Music Awards

26th March 2014

This is an archive post; it is not current; it’s here for the record.

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NB: the idea of the Leicester Music Awards was never followed up and nothing was ever done about it.  This article won an award: Annual Apathy Prize for 2014.

Should awards be given to celebrate the music of Leicester? This article discusses this question.

First, some background. Society in general celebrates and honours achievements in many ways. The Queen confers honours in the form of OBEs, MBEs and CBEs. Awards and prizes are given in the world of sports, the arts, films and television, literature, science, engineering and so forth.

Second, in the world of music, there are several well-known awards, including the Brits, those given by magazines such as NME and Kerrang and others which celebrate popular music generally. ‘The Barclaycard Mercury Prize promotes the best of UK and Irish music and the artists that produce it. This is done primarily through the celebration of the 12 ‘Albums of the Year’.’ Likewise there are awards made to specific genres of music, such as The Urban Music awards which ‘recognise the achievement of urban based artists, producers, club nights, DJ’s , radio stations, record labels and artist from the current Dance/R&B, Hip-hop, Neo Soul, Jazz, and dance music scene.’

There are awards for classical music, music made by young people, opera, choral music, and so forth. Some awards are given by the big national music industry organisations and some are geared to independent music. The company that manufactures Orange Amps sponsors awards in the world of classic rock as it also does for ‘prog’ music.

These are all national-level awards. At the local level, there are far fewer examples but a few do stand out.

The Liverpool Music Awards ‘honours the heroes of the music industry in our city: not only local musicians, but also those behind the scene, who facilitate and inspire others to create and perform on Merseyside. While the scope of the awards provides opportunity to celebrate musical achievements which have gone beyond the borders of our city, at their core the awards are for those who are currently active in Liverpool.’

In Brighton, the BMA is about ‘Celebrating the best independent music from Brighton and across the region.’

The Manchester Musical Awards honours the world of musicals.

In Nottingham, Nusic selects an artist of the month. The Nottingham Music Awards is about ‘Celebrating the vibrant and eclectic Nottingham Music Scene.’ The Nottingham Music Awards – also known as the Notty’s – will look to celebrate the achievements of the great musicians, singers, promoters, managers and others who play a part in what is a boom time for the Nottingham music scene.’

The giving of awards, prizes and honours is a widespread and long established aspect of human life across all fields of human activity.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicestershire published a Band of the Month to highlight the work of local bands and did this from 2008 to 2012. Later Music in Leicester website continued this by publishing a band of the month. Both also published an annual Gigs of The Year article to recognise outstanding live performances.

What would be the benefit to Leicester?

If Leicester was to follow the example set by other local cities and to create its own set of awards for popular music, what might be the benefits?

My stance on this is that there would be two sets of gains: the national and the local. It is possible that local music-markers would enjoy the recognition of receiving a gong for their endeavours and in particular new bands and rising artists could be given a boost and encouragement from such acknowledgements.

More importantly, in my view, there would be benefits for the music community as a whole. The existence of awards for music would boost the notoriety of Leicester as a centre of musical excellence. Many people have commented that music is one of Leicester’s “best kept secrets” and that much more needs to be done to gain acknowledgement of our music at national level.

In principle, such an initiative would confer benefits far beyond the confines of the city. However laudable it might be to recognise and honour musical achievement at the local level, what stands out for me is the celebration of our music at national level.

There are course a lot of dependent factors in this: not least who is selecting and judging the potential winners. Some of the judges would be local people who have followed the various genres of music in the locality but alongside these should be those who bring a wider perspective – people in the East Midlands region and those who know music at a national level. Local people patting themselves on the back might be good but if there is an equally weighted group of people with a wider take on music, who also have a part in honouring the city’s bands and artists, then this gives the whole thing added credibility.

Some awards allow music fans to vote on nominated acts but, in my mind, this counts for less than the judgement of music professionals. At national level, it might well be fine for the public to vote in large numbers for a music artist but at local level voting reduces favour to popularity and the size of an act’s following. That can be fair enough for local competitions, although some have argued that this is inherently unfair because there is no necessary equation of musical ability and local popularity.

If the choice should rest with a panel of industry experts, it is vital that there is a cross-section of backgrounds that reflects the scope of the music scene. If we opt for a generic Music Award (even one that is focussed only on popular music including rock, indie and urban genres and not classical or choral) then the judging panel must draw in those from a wide spread of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As with most Awards, there are likely to be categories and prizes that celebrate specific kinds of music-makers, including bands, singers, rappers, instrumentalists and so on. It is possible that certain kinds of music outputs might also be worth honouring, including best recorded tune or song, best lyrics, best music video, best live performance, etc.

Where general Music Awards are concerned, most would want to honour long-established acts as well as emerging new talent. Some scope also exists to honour the music industry that brings their work into the outside world – venues, promoters, recording studios and so forth.

What I personally do not approve of is a competition in which music acts have to perform in a series of heats and semi-finals in order to gain an award. It think it is much better that judges base their approvals on performance over a period of time, look at the live gigs, recordings and output of the acts, basing their assessments on what an act has achieved over time and not on a single series of live gigs.

Is it worth it?

Any award-making initiative depends, for its success, on a range of factors that must be got right at the very start. Who will be chosen to be the judges is the most important factor, but it is also necessary to factor in elements such as sponsors, backers, financiers, publicists and a plethora of people who can contribute to the whole thing being worthwhile and successful. The kudos of being granted an award might be beneficial in itself but if the awards also confers other forms of value – cash prizes, recording contracts, publicity – then people might see it as being more widely worthwhile.

The potential down-side of sponsorship is corporate domination; independent awards avoid the kick-backs from big commercial organisations using the process for their own agendas.

