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.

Where should we go from here?

13th April 2013

What we planned

This post is part of an exercise to engage with our readers, friends, fans, customers … in order to find out what they value in the work that we do.  As an organisation (ArtsIn Productions) we do a lot of different things – run an arts magazine, put on training courses, represent bands, singers and rappers, provide a publicity service … the scope of our work is wide. The resources we have available however is not.

This consultation is to ask the public to share their thoughts and comments with us about what we do best.  If we should be focusing in,  then what should we concentrate on?

My concern is that we are spreading our resources too thinly across the field of our activities.  If we narrowed down we might achieve more impact.  The problem that I have, as the head honcho around here, is what?   I can see all the things that need doing.   I am well aware of all the things that I like doing. But, it’s not all about me.

What is difficult for me is letting go of some of my pet projects, my passions, my skill-areas; but that is what needs to happen.  ArtsIn Productions involves a number of people – all of them volunteers.    I am the only one that does things on a daily basis. Clearly, far too much lands on my desk and I cannot cope with all of it.

I can delegate some things,  to some people,  some of the time. The more volunteers we get, the more time it takes to train, brief and organise them all. As we say on our web site “Volunteers lie at the heart of all we do.”  Ours is a social enterprise and a constant stream of people apply to join us. That increases our capacity but only to the extent that we can train, en-skill, supervise and motivate them.

I am particularly concerned to get feedback and comment from those in the music community;  music represents the biggest part of our work. After about ten years of working with music, we feel we have made a contribution and we want to continue to do that.

Of all the things that we do for music,   what things are most valuable?   If we had to focus on one or two things that would be of real benefit to bands, singers and rappers, what should they be?

What happened

ArtsIn Productions Limited was closed down.  Having failed to achieve its goals, the company was costing me money to keep going, so I decided to close it.

Having announced that I was going to ‘retire’ in 2014, I have postponed that because I am too busy and have too much work to do. [ In fact I officially retired in 2017.]

I am keeping both web sites running Arts in Leicester and Music in Leicester.  I have taken both sites over from the company and am now the sole publisher of them both.

Narrowing down would be nice but, as with many of these things, there are inter-linkages and cross-benefits that make it impossible to remove one card from the house without the whole thing being in danger of falling down.


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.

Why the Digital Economy Bill won’t work

The Digital Economy Bill attempts to outlaw music file sharing; it threatens to take away people’s right to use the Internet if they consistently download music and/or movie files without paying for them. Is this right? Does it protect the rights of musicians and actors whose income is being jeopardised by pirate file sharing on the Internet? The industry is divided on the matter.

Some think it is necessary to protect the creative rights of copyright holders who depend on sales of their work to make a living. There are those who argue that draconian measures are called for to protect the “creative industries” from this large-scale theft and loss of income.

So, is this knee-jerk reaction ‘fair dos?’ Research by the think tank Demos found that people who download music from file sharing sources spend more on average on legitimately purchasing music than those who obtain music only from legitimate sources. The Internet is awash with new music: it has to be. Musicians need to build up a following and get their recordings heard.

Eventually bands and artists get to a point where they want to go full time and to spend their time being creative, making music, writing songs, without the impediment of having to go out and do a job to pay the rent. This is where it becomes difficult. The record labels used to take on new artists and give them a living by signing them up to a contract. This rarely happens these days. Sales of CDs have plummeted; plastic music has been substantially replaced by digital music.

The other thing to note is that the total value of live music sales has now overtaken the total value of sales of recorded music. You can’t download the live experience. Seeing a band and being in an audience with like minded fans is one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences of modern life and far outweighs the value of listening to tracks on an i-Pod. Of course, it’s the pre-recorded music that in all probability has created the demand for the gig tickets and this precisely why the record labels should take the pain of the £200m loss on file sharing, simply because there is a bigger prize to be won from the music loving public.

Bands making new and original music have to give away their music in order to create a following for it. There comes a point however when a band has become established when selling songs becomes a realistic proposition. Many bands these days would say they do not need record labels; they can be their own label and sell their music directly via i-Tunes – they don’t need record labels to do this for them.

Controlling the Internet might not be the solution. The freedom of the Internet has both its winners and its losers. It might well be true that the record industry is loosing £200 million a year from illegal downloads. As Billy Bragg said: “It’s the record labels that are dying on their feet”. They are not dying because of file downloads; they are dying because they do not want to change the way they operate. They are run by old-style conservatives who do not want to change or keep up with the times. Louis Walsh believes that talented musicians need “The Big Machine” to get them on to the mass media. He would say that wouldn’t he – being one of the owners of the x-factor brand. It’s easy to understand the rage there is against that machine.

A lot of these problems will go away when the big corporate machines stop trying to own artists. There are too many corporate suits who want to get rich at the expense of the people they control. Ok this has been the reality of popular music for the past 70 years. Labels have made big money out of artists. The Internet offers a way out of that maze of vested interests. The more you try to control the Internet, the harder people will try to get round the controls. Control solves one problem but immediately creates another.

Surely the better approach is to concentrate on the technology of locking music recordings into highly encrypted packages that only a payment can unlock. Technology exists that is capable of creating an un-copyable CD and an un-hackable digital distribution source. If the government want to help the creative industries to get their money back from their work, let the Government fund the research and technology development that will make digital copyright protection a reality. A reality in which any kind of creative effort can be securely locked into a format which is un-copyable. The Government have got it wrong – it’s not the “creative industries” that are losing money – it’s only the record industry moguls that are having their power taken away. File locking is one thing but there is another way.

The government has never had a problem funding the BBC via a licence fee. Millions have to pay for the BBC to be creative whether they want to watch it or not. Presumably they could fund the creative industries by a tax on Broadband usage, so that those who use the greater bandwidth pay more for it and the money goes to fund the artists they want to listen to. Sounds a much more beneficial approach to me than trying to police the un-policable.

When it comes to the Internet, people should be given what they want. A basic service should be free to those needing only a basis amount of use. Those who want more, should pay. A generation has grown up which places no monetary value on music; all music is free. Kids cannot see that it costs anything to make recorded music. Even 99p is too much to pay to hear a tune. They want to hear the music but they do not want to pay for it. If they are downloading songs from the back catalogue of great bands because they want a musical education, then that is a good thing. We all want to listen to the songs that represent the roots of modern music. But let’s get the file sharing companies to pay for that education. Let’s engage the bit torrenters in educating their users about the economic realities of music and why it is not produced free of charge.

In the old days people would happily put a 10p into a juke-box in a bar and listen to a track being played. People would often spend a pound or two playing their favourite songs. All we need now is the digital equivalent of the juke-box and a micro payments system that will work on the Internet or the mobile phone. That however needs to be backed up with some educational work to help people to understand why it costs money to record music.

On balance I think I side with the musicians like Billy Bragg who reject the government’s solution as being misguided and failing to see the bigger picture. What we need to change is not how people use the Internet but the way that the music industry is organised.