CARAS CEO Melanie Berry Talks Juno Noms, Winnipeg, Robin Thicke's Canadian Passport (Q&A)

Yesterday, the nominees for Canada’s 2014 Juno Awards were announced at a press conference in Toronto. Held this year in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the majority of the trophies will be handed out at a private gala dinner March 29, followed by the national broadcast on CTV on the 30th. The Juno Awards, now in their 43rd year, started moving every year to a different host city, beginning in 2002. It also expanded to include Juno-related events, such as the Juno Cup, Junofest, Juno Fan Fare and Juno Songwriters’ Circle.

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Melanie Berry, president and CEO of the Canadian Academy of Recordings Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and the Juno Awards, spoke to Billboard about what it takes to put on Canada’s biggest music awards show.

Do the Juno Awards and Juno Week run like a well-oiled machine now?
We have great teams in place. [We're] very comfortable with our publicity team [Holmes Communications] and, inside CARAS, the nominating, voting and events teams. Moving around [city to city each year] makes for challenges, for sure, because you never know exactly what you’re going to encounter, but I’m pretty confident that the base at CARAS is pretty strong.

Now you are revisiting cities the Junos have already gone to, so you know what the challenges are through trial and error. How has it been returning to Winnipeg?
Returning to Winnipeg is great because they have a very solid Host Committee. Half of them I knew when we were there in 2005. Half the battle with a host committee is communication because you forget to tell them something or they forget to tell you something -- email and social media has made things so much better that way. But our teams work really well together.

For people who have never been to Winnipeg and don’t know much about the city, why is it a great pick to host Canada’s biggest music awards show? What would you tell the industry (besides the fact it’s very cold at this time of year)?
It does have its moments [laughs]. It has been cold for a while, but Winnipeg is built for it. You can get from most places. They have a great Walkway [system] that you can move around [a significant portion of downtown inside]. One of the big surprises this year -- because I hadn’t been there in so long -- is the food. They have fabulous restaurants and they have such strong culture. They’re a big city with a community feel. I’m pretty excited about Canadian Museum For Human Rights, which is being built. It doesn’t open until September, but the Juno Awards will be there for the opening reception on the Friday night, March 28. It’s a beautiful building.

What type of infrastructure is in place to be able to stage and accommodate the Canadian music industry coming to Winnipeg for such a big event?
Winnipeg has a huge convention centre that they are doubling the size of presently. So it’s wonderful that we have the MTS Centre downtown where the Juno Awards will be, which is connected to the RBC Convention Centre with the hotel attached to it, and the Fairmont just down the road, so they do have a really good infrastructure.

Sounds like no one has to go outside, unless they are bar-hopping to see the bands at Junofest. Tell me about the involvement of the host city government funding bodies -- the Province of Manitoba, City of Winnipeg, Tourism Winnipeg, and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries.
The City and the Province are the two main funding bodies. We work direct with the City and the Province and that‘s the way that it usually works -- sometimes there’s a third or a fourth partner. Now the Juno Awards have built so much that we have an economic impact, it really substantiates our sponsorship fee. We average over $12 million now.

In tourism dollars?
It’s impact to the city -- combination of tourism, retail, restaurant spends, hotel spends.

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What do the host city government sponsors want in return for staging the Junos there?
They’re great. We have someone from the City, Kenny Boyce, who is one of the co-chairs, and Carole Vivier from Manitoba Film & Music, and they want to see a successful event. They want to make it the biggest, best Junos possible for everybody. Obviously, there’s exposure for being supportive of the Junos, and that’s really what they want. It’s really straightforward.

Could you mount this without the corporate sponsors?
Absolutely not. We need everybody. The financial support that the City and the Province [provide] is what allows us to go to that city, and then we absolutely need the corporate support for all the other events.

What do the corporate sponsors want? Is it just signage? Do some battle for more? Will we see the Dodge Dart everywhere?
The ones that support the events that I’m looking at are like Songwriters’ Circle, so you’ve got VIA Rail [Canadian passenger rail service] who’s been a longtime supporter. SOCAN with the Asper Foundation and Manitoba Film and Music and it’s just to be a part of it, honestly. We have great corporate sponsors that really understand that there’s an intangible there; they are supporting Canadian culture and they’re very proud to do it.

Those aren’t corporations, except VIA.
VIA is a sponsor of our welcome reception.

Meanwhile Budweiser, Polar Ice Vodka, Beyond Flowers, Wiser’s Spiced Whisky…
They’re more ‘official partners’ that we have at different venues and, of course, we provide an opportunity for exposure and that is what they would ask for. But we have a lot of long-term partners and they really are wanting to allow the events to stay the same in this day and age. Sure, you have to facilitate. You give tickets and there is signage and the tickets are a part of it -- depending on the corporation -- they might be wanting tickets for their own people; it could be a reward program and also it could be for corporate entertaining. There’s so many different levels of what they might want to hit in that year and I think that’s the key now when you’re looking for corporate sponsors is to identify what their needs are.

The main event itself, the Juno Awards, you have more to announce around — more performers and the host, but you scored some great talent, including Robin Thicke, who we are claiming as our own [his father is Canadian actor/composer Alan Thicke].
Robin Thicke is going to be there. He fits our criteria. Fifty percent of his band is Canadian and he holds a Canadian passport. He was also nominated back in 2011. So Robin Thicke, City and Colour, Tegan and Sara, Serena Ryder and Walk Off The Earth, so already it’s big names and, hopefully, there’s some discovery there. We have lots of performers and presenters to announce, and with nominations [announced] now we can start to build more of the show. It’s exciting.