresher or to hear the current issues, CMW programmed the usual basics — agents, promoters, songwriting and the like — but, as always, knew what other topics are important in 2023, including mental health, which they have included for a number of years now, and more on financial literacy and expanding revenue streams. 


Keynotes and in-conversations, such as Australian promoter and legendary storyteller Michael Chugg (interviewed by Live Nation’s Joey Scoleri), hip hop royalty Chuck D and B-Real (interviewed by Maestro Fresh Wes), and Kardinal Offishall (interviewed by Master T) — who was given CMW's Social Justice Award for his lifetime of philanthropy, activism and leg-up motivation, help and advice to young artists — were definite highlights — but there were so many: a chat with Marty Diamond, EVP and managing executive of the 2021-launched Wasserman Music, conducted by Scoleri; and a keynote interview with Debra Rathwell, EVP of global touring and talent at AEG Presents, who has the highest grossing tour in history (Elton John), with another female inspiration in the male-dominated field, Feldman Agency’s Stefanie Purificati, doing the interview honours.

There was also a career spanning chat with peermusic CEO Mary Megan Peer, in a keynote interview (with me) about her unique family legacy and global entrepreneurship of the privately-owned publishing company approaching its centennial, and Maestro Fresh Wes’ conversation with Chuck D and B-Real to commemorate and celebrate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary that could have gone all afternoon it was so filled with conquer-the-odds stories, advice and shake-up mentality. 

But who would’ve thought that CMW would have ended by bringing some people to tears: the case study on the Kids Help Phone mental health anthem, What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling) at the end of the day on Saturday was emotional and honest. Panelists Bob Ezrin, Roy Woods, and The Reklaws each shared deeply personal stories of trauma. The single, by about 50 Canadian artists under the collective name Feel Out Loud, came out back in March to kick off a campaign to raise $300 million for the 24-hour service for young people.


Below are three nuggets of note :

Patrick Rogers, CEO of Music Canada, on A.I.-generated works in his State of the Industry address:

“In short, the seven principles to support Human Artistry Campaign take the toughest lessons that we’ve learned from previous disruptions and distils them into guideposts for the industry and political decision makers. The Human Artistry campaign puts artists, human artists, front and centre and makes clear that the laws in place regarding copyright and licensing must be protected to ensure the creators get the value that they deserve from their works…

“When it comes to A.I. generated deepfakes, we cannot let the wow factor of the technology distract us from the fact that it was created through theft. Toronto’s very own Drake had absolutely no input in the now infamous fake Drake track. His voice, his likeness, his right to control his image, and tell his own stories, were stolen from him…

“We’re past the day of it being the music companies versus the tech companies. Artists are using A.I. as a tool to help new levels of creativity and reach new fans. That’s not what we’re talking about. This is about being pro-human artistry and ensuring that we help create the space in society that makes the most of technology without hurting our creators.”


Will Page, author, visiting fellow, London School of Economics and Edinburgh University, on “crime stat dilemma” from the streaming manipulation panel:

“This measurement issue, I think it's a huge one where you discuss something as murky as fraud, which is you can only measure what you know. And that brings me to the crime status example, which I love to teach executives: what if a Globe and Mail headline said crime stats in Toronto are up compared to this time last year, crime stats are up 20 percent, what does that mean? Well, the kneejerk reaction is we have more crime, but what if it also means we're getting better at capturing the criminals? That's a good news story. Or it could possibly mean I’ve changed the definition of what crime stands for. Maybe I legalized a drug yesterday; I've legalized it today. Behaviour hasn't changed, but crime has. Or even just thinking aloud, you change the nature of reporting crime.  [Perhaps] ...we see more crime stats because it's easier to report. So, I just want the audience here to step back from these headline reports and think about this crime stats dilemma when they interpret what this means. We only know the fraud that exists in the platform. We only know the criminals that have been caught. What about the ones that got away?"

Bob Ezrin, producer, on what artists are dealing with today that could affect their mental health, from the Kids Help Phone panel:

“I think there’s an objectification of artists and performers in particular… I sound like an old fogey, but in the 60s and 70s and the early 80s most of the labels would get out of the way. Ahmet Ertegun was one of the greats of all time, one of the founders of Atlantic Records, and one of the largest forces in the history of the music industry; he used to say, ‘I surround myself with smart people and get out of the way,’ and that was the approach of the record companies in those days. We’d have closed sessions the record company was not allowed to attend. We would deliver a record, and they had to figure out how to make it work — [Noting the response in the room to this comment] Look at the faces here!

"The biggest change in the record industry now is that once upon a time, the industry was run by a group of passionate amateurs and now it’s run by cold-hearted professionals. And the artist themselves are being squeezed into a role or look or a sound or something that may not be natural to them in the first place, but they’re being told ‘If you want to make it, these are the things you have to do.’ So sometimes you end up with a struggle between the persona that has been imposed on them and the person who you really are, and that’s tough… Obviously, you need help, you need wind in your sails, you need somebody to invest in you, you need to be able to navigate this very complicated industry right and so you reach out, and you get management and labels and agents and all these other people who begin to tell you how to be, who to be and what to do. And it happens at a very early age now, much earlier than it was… In the industry now, you’re getting plucked off YouTube or TikTok at an age when you still haven’t figured out how to shave, never mind what you’re going to do with your life. And somebody sees the potential to use you as a prop to make money, and they start surrounding you with all kinds of ideas, and sometimes you’re really lucky to find somebody who’s in your corner and passionate that is committed to your welfare — and those are the people you want to plug into.” 

—  For the complete list of award winners, link here.

Billboard Japan


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