Music business veteran Allan Reid on learning to take the right risks

The music-business titan (he runs the JUNO Awards, among other duties) is no stranger to risk—in fact, he’s built a career on it

Allan Reid

Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences president and CEO Allan Reid. (CARAS)

If it involves the business of music, Allan Reid has done it—having worked as a major label A&R exec and an indie artist manager (among other gigs) before becoming president and CEO of Canada’s music industry association, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He tells us about the career milestones that got him where he is today:

Best Job:

“When I was 16, I went down to the radio station near our house in Kelowna, B.C., and asked the owner to give me a tour. He took me around, and I saw this room full of vinyl, and it was just like the heavens opened. I thought: I have to work here. So I went back a week later in my tweed jacket and leather tie and asked them for a job. They said I was too young. A week later I got call from a guy who worked there who asked me if I mowed lawns. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ I became his assistant. I did whatever I could to get noticed; there was no job too small or below me. By the time I was 18, I was the station’s music director.”

Best Boss:

“Joe Summers, my boss at A&M records. At 5:00, Joe would walk around with a pool cue in one hand and a scotch in the other, look at someone and say, ‘You ain’t shit.’ And that was your call to go to the office pool table. I was 22, and I learned more about the music industry and how to relate with artists around that pool table than I did anywhere else. At the age of 24, he called me to his office and said, ‘You’re the new head of A&R.’ I didn’t know how to make records! I was terrified, but he believed I could do it and helped me work through it. He was challenging me to learn different parts of the business, so that I could maybe one day run it. I didn’t see that then, but I do now.”

Scariest Change:

“Walking into MapleMusic and saying, ‘I quit.’ I wasn’t sure what my next step was going to be, but I knew I wasn’t happy in the record business any more. I’d come up in the industry over 25 years, from A&M Records, to Polygram, to Universal, to MapleMusic. I signed incredible artists—Jann Arden, Sam Roberts, Sarah Harmer, the Tragically Hip—and then I got disillusioned. And my wife, who’s an artist, kept telling me to quit. That was easy to say, but how would we pay the mortgage? She kept saying, ‘No one knows that you want to do something different. Leave your job and the phone will ring.’ I remember waking up the day after I quit, at first exhilarated and then scared to death. Then you know what happened? The phone rang. And rang and rang.”

Best Promotion:

“Joining MusiCounts, the charitable organization affiliated with CARAS and the Junos that gives instruments to, mainly, at-risk kids. I didn’t realize what I was getting into until I went to a school with Joel Plaskett. After the school band played and Joel spoke, this young girl came up to me with her new saxophone and said, ‘Thank you for thinking I’m worthy of an instrument like this.’ I teared up. I said to Joel, ‘I know so many more artists I can call on to help us do this.’ I hadn’t felt that good in years.”