The critical factors are not just who judges but what criteria they use. This has to be transparent. It’s all very well awarding a prize for the ‘best band’ but the value of that is not obvious unless the criteria is very clearly stated.

The worth of a Leicester awards initiative rests, in my view, on what the music scene as a whole gets out of it. It also has to be an annual process in which its value grows year on year.

Blog changes

Archive page

This blog* has changed again.

26th March 2014

Today, this blog changes again. Having been the blogsite for Arts In Leicestershire, it now becomes the output for music writer Trevor Locke.

The reason for the change is that both websites are changing and hence I have decided to re-position this blog.

This is partly about wanting to have a platform that is independent of those other things, in which I am engaged, and partly about wanting more freedom and flexibility to publish my writings.

I will still have a desire to write about music and most of that will be connected in some way to my local scene here in Leicester. There will be times when I will want to discuss broader aspects of music and this will allow me more scope to do that.

*when it says ‘this blog’ it was referring to the old GYBO blog.

Editorial bias in music

18th March 2014

Editor admits his web site is biased.

Following claims that the content of Music in Leicester is biased, Trevor Locke commented: “Yes it is.”

As Editor-in-Chief of the Music in Leicester web site (responsible to the publishers for its day-to-day upkeep,) I want to make it clear that it is biased. Neither I or the publishers have ever said that it would be unbiased.

This blog article clarifies what that bias is and why it exists. Firstly, we are biased to Leicester and Leicestershire in our coverage of live music. That is why this website is called Music in Leicester. We do cover bands that are from other areas of the East Midlands and bands that come from elsewhere in the UK (and the rest of the world) to play here. We have no pretensions of being a national music outlet.

Secondly, we are biased to what, in our opinion,  is good music. We do not write reviews of bands that we consider to be less than good. We do not publish reviews that run-down, deride or negatively criticise bands that fail to meet our standards of good music. When I say “our”, I mean the writers who contribute to the website and of course the company that publishes it. If someone offered a review that was very critical of a band and dismissive of its musical abilities, I doubt we would publish it, even if the article was technically argued and the analysis carefully set out.

Unlike some reviews we have seen on the Internet, we do not want to take this approach to musical criticism. If a band is  bad we prefer to say nothing.

We do sometimes comment on the short-comings of a music act but that is usually in a review that offers a generally positive stance on the band and its performance.

We do see bands, at shows we attend, whose performance is less than adequate and we see singers whose work is below standard.

If we have failed to publish a review on a gig or a band that we have seen, it will be only because we have not yet got round to it. So, if you know we have seen your band but have not yet published anything, that should not be taken to imply that we think it is bad in any way.

So what do we define as being “good music”? To my mind there are three main criteria:

1. The band plays music that is listenable and enjoyable. That applies across all genres of music – from hardcore metal to soft folk. If it is music, then we will write about it.
2. Music is good if the audience reacted reasonably well to it. Leicester audiences are nearly always polite – they will applaud any act, however bad. Unlike some crowds however they do not boo an act or even worse ignore it completely. So we have to look for other signs of appreciation or disinterest. You can tell a lukewarm response when you see one.
3. One band might have good points and bad points. It is possible to watch a band that was generally fairly good but lacked something important. Some bands have remarkably good front singers backed by musicians who were ok without being impressive.

Our sense of “good music” is fairly ‘broad-church’ and very inclusive. We do not have set attitudes to what is good and what is not; we do allow writers a lot of latitude to write enthusiastically about the bands they personally admire. In some websites I have seen, a guy has turned up at a gig, dissed off a band he personally did not like and has given readers his own bias on music – telling us nothing about the gig or the audience that was there and leaving us only with a knowledge of him as a person.

I hope that we are not as bad as that. I do however recognise that some people regard the art of music criticism as requiring closely-argued reasons as to why a band’s music was good, indifferent or bad. I sometimes read the Guardian’s rock music columns, as well as those in NME, The Fly or other publications. Styles of music journalism vary a great deal. Some of these column inches go right over my head; others seem to portray negatively critical reviews as being cool. I personally don’t like music magazines that are written by 20 year olds for other 20 year olds –  where being seen to be cool or hip is the over-riding requirement.

Most of our reviews are not written for music buffs. As I have said elsewhere, our writers are just fans of music and they are writing for other music fans. Few of us are musicians. When I am at gigs I will sometimes ask musicians in the audience about some technical aspect of what we are hearing, e.g. “Did you think that band is tight?”, or “Is that person singing in tune or off key?”

Most of our writers do not talk about the way a band made key changes in the third bar of the intro or used a riff that was straight out of [insert a name of a well known band here and one of their more obscure albums].

If most of the people who stand before the stages we frequent do not understand the technicalities of the music they are enjoying, it does not need us to blind them with musical science and to prattle on about erudite aspects of rock.

What we try to do is to celebrate the feeling of the set, the atmosphere of the night, the vibe of the band, the enjoyment value of the gig. We have adjectives that we use to describe what we heard and the emotional impact it had on us and the crowd and we might also tell readers something about the band and give a link to its website.

When I have been at gigs, I might ask a variety of people what they thought about a band. In some cases that results in a divergence of onion – from “ace” to “shit.” Any group of people at a gig will vary in its reaction to a band, from very positive through to negative.

Some have complained that we [at Music in Leicester]  are biased to certain kinds of bands and certain styles of music; I find that very difficult to believe. Ours is not a wiki website; it is not intended to be an encyclopedia of Leicester’s music. If it was it would have to be unbiased but since it is not,  we stick to our intended bias and this article has tried to make clear what that is.

The bias of this website is towards good music; we don’t run votes or polls about this – we just trust our own judgement.