Music Awards

26th March 2014

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

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LEICESTER MUSIC AWARDS

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.

Major new music festival showcase for Leicester?

At the Mayor’s Arts & Culture discussion tonight, held at CURVE, I asked Sir Peter Soulsby if the city would support a major music festival in Leicester to showcase our amazing local talent to the rest of the world and of course to the people of Leicester.

Sir Peter’s reply was predictable:  yes he would support the idea but don’t ask me to fund it. A city making cutbacks can’t afford to fund a major arts festival of any kind.

Here are some of my ideas to take this concept further.

(1) The city council controls the parks and open spaces where an outdoor music festival could be held. LCC normally charges for a whole range of costs in mounting any event held in its parks.  Could the city council support such an event by minimising the costs due to itself? Rather than providing funds, can the council support it in kind?  Would the Mayor support approaches to private sector investors to take the idea on board? Can the council give added value to potential businesses if they supported the festival?

(2) There are several major national live music companies that already run outdoor music events.  Putting on a music festival is feasible if the right private sector backers could be found to meet the core infrastructure costs.  We could even discuss the idea with the Arts Council.

(3) Leicester has a huge wealth of talent across all genres of music. An inner city festival next year could attract enough of a crowd to fund an event through ticket sales, given reasonable ticket prices.  In an ideal world we would all want to see a free event, like the one that took place a few years ago that was paid for by the BBC’s Radio 1 and attended by a crowd of 100,000 people.  Admittedly this was headlined by big named acts but even Leicester now has some national level acts from our own city that could draw big crowds.

(4) My idea of a showcase festival is one where all the acts are musicians and artists who were either born here or who have moved here and are now active local residents. This would put Leicester music on the map both nationally and for local people to find out more about our most talented bands, singers and rappers.

(5)  The festival could be feasible if it attracts private sector investment but the city council could play a pivotal role in allowing the event to take place (e.g. on Abbey Park or Victoria Park.) It would also have a role part to play in co-ordinating the range of public sector authorities that must be involved in large events.

(6) I know that Summer Sundae and Oxjam Festivals do provide a platform for local bands and acts to get on stage in front of big audiences but this festival would beexclusively for local music and there is certainly enough talent in this city to make a really good music festival.

I would welcome comments from people about this idea, particularly from the music community.  If there appears to be support for the idea from local people then it can be developed into a proposal for the Cultural Strategy Group that is being headed up by the Major’s Office.

Trevor Locke, 16th June 2011

Arts news

Today we asked Leicester’s Mayoral Candidates for their views on cutbacks to the arts. We know times are hard but Museums and Art Galleries play a valuable role in supporting young people, students and community members to reach educational and cultural resources. So, we want to find out what the candidates for Mayor of Leicester think about how the city can continue to support the arts.