Canadian Recording Academy CEO Allan Reid Talks Juno Awards, Gender Equality & Artists Speaking Out

Allan Reid
Dan Bannister

Allan Reid

The Junos take place this weekend.

Allan Reid came from an executive A&R background at a major label and top job at an indie distributor/label to helm the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He knows all the players and the way the industry operates. But the affable president and CEO, with a position similar to that of the Recording Academy’s Neil Portnow, has a tough job: keeping everyone happy when it comes to diversity and equality, whether it's gender or genre, and the sheer logistics of putting on Canada’s most important celebration of homegrown music.

Still, Reid seems to have a fire or two to put out each year -- and he’s only been in the job since 2015.

Last year, he had to “deeply apologize” when Juno host/comedian Russell Peters went off-script and called the underage girls in the audience “a felony waiting to happen” and questioned Minister Mélanie Joly’s presence (“she's hot, so who cares?”). This year, he had to drop Hedley off the show -- a band he signed to Universal Music Canada more than 13 years ago -- when some members were accused of sexual assault and misconduct.

For the past couple of years, he has been making serious moves to improve female representation and voices at the organization. The board added four women last year (of 15 members, there are now five women) and the office has long been comprised of 80 percent women. Melanie Berry ran CARAS for 13 years. CARAS has 1,300 paid members but won’t reveal the gender breakdown. Interestingly, the relatively new Women in Music Canada has 1,900 members, in Ontario alone, but it is free to join, which likely accounts for the larger figure.

This year, the 47th annual Juno Awards -- taking place over two nights in Vancouver, the majority of awards given at a private industry-only gala dinner Saturday and the live, nationally televised and globally streamed ceremony Sunday on CBC from Rogers Arena -- will be hosted by Michael Bublé (he also hosted in 2013) and will feature performances by Arcade Fire, Arkells, Barenaked Ladies with Steven Page (the Hall of Fame inductees), Daniel Caesar, Diana Krall, Jessie Reyez, Lights, Shawn Hook, The Jerry Cans and a tribute to the late Gord Downie featuring Dallas Green and Sarah Harmer with Kevin Hearn.

The Sunday broadcast can be streamed globally at as well as CBC Music's Facebook and YouTube pages.

Billboard spoke to Reid about a variety of issues pertaining to the awards and his role at CARAS, from increasing membership to gender parity.

Michael Bublé had a very tough year last year with his son’s diagnosis of liver cancer and had to back out of hosting the Juno Awards in Ottawa, so it’s fortuitous that the Junos are in his hometown this year.

It’s a great story. When Michael’s son took ill last year and he had to pull out, we literally had just announced him as host, and two or three days later we got the news about his son. He didn’t step down immediately. It was like, "Let’s wait and see." But he obviously had to put everything aside and care for his family and we obviously accepted that last year. So, yeah, it was the perfect way this could work out, we’re in his hometown. When we did the host announcement in Vancouver back in November, I was talking to him afterwards and he said, "Allan I don’t need to do this." He said he’s had a very trying year, and he looked at me and said, "You made this easy for me. I love the Junos and this country and by the Junos being in Vancouver, you made it easy for me to do this." If it was in Toronto, I don’t know if he could’ve done it this year; it could’ve been a different situation.

Let’s talk about the switch back to CBC [the station had the awards prior to CTV too] and what changes that will bring.

CTV was a fantastic partner for us for the last 16 years. What really happened here was the opportunity we saw from the alignment of interests of what CBC represents, all artists, all genres of music, all the time. The whole approach when CBC came to us was not just about "We want to be broadcaster of the Juno Awards." It was "How could we help support CARAS, the Juno Awards, [charity arm] MusiCounts, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame?" -- everything that we’re doing 365 days a year.  They really see the Junos as a pinnacle moment for music in this country and they want to build all around that. One of the first things we’ve done is they have their Searchlight program, which is their unsigned talent contest, and they get well over a thousand entries for that each year. So the winner of Searchlight will now become part of the Allan Slaight Juno Master Class [which includes a weeklong workshop in Toronto]. So we’re trying to find synergies like that where we can help each other and help, most importantly, artists get to the Junos stage.

