CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

CMU Weekly – Friday 25 Feb 2011

By | Published on Friday 25 February 2011

Andy Malt

As you’ll see from this week’s Beef Of The Week, awards ceremonies are still very much in the news. In the UK, talk has turned to the NME Awards, where most seem to be wondering how Matt Bellamy can possibly have won the Hottest Man award four years in a row. However, in the US a debate is raging over the relevance of the Grammy Awards as a whole, when artists who are liked by the voting panel can beat artists who have huge fanbases.

The simple answer is that the thing that is the most popular is rarely the best or most creative. And assuming awards are handed out to the things that are best, rather than the things that are most popular, you’re always going to get a more diverse selection from an industry judging system than if you just went and asked members of the public. Because then whoever has the biggest and most proactive fanbase will win, regardless of creativity.

Look at the NME Awards, for example. Voted for by the public, the award for best festival almost always goes to Glastonbury. And when it doesn’t, it goes to Reading and Leeds. Why, because these are the biggest festivals, and the ones the highest number of NME readers go to. So much so, it’s almost not worth asking.

That’s not to say that having a panel or whole academy of industry judges is perfect, nor that they wouldn’t occasionally pick Glasto or Reading to win the Best Festival prize. But other events would almost certainly get more of a look in, if only because some of the judges will be more aware of what else is out there simply as a result of their job. And where a small panel decides who actually meet, well then people are forced to argue the case for why they think their favourite is also ‘best’.

And, of course, less mainstream acts do occasionally triumph even when the public decides, albeit not often. But some of you will remember the Best British Breakthrough Act category at the 1999 BRIT Awards, which was put out to a public vote. Despite being on their third album by that point, Belle & Sebastian beat the likes of Steps, 5ive, Billie Piper, Gomez, Cornershop and other chart toppers to the prize because they had a large (for the time) email database. With mainstream internet use still in its infancy in 1999, Belle & Sebastian just had more geeks amongst their fanbase than anyone else.

But judging panel based events will always throw up a few lesser known winners, and they always have done. Which makes all the debate in the US this week a bit odd. Okay, the initial burst of vitriol from fans of the likes of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Eminem (who felt their favourite artists’ rightful awards had been stolen from them by the like of Esperanza Spalding and Arcade Fire) was understandable. But now it’s people within the industry who are fighting over the validity of the awards.

It’s not like industry folk don’t complain every year when their artists fail to take home any trophies, but this year manager and advertising exec Steve Stoute has gone one step further and accused Grammy organisers of booking big name artists to perform at the ceremony simply to grab TV ratings, before stiffing them on the awards by heartlessly handing them over to people the voting academy thinks are more important creatively.

But of course you’re going to want the big names there, even if they haven’t delivered the ‘best’ music that year. Because awards events aren’t really about giving pop stars a warm fuzzy feeling inside. They are about selling records. Big names bring big audiences, who can then also be introduced to newer or more alternative talent. I’m no big fan of music awards shows, but surely that’s a good thing? If you can expose Arcade Fire to tens of millions of people who haven’t previously heard of them by getting Rihanna to mime along to a song, then that’s a good job done well as far as I’m concerned.

And to prove just how that works, look, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of a high profile, interest-wide debate just to make you read this here paragraph where I plug this week’s CMU Weekly podcast, which is definitely a ‘best’ contender. Well, it’s definitely the best CMU podcast we’ve done this week. In it we chat about Warner Music, Spotify, all that Grammy stuff I just mentioned, the far less controversial NME Awards, Lady Gaga selling a lot of records (despite not winning the Best Album Grammy), DJ Shadow talking at the Great Escape and Justin Bieber’s shock haircut. Stream or download it by clicking here, or on the banner below.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

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