Scott Borchetta's New Singing Competition Series Is Designed to 'Launch' Careers Overnight

Busbee, Shania Twain Scott Borchetta the launch
Mark O'Neill/CTV

Busbee, Shania Twain and Scott Borchetta on The Launch.

'The Launch' premieres Wednesday night on CTV and plans to take full advantage of its partnership with Canadian mass media giant Bell Media.

Five up-and-coming artists, one song, 48 hours, a state-of-the-art on-set recording studio and performance stage and mentors to judge and guide them: that is the formula for Big Machine Label Group's Scott Borchetta's new TV show, The Launch. The six-episode close-ended talent search concludes with the release of the winner's song to radio in Canada. Among the mentors are Fergie, Shania Twain, Alessia Cara, Boy George, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, Julia Michaels, Jennifer Nettles and Ryan Tedder.

The Launch premieres in Canada on CTV on Jan. 10 (with extended versions on subscription-based on-demand service CraveTV) and Borchetta is hoping the "international TV format," as it is referred to in the Bell Media press releases, will be picked up in the U.S. and overseas. The advantage of partnering with Canadian mass media giant Bell Media, whose assets include 30 local television stations and 30 specialty channels, is it is also the country's largest radio broadcaster, with 215 music channels -- including 105 licensed radio stations -- all part of the iHeartRadio brand and streaming service. So a record label doesn't have to be on board to "work" radio. 

The series was co-developed and produced in association with Borchetta, Paul Franklin of Eureka (Masterchef, The Biggest Loser), and Bell Media, in partnership with Toronto's Insight Productions (The Juno Awards, The Amazing Race Canada, Canadian Idol). The format will be available for distribution globally by Bell Media Original Programming and Big Machine Label Group. CTV also just announced the addition of a seventh episode, "a continuation of the journey of the six chosen artists since launching each of their original songs." Billboard spoke with Borchetta about the new project, how it works and what music fans can expect.

How will the U.S. audience get to see this show?

Get NBC to pick it up.

Are you working on that?

There is a lot of interest to take the show in other territories, that's all I can say. [But] for right now it wouldn't be available in the States unless you come over to my house; we'll do private screening for everybody.

Your original intention when you were talking to Bell Media president Randy Lennox, even though you were crossing the border, you didn't want it to be a Canadian show.

The idea was, "Do we have a good idea?" Working with Randy and the Bell team, they gave us the opportunity to really develop the show. I would rather have the opportunity to work with a team like this to develop it and get it right, and then if we have a hit, let's take it around the world. I'd much rather do that, then start with the big U.S. broadcaster, you get two episodes, they're not right, and then all of a sudden you're canceled before you even got to first base.

There's been so many of these types of shows. You were a mentor on American Idol for a couple of seasons. What did you take from that experience to this?

The urgency of this generation. When they see something, they want they want it now. So while those other shows are very entertaining, we have built in a very specific first and second act. What I mean by that is we flipped the model. We're starting with the great song, starting with a great producer. Being the label [Big Machine] for Idol the last two years, you have to wait until the end of the season, figure out a song, producer and hope you get it right.

We [The Launch] have a running start with a song and a producer that I know and trust, have a real potential to be a big hit and now let's find the artist that matches up because we're not trying to change any artist. We tried to cast to the song and producer, so that way you're really trying to identify artists that have some experience that are ready to be launched. It's not about somebody who hasn't performed in front of an audience before, who hasn't recorded before; everybody has some element of some experience.

No other show goes into the recording studio. No other show, at the end of the show, says we are launching your song right now. And when that happens, it goes on every iHeart station; it goes to all digital platforms, and we have the great CTV and Bell Media team the next day, and for the next few weeks, to continue the push and the pop culture crush. Nobody else has this. It doesn't exist.

That's the bonus of partnering with Bell Media.

Yes, it's the equivalent in States of, "Oh I got NBC and iHeart." So we created this all in-house. The team's amazing. Everybody's so fired up about it. We have every opportunity to win, so we'll know if we have a hit show or not. We are certainly getting the attention.

You've removed the familiar public voting aspect. 

When you look at how voting procedures work, it's the lowest common denominator. It's like, "Okay, this was a five and a one because people are really passionate about it." Well that artist isn't going to win. See, I'm going to go with the five passion every time. So the one that's a three across the board, not interested; give me the one that they love and hate, that's your next big star.

Did you ever consider having public voting?

No, here's how you vote: If they stream it or buy it the next day, that's your vote. And if you don't, that's your vote. You get to determine how you vote.

It's a different approach to A&R. Many young people might not even know what that even is; it's such a different process than when you first heard Taylor, who sent you a demo.

So much more happens online now, where we hear of a story on something and the reality is, it still happens differently every time. I could still get a CD, which would be odd, but I could still get that, or it's a songwriter, or it could be anything. That's why you can't dismiss anybody who's making noise who's reaching out.

