Updated: Jan 31, 2021
By Scott Roos
In the 80’s, 90’s and early aughts, there was arguably no better place to find out about new music than by turning on your television set and flipping through channels until you arrived on MuchMusic. A Canadian counterpart to America's own cultural phenomena, MTV, MuchMusic featured meticulously curated content of popular music videos paired with an equally worthy playlist of strong up-and-comers across all genres. The channel was like a fine wine to its predominantly youthful demographic. It played a major role in shaping the very foundation of the music business in Canada and that business has not seen the same level of excitement before or since channels like MTV and MuchMusic were launched.
“We were radio with pictures. So it was more powerful. Like a radio station that has a music format where they had songs in heavy rotation and light rotation and medium rotation, MuchMusic had videos that were in heavy, medium and light rotation. If an artist got into heavy rotation at MuchMusic they were set. That was a big deal,” said former MuchMusic Video Jockey (aka VJ) Erica Ehm in a recent interview with NSMZ.
Ehm was one of a set of young, hip and fresh VJs to work at MuchMusic in those glory days. Serving as one of the arguably more memorable VJ's from 1984-1993, Ehm was constantly in the nation's spotlight. This is something not lost on Ehm as she fondly reminisces about her time at MuchMusic.
“I guess you’d call us, cultural curators. So we were the ones that would help define the kinds of music that Canadians listened to coast to coast,” Ehm continued, “We were influencers before there were influencers. We were influencing Canadian culture and that’s why they chose the people who were on MuchMusic very carefully to make sure that we really did love music and that we were passionate about it and that we had a strong point of view.”
Not only did the music video medium serve to elevate already rising stars or help shape musical tastes in the mainstream, but it also provided an essential promotional service to acts from marginalized genres like heavy metal by giving bands specialized platforms like "The Power Hour". More importantly, however, MuchMusic took strong acts that were in existence in Canada and helped to evolve them into major stars by providing exposure to millions of Canadians who saw the station as essential viewing.
“MuchMusic changed the (way) Canadian (Rock/Pop) Stars were created. (Canada) didn’t really have a major platform for creating stars before, and when MuchMusic came to life Bryan Adams' and Corey Hart’s albums became diamond sellers and that had never happened before. It was only because of MuchMsic and the power of video. So MuchMusic completely changed the face of the Canadian music industry,” said Ehm.
As a VJ, Ehm was responsible for demonstrating a keen knowledge of music as she cycled through the various playlists throughout her workday. One of the cool things about MuchMusic was that VJ's would take turns hosting various specialized programs, so viewers would always be getting unique takes on different genres of music. This was in the days before the internet allowed for ease of research. Ehm's job was challenging but obviously very rewarding.
“We had a filing cabinet. It was big and grey and made out of metal and people would cut articles out of magazines and newspapers and file them. So we would take the file if there was a specific band we were going to interview, and we would take the file home. That was just the beginning. We also had many magazines that were brought in so there were stacks of magazines. We would take the stacks of magazines home. Also right across the street from us that I believe was called Books City and I had to go and buy magazines. So we were dependent on carrying literally these HUGE bags filled with heavy books and magazines that we would thumb through to try and find a mention of a band or artist. It was long and arduous and there was no internet when I started,” said Ehm.
Ehm learned over time through her research process and also through her work in the MuchMusic studio that would often be a very frantic and chaotic environment and, in 1993, she left the station to pursue other opportunities that led to such a fascinating path it would take a whole new article to tell the tale.
“(MuchMusic) was kind of sink or swim. I scored the job which was really the coolest job and basically they said ‘Good Luck!’. So every night I was responsible for doing my homework. I was given the rundown which included all the videos that were being played and my job was to write introductions for each set of music. I had no help. I had no researcher. I had no writer. I had no director. I had no wardrobe person. At the end of the time there I DID have a makeup person. No one did my hair. So, I was really a one woman machine as was each person who did the same job as me and what happened was I got really good at my job and it trained me to do research for anything. I learned so many skills working at MuchMusic that I applied to so many different careers following that,” Ehm said.
Currently Ehm is working on a podcast called Reinvention of the VJ which is a series of interview segments chronicling various personalities that were involved with the station in its heyday (you can find this one Apple Podcasts). She has also recently helped to produce a Youtube series of children's videos called Outta the Books which was produced during isolation and features a number of cast members from Broadway (here's their website if you are interested: https://www.outtathebooks.com/.
In the meantime, in the last few decades, MuchMusic has had a major overhauling. For instance, it's no longer called MuchMusic, as music videos, with the advent of the internet, have found a different medium to feature on via websites and various social media platforms. As the 2000's have rolled on, MuchMusic became simply "Much" and pivoted to showing more reality and episodic TV orientated programming with its blocks of music becoming less and less prominent. The internet has effected the business in a myriad of different ways, and the slow decline of music on television is perhaps one of the saddest and most disappointing.
"So many people are so sad that there is no more (music on) MuchMusic because it has had a very negative impact on the music industry to date,” concluded Ehm.
MuchMusic is now part of a bygone era but it's still fun to think back on the amazing legacy it's left behind. Oddly enough, the internet is also preserving a lot of old cutaway segments from MuchMusic and many or Erica's classic moments can be found on Youtube if you look hard enough. Perhaps that is the final irony. The coffin of this once great cultural icon is not exactly nailed shut, but instead has been precariously lowered into the ground halfway open.
*photo courtesy of Eric Alper and Erica Ehm