An interview with the newly appointed overseer of the Juno Awards, Mark Cohon.
Mark Cohon is the new overseer of the Juno Awards after leading the Canadian Football League for eight years
Mark Cohon’s friends think he’s a pretty lucky guy. After all, not everyone who loves sports gets to run a professional league as he did with the Canadian Football League for eight years. Near the end of his tenure as commissioner, the Saskatchewan Roughriders presented Cohon with an electric guitar with the team logo all over it. Turns out, that was a bit of foreshadowing since on Sept. 29 he became chairman of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), which is responsible for the annual Juno Awards that celebrate this country’s musicians and MusiCounts, a music education charity. As with the CFL, Cohon comes onboard at a difficult time. Music sales are slumping and the industry hasn’t been able to find a digital model that works for both the creators and the providers, with the latter still getting the upper hand. But, as Cohon points out, music is still an important part of our lives and he thinks he can make a difference, particularly in taking the Junos to the next level. Right now, he has more questions than answers, but he’s coming up with a plan. Just don’t ask him to sing.
FP Why did you want to take this on?
MC I’m passionate about this country. When I got a call about this, and it was actually through my connection with Phil
King at Bell Media, which was our biggest partner at the CFL, he said, “Mark, we want a new outside chair for CARAS and we want someone who is not part of
the music industry. We want someone who can help us rethink and expand the reach of the Junos. You did it with the CFL, you did it with the Grey Cup, do you want to do it with the music industry?” I was like, “It sounds awesome.” There’s a great team here, a good board. I thought it would be a fun organization to try to make a difference with.
FP You’re joining at a very tough time for the music industry.
MC There’s clearly been a turning point in the industry. The artists get micro-pennies for the streaming of their songs, so what’s important for them is being in front of a rabid fan base and touring. At the same time, the Junos are the preeminent awards in this country that celebrate Canadian artists, but are there ways we can grow it, improve it and make it an even bigger event? I looked at that challenge and thought Alan Reid, who is the CEO, has done a great job since he’s been here, but I think I can work with him and the board to make it even better.
FP How do you envision your role?
MC There are great music execs around the table, from managers to agents to record labels to media people, so my job is to work with the CEO and the board to say, “Where do we want to be five years from now? Do we want the Junos to continue to tour around the country? Should we build a home for it? What can we do in the 150th year of our country to make the Junos a bigger part of that celebration?” My role is to work with the board on strategy and also to open the doors to corporate Canada, different levels of government, that maybe they haven’t worked with in the past and use my contacts outside the music industry to help further the Junos, Music Hall of Fame and MusiCounts — the three things that CARAS is responsible for.
FP You were just appointed, but what are your thoughts so far?
MC For me right now, it’s fascinating learning more about the industry. It was just like with the CFL: you learn about the industry, you learn about the opportunities, you learn about the issues, and then within the first 100 days, you sit down with the team and say, “What should be our plan, what are the things we have to tackle?” At the CFL, I remember my first 100-day report