CEO and president of the JUNO Awards, Allan Reid, has played a key role in helping our country’s recording industry to grow up. As the JUNOs turns 51, Allan says, like the music industry, the Awards is full of promise — continuously expanding and evolving to reflect the diverse spectrum of Canadian voices.
By Meghan Yuri Young
Photography by Max Power
Allan Reid is like a proud dad. As the CEO and president of the JUNO Awards — the nation’s biggest recording industry awards — he knows each of the nominees. Not only that, but he also knows their history, their come-up, and their achievements. Allan’s knowledge spans across all of the categories, and then extends to include The JUNOs themselves.
Having been in the industry for nearly 30 years, Allan’s pride and passion comes as no surprise. It’s also safe to say, he’s had a front row seat to the Canadian music industry’s evolution. Allan has watched our music scene grow up, and most importantly, to continuously change to reflect the needs and wants of its homegrown artists and its audience.
The JUNOs might be turning 51 this year, but Allan shows us that the energy of this celebration of Canada’s music is young, vibrant, full of promise — and still growing.
Meghan Yuri Young: Allan, you have a pretty cool job. Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
Allan Reid: I’m the president and CEO of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and the JUNO Awards as well as MusiCounts, which is our charity. I’ve been at the helm of the organization for just seven years, but I’m a lifelong music industry person. I was the head of A&R — the person involved in finding, developing, and signing Canadian artists — at Universal Music for over 20 years. So, my whole life has been built around and ingrained in the Canadian music industry, especially Canadian artists.
I feel extremely honoured to now be leading organizations whose main function is to help promote and celebrate Canadian artists, to be part of an amazing platform helping established and emerging artists be seen and heard.
“This is … a bit of a JUNOs reunion, to get the industry back together, to get all the artists reacquainted with each other because they haven’t been out touring. [Toronto’s] an amazing city for music and there’s so much support for us here.”
MYY: That’s incredible. I had the pleasure of interviewing both Savannah Ré, who, as you know, won her first JUNO last year, as well as newcomer Kairo McLean. Speaking with them, I sensed that support they received. How does it feel, as someone who has championed Canadian music for so long, to be gathering in-person again for the JUNOs after so long?
AR: It feels amazing to finally be back live. It’s been three years. 2019, when we were in London, Ont., was the last time we actually had a JUNOs where everybody could participate. The 49th Annual JUNO Awards in Saskatoon were cancelled just three days before it was all supposed to happen. We were the very first major event to, unfortunately, be cancelled due to COVID. Last year, our 50th anniversary, was a virtual celebration.
So, we are very excited to be back and have everybody in-person. It’s actually a historic event because it’ll be the first time [the JUNOs is] held outdoors, at the Budweiser Stage. More than that, being in May, it’s going to kick off the summer concert season.
MYY: How does it feel to hold the JUNOs in Toronto again, which is arguably one of the major hubs, if not the major hub, for Canadian talent and music?
AR: We celebrated the 40th anniversary of the JUNOs in Toronto, back in 2011. Last year, we were supposed to hold our 50th anniversary in Toronto at Scotiabank Arena. But all that had to go by the wayside, unfortunately, due to COVID. So, we’ve been calling this our JUNOs reunion, so to speak. Both the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario were immediate in their acceptance of having us come back for the 51st, since we didn’t get the 50th to be what [we expected].
This is, as I said, a bit of a JUNOs reunion, to get the industry back together, to get all the artists reacquainted with each other because they haven’t been out touring. [Toronto’s] an amazing city for music and there’s so much support for us here.
MYY: Even though we haven’t been able to experience music together in-person that often recently, I feel like Canadian artists have really skyrocketed over the pandemic. And then to have Simu Liu come in and host the JUNOs! How did getting this global megastar to host come about?
AR: We were thrilled that Simu agreed to be part of the JUNOs. Actually, it’s not his first JUNOs. He was at the JUNOs in 2019 to present an award. When we approached him this time to host, he was immediately like, “I would love to do this. I grew up on the JUNOs, it’s a lifelong dream to host the JUNOs.” He was thrilled, and we couldn’t be more excited to have a superhero on our stage.
He’s also a music lover, that’s a big part of it. He loves Canadian music. He knows Canadian music. And when we talk about talent like him from Toronto, there’s so much found in the music industry, too. You think about Deborah Cox, as our Hall of Famer from Scarborough. You’ve got Mustafa, an emerging artist from Regent park. Shawn Mendes from Pickering. Haviah Mighty [from Brampton]. There’s so much music coming out of this city, this province, this country. It is pretty amazing to see all the incredible music that is being nominated this year.
“I feel extremely honoured to now be leading organizations whose main function is to help promote and celebrate Canadian artists, to be part of an amazing platform helping established and emerging artists be seen and heard.”
MYY: Speaking of incredible music coming out of our country, let’s talk a little bit about the Contemporary Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year category.
AR: Of course! It originally started back in 1994 and was called our Best Aboriginal Recording. It was actually started by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Buffy, Elaine Bomberry, and another artist named Shingoose came together and lobbied CARAS to create an Aboriginal Recording award.
Over the years, that category has existed. Then, the community came to us a couple years ago and said, “We really feel there needs to be a second category that celebrates traditional Indigenous music in this country.” What was happening was even though artists could submit into the Aboriginal Recording category, there was so much success happening for contemporary Indigenous artists, like A Tribe Called Red and William Prince, that the traditional drum music, the powwow music, wasn’t being celebrated. As Jeremy Dutcher called it, there was an Indigenous Renaissance happening. The community was able to demonstrate to us that there was a lot of music going unrecognized. So, this idea of splitting the category became really important to us.
