The JUNOs might be turning 51 this year, but the JUNO Awards CEO shows us that the energy of this celebration of Canada’s music is young, vibrant, full of promise — and still growing.
Allan Reid is like a proud dad. As the CEO an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is an excerpt from an interview originally published on Now Playing Toronto. See Raising Canadian Music for the full interview with Allan Reid.