On March 31, 2016, the University of Calgary announced that Universal Music Canada had donated the archive of EMI Music Canada to the university’s Libraries and Cultural Resources. The collection consists of 5,500 boxes containing more than 21,000 audio recordings, 18,000 video recordings and more than two million documents and photographs. The archive is managed by the university’s Archives and Special Collections. The EMI Music Canada Archive gives students, researchers and music fans around the world access to documentation of more than half a century of contemporary music history.
Gimme an R! O! C! K! Whatcha got? ROCK! And whatcha gonna do? ROCK YOU!
Back in high school in Regina, Sask. in the '80s, Helix was one of the first rock bands I ever saw perform live, and it was that show that ignited my long-lasting love of heavy metal (my musical taste did expand in the years since, and now it even includes a few country songs — maximum 10). Soon after Helix, it was Iron Maiden (this is the band that gets the credit for being the number one reason I always, always take earplugs to concerts).
Everybody has memories and stories about music: what their first concert was, where they were and who they were with when they heard a particular song, how it made them feel.
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Sifting through the treasures in the University of Calgary’s EMI Music Canada Archive delivers a thunderbolt of nostalgia. This was the recording company or distributor for most of the music I grew up listening to.
EMI Music Canada invested in domestic talent, but it also brought the music of the entire world into Canadian homes, distributing the work of hundreds of international artists. Just to name a few: David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Duran Duran, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Radiohead, Pet Shop Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Paul McCartney, Wings, Poison, Garth Brooks, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Barry Manilow, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Iron Maiden.
Bringing a world of music into Canadian homes
The archive traces EMI Music Canada’s beginnings as Capitol Records Canada in 1949, up to the time it was purchased in 2012, when Universal Music Group took over EMI Music worldwide. It contains master recordings, publicity photos, demo tapes, album cover art, outlines for music videos, marketing plans, tour programs, awards, song lyrics and correspondence between artists, producers, engineers and company executives.
There’s something in here for everyone, no matter how old you are, no matter what music you like. The archive spans 63 years and a range of genres: folk, jazz, classical, country, pop, rock, rap and heavy metal.
"This archive provides an overarching history, from a music point of view, of the last half of the 20th century and the profound impact of that music on society," says Tom Hickerson, vice provost (libraries and cultural resources).
Documents illustrate the profound impact of music on society
I was pretty stoked when the archivists showed me publicity photos galore of Helix, their press releases, tour programs and sketches of a cassette cover design. Multiple pages of early mockups of the Glass Tiger logo. An Anne Murray set list and a 1989 memo confirming her American TV appearances as a guest on the Pat Sajak Show and a presenter at the American Music Awards.
And! Photos of Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden signing copies of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son for fans in Toronto in 1988. And the actual, physical framed award commemorating the album’s platinum status in Canada.
“You really do get a front row seat into the living, breathing times of the music business in this country,” is how Jeffrey Remedios, president and CEO of Universal Music Canada, describes the archive.
“When you think of treasured Canadian artists like Sylvia Tyson, Stompin’ Tom Connors and Anne Murray, their talent is undeniable and there was a huge team behind them that was best in class.”
The archive documents how artists were promoted, how well-known albums were marketed, how music videos were scripted and filmed.
40,000 audio-visual recordings in 40 different formats
The entire archive includes nearly 40,000 audio-visual recordings in 40 different formats. Many are becoming obsolete, such as U-matic and reel-to-reel tapes. Plans are now underway to reformat these recordings to ensure safe playback while preserving the originals. A grant of $275,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will enable Libraries and Cultural Resources to conduct the research necessary to digitize thousands of recordings of top artists for future generations to enjoy and study.
The diversity of this archive makes it a treasure trove for anyone studying music, performing arts, recording technologies, history, business, gender studies and Canadian culture.
Aside from the music element, what strikes me the most is that we will never see archives again like those created before the 21st century. This one contains analogue tape recordings, penned letters and memos, hand-drawn mockups of band logos and cassette covers. Most of this work is now accomplished digitally.
At the University of Calgary’s announcement of the donation of the EMI Music Canada Archive, Tom Cochrane said: “It’s an era we will never see again. It must be protected so that this generation and future generations can study it. Go to town on it, have a good time with it, study it.”
Tom Cochrane: 'It’s an era we will never see again'
Libraries and Cultural Resources is working with the Faculty of Arts, the School of Creative and Performing Arts and other academic departments and faculties on ways to incorporate the archive into learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
The EMI Music Canada Archive is so massive it will take multiple deliveries to transfer it all from the storage facility in Toronto. Archivists are fully immersed in the gargantuan job of unpacking 5,000-plus boxes of Canadian culture (if you lined up the boxes, they would stretch nearly two kilometres).
This job will keep them busy uncovering gems of years gone by, cataloguing Canadian music history and collaborating with the National Music Centre — its new facility, Studio Bell, opened in Calgary over the summer — on programming and exhibitions for the public well into the future.
Jennifer Sowa is the manager of communications and marketing for Libraries and Cultural Resources at the University of Calgary.
Browse a selection of items from the EMI Music Canada Archive in the video and virtual exhibit.