Bell Media [which owns CTV] is massive, of course, and music’s become a prominent component of what they’re doing with [former Universal Music Canada president] Randy Lennox in charge. How will the switch to CBC affect the coverage they give the Junos?

The Junos is a major cultural moment that happens in this country. We’ll see. This will be the first year as far as our new arrangement, so it remains to be seen, but they’ve remained very supportive all the way through.

Is it the first time the Junos have been streamed live globally?

No the Juno’s have been live streamed before; this is the first time they’ve been live live. What we mean by that is the broadcast has always been tape-delayed. Canada is challenging with all of our many time zones. If the awards show is happening in Vancouver or the east, then people in the west already know who all the winners are, so what is new this year, and we’re very excited about it, is CBC is broadcasting the Junos live across the entire country. So it’ll air at 5 o’clock in BC, 6 Alberta, and run live across the country. Part of that was also that the terrestrial television broadcast rates have been declining on not only awards shows, but on a ton of property for the last few years, so CBC has been very forward-thinking in being a digital-first company and wanted to make sure that they’re getting their content out on digital because people are consuming -- whether it’s awards shows or any content -- in a very different way, whether it’s PVRing it, or watching on their phone or iPad, traveling somewhere watching or watching clips after the fact. We want to try to capture all of those viewing habits as best as we possibly can, so to go for a live live piece. Also we have some things like Juno Fan Choice, presented by TD, which is a live vote that runs live right into the broadcast.

In Canada, we get to see the Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, BET Awards and Brits Awards. Given the success of Canadian artists, have you tried to get a U.S. network to pick up the broadcast?

It certainly has been investigated year in, year out. One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is there are a lot of awards shows happening around the world, especially coming out of the U.S. We do have global superstars, but in trying to go into what is a currently crowded market with Canadian-only performances, if you have bands on there that haven’t broken internationally [it’s tough]. It’s like Australia’s ARIA Awards; you don’t see those airing outside of Australia either. Yes, they have some global artists, as we have global artists, but it’s not an entire show of global artists. You’ve got some that remain, so far, successful in Canada. Obviously, we would love to have partners. That’s why the major step this year was getting the broadcast up on all those CBC digital platforms. We’ll get that opportunity. They felt that with The Tragically Hip [broadcast of the band’s final concert], they and over 1 million people view that outside of Canada, I believe it was, online. That was a huge number for CBC to realize, "Wow, there’s people around the world that are loving Canadian music that if you give them the option to tune in on those platforms, they may tune in for it."

Attending the Juno Awards, and joining CARAS, were the first things I ever did in my teens when I started writing for the school paper and wanted to get my foot in the door of the music industry. How are you getting young people to become members and to know about CARAS and the importance of voting and the year-round programs?

That’s a lot of what it is: trying to educate people that it’s not just about the awards show. Being a member of CARAS is not just about the right to vote -- although that’s a really important part of it -- it is also about coming into the Canadian music industry and supporting, not just CARAS, but supporting artists.

When we started having conversations, especially about the artist community, it’s amazing how people didn’t know what CARAS does for the rest of the year. They don’t know about MusiCounts; they don’t know that we’ve given out $10 million worth of instruments to schools and programs in community centers all across the country for the last 20 years. And when you tell an artist that, they go, "You do what? You give instruments to kids?" "Yeah, we’ve been doing that for two decades."

So it’s a really important recruitment tool for the Academy delegates that just by providing information of what we are as an organization, and the narrative that we talk a lot about around our four key pillars -- which are educate, develop, celebrate and honor -- that we want to support artists, we say, from birth to myth. Literally, we give instruments to artists when they are in elementary school. We help nurture and mentor them through the Allan Slaight Master Class and get to the Junos. We then celebrate them at the Junos and throughout Juno Week, and with Juno TV supporting, and, ultimately, honor them in the Hall of Fame. We start telling people that narrative, it really changes their perception of what CARAS is as an organization, that it’s not just an awards show.

