I didn’t say anything about the annual Grammy Awards this year. To know me is to know how unusual that is. Every year I take a moment to grouse about the mediocrity of the entertainers and musicians being awarded for their “excellence” in the recording arts.
Year in and year out, the overwhelming majority of musicians I love are roundly ignored and remain in obscurity. Year in and year out, I take a moment or two to bitch about it.
Until this year.
The Grammys came. The Grammys went. I didn’t give a damn.
It was liberating.
I guess it finally sunk in. My favorite musicians will almost never win a Grammy award (unless it’s in Instrumental Rock or Jazz). They don’t have the label support. They’re not paid up to the right people in the right places. They’re not part of the machine. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Most of the artists I love are “outside” musicians. If planet Earth is the music industry, the artists I listen to are the Moon orbiting it: visible part of the time, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
Because they are not part of the bigger industry, artists like Adrian Belew and Mike Keneally are free to make the music they want to make without pressure from their labels. They’re also able to benefit more from sales, since the money made doesn’t have to get filtered through the machine before coming to them.
They drawback is having to labor in relative obscurity. But this doesn’t seem to bother them a bit.
So why the hell am I worried about it?
I had a similar revelation c. 1997, courtesy of the now defunct Musician magazine. In one issue, I learned that a staggering number of albums (more than 95 percent, if I recall correctly) are released with little to no support from a label. They got no advertising budget. They got no radio airplay. They damn sure didn’t win any Grammys! The albums were just … there. Hopefully, fans found them.
(Come to think of it, I’m having a similar problem with my book sales. My publisher is wonderful, but very small. As such, I don’t have the machine I need to get the word out. I have to do pretty much everything myself, which is unbelievably difficult.)
The last time I went out of my way to buy a Grammy winning album was five or so years ago, when I bought Beck’s Morning Phase, which I bought out of defiance toward alleged “genius” Kanye West.
Beck’s album was deemed Album of the Year, which West believed should have gone to Beyoncé. Now I think Bey is a beautiful woman and one hell of an entertainer. But from a musical standpoint, we don’t see eye to eye. I already had a couple of Beck albums, so getting another wasn’t much of a stretch. The Grammy committee got it right: Morning Phase is GORGEOUS.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, nothing has changed. If anything, things are worse due to the glut of independent releases (thanks to advances in home recording technology) and the disappearance of most independent labels. And through it all, the albums keep coming.
Bands like Bent Knee have moved from independent to moderate- sized niche labels. But there is still no radio support. Not nearly enough people are pounding the pavement for them. If anyone deserves a Grammy for their fearlessness and ingenuity, it’s these guys.
But that’s not gonna happen. And I’m finally at peace with it.
Complaining about the Grammys is pretty much like shouting at the rain: all I’m getting is wet. I’m not accomplishing anything. So why bother?
The best thing I can do is continue to support the bands and musicians I love with my wallet. I’ll buy the records, go to the gigs, and buy the t-shirts once I’m there. I’ll spread the word far and wide about them, either verbally or through this and other pages. Sooner or later, the word just might get out, and the band will reap the benefits.
Where my favorite music is concerned, the Grammys are pretty much useless. I know where to find what I like. I don’t need a television show to tell me. So why waste my time railing about what I hate, when I could expend that energy telling you about what I love? That’s much more productive.
So if you need me on Grammy night, I’ll be at the record store.
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My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.
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HEAR!!! That’s what I’m talking about!
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I’ve tuned out music award shows years ago. Once I learned about the politics behind it. They’re nothing but glorified popularity contests. I will choose a Beyonce album everytime over anything that Beck puts out.
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Ah, but that Beck album is absolutely BRILLIANT. Completely removed from the electronics and samples everyone associates him with. Fantastic songwriting, beautiful arrangements, lush production. I never say this, but it was a Grammy well deserved!