You’ll also see this year that we’re recognizing the work of Susan Aglukark and her Arctic Rose Foundation. Their whole purpose is to support northern Inuit, First Nations, and Metis youth by promoting emotional and mental wellness by connecting that through culture and through adaptable arts-based programming.
It’s been a very important part of what CARAS does to make sure we’re shining a light on Indigenous artists who need to be seen and heard. There’s so much awareness of the challenges the Indigenous people have been through in this country. If we can do a little bit to give those artists a platform, to have their words and music heard, it’s important for us to do that.
MYY: There is so much awareness surrounding many issues nowadays. I feel as though that’s part of why Denise Jones receiving the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award is so special this year. Can you speak on why she’s important to Canadian music history?
AR: First off, the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award recognizes an industry leader. We felt this year, being back in Toronto, we wanted to find someone who really made a difference within the music community here and far beyond that. Denise was a Jamaican-Canadian entrepreneur. Unfortunately, she passed away a couple years ago. But it was really important for us to recognize her. She is the founder of Canada’s first Black-led talent and management agency.
NOW YOU KNOW: “[The 2022 Juno Awards is] actually a historic event because it’ll be the first time it’s held outdoors, at the Budweiser Stage.”
MYY: Oh, wow, that’s big.
AR: Yes. It took a real focus bringing Canadians, and primarily Toronto, reggae music. She was the first chair of the CARAS Reggae category as well. But I think what’s really interesting about Denise is her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is unmatched.
Well before DEI was a buzzword for everybody, throughout her entire career she made incredible strides with politicians, business leaders, and the media to make sure they acknowledged the value of Black music creators in the entertainment world. Through that, and through her company Jones and Jones Productions, they created one of the largest Afrocentric cultural events in Canada, called Jambana.
So, to have Denise be recognized was really important to us. She was an incredible mentor to so many people in this business, artists like Kardinal Offishall, business leaders like Vivian Barclay. She was an absolute trailblazer.
MYY: I feel like there are a lot of people, like myself, that weren’t familiar with either Denise herself or all that she accomplished in her life. The JUNOs is actually highlighting a lot of incredible women this year, isn’t that right?
AR: That’s right. If you look at our special award recipients this year, three of them are diverse women. Deborah Cox is the first Black woman ever to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Denise is the first Black woman to ever receive the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. Susan Aglukark is the first Indigenous woman to ever be given the Humanitarian Award. It’s not lost on us that part of our job at CARAS is to shine a light on these accomplishments and give space to those who will inspire the next generation, because that’s what it’s all about.
“It’s been a very important part of what CARAS does to make sure we’re shining a light on Indigenous artists who need to be seen and heard.”
MYY: How does it feel that it took this long for these firsts to happen?
AR: I think there’s been other firsts along the way, for sure. But one thing to note, to be considered for the Canadian Hall of Fame, for instance, you have to have a career that has spanned over 20 years. Minimum.
MYY: Oh, wow. Now we know.
AR: Yes, we do hear that all the time, why haven’t certain people been inducted? There are qualifiers. It can take 30, 40 years to get that opportunity to be inducted. We used to only induct one person a year. Now, it’s five.
MYY: One other question that popped into my mind about Denise before we move on to our final question is, what do you think she would say about Kairo McLean?
AR: I think Denise would be absolutely thrilled to see the next generation of reggae music — and for it to be a 13 year old! It’s an incredible feat for anybody but for Kairo, especially. Of course, she would be impressed by all the nominees this year.
MYY: All of the categories are impressive! Let’s talk about another first: the TikTok JUNO Fan Choice Award. The relevance of embracing TikTok for emerging music artists seems almost indisputable.
AR: There’s no question that emerging talent is the future of the JUNO Awards and since TikTok has been around, they have had a major influence on the discovery of music. I just think about an artist like Jessia, who’s nominated in this category, along with Breakthrough Artist of the Year [and two other categories]. There’s no question TikTok is the way she was discovered. She and elijah woods coming together on TikTok and forming that track, it’s a legendary story.
It’s not just for superstars like Mendes and Bieber to talk to their fan bases. It’s also an incredibly powerful tool for emerging talent to get their music seen and heard by millions of people. You just have to look at that list of nominees this year to see the power that TikTok has in getting some of those artists to the top of the charts.
“…Throughout her entire career, [Denise Jones, who is being honoured with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award] made incredible strides with politicians, business leaders, and the media to make sure they acknowledged the value of Black music creators…”
MYY: So, basically, to any aspiring artists out there, get on TikTok! Allan, what are you looking forward to the most when it comes to the JUNOs?
AR: There’s another event that we run besides the JUNO broadcast, which is probably the best event of JUNO Week, called the JUNO Songwriters’ Circle. It’s taking place at Massey Hall on Wednesday, May 11. It is actually the kickoff to JUNO Week.
It’s the best event in the sense that eight artists perform on stage, telling the stories behind how their songs and music are created. They’re performing these songs on guitar, on piano, in the way that they write them. It’s the way the music is created. It’s not necessarily the fully produced version you hear on YouTube or on the radio. It’s literally them taking it back to the creation of how their songs were written.
We have an incredible lineup of artists. We have four of the Songwriter of the Year [nominees] performing, including Allison Russell, Charlotte Day Wilson, Mustafa, and TOBi. We also have a Songwriter of the Year winner, Serena Ryder on the bill, and three-time JUNO winner Metric.
Also, the fact that we’re back at Massey Hall, an absolutely historic room for any artist to grace. We were there last year, while it was under construction. A year later, we’re back at Massey Hall, and they’re back too. If there’s one event you go see, make sure you go see this one. You’ll never see anything like it.
MYY: Well that’s it, I’m grabbing a ticket!
AR: I’ll see you there!
Allan and his team’s vision for the 2022 JUNO Awards comes to life on May 15. Don’t miss it at the Budweiser Stage!