Are The Junos Out Of Touch?
We spoke to the co-chair of voting and nomination for the Junos to find out how acts are selected and how much of the awarding process is based on sales.
After a talk with Juno Awards Chair of Voting and Nominating, Kim Cooke, the 44 year old awards show is starting to sound a bit like a slightly out of touch, but sensible and well-meaning dad who is trying to play fair among all his musically-inclined children. They can recite the murky differences between Alternative and Adult Alternative, or Traditional Jazz and Contemporary Jazz categories but when it comes to new trending categories that speak to some of the emerging ‘underground’, things get a bit hazy.
Like in the case of the electronic and hip-hop rooted A Tribe Called Red. The three First Nations DJ/producers (one of them a DMC turntable champ) have become a global buzz group thanks to their talent, media attention, world tours, remixes and their sheer originality. However, the Junos can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to be listed in the Aboriginal section.
While the Junos take a lot of flack for being a sales-based reward system, only eight of the 42 categories are sales based, and only two of those (International Album of the Year, Album of the Year) are purely sales based. Bands wanting to win a category like say, Artist of the Year are judged by album sales. But at the end of the day, along with 32 other categories, they’re still voted based on merit by a private jury of industry members. Any artist that’s a member of CARAS can nominate themselves for the first round of judging for the price of a decent meal.
It’s true that a lot of people feel that the classification system could be revamped, more accurate, more inclusive or more authentic, but if you really want to make a change and not be left hating, there are some steps you can take to join the game. I spoke to Kim Cooke, co-chair of voting and nominating for the Junos, to find out his thoughts on the matter:
Noisey: Tell us a bit about how are the categories created.
Kim Cooke: There are currently 42 categories and a handful have been added in the past decades. There have been a few original categories added, even after the Grammys reduced their number of categories a few years ago. Most recently we added the Metal and Electronic category, the Adult Contemporary category and also Adult Alternative ten years ago.
How do you make a case for a new genre?
You don’t have to project sales. You can make a musical reason for a new category. It was pretty easy in the case for the recent additions of Electronic or Metal. Using those categories as an example, there were super-enthusiastic people in the Canadian industry who believed that both of those genres were deserving.
Does it take long for new categories to come into effect?
It took about a year or two after the formal application built some steam within the business. There came a point where it reached a fever pitch and the application went in. After that went in, it was not a great length of time before it was green lit. It’s not like it sat in committee for years where it was deliberated. I can’t give you the year when Hip-hop was added but I’m sure it was early 90s. We evolve as the music evolves.
Does censorship ever come into play with the Juno Awards?
Well, if you look at Drake, his record is littered with F bombs [editors note: she means "floral"]. We don’t say that because there’s a parental advisory sticker on the record that you can’t stand for a Juno. The live broadcast is a different thing for obvious reasons, but not the content of the record. That said, I can’t think of an example, but if there was something absolutely objectionable it could possibly come up but it never happened in my time.
What's the distinction between Adult Alternative and regular Alternative?
10 years ago there were a bunch of ‘sister categories’ like Rock, Pop, and Alternative. What we found was there were very credible artists that were too left leaning to fit into Pop, or weren’t Rock enough in a RAWK sense to fit into that category but also not left leaning enough to fit into the Alternative category. We felt we needed a companion category to properly catch those artists in the can. We still don’t love the name and as much as we call it that, it’s intended to send a message to artists who are not way over to the left in the Alternative but are not either mainstream Pop or Rock artists.
How would an artist know which category to fit into?
There’s a music advisory committee chair and a committee that review all the submissions. A hypothetical situation would be like, the Alternative chair just listened to a record by the Beauties and doesn’t think it fits in Alternative so they recommend it for another category. If they accept it, we go back to the submitter and tell them they’ve been reviewed and have a better chance in the other category. Usually the submitters accept the. If a record could sit in one of two categories and the artist absolutely wants to be in the one, the artist holds the trump card.
So the reasoning is that you feel they would have a better chance in that category?
Yeah, the artist might have a perspective on where it fits and full respect to them but the committee chair and the committee arguably has a better perspective from the wider market place and the overall Juno categories. It’s a benevolent discussion and we try to find a solution that’s right for everybody.
Are some categories based on sales?
Yes, there are 42 categories over all. Three of them have nomination based on sales; five are partly based on sales, and partly based on jury voting. That’s eight out of 42. The other 34 categories are all craft categories.
How important are sales to the Junos?
During my time, I’ve seen certain category that had a sales component changed. We try to do the best thing for the music. There came a point where in the off season, we had discussions and we decided sales wasn’t the right way to determine nominees so we made that change. The one point I’d make is that it’s irritating from time to time to read in the media that the Juno Awards are sales based. That’s just not a true statement since 32 out of 34 categories have absolutely no sales component. The other eight are just partial sales component. If there is one perspective that I’d like to change, it’s that.
Jesse Ship is a writer living in Toronto. Is he a Juno judge? You can ask him on Twitter