Catching Up With CARAS President and CEO Allan Reid
Every year we’ve looked to try to highlight opportunities for artists across all spectrums as far as the awards are concerned.
By Nick Krewen
Since taking over the helm as CARAS president and CEO in 2014, Allan Reid has been pursuing ways to celebrate Canadian music year-beyond the Juno Awards in spring by creating events throughout the year.
FYIMusicNews caught up with Allan recently to talk about the Juno show, which is scheduled for Vancouver on March 25 at the Rogers Arena, a revived partnership with the CBC and the state of CARAS in general.
What most excites you about the Juno Awards this year?
AR: We’re excited about returning to Vancouver. I think a lot of people look at Vancouver as the other major music centre of our industry, so to bring the Junos back there after nine years away is fantastic. To have Michael Bublé come back as our host in his hometown is another fantastic story. I can’t wait for Barenaked Ladies to receive their Hall of Fame: I can’t believe it’s been 30 years that they’ve been making music. We announced Jesse Reyez and Daniel Caesar as performers. The big story this year is that there are a lot of the emerging younger artists that are coming out and that is exciting for Canadian music.
Michael Bublé had to cancel hosting last year’s ceremony. Was he your first choice this time around? Did his camp approach yours or did you contact him?
AR: We certainly talked to them. Michael was absolutely our first choice. It just made such great sense coming into Vancouver. He couldn’t host Ottawa with his son’s illness. But it’s also a lot easier for him to do it when it’s home. We’re thrilled to have him back.
You’ve forged a new partnership with the CBC. How does this differ from your time with CTV/Bell?
AR: CTV was an incredible partner for the 16 years that we worked together. I think they helped grow what the Junos have become today. Randy (Lennox) has been an essential part of this organization and our industry for a long time; but, you know, the CBC’s approach was so broad in what they wanted to help us accomplish.
Our four key pillars – educate, develop, celebrate and honour – was CBC’s proposal to us: how can we take the Juno Awards and support all the things that CARAS is doing. That was very exciting to us that our mandates aligned: Here we are with 42 categories, and the CBC can dig deep into the lesser-exposed artists - whether it’s jazz or classical or children’s. It’s all about, what can they do for us throughout the year and not just around the broadcast, whether that’s MusiCounts or our arts development program that we run with the Allan Slaight JUNO Masterclass and now partner with Searchlight. There are some great synergies.
The other big part of it too is Music Day on CBC, where on the Juno Sunday, they’re going to be dedicating all of their programming on Radio One, Radio 2, online and even some on the major networks to support Canadian artists and their music.
One of the criticisms of the Juno TV broadcast in the past has been its focus on major categories. Are some of the fringe categories going to receive some airtime this year?
AR: Not yet determined. The major categories are obviously incredibly important. When you’re talking about viewership, people want to see Artist of the Year, Single of the Year and Fan’s Choice Award. It’s a tough show to program when we only have time for ten performances, a Hall of Fame Induction and our awards. It’s always a juggling act. This is the year that R&B is going to step to the forefront: you’ve got Daniel and Jessie as nominees in that category. And I look at last year what we did with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tanya Tagaq and A Tribe Called Red opening the show. Every year we’ve sought to try and highlight opportunities for artists across all spectrums.
Apparently, this year will be the first time that the Junos will be broadcast live across the entire country. This didn’t happen during the CTV years?
AR: No. It’s interesting because whenever it comes to mind, I’m thinking, ‘Of course it’s live – it’s a live TV show.’ But it’s always been tape-delayed across the country. It took to air on prime time. Canada’s a vast country, with a lot of time zones, so this will be the first time that we’ve ever actually been “live” live. It will air in Vancouver at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. in Alberta, 8 p.m. here in Ontario, and so on. There’s a massive shift happening to the broadcast industry in how people are consuming content and how viewers are watching things. There’s also a massive social media engagement that occurs around awards shows. So the decision was made – let’s go live literally across the entire country, not only on television but digital platforms as well. A lot of people don’t have TVs now: they’ve become cord-cutters. How do we reach those fans, especially younger fans, who are watching with multiple devices? The CBC wants to drive audience engagement. We thought that this would be the best way to do it.
