By Stephanie Renée
Come award season, there are usually two categories of soulful music fans: those who are hopeful but angry that their favorite artists rarely win, and those who have basically signed off from watching or caring anymore because they feel the system is rigged. I am of the belief that a bit of both perspectives is true. And call me sentimental, but I also believe that we have the power to change things for the better, particularly when it comes to indie artists.
The first thing to know is that most awards have different criteria to select their winners. Billboard is all about commercial radio airplay. The American Music Awards are solely based on Soundscan sales numbers. And The GRAMMYs? To win one of those coveted statues, you have to master both your craft and the art of self-promotion.
Like the Academy Awards or Oscars, Grammy voting is handled by members of the “Academy.” In this case, we’re talking about the National Academy of Recording Arts & Science or NARAS. Membership is a qualified process. You must have two strong recommendations from peers in the recording industry, and you must complete an Artist Profile. If accepted, you can only receive Voting Member status if you have amassed a documented number of professionally-released material (judged by sales and/or streams). Once that information has been verified, you are then allowed to vote only in the categories where you have a proven track record of experience. So, classical musicians are not a part of the voting for rock or R&B artists, and vice versa. Peer-driven. Peer selected.
Here’s where things can run ashore for indie artists.
Without the big budget of major label support, making a splash—come voting time—for a self-made artist and album is definitely swimming upstream. The Big 3 labels have hundreds of thousands of dollars at their disposal to take out ads, boost social media posts, invite voters to concerts and private performances…a whole host of activities that build name recognition and appreciation for the artist’s talents. Indie artists, unless they are born independently wealthy, could never adequately compete on that level.
Now that technology has greatly democratized both audio and video production, it does not take major label money or access for indie artists to build a huge following or move product. So planning and personal goal-setting are especially important, a focus on the business part of show business. How are you keeping your music in the ears and mouths of your fans? How are your name and face reaching beyond those most familiar to others with the power to move resources in your favor? Is your marketing and networking game on point?
David needs a strong slingshot and accurate aim to defeat an industry Goliath.
It’s been done before, and can happen again. Justin Beiber fans were undone when jazz vocalist/bassist Esperanza Spalding beat him for Best New Artist. Herbie Hancock is a jazz master, but no one ever expected him to win Album of the Year over rock, pop, and hip-hop superstars. And other off-the-beaten path projects have scored nominations for groups like Gnarls Barkley and The Foreign Exchange. All exceptional talents, swimming upstream, being their authentic selves.
If you aren’t a NARAS Voting Member, the BEST way you can support the indie artists you love is to buy their music and tell your friends about them. Regularly and repeatedly. These folks will never be able to eat off of the money they earn from streaming, merely fractions of a penny for each listen. The industry is painfully unfair in that regard.
Put your mouth and your money where your heart is. Do it, for the culture.
Stephanie Renée is the VibeMistress of nonprofit arts education foundation Soul Sanctuary (soul-sanctuary.net). You can tune in to Soul Sanctuary Radio all day, every day, at tinyurl.com/SoulSancPHL and SoulSancPHL2. She’s also rooting for her good friend Rob Murat in this year’s slate of Progressive R&B Grammy nominations. Go to robmurat.com/fyc to hear more.