Over 1000 members of the music industry make up the Voting Academy, according to the ARIA Awards webiste (there's supposed to be more information, but the specific pages weren't available at time of writing), and it's their votes which determine the eventual winners over the 29 or so categories (four of which are classified as Artisan Awards, six as Fine Arts Awards). Further, there are three public-voted categories: Most Popular Australian Artist, Most Popular International Artist and (for the first time in 2011), Most Popular Live Artist.
When I was invited (I have no idea what qualified me, or why last year was 'my time' to be invited), I was quite chuffed - it's a nice bit of recognition, to be sure. After my initial ego-boost had calmed itself however, and particularly as I was going through the actual process of voting, it struck me that the whole thing was somewhat of a farce. Reducing the hard work of bands and artists to little more than a sound bite for the purpose of ranking them seemed more and more obscene the further into it I got.
What I guess I was objecting to, was the judging of art. Yes, it happens every day, but I just felt dirty doing it. I critique musicians for a living, but when I do it, I'm able to justify why I feel this way, I'm able to expand upon what I see as lacking and I'm able to suggest alternate routes the band or artist in question could have taken, based of course, on my own tastes and experiences - this is what a critic does. Here however, I had a short bio, a single track to listen to (along with a wealth of physical copy sent to me by record companies who knew that I, as a member of the Academy, would be voting, potentially for one of their charges), and a box to number, or tick, or whatever it was. It just seemed like I was selling the artist (whether I liked them or not) short, not to mention my own professional credibility.
However, I did it. Last month, I got the email asking me to register again to vote this year, and I did that too. When voting opens on September 3rd, I'll got through everything, I'll try and make fair decisions, and I'll vote again. Why? Even though I think award ceremonies are pointless drivel, even though I think this particular process lacks any realism or merit or credibility, it still does, on a base level, recognise artists for their art, even if said recognition is buried deep within the gauche and the commercialism and the back-slapping kudos of the Australian music industry, congratulating itself once again on another year well done.
|The legendary Jeff Lang|
The main reason I'll vote again though, and the reason I'll continue to do so if asked, is because voting for the ARIAs isn't too far removed from voting in a federal election - my single vote may make a crucial difference. It may be the single vote that gives Jeff Lang a much deserved Best Blues & Roots award, it may be the single vote that secures a win for Jordie Lane or Lanie Lane or Sal Kimber or any number of other deserving acts in any number of the available categories. For it's those smaller, independent acts that need to be recognised too, even if it is on the 'grand' stage that is the annual ARIA Awards.
For when those small mercies abound, such as when someone like Mia Dyson wins, or Collard, Greens & Gravy, or The Audreys (I am, of course, biasing towards roots music here), it makes the whole process, for me, seem worthwhile and gives me a glow like I'm actually contributing, by recognising that they are contributing, on a plane away from my journalistic pursuits.
Anyway, as I prepare myself to vote once again, I'm reminded of a piece I wrote around this time last year, when initially invited to join the Academy. I've posted it below, in full, more as a reminder to myself that I am indeed a scum-sucking member of this industry than anything else, but also to remind me that it doesn't have to be like that. Every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. Or something to that effect, anyway.
Originally published as the editorial in Issue One of Cruel & Unusual magazine, September 2011.
ARIA Awards – The Voting Process
We live in a scurrilous society and I work in a scurrilous industry. It is, to quote, a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. I count myself as neither a thief, a pimp nor a good man but I am vigilant and I fly by the seat of my pants and keep a close eye on those around me, for one can never be too careful, one can never be too paranoid for there are foul workings afoot and only a fool or a whore would say otherwise.
The machinations of the situation are thus: the scheme is to judge The Best. Those wily cats conniving together to create lists from which invited individuals pick and choose, give us the power and in 18 instances, One is chosen above the rest and they’re lauded and applauded, they’re put on a pedestal for a fleeting time and their art is broken down, numbed and sedated, reduced to a single phrase at a single time in a single place – their art is Dead, save for the ‘recognition’ from a scurrilous industry hell bent on its own demise. And yet, of course, it doesn’t see it like that, it sees it like this is a Good and Just thing, but we know better.
So I sit and I suck on my teeth in frustration, pent up and then some as I Judge and Degrade and Rank and Reduce hard work to little more than a number on a screen. Sometimes it’s easy because sometimes you feel you do know best, and so picking three from ten or 20 or 30 in some cases is like breathing, but in other cases I feel stifled and need air and, indeed, originality, for how can one choose The Best from a list that contains nothing more than puerile rubbish best suited to the sonic graveyard that is a 13-year-old girl’s iPod, never to be heard of again after a week and a half? It’s mind-numbing and it goes against the grain to which I measure myself on a daily basis – and yet I do it anyway.
It takes me a week. A week of listening and reading and sweating and cursing and justifying – to myself – that the decisions I’m making are for the Common Good and that they’re deserved and that I am deserved and this whole thing isn’t a farce, for how can one judge art? You cannot, there are no two ways about it. It is far too subjective. And yet I did it.
So I am a thief. I am a pimp. I am also, most likely, a fool and a whore. I am certainly not a good man. I am a scurrilous member of this cruel and shallow money trench, I roam the plastic hallway and I fuck whoever gets in my way. With the pointy end of a statuette designed to take the art out of music, right before our eyes in this very country of ours, democratic to the core. Oh the humanity. I didn’t keep a close enough eye, I was not paranoid enough, and so I deserve to die like the dog that I am.
Samuel J. Fell