It’s not just sales: How the Juno Awards winners are determined

Zach Harper
It’s not just sales: How the Juno Awards winners are determined
It’s not just sales: How the Juno Awards winners are determined

“The Juno Awards shouldn’t be based on sales.”

This argument inevitably provokes debate all over Canada when awards season rolls around.

“The Junos are meaningless,” people say. “Nobody buys albums or singles anymore, so why bother nominating the artists that sell the most?”

But did you know most of the nomination categories aren’t based on sales anymore?

Of all 41 categories up for grabs this year, only eight still have sales requirements. But there’s still a widespread perception among Canadians that the Junos are purely sales-based awards.

“It’s interesting,” says Laura Bryan, Senior Manager of Awards and Special Events for the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the body responsible for the awards. “I think it’s because a lot of the awards that are given out on the broadcast may have a sales component, so people just feel that’s the case spread across all of our categories.”

In reality, for about 15 years, the Juno Awards have had only a few purely sales-based categories, Bryan says. In fact, the International Album of the Year and Album of the Year awards are the only categories that are entirely determined by album sales.

The winners for Artist of the Year, Group of the Year, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Breakthrough Group of the Year are determined equally by sales, votes from CARAS Delegates, and online streaming analytics for social networks, streaming services like Spotify, and radio.

Rock Album of the Year and Pop Album of the Year are also now half determined by a panel of judges and sales.

All the other categories, such as Alternative Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Rap Recording of the Year and awards given to albums from other genres, are determined by judges.

So, how does the process work?

To be considered for an award, an artist has to submit their record to CARAS. For categories like Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, Electronica and other genres, the organization assembles a steering committee full of people considered industry experts on that kind of music, such as journalists, bookers, publicists, stage managers and more.

According to Aaron Brophy, the former chair of the Rock steering committee, who also served on the panel for several years, the group must listen to each submission and determine whether it’s appropriate for inclusion.

“Say Kim Mitchell puts out a jazz record and he tries to put it in the Rock category,” Brophy says. “[The committee] either goes to the artist and says, ‘This is a jazz record. Are you sure you want to put this in the Rock category?’ or we tell the Jazz committee, 'We think this jazz record should be in your category, not in Rock. Are you going to take it?’”

The perception that the Junos are still sales-based can also create some issues with submissions, Brophy says. Sometimes artists who would be entirely deserving of an award don’t submit their record for consideration because they think they have no chance against larger, more popular groups, he says.

“In the Rock category, in the past there were people who would say, 'Oh, this is a sales category, we’re not going to submit into that category, because we’ve got no chance because there’s a Nickelback record this year,’” Brophy says. “Those years, nobody would sign up or apply in Rock and anybody who could remotely argue that they were Alternative would instead submit their record into Alternative to dodge Nickelback.”

This makes outreach - talking to labels and artists and convincing them to apply - part of the commitees’ work, Brophy says.

“You poke the people who you think are good enough for it to be worth their while or you poke their labels and go, 'You guys should submit this record,’ and try and get these people involved,” he says.

Once those submissions have been assessed, the records are forwarded to a panel of delegates comprised of people like artists, record labels, managers, stores, radio hosts and agents. Once they receive the submissions, they vote for the record or album they think should win. These judges are completely separate from those on steering committees, and CARAS ensures nobody can vote for the same category in consecutive years, Brophy says.

Of course, in categories that are purely sales-based, a metric determines who gets the prize. But in an era of declining sales, plenty of people argue those metrics are no longer relevant - even in categories that are partially adjudicated.

That’s been an issue that’s come up on the Rock panel in the past, Brophy says, pointing out that some people on the committee have said it doesn’t make sense to have Rock and Pop partly determined by sales, since every other genre of music is considered a “craft” category and is purely adjudicated.

“There’s still a perception that Rock is this big driver, and it isn’t really,” Brophy says. “Drake is way more important than Billy Talent as a worldwide talent… You could then argue that hip hop should have those criteria, too.”

Some argue that to compensate for declining sales, CARAS should begin using an entirely different metric to determine the winners.

A few years ago, the Juno Awards experimented with using Next Big Sound data for the Juno Fan Choice Award. Next Big Sound compiles data from platforms like Spotify and Rdio, along with streams on YouTube and sites like Soundcloud.

Bryan says the experiment was such a success that CARAS decided to integrate Next Big Sound data into the Artist of the Year, Group of the Year, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, Breakthrough Group of the Year categories.

“I think it expands beyond sales and beyond imagery and judge voting,” Bryan says. “It kind of helps incorporate what the fans think of the music as well.”

Bryan says since it’s progressively become much easier to measure streams in Canada, Next Big Sound data could help determine even more of the winners in the future.

The Juno Awards will be handed out this Saturday and Sunday in Hamilton, Ont.