Many in the U.S. music community have watched the evolution of the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize and wondered, "Why can't we have one of those?"
Now someone is doing something about it. Plans are being made for a new award, called the Short List of Music, to focus on artistic merit and overlooked works. An inaugural ceremony is planned for Oct. 31.
The Mercury Prize, in which a committee of critics, musicians and producers annually singles out one U.K. album as the year's best regardless of genre or sales, has in its nine years become the music equivalent of the book world's Booker or Whitbread awards.
Last year's Mercury went to eclectic singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy, and past winners include rock group Pulp, electronic act Roni Size/Reprazent and Anglo-Indian synthesist Talvin Singh. Mercury finalists have included classical, jazz, world and experimental acts alongside pop names.
Similar ideals and ambitions are fueling the Short List.
"This starts with a feeling that there is some great left-of-center music out there, but that there's an increasing disconnect between that world and the mainstream," says Greg Spotts, a manager of producers and engineers who has co-founded the Short List with MCA Records Vice President of A&R; Tom Sarig.
Spotts and his colleagues have started recruiting a panel of 12 artists, producers and critics with reputations as taste-makers with adventurous leanings. Confirmed are Nic Harcourt, music director of KCRW-FM (89.9); producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot, At the Drive-In); Urb magazine editor Raymond Roker and techno and hip-hop producer and artist Dan the Automator.
Says Harcourt, "It offers the opportunity to nominate acts and albums that perhaps would be overlooked by mainstream awards ceremonies."
Each participant will be asked to nominate five albums released between July 1, 2000 and June 30, 2001. Announcements of nominee lists will be made through the summer, with full information available on a new Web site, www.shortlistofmusic.com.
The long list of 60 will be culled to 10 via balloting by the committee members in September. And then the panel will meet Oct. 30 to debate the Short List and select the winner, with the trophy to be awarded the following night at a club in either Los Angeles or New York.
Spotts says that while the show will be videotaped for possible telecast, it's not being designed as a TV show. And while corporate sponsorship may be enlisted to fund both the awards event and a cash prize, he and his partners want the award to speak for itself first, even if that means doing the inaugural year on a bare-bones budget.
"We don't want to birth this fully formed as a big-scale, big-money corporate endeavor," he says. "It started from enthusiasm and trying to stimulate discovery, and we want to attract similar-minded people and let it evolve."
You've read reviews of Dave Navarro's memoir, "Don't Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro," co-written with New York Times music journalist Neal Strauss. You may have even read excerpts of it in the current Spin magazine. (See Navarro story, Page 6.)
But you may have trouble getting the book--at least for a bit. A representative of HarperCollins, whose Regan Books imprint is set to publish it, told Pop Eye that the book, originally expected in stores about now, was on hold and that not even any review copies were being sent out.
So how did those who have reviewed the book get copies?
"No comment," says HarperCollins publicist Paul Oslewski.
Navarro's representatives explained that the musician recently reread the book--with its episodes of drug abuse and decadence--and feared that some passages would be hurtful to family and friends.
He asked for a chance to edit it one more time before publication, but HarperCollins, Navarro representatives say, did not want to delay publication, hoping to capitalize on publicity being generated by the musician's new album and impending tour with Jane's Addiction.
Navarro's attorney, Jill Berliner, says that negotiations are underway on how and when it will come out.
Like many entrepreneurs, music journalist Michael Goldberg cashed out on one enterprise, then returned to the startup world to build another empire. But unlike Addicted to Noise, his music-oriented Internet site that scored big by becoming part of MTV, Goldberg's just-launched Neumu.net (in part a play on the German band Neu) is geared to love of music and art, not profit. In fact, it doesn't even have advertising--or any revenue stream--in the game plan.
"My feeling after everything I went through with Addicted to Noise is that unless you control something like this 100% and don't have to answer to any money people, no matter how cool and pure something is in the beginning, in the end it will get messed up," says the former West Coast editor of Rolling Stone.
Goldberg has started Neumu with Australian designer Emmy Stone, with coverage of art and film as well as music in a setting visually more geared to aesthetics than commerce.
None of the contributors is being paid, although they will retain ownership of their work, which Goldberg says he hopes will later be anthologized in books for commercial publication.
Among the features on the site is a review archive, focusing on music out of the mainstream. On Wednesday the site will inaugurate Depth of Field, an online photography exhibit. Plans are also in the works to offer free MP3 downloads by arrangement with independent record labels.