As we move further into a digital streaming-centric music industry, how is this going to impact the Junos? Is it affecting it now?
AR: We started making changes a few years ago. Now that we’re getting the data through Nielsen, our data provider, we’re able to begin working consumption data into our calculations. We no longer even call it sales: we have consumption in 10 of our categories as part of the nomination criteria. That data has become essential.
When you look at the streaming data, it brings other things to life: There are genres of music that are getting millions of streams. As we see the demographics and age change occur, we see new data from that.
How is the consumer engagement with music?
Are they buying vinyl?
Are they streaming?
That is now taken into consideration, and every year our voting team has to look at this info and say, ‘How do we adjust our calculations?’
I’m hoping that now the labels have seen a bit of return in their revenue streams from streaming, it’s going to bring future investment back into A&R and developing artists - not that it ever stopped – but the labels didn’t have the same kind of money years ago. For us, Juno TV has been creating some of our content. We saw a need years ago to say, ‘let’s be more than just a broadcast. How do we support artists and start engaging with them even before they’re a nominee?’ So Juno TV is now putting things together like the Juno Masterclass, which has become a key part of the content that we push out to help support artists.
How has Juno TV worked out? What kind of traffic and awareness has it generated?
AR: It obviously depends on the content that’s being pushed out, but it’s been well received. It’s great watching Lights, and Kardinal Offishall and Gavin Brown and Max Kerman engage, mentor and coach artists. It’s also become a great learning tool for young artists who wonder, ‘how do I navigate this business?’ That’s been a potent tool for us. We’re going to continue doing Juno Live – we’ve got a new one with Daniel Caesar coming up fairly soon that again, will be very well received.
You’ve thrown Best Comedy Album back into the mix. What prompted that decision?
AR: A comedian, Mark Forward, started tweeting me, ‘You should have a Comedy Award at the Junos.'’ Almost simultaneously, Joel Carriere, who had joined our board from Dine Alone, said, ‘Why don’t you have a comedy award?’
We used to have one back in the ‘80s: 1984 was the last year we had it. No one had approached us to reinstate it. Joel approached us because he works at Barry Taylor’s label, Comedy Records, and Jon Simkin reached out from 604 because he’s working with some West Coast comedians. We put it back to the community: it’s not CARAS who does the outreach: we rely on communities of artists, managers, agents, and promoters to put together a proposal. The community rose to the occasion; SiriusXM came on board as a sponsor for the award, and we said, ‘Fantastic idea! Let’s make it happen.’
You have a new partnership with Apple Music who are sponsoring two Juno Awards categories. How do you see this growing in the future?
AR: We’re thrilled to have Apple as a partner. We had Google Play as a sponsor for the last couple of years – Apple always wanted to be involved – and this year it happened. Apple is a fantastic company and very supportive of the Canadian artist scene, so we’re excited to work with them on this year’s Junos.
This year’s Juno nominations are Drake and OVO-free. Any comment?
AR: We’re obviously really proud of all the artists who choose to submit and participate, and the nominees represent diverse and incredible talent. The thing is, you need to want to be part of that - and Drake chose not to - and not submit. Hopefully, we’ll have him back someday.
Last year, Russell Peters made some unfortunate and unsanctioned comments that seemed to objectify Minister Mélanie Joly. Given this particularly sensitive time, in light of the #MeToo Movement, did this incident play a role in setting up a committee on Gender Equality?
AR: This is something that obviously pre-dates Russell. We’ve been making changes at CARAS, and we talk to our members and hear about what’s important to them. We readily acknowledge that this is a conversation of which CARAS wants to be part and is supportive of. Having Jackie Dean lead our working group for this organization is fantastic. We added four women to our board last year. We’re working on a scholarship. We’re working on club safety with Good Night out in Vancouver. We’re working with Women In Music on a Vancouver panel. There have been lots of things percolating over the two years. We think it’s essential to support this movement.