The set itself of The Launch is incredible. You built a studio. Toronto has so many world-class studios. You could've easily shot in two different locations.

We couldn't have, actually.... Because we literally would spend about an hour with each artist, and then we pick two of them and went right into the studio. If we had to deal with Toronto traffic, going back and forth, we're doing this in 48 hours, we don't have 45 minutes to waste. Also, I'm going back and forth so it's really critical that all of those pieces be together like we did it. Now, we might be able to do the performance the next day in a different location, but as far as all the studio and audition work, we can't do it in 48 hours if we have different locations.

Tell me the studio you built and where you got all the gear. You had a state-of-the-art board and instruments on the wall.

We had some great partners that lent us some gear. We had the opportunity with SSL to get just an incredible recording board. The soundboard and recording console was the best in the world. 

And because we could take an open space we were able to get camera shots you couldn't get in a regular recording studio; those are very constricted areas because what happens is you put more gear and speakers and stuff. We very specifically gave all of our production and camera crew the ability to get any angle they wanted. They could get all the way around it, 360, around our vocalist; they could do a 360 around the console. There isn't another studio like that anywhere. That gives you the extraordinary intimacy of what's it's like to be in a studio.

Gibson provided all those guitars and basses [on the wall] and they were all in tune; those were real instruments and some of the acts pulled them off the wall and played them, which I encouraged them to do. There were times when I'd pick up a guitar and play through something with [producer-songwriter] Stephan Moccio just figuring out keys, it was a very used-based studio. Everything there it wasn't just props; everything there worked.

Usually there's pre-production that sometimes lasts weeks, getting to know a producer, seeing if you have the same ideas, going for a beer, whatever. Sometimes things work, sometimes it doesn't. It can't all go smoothly. 

No it doesn't and that's why we filmed it. The reality of recording, it's one of the most intimate things that an artist ever does because if you do it right, you're exposing yourself and you're expressing your emotions and those are the key attributes to a big record that really connect with people. So we tasked these artists with some extraordinary things that they had to do to get put through.

Imagine we've chosen you. You're gonna go hear the song for the first time, then you're gonna record it. We're going to teach you the song, then you're gonna perform it live the next day. Something we didn't realize going in, that also helps you determine who has the desire, the stamina, the understanding to show the readiness, that was something we really didn't have written into the script going into it. So it's like, "Oh my god, this person can handle anything." "Oh my god, that person just crumbled." In the heat of the moment, this is a tough business and it's not that easy and we make it look a lot easier than it is. This is not easy; what we're doing is extraordinary. 

And they have cameras in their face. 

That's right. How bad do you want it? Seriously.

When you had Boy George, Shania Twain and Nikki Sixx and other names as mentors on the show -- are they in the studio too, or are they just involved in the voting process?

They were in and out of the studio, listening, and there times where Nikki wanted to be really involved, but at the same time that an artists was in with Dan Huff who was the producer of that episode, Nikki was working with him on staging. So because it is 48 hours, they were both working in real time, so Nikki would come over and check in and was very interested in the records. They're all artists so they're all interested. Shania was incredibly interested. 

What were some of the differences between Boy George, Shania and Nikki as mentors?

What was really interesting and, again, something you couldn't script going in, is when I would talk with our celebrity artist mentors and took them back to the beginning of their career, they were able to relate to the artists in a unique way. That's where I would just stand back. When Shania started talking with Logan [Staats] or Vivian [Hicks], it was gold. It was like, "Oh my god, she's never said these things before." If she talks about her recording process -- which I won't reveal, because what she says and how she records her vocals -- everybody just went, "Oh my god, we never heard her say that before." So everybody got to a very comfortable place to really try to help these artists.

Each episode starts with five artists but only the two record the song, then you guys decide who won and then their song goes to radio.

Correct. Five artists. We pick two to record. They both perform. We hear the rough mix of the song before the performance, so we have a really good idea how they did in the studio and then that final vote, if you will, is how good are they live. And so if we're launching an artist, it's more than just the song, and then, yeah, it goes to radio immediately. At the top of the hour, that song's playing.

And the other one's song is just toast?

Well it's a zero-sum game. Everybody doesn't get a trophy.

So the song is released to radio to Bell's stations. Has each appropriate format committed to certain number of plays for however long and what, if any, commitments are there beyond the one song, in terms of an EP or more singles or a booking agent or any of that stuff?

There's all of that. We want to make sure that there's a response so we have so many things ready to go, if people react like we think. There are tour opportunities. So many things within all the Bell Media properties, when you look at all of their different shows, all the different iHeart opportunities. And then we hope just from a pride perspective that everybody in Canada participates because this is becoming a world music center. So my hope is there won't be barriers between the media companies. If we really expose a great new Canadian artist, at a certain point it's all hands in the middle.

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