Now that’ll be further enhanced with the partnership at CBC, where we’re looking for different ways to connect, but also the fact that they are all genres of music is an important piece of this. We’re having a classical showcase, a jazz showcase. CBC is gonna support it by playing that music and focusing on those nominees and artists and exposing them to a wider audience, which is great.

Beyond the artists, what about recruiting young people in the industry? Many might think it’s a bad time to enter it and you can’t make a living. Are there plans to offer mentorships for newcomers with industry veterans?

Yeah, you see that through the Master Class in some form. We’re also talking about a scholarship program for women. MusiCounts has a separate scholarship they’ve run for years, which isn’t just for artists, but for people entering the business. That program is going through a revamp right now. We’re also looking on the Juno side to try to bring a technical scholarship together for women who want to move into the field of engineering and music production. 

Coming back to the point on the membership, one of the key things for us is how do you reach those young people, especially in different genres of music? One thing we did last year is the rap category went from being a craft category voted by the jury to now being voted on by the membership. That was a really important thing that we talked about with the advisory committee for rap -- hip-hop is one of the largest [genres] for streaming right now and it is mainstream. It’s not a niche market anymore; it is what the youth are listening to every single day, it’s pop music -- so we felt that that voting process needed to be opened up to a wider membership. Part of that was to encourage people within those fields to say, "Look, it’s not just about voting on single of the year; you can also vote on rap." It was interesting having the conversations with the advisory committee about it, which was [that] by not doing that we’re actually doing a disservice to those artists. It is important that they are heard by a wider audience by CARAS and the voting delegates. More importantly, those artists are also showing up in other categories -- single, breakthrough artists, artists of the year -- so if you’re from that community, by becoming a member you can actually support those artists even better because you can vote in all of the categories.

There used to be “male” and “female” categories in the Junos and those were dropped. Would you reinstate that considering what’s going on now? Women want more recognition, but also want to be judged equally to men.

It’s an interesting question. It’s before my time as far as being the president here, but my understanding was the reason the gender-based categories were removed was to put women on an equal playing field with everybody. There’s two sides to it. Some people say "Have a female category," or the other side is saying, "No, let us compete with everybody; music is music, it’s not gender-based."

That said, now there is a concerted and conscious effort to make sure more women are involved in all aspects of the Juno Awards -- presenters, performers, on your board -- not just with CARAS, but everywhere in the industry. It’s such a prominent part of what’s going on now in all businesses. Did the feedback the Grammys received, and the outcry from Neil Portnow’s comments about women, influence the 2018 Junos?

No, not directly, because we’d already begun these conversations well before that. The addition of four women to our board happened last year, long before the Grammys had gone through their process. It’s something that initially was flagged by [the Stars/Broken Social Scene singer-guitarist] Amy Millan, with the #JunosSoMale tag she put out almost three years ago now. Certainly, the conversations that are happening in the world right now have brought it to the forefront for every business.  It’s something that has to be addressed, but it’s something that we’ve been working on -- I think about the board members we added last year: four women. We also worked with Tegan and Sara and Women in Music last year to provide a discount on first-time CARAS memberships to women. We also started an internal work group with Jackie Dean, our COO, who’s heading that up, to see how we can better serve the conversations around creating a scholarship for women in music, as far as production and engineering. As you know, we are also doing this panel [FEARLESS: Inspiring Music Industry Women & Their Careers]. So a lot of things have been underway. Another great part is Denise Donlon [former Sony Music Canada president and MuchMusic GM] is being recognized as the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recipient this year. Denise is an incredible trailblazer and, think about even that, there were no women inducted into the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award until two years ago when Rosalie Trombley was the very first one. That is a change that not just I recognized when I came in as the president here, but the board did. So Rosalie was the first Inductee and now Denise is the second [out of 34 people in the award’s history].

Would the CARAS board ever use its veto power when it comes to the nomination process and outcome to remove names from a category?

