Boston Music Awards honor local scene, its gripes
When the nominations for the 2013 Boston Music Awards were announced earlier this month, the news was instantly followed by another venerable local tradition: complaining about the Boston Music Awards.
The awards, launched in 1987, have reliably turned up new talent and rising stars – Morphine in ’95, Guster in ’97, Godsmack in ’98, Dresden Dolls in ’03, Ray LaMontagne in ’05, Grace Potter in ’06, Slaine in ’08, Passion Pit in ’09, and Karmin in ’12 to name just a few – but they’ve also been given to repetition with the likes of Aerosmith, Dropkick Murphys, Amanda Palmer, Peter Wolf, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones turning up again and again, long after it would seem logical.
In response to this year’s wave of criticisms, as well as ones about the perceived “corporate” nature of the event, the BMAs swiftly posted an irritated note to its Facebook page, taking jabs at “haters,” and outlining numerous recipients of the money raised by their charitable partner, Music Drives Us, including thousands of dollars to music schools and musical therapy programs.
Jake Brennan, a producer of the event, which will be held at the Liberty Hotel on Dec. 8, admits that he probably shouldn’t have responded in such a fashion, but that nature of the complaints was too much to ignore this year.
“The thing that set me off, and instigated my response, is there was a post on Facebook that was entirely inaccurate, claiming we’re 100 percent for profit, run by corporations for corporations — literally calling us the 1 percent, which I found nauseating. But it also hit me that maybe we don’t do a good enough job explaining how the charity actually affects people positively.”
“Anything beyond the cost of the event goes directly to Music Drives Us,” said Chip Rives, executive director of the awards since 2003. After the costs of production of the event, last year they raised $65,000, he says. He and his staff are all volunteers who don’t take any payment. “Jake’s response was out of frustration. We’re trying to do something nice for the community, to get together to celebrate the great music that comes out of Boston.”
That said, both agree that the awards are certainly open for criticism.
“That’s the nature of an awards show,” Brennan says. “In part, it’s kind of what makes it compelling.”
Rives explains that he and the staff have little say over the nominations. Instead, they reach out to some 300 music industry types around the city, from journalists to producers, music lawyers and show bookers, and tally the nominations based on the responses. “We try to expand that every year,” he says.
That results in reliably popular acts like Dropkick Murphys showing up time and time again, Brennan says. “I feel you can’t ignore a band just because they’re popular, the same way you can’t avoid a band just because they’re playing basement shows in Allston. Like it or not, the Dropkick Murphys are a part of this music scene, they really are.”
He also hears criticism on the other side as well. “Like, ‘Who the hell are Bearstronaut?’ I have to sit there and go, ‘This is what Speedy Ortiz did this year.’ I’m sitting in the middle having to justify this stuff. The nominating committee is very diverse. There are people like [music reporters] and huge entertainment lawyers who don’t go to O’Brien’s or Great Scott or Radio.”
While there’s no accounting for taste, critics of the awards say that the pool of consulted industry types isn’t broad enough to reflect the diverse scene in Boston, particularly in the DIY punk, indie, and electronic music scenes in Boston, which have garnered ample press outside of the city this year.
“When the nominations first came out and Aerosmith was listed, my immediate gut reaction was, ‘This is ridiculous,’” says David Day, creative director of the Together Music Festival. “It seems that the people that are involved in the nominating process
aren’t as informed; they don’t seem to have their ear to the ground.”
Aside from insular Boston issues, not putting the city’s best foot forward can look bad from a national perspective. “It could maybe legitimize us to the rest of the country if what was going on here was better reflected,” Day said. “You have to champion the new young stuff before it dies on the vine.”
Members of other overlooked scenes, like Kevin Duquette of locally based punk/indie label Top Shelf Records, agree. “I don’t get the sense that they’re in touch with what artists like the ones we work with are doing,” he says.
Ben Potrykus, of the indie-rock act Bent Shapes, says that while the BMAs do a good job generally of picking out an act or two every year that’s on the verge of national success, like Potty Mouth or Speedy Ortiz, nominating the likes of Amanda Palmer and Aerosmith is unnecessary because they’re so well-known nationally.
“I think it’s boring for people. You want people to get interested in the awards part of it and be supportive.” Other bands could use the boost that might come with a BMA. Bent Shapes won for best rock act when they were known as Girlfriends in 2010, and were again nominated the next year.
The general complaints, Potrykus says, come because people don’t really understand what the event is actually about. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation isn’t called the Seattle Music Awards,” he says. “Maybe it’s worth breaking down in more detail, so people don’t feel they have questions, or start getting aggressive.”
What it’s supposed to be, says Brennan, “is a big party, like a prom, or an end-of-year Christmas party for the local music scene” — albeit one that raises money for musical charities. As for the awards themselves? There’s always room for improvement, both he and Ives agree.
“I’m fine to take that hit,” Brennan says of the criticisms levied about the nomination process. “Maybe next year we put an open call out months in advance to remind people to suggest who they think should be involved, try and blow out the nominating committee a little bit.”
“If there are people who are out there in the community doing cool things in music, whether it’s bloggers, booking agents who actually know the scene, we welcome them,” Rives says. “We’ve got a Facebook page.”