The Juno Awards are back in-person this May. Canada’s biggest awards night was cancelled last minute in March 2020, signalling a lengthy on-and-off-again lockdown from which the country has only just emerged, kiboshing last year’s big 50th anniversary plans.
The 51st will be held May 15 for the first time at an outdoor venue, Toronto amphitheatre Budweiser Stage, televised nationally on CBC and streamed globally on various CBC platforms. Canadian-born actor Simu Liu (Shang-Chi, The Legend of The Ten Rings) will host. Tickets are now on sale at Ticketmaster ranging from $59.45 for general admission on the lawns to $229.45 GA in front of the stage and closest seated section.
The opening night awards, previously called the gala dinner and awards, at which the majority of the trophies are handed out, will take place the previous night and live-streamed on CBC Gem and online globally at cbcmusic.ca/junos. And there will be an assortment of events for Juno Week in the days prior.
Allan Reid, president and CEO of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (CARAS), spoke to FYI Music News about finally solidifying a live date for the awards, adding new categories, and the steps taken to increase diversity.
What's your anxiety level been in the lead up to solidifying the date for 2022?
We've been really optimistic actually with this year. When we had to cancel the Junos in Saskatoon [March 2020], and then the virtual 50th last year, when we started to make decisions about this year's Junos quite a while ago and landing at Bud Stage, that has really helped because the one thing we do know is being an outdoor venue, even if there are some restrictions, we can still mount a Junos broadcast like we've done in the past, even though it's going to be very different at Bud Stage. So there's no question that has actually relieved a lot of the anxiety.
But, yeah, there's no question that, as an organization that plans major events, whether it's the opening night awards or the songwriter circle or other things that happen indoors, there's always been a challenge, but as we see the lifting of the restrictions, not just here in Ontario but everywhere, our mindset is more about how to live with Covid, and still making sure that people are being smart and socially distancing, whether they want to wear a mask or not, whatever the mandates may be at that time. We obviously will follow all rules for the Ontario health guidelines. But it feels like there's a lot more optimism in the air right now than there was previously around covid. So that has us definitely feeling a lot better, and we're fully planning for in-person events, which we haven’t been able to do for two years.
I would imagine it’s been hard to find a venue with the Leafs and the Raptors schedules, and then concerts and other events getting rescheduled. Was that part of the reason why you decided to go with Bud Stage versus Scotiabank Arena or was it for the reasons that you just outlined, safer outside?
Honestly, a little bit of both. MLSE [Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, which owns Scotiabank Arena] has been a great partner to us. And when we were talking a couple of years ago about where we were going to be for the 50th and then the cancellation of the 50th, and how will that roll out, schedules were definitely a challenge because all tours were moving, sports were moving. There was a lot of uncertainty. It really came out of discussions around the 50th. We were looking at where we were going to do events for the 50th, and we actually had initial plans to host some of it at Bud Stage. We knew we had to move the broadcast at that point from March to May back in 2021.
The whole idea around going to Bud Stage was ‘Let's be the kickoff to the summer concert season. Let's be the first big event that happens at Bud Stage. And let's be the first event that happens in our industry after literally two years, where we get together again as a full industry.’ I think the energy and the optimism we have going into this is really about that celebratory moment when we get together as an industry to celebrate all these artists and, I'm sure for a lot of people, to commiserate a little bit over the last two years.
Obviously, there are weather considerations to host the show at an outdoor venue, but are there sound considerations too, for Insight Productions, because of the way sound travels as well as wind, chatter etc…, and this is for broadcast television?
No, it'll certainly be a different type of Junos than we've ever shot before, no question about that. But when it comes to audio, Budweiser Stage is the summertime destination for music in this city. Everybody's got incredible memories of going to that venue, whether it's for a Blue Rodeo show or [Drake’s] OVO. It’s going to be fantastic from a live perspective to put what we do 10 to 12 artists on that stage performing live.
With most award shows it doesn't matter what the venue is because the shots are tight on the stage and you see the audience when the nominees are called out or the winner goes up, but Budweiser Stage has this incredible backdrop of Toronto, the CN Tower, the lake, the boats. Have you discussed with Insight those types of TV angles for the show?
Absolutely. We want to take advantage of the location. You think about the city as a backdrop. That's a big part of what the Junos do every year, we go to a different city. We're always trying to find ways to showcase the city, the music scene, how can we help elevate what's happening there.
Obviously, Toronto is the headquarters for so many music organizations in this country, whether it's major labels, agencies, promoters, publishers, we’re looking, as we always do, to shine a light on our industry here, and we want to help showcase Toronto as an amazing “music city,” as well.
You’ve always had a lot of women on staff at CARAS, and I believe you were one of the very first Canadian music organizations to make swift changes to your board to ensure diversity and gender parity. But that wasn’t reflected in the Juno nominations, something you don’t have control over. But it’s getting better. Obviously, you can’t have diversity within categories if you don’t get those submissions. What outreach did you do to try and increase diversity?
Over the last three to four years, we’ve been looking at all of our music advisory committees, all of the jurors, and also our membership and making sure that we are reflective of what our industry and what this country looks like.
To your point, we can only work through our processes from submissions that come to us, but that also starts with making sure that the committees are doing the proper outreach and that the jurors are also representative of those categories. So that comes from gender equity on our committees, as well as our juries; geographical representation, not just being Toronto-centric, but having people from across Canada represent; and also diversity. Those are things that we take into all of our different categories. We've also added Francophone jurors and committee members to help represent Quebec better.