No. The nominee voting process here is steadfast. The integrity of that and how it works is paramount to us as an Academy. It is a pretty rigorous process. We’ve got 42 categories. A number of those have the advisory committees and then judges who vote on those. [PricewaterhouseCoopers] is our accounting firm. Everything goes through that and, trust me, sometimes results don’t come out the way we think they could or should, but we don’t change them. That would be basically saying to the industry "We don’t value your opinion," and that opinion is everything to us. If you’re a member of this organization, that is your voice.

Where does it sit in terms of the number of female performers or presenters or nominees?

The nominees were 40 percent female this year, or have a prominent female member in their band. A group like Alvvays, where Molly Rankin is the frontperson, we would count that as female representation. There will be a very strong female presence within the performers, as well as the presenters this year. Also add to that, it’s not just women; it’s also about diversity. There’s a lot of things we have to juggle to make up that puzzle, as we try to figure out who are the right artists to put in the show each year. Primarily it has to represent the year in music. That’s number one. Number two is also about the regionality of where we are each year and how we represent Canada as a whole. And also represent excellence.

I don’t envy your job. Initially it was just the politics of someone saying, "I’ll give you this top artist, but you have to put this artist on." Now you’ve got so many different people to satisfy.

It’s complicated. It’s a huge puzzle, but at the same time it’s not just me to figure it out. There’s obviously the board. There is a broadcast committee. We work closely with CBC and Insight [Productions] and our board on choosing who the presenters are going to be, who the artists will be. The hardest thing about that is no one knows the hours and the days, and the weeks, of planning that go into trying to figure this out every year, and they don’t know all the things that happen behind the scenes. There may be people who aren’t available or away on tour, so they go, ‘Hey, you don’t have enough of this or that.’  But those asks, a lot of the time, have already happened. We don’t say, “Oh, we don’t have this artist on this year because they’re not available.” We work with the artists that are available and are able to prioritize and have the Junos in their schedule every year.

You can never anticipate what can come up. Junos are in their 47th year, but what happened with Russell Peters and Hedley, there are no safeguards for things like that. Is anything going to be put in place, some kind of a criteria or contract, penalties if someone swears or is inappropriate, like they do for family festivals? Are there things that you can do so you’re not caught off-guard and have to apologize or pull someone off the show?

Yeah. It’s a really good question. We’re in a world right now that’s going through a major transformation and for good. Not only the Junos, but all the creative industries are now looking at how they handle working with artists and their world. Part of that is coming up with a code of conduct. We had that Anti-Harassment Summit, which was so educational for the music industry, because the film and TV industry have been going through this very heavily. So [the Alliance of Cinema, Television and Radio Artists] has led the charge here in Canada, and the Canadian Federation of Musicians worked directly with ACTRA to bring us all together to say, "OK, you’ve already been doing studies. You’ve worked with HR consultants. Help us understand what sexual harassment is in the workplace, what defines a workplace," because in the music industry you’ve got people in clubs, you’ve got them in buses, you’ve got them working from home. There’s tons of individual entrepreneurs. Every artist is their own little business. They don’t have HR firms or a person at their office; they’re small. So it was a great opportunity for us to exchange information with some TV industry and to hear how they’re dealing with these changes and how we can all work together, as a creative industry, to come up with values for us and a code of conduct that we can all abide by. We hope that our members and artists, engineers, producers, whoever, will also abide by.

Do you expect the Junos to get political at all -- wear this color or this button or ribbon? Are you open to people being vocal and seizing their seconds at the mic to voice what’s going on -- #MeToo, gun control, immigration, et cetera?

That's what artists love to be. Artists have always been the agents of change. That’s a very important voice. That’s what the arts are all about. Often times protest songs are what galvanize people and create movements. It’s that old cliché -- music is the soundtrack of your life -- but it’s so true. Artists have opinions and it comes full-circle in their music, so when they have an opportunity, I think, they do that. Not all of them want to make that statement but some do.


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