Grammy bids by the little guys
For your consideration, the people who oversee the Grammy Awards don’t like the phrase “for your consideration.”
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences has long had a policy against the kind of lobbying and campaigning that is standard for the movie world’s Academy Awards and television’s Emmys. Unlike the governing bodies in those realms, the Recording Academy tightly guards its membership roster to prevent mass mailings to voters. By and large, record labels have honored this policy.
But something seems to be happening at a grass-roots level. In a span of just several days recently, four e-mails have been circulated drawing attention to Grammy-eligible albums. They were either personal pleas to voters or requests to the recipient to forward the e-mail to any potential voters.
None were for high-profile albums but for independent projects in side categories (alternative, comedy, children’s music, folk). All were aimed at the Wednesday deadline for nomination ballots to be returned. Nominations will be announced Dec. 7.
“We do not support that,” says Recording Academy spokesman Ron Roecker. “We have our policy of no ‘for your consideration’ efforts to protect the independent labels and artists, since we know they don’t have the money to do a marketing campaign, nor do we want voters to feel pressured.”
That sentiment won’t deter Tor Hyams, producer of the benefit children’s album “A World of Happiness” and the author of one of the e-mails in question.
“The way it works now really hurts me,” says Hyams, who is upset that the album is credited on the ballot to a generic “various artists” with no mention of any of the name-value roster that includes Perry Farrell, Deborah Harry, Magic Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and Lou Rawls.
“In the big picture of campaigning, the major labels who have the money to market the product, regardless of whether they say ‘for your consideration’ or not, will be in the eyes and minds of the voters,” Hyams says.
Steve Martin, president of the New York-based music publicity firm Nasty Little Man, says it’s common for clients to look for extra exposure as Grammy voting time approaches.
“Sometimes clients know they’re going to be up for something and say, ‘Can you get any press or TV appearances that might be influential?’ ” says Martin, whose clients include major-label acts such as the Beastie Boys and Beck as well as independent artists. “But actual lobbying for Grammy votes, we’ve never done that. I don’t like that.”
The aim of the efforts can get a little fuzzy this time of year, when promotions are also targeting holiday-season buyers and journalists working on year-end roundups. A current Green Day promotion by Warner Bros. Records, for example, takes advantage of the political theme of the band’s new album “American Idiot” by reminding people to vote, a message aimed both at the past week’s presidential election and the Grammy balloting. Capitol Records just sent out a special “thank you” box repackaging the debut album by Van Hunt, who is eligible for a best new artist Grammy.
For Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna, though, a much more direct message seems fitting to remind people about “2 A.M. Wakeup Call” by Tweaker, the recording alias of her husband, Chris Vrenna. She’s e-mailing people to highlight the small-label release as one of 64 entries vying for the five nomination slots in the Grammys’ alternative category.
“I’m just e-mailing my list of people I know and who know me, mostly industry friends, colleagues and co-workers, people I know are fans of Chris -- just to say we’re so excited he’s on the long list,” says Borzillo-Vrenna, a veteran music and pop-culture journalist.
Roecker notes that the stakes are less in the Grammy world than in the Oscars, where a nomination can mean tens of millions of dollars in business. The scale is smaller in music, especially for the more obscure categories that don’t get exposure on the awards telecast.
“Normally people see a little sales bump with a nomination, but it’s a big win and especially a performance that skyrockets,” he says.
But Hyams maintains that for a project such as his, even a little bump can mean a lot.
“If I get a nomination, more people will buy it and the 12 charities represented on the album get more money for children who are autistic or have AIDS or can’t afford a proper education,” he says. “And it maybe makes small labels more likely to do more projects like this.”
The big-tent approach to music
There’s a lot of talk about iPods and the Internet freeing music fans of genre constrictions and boosting eclecticism. A concert coming to Los Angeles on Nov. 21 is really putting the concept to the test. Billed as the New Music Seminar, the show at the Troubadour will feature classical cellist Matt Haimovitz playing Bach, rapper Lyrics Born, progressive jazzbos Charlie Hunter and Sex Mob, funk ensemble Critters Buggin and jam duo Benevento/Russo -- all in one overlapping set featuring spontaneous collaborations.
The event is being presented by the independent Rope-a-Dope Records label as part of a two-week tour that grew out of several shows done in New York over the last few years.
“People are exposed to so much different music now and have insatiable interests,” says Rope-a-Dope founder Andy Blackman Hurwitz. “Push shuffle on your iPod and maybe you get this show.”
Hurwitz says that what impresses him most is that ticket sales have been strong with minimal promotion.
“We’ve already sold about 400 tickets in San Francisco, 200 in Chicago, even in Iowa City we’ve pre-sold 150 tickets,” he says. “There’s something going on beneath the radar of the industry in general, which is young people open to new, exciting music that they find out about from each other. Everyone listens to everything.”