Former Geffen chairman Ron Fair has been recruited for a Canadian television show “Cover Me Canada” in which eight artists perform classic Canadian cover songs each week. The 30-year music industry vet, who discovered Christina Aguilera, oversaw and produced The Pussycat Dolls and suggested Fergie to The Black Eyed Peas, has been involved in TV before, namely the “Pussycat Dolls Present” series and the recent Israeli show “Living In La La Land.” For “Cover Me Canada,” Fair’s fellow judges are New Kids On The Block’s Jordan Knight and R&B-pop singer Deborah Cox. For the record, two of his favorite Canadian songs are Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and The Guess Who’s “Undun.”
Billboard.biz: How did you come to be a judge on a Canadian music talent competition?
Ron Fair: When I was chairman of Geffen the last 10 years working at Interscope, I became very good friends with Jeremy Summers, my counterpart at Universal Canada, and Sarah Scott [producer, Temple Street Productions], who is married to Jeremy, was head of business affairs. She has since moved on. She called me up and wanted to know if I would be interested in this position because I have somewhat of a track record in Canada. Our show ‘Girlicious,’ the second season of the Pussycat Dolls show, had a lot of traction in Canada, so I was somewhat familiar to the Canadian television audience. At the same time, I think that CBC [Television] and Sarah were interested in having one of the judges have an overtly international perspective and I was fortunate enough to fill that roll. I’ll be commuting from Los Angeles to Toronto [each week] and I’m also going to be sticking around a bit and working on various music projects.”
For Universal Canada?
Not for Universal specifically, but Jeremy and I have talked about, ‘Let’s do great stuff together while I’m in Canada.’ It’s a new chapter for me. I have a great relationship with the UK music industry, but never in Canada — other than having a few hits up there.
What did you think of the show concept?
I love covers. Musical arrangement is one of my passions and this is a really great angle on people’s ingenuity on how to take the message and the DNA of the song and reinterpret it.
You’re going to be producing the winner’s original song. What is the likelihood of making that transition from being a great cover act to being a great original act?
Always comes down to the song. Whoever wins this show, we’re going to figure out the mightiest, most appropriate, piece of material and we’re going to fulfill the promise of the winner. And we’re going to do it in a really record amount of time because part of the fun of this type of show is there’s so much emotional investment in the winner — from the point of view of the public — that when the right song comes quickly after the finale, it can change the life of that artist. My goal is whomever wins, if they have a song that’s not all the way there, we’ll get it all the way there, quickly, passionately and have a smash right away.
The A&R world has changed so drastically since the Idol franchise began. Recent stats show that the top 3 TV shows in 2010/2011 for the 18 to 49 demo were music-related, “Idol” and “The Voice.” Where does this leave the labels in terms of A&R?
That’s probably a whole other article. I was fortunate to find the great artists that I did without the benefit of the Internet or television. There are a lot of windows that open where artists can step through and become noticed and have careers. There are artists like Lady Gaga who resonate in such a huge way and there are hundreds of others that aren’t as fortunate, but they do get heard. The fact that the television shiny floor music competition show has brought in a wave of artists in the past few artists, it doesn’t change the dynamic of A&R where somebody can come in with torn jeans and a hole in their shoe and turn out to be the next Bob Marley, whether they’re on TV or not.
L.A. Reid is going to be on “The X Factor” too. People behind the scenes are now getting a taste of celebrity.
I have a funny line for that, which is ‘I’m the real cop. I’m not the guy who plays the cop on TV.’ My life’s work is in a recording studio with an artist and a song and beat and an idea and a lyric and a guitar player and it will always be that. What’s fun about doing something like this is I’m at a place in my life, and at an age where I consider this almost like teaching, where I want to give back. I want to speak about songs. I want to chop it up and analyze music and break it into little fragments. I’m kind of like a vegematic of music, slicing and dicing and analyzing.
How has not being at a label allowed you to do things you didn’t before?
It’s only been about 90 days since I left the position of chairman of Geffen Records. The label is an idea; it’s not necessarily a structure. Part of what the music industry is going through right now is ‘What’s the relevance of record companies in a time when you don’t need physical distribution and not all music appears on the radio?’ It’s a great time for music and I’m emboldened by the technology and by the way that people love the music and things like Spotify. In Israel, I just saw something called TuneWiki, which is an amazing application. I’ve never seen anything like it. You can actually have the lyrics to a Beatles song playing in Chinese on a handheld device. So whether or not I return to the label or go it alone and forge my own business, it’s an incredible time in music.
What is your ideal next position?
The job that I had was a great fit. My ideal next position is to be in a situation where I get a crazy idea — whether it be a song, an artist, a teddy bear, a musical toy, it doesn’t matter — to be able to bring musical ideas and innovation to fruition all the way.
Would that have to be a tech company or could it be at a label?
After 30 years of being at major labels, that’s the environment that I know the best. I can be of great value wherever I am, but it’s all the stuff that I’m figuring out right now.
Your bio says you’re “currently in negotiations for a high-ranking position with an international major music corporation.”
I am, but that was an internal thing. I don’t think it’s for the story.
What were the circumstances that led to your leaving Geffen?
That’s a little bit off the subject here — ‘Cover Me Canada.’ I’d probably like to treat that in a different manner. When I’m ready, we can address that.