These are all changes we've been making over the last three to four years and I think it was really visible in this year's group of nominees. I've had more people this year come to me and say what an incredible list of nominees this is this year. And changes in the sense that in the songwriter of the year category there are four Black songwriters. I don't think we've ever seen that level of diversity within our songwriting category. Even a category like Alternative Album of the year, which is traditionally more of an indie rock category, this year having artists as diverse as Mustafa to Sate to Grandson to Ruby Waters and Chiiild that add a real mix of cultures.
The other thing that was really noticeable this year was the number of first-time nominees. Almost half. So that's the other thing we've heard from everybody is there's so much new music, so many new artists we haven't heard of or are discovering. That's a really exciting sign of, hopefully, the resilience of our industry.
What is the number normally of first-time nominees?
I think it ranges sometimes more in the 25-to-35% range. Every year is slightly different. And you get a year where major artists dominate a lot of the key categories, so they'll go through, but a lot of these categories, whether it's jazz or classical or children’s, or our new categories, that's also part of it [more first-time nominees]. We created three new categories this year — the split for Indigenous: Indigenous traditional and Indigenous contemporary artist or group. We split the rap category into rap album /EP, and rap single. And then we created the new underground dance recording category as well. So it certainly brought some new people to it.
The other thing that really helped was we did the Juno's Submissions Access Program, which TD [Canada Trust] supported. That allowed independent artists for underrepresented communities to submit to the Junos and not have a barrier to entry in the sense of a submission fee; TD covered the submission fees for a whole bunch of artists this year. So that also probably brought a lot of people forward to get their music recognized.
Was there a screening process or was it the honour system?
It was done on a first-come, first-serve basis. There was a screening committee that went through everything. But it was more an honour system of like, ‘I'm an Indigenous artist from the North and I want to submit to this category.’
You have an accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers) oversee the ballots. You have no control over the final nominees. Can you do anything if a category is still all white men?
We can't. CARAS obviously does not have any control over the music or the artists who are submitting. What we can do to try to make sure that we are a more inclusive organization is trying to bring more members in from more diverse groups, make sure that our categories are well represented within our communities that are doing the outreach to get those people to submit. But, ultimately, when it comes down to who is being selected, either by the CARAS academy delegates who vote or by juries — and a number of our categories also bring in consumption sales — CARAS is about awarding excellence. That is primarily what it's about. But in no way, shape or form do we ever touch or mess with any of the nominees or winners. We have a very transparent system and our integrity as an academy is first and foremost. We have rigorous protocols on how you submit, how you're eligible, the criteria, it's all on our website, but it's very easy to understand. We are constantly adjusting those every year.
Again, we've created three new categories this year because we are here to serve the Canadian music industry and we want to make sure as many artists are getting recognized. That’s our ultimate goal. But if we're not doing that, and the communities don't feel that we're doing a good enough job, we can make changes. So know every year, categories and criteria get tweaked and looked at and revisited.
This isn’t new, but a lot of artists, especially during covid, just released singles, whether it's for cost reasons or just to have a constant flow of art out there. Does that become problematic for some of the Junos’ long-running categories?
Yes. Some of our categories are recording categories and some are album categories. So you can submit a single, an EP, an album and that would be your submission. Most of our categories though are album categories — country album of the year, album of the year, alternative album of the year. But then some are recording categories, like rap single, which was purposely done because of that genre of music and the amount of music coming out there that can be single based. We have R&B/soul recording of the year, the underground dance single of the year, so there are a few categories.
It’s something we talked about, going, ‘How do we best capture what has happened in the previous year of music and people that have had significant success?’ So things like Juno fan choice are also based on that, not album sales. A few of the categories we've shifted over the years to make sure we take into account that. As the industry evolves, we look at what is the definition of an album, an EP, a single. Those are all things that we need to constantly monitor of how the industry is releasing music and how it's being consumed.
I don’t know if it’s too early because CARAS does like its rollouts, but what are some of the Juno Week events planned? You usually have the charity hockey game, the songwriters circle, the fanfare, fanfest, sometimes even an art show.
A number of our events will be getting revealed over the next few weeks, leading into Juno Week. So far I think all we've announced is the opening night awards and the broadcast, but our full schedule of events will be coming out fairly soon.
Covid isn’t affecting any of that now? You’re going to do all the usuals?
Yeah, pretty much. Some events we will likely not be doing, but we're always looking at the marketplace we're in. Some of our signature events, like songwriters’ circle and fanfare, will be happening this year, and a number of different panels and things will happen around Juno weekend.
And lastly, as usual, my plug for Canadian Keith Morrison to give out an award. Maybe one day host.
[laughs]. Love his voice. The last thing, I do want to put in a plug for is tickets are now on sale for the broadcast, the first-ever outdoor Junos. This is a historic event. We’re thrilled to be back in Toronto and Ontario. The city did not get the 50th-anniversary celebration we wanted to create. Mayor Tory and so many of the city councillors are huge believers in the power of music and what it can do for a city. So, as we're coming out of Covid, there's a priority for the celebration of music in the city. We're super excited to be here. We are hoping to have 15,000 people come out to celebrate the best in Canadian music this year.