CARAS staff has always been more proportioned to include women. Do you feel there’s a necessary adjustment to be made?
AR: Melanie Berry, who was here as president and CEO before me for 13 years, built an incredible staff comprised 80% women at CARAS. It’s an incredible team.
I don’t think it’s about the staff we have at CARAS – but more about what CARAS does to support the industry.That’s the question: what are we doing to forward this dialogue?
You announced that the National Music Centre in Calgary would feature a year-long exhibit on this year’s Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees, the Barenaked Ladies.
AR: We have been very supportive of Andrew Mosker and the National Music Centre and Studio Bell – we have a partnership. Obviously, they are the shared physical home of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. We’re all on the fifth floor. When the Calgary Junos happened back in 2016, we launched the building the year we inducted Burton Cummings. Right next to the Halls of Fame, there is a Gallery. There was a huge display put there for Burton. Last year, we had Sarah McLachlan her join us in Calgary for a plaque ceremony. It’s a beautiful moment to be there with the artist when they put their name there, their plaque, their brick, onto the wall amongst all the other inductees.
Is CARAS actively courting “Academy Delegates” to join?
AR: It’s essential. The Academy Delegates determine our winners with an excellent cross-section of our industry represented. There have been some sectors that need to be increased – so Allegra Swanson, who joined us about a year ago – has taken it on as a role to see how can we raise our Academy delegate profile and also get more information about them. One question we had: who is our membership? How is that represented geographically? Understanding the data is an integral part of what she’s doing.
Do you have a membership figure in mind?
AR: We’re at 1300 members currently, and we’re looking for 1500. That number could increase substantially. We want to ensure that the industry and artists see value in this. It’s not just about voting; it’s about engaging with CARAS and returning to those four key pillars. By being part of CARAS, they’re supporting MusiCounts through to the Hall of Fame. Connecting these dots for delegates is what we need to do.
Some have the opinion that the great work MusiCounts does to provide instruments should be part of a government educational budget. Has there been any overture from the government?
AR: Obviously, MusiCounts is here to help elevate and promote Canadian talent, but also ensure that music education is in our schools and our communities. That is essential for this organization. We’ve been doing this for 20 years and given out over $10 million worth of instruments to communities from coast to coast to coast. When you sit down with artists, a lot of them have no idea about MusiCounts and that we’re actually in schools. In the last five years, we’ve given $5 million of that $10 million, such is our incredible growth. On one level, it’s in a sad state of affairs because every year we see the decline of music education in public schools. It’s a tough puzzle to figure out for provincial governments that fund education and the administrators who determine the curriculum each year. As a music organization, we think that music education is paramount to every child’s in-school opportunity... as essential to learn as English, math, and science. Kids need to be given a chance to at least experience this: a chance to learn an instrument somewhere in their time spent in school.
And the other three pillars: Celebrate, Develop and Honour?
AR: “MusiCounts, through the Band-Aid program or the TD Community program, our MusiCounts Teacher of the Year scholarships, our Allan Slaight Juno Masterclass and the Arts Development program, is designed to be a bridge between music education and the awards show. “Develop” is also Juno TV. Obviously, the Juno Awards are celebrated – everything happens around Juno Week, and now through the CBC we hope that to be a 365-day program that connects you right back to development as well. Honouring our icons and putting these artists into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame is very important.
Are there any plans for a catch-up ceremony for the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Awards and the CMHF?
AR: It’s been something we’ve been talking about. We have a committee around the Hall of Fame help figure this puzzle out because it’s challenging. There’s a long list. How can we recognize more people? The Hall of Fame moment is one of the highest-rated moments in the broadcast. We can’t honour or five or 10 people in the same way. It’s certainly something that we’re working towards.
Have there been any numbers in determining the audience that watches the Juno via streaming? Is it significant?
AR: We will know this year after the CBC broadcast. The numbers have not been that large in the past. There are different things that the gala dinner did that we’ve had good numbers on - 50,000-plus watching the stream there - but for viewership, this will be the year where we receive proper data.