This is an open letter to the officials at the Boston Music Awards. I initiated a lot of discussion about whether your nominating process is conducted fairly and honestly and whether your organization is truly inclusive or whether you’re somewhat cliquey in your categories and in your nomination choices
Many applauded me for rooting out what many have felt for a long time now, that your organization focuses on artists and bands who are already part of a small, inner community within the Boston music scene. Others complimented me for suggesting and pointing out how some on your nominating committee at least appear to have more influence than just one person, one vote. The blog that hosted a BMA event while being nominated for Best Blog was probably the best example of the all too cozy relationship between your organization and its nominees. It also questionable whether that blog actually qualifies as a local music blog, as it belongs to a corporate media agency with offices in London and New York City. Also, the talent manager who seems to be able to hand out nominations like Halloween candy up until his acts stop working with him was another strong case.
There were quite a few music scenesters who had defended the BMA as an honest institution in which the nominating committee simply casts ballots and the BMA simply count ballots.
Quite a few defended the BMA’s decision to not publish its list of nominators because it would subject them to intense lobbying efforts from more bands than they could keep track of. Quite a few claimed that it is a valid model, as it’s used by the Grammys, the American Music Awards, and the Country Music Awards. The problem, though, with that argument, is that at the national level, labels have million dollar lobbying budgets to lavish on those nominating committee members while local Boston bands do not. As for the BMA claiming it would not want its nominators being inundated with promo packages, phone calls, e-mails, and arm twisting, that explanation doesn’t wash. The nominators, by dint of their positions in the local music industry, have to deal with artists on a regular basis.
Yet, through it all, there were issues that the BMA couldn’t dismiss or explain. For one, there is no category for country music, reggae music, and your “Folk” nominees are not really folk musicians but acoustic popsters. I think this tends to indicate that your organization doesn’t really represent and award the entire Boston music scene and probably doesn’t really want to.
There were also two inexplicable discrepancies that had come up during my investigations and postings. This year, a national band called Lake Street Dive was nominated for Artist Of The Year, Jazz Artist Of The Year, and Best Boston Artist That Doesn’t Live In Boston , even though they only played three gigs in Boston this past year. In fact, Lake Street Dive really hasn’t had much to do with Boston since its various band members graduated from the New England Conservatory Of Music some years ago. Lake Street Dive is a national act now, touring the country and the world and appearing on television shows like Conan O‘Brien.
BMA’s website said that there are 172 music industry professionals on their nominating committee. So, for Lake Street Dive to get nominated for Artist Of The Year, Jazz Artist Of The Year, and Best Boston Band That Doesn’t Live In Boston in 2014, that means a majority of people on the BMA’s nominating committee had to have been in attendance at at least one show and that a majority of nominators had to have been so blown away by that one performance this past year to nominate them, in three separate categories. That just doesn’t wash.
I don’t think anybody in the Boston music scene believes that Lake Street Dive won over that many nominators with just three performances. It is obvious that someone at the Boston Music Awards can simply put any artist they choose into a category as a nominee. Perhaps someone in corporate wanted to get a national act involved with your awards ceremony in order to give it more cachet.
The sad thing about this situation is that it is nothing new at the Boston Music Awards. In 2006, local sports writer/commentator Peter Gammons was awarded Best Blues act by the Boston Music Awards. Gammons, who spends most of his time dealing in professional sports, only dabbled in blues music as a hobbyist. Gammons, in a situation similar to Lake Street Dive in 2014, only played one gig in Boston in 2006. He performed at the fundraiser event he had co-founded called Hot Stove, Cool Music in January of that year. Gammons, who had released an album of originals and covers that year, appeared on the Boston Music Awards ballot as a nominee for Best Blues act along with well established names like Dwight & Nicole, Toni Lynn Washington, Johnny A, and The Konks. It was quite a mystery that year. Gammons, who was only just a hobbyist, got his name on the ballot for Best Blues Act Of The year, then bested recognized names in the blues scene who happen to play out all year.
I recently sent some interview questions to one member of the blues community to see if he was on the nominating committee that year and to ask what he thought of Gammons’ nomination and win. This person replied to me through my site to cease and desist contacting him and he threatened to sue me if I keep mentioning his name in a negative light and to stop mentioning his name all together. While this person doesn’t have any legal grounds for a libel suit, he can ask someone to stop contacting him and he can ask that his name no longer be mentioned because he is not a public official or a celebrity and hence has a right to privacy.
Yet, the questions I asked him seem innocuous, just a journalistic inquiry to gather some information about a nomination process. My readers can judge these questions for themselves:
1. Were you on the BMA nominating committee in 2006?
2. Were you the only member of the local blues community serving on the BMA nominating committee that year? In other words, were you the only voice from the blues scene who would’ve been nominating blues acts that year?
3. How did Peter Gammons get nominated for a Best Blues Act award when he was only a hobbyist playing for fun when his full time job was as a sports writer/commentator?
5. How do you suppose a hobbyist like Mr. Gammons bested nominees like Toni Lynn Washington, Dwight Richter and Nicole Nelson, Johnny A, and The Konks?
6. Do you think the nominating committee and the voters were simply high on Peter Gammons that year?
7. Do you think there is anything unusual about a hobbyist, who only played one gig in Boston that year, the Hot Stove Cool Music fundraiser, being nominated for a BMA?
7-A. If Peter Gammons had played other gigs that year, please let me know.
As you BMA officials, nominators, nominees can plainly see, there is something amiss with an awards organization that nominates and awards acts that have very little to do with the Boston music scene during the years they were nominated.
I’m asking you BMA officials and nominator to try and save your remaining credibility by confessing that you help certain acts by putting their name on the ballot for less than honest reasons. Come clean, BMA. You’ll feel a lot better about this after you admit your wrongs, explain why you committed these wrongs, and ask for another chance to earn the trust of the music buying public.