It’s official: the bar has been dropped altogether! or, What’s behind the smoke and mirrors. My experience with the L.A. Music Awards.
Listen while you read to “Halley’s Comet” because this came from so far out of left field it might as well have been outer space.
ca. late June 2011
friend of ours performed on an album that got nominated for the L.A. Music Awards this year, and since things didn’t work out with the person he had planned on bringing with him, he invited Chi and me to go along. We were happy to support the artist being nominated, and curious about the L.A. Music Awards, so off we went. There was a cock-up with getting an extra ticket for Chi (our friend only had two that had been purchased in advance), so Chi threw a tantrum and went home AFTER the money had been spent and the additional ticket procured for him.For some reason the promoter thought it necessary to subject the award nominees and the people they had brought with them to an entry-level “industry panel”, i.e., a group of music biz types giving generic advice on how to “take it to the next level” as indie artists. Boy, am I getting tired of that trite and meaningless phrase! Whoa, I get it! The only reason people would fall for this bullshit is if they are entry level. But wait a minute! The artist we came to see is quite well established and has one hell of a group of backing musicians working for her.
Anyway, when the panel finally wrapped and the awards announcer came onstage, my first clue that this was not what it was cracked up to be was the big pitch he gave to potential “sponsors” about how they can get their logo on the plaque each nominee is photographed with, and that the nominated artists’ band mates almost always want to buy memento plaques, increasing the sponsor’s “exposure”. Gee, where have I heard that meaningless term before? (for those not in indie bands, “exposure” is typically brokered as if it were bankable currency, but that’s a subject for a separate rant–oops–I mean, post)
After much ado about nothing, the first act to take the stage was a kid who sang and played keyboards karaoke-style with a sequenced band in the background, followed by a generic young rock guitarist/singer from Phoenix who began his set with a series of bad jokes about Arizona and that state’s notorious xenophobia. I thought, “Phoenix? What does that have to do with the L.A. Music Awards?”
Next up was an utterly unremarkable band of mid-teenagers from San Antonio, Texas that was nominated not only for “artist of the year”, but “guitarist”, “bassist”, and “drummer” of the year as well, and ranged stylistically from totally generic heavy metal to totally generic kiddie punk-pop. The singer should have stuck with Sprechscreamme because when he tried to actually sing, his pitch was all over the map. Oh well, at least he wasn’t using Auto-Tune, and to give them credit, their choreography and synchronized head banging appeared well rehearsed. They had a cute girl bassist too.
By this point I was thinking, “Wow! When did L.A. become such a cultural wasteland that they have to import quintessentially mediocre school kid bands of from hither and yon to nominate for music awards?” Wait a minute – I get it!! This has little, if anything, to do with music, and much to do with some promoter making a killing off the uninitiated.
At this point, the big stars our artist works with began trickling in with their inappropriately young girlfriends in tow, and it became clear why there was no schedule or order to the nomination confirmations and for the rule that “you must be present to win”. EVERYONE had to suffer through the entirety of this jackassery to ensure a captive, if unenthusiastic audience for the nominees who were from out of town, and a fair share of “Wow! There’s (insert name of big star)!” Hollywood moments.
It went from silly-sad to pathetically bizarre, and as the evening wore on, it descended deeper and deeper into incomprehensible wackiness.
My incredulity increased as the next nominee was announced: a 10-year-old kid who was ballyhooed as having been nominated not once, but TWICE for rock guitarist of the year (yes, in L.A., where one might reasonably expect that he would have to be absolutely, incredibly, gob-smackingly, fucking righteously awe-inspiring!), and then the MC noted that he was nominated based on recordings, and hadn’t been evaluated playing live. (Uh-oh, what does this mean?? A little Photoshopping at the mixing board, perhaps??)
The visual was rather striking: the guitar was almost as big as the kid, and the adults twice his size accompanying him further emphasized the diminution effect. He began a totally generic instrumental piece by strumming and chunking on some open D chords, punctuating with some random noodling and alternating rhythmic patterns (a recitation of heavy metal fundamentals, I guess). When he did a few bars of rudimentary hammer-on-tapping technique, I whispered to my friend (ok, I didn’t really whisper, as the volume was so loud that my companion had offered aural prophylactics to everyone at our table after the first act), “Hey! I learned to do that when I started learning to play electric guitar too when I was 16!” He replied half-jokingly, “but he’s only 10!” I decided against rebutting with the entirely truthful statement, “Ok, and I was playing Beethoven symphonies in youth orchestra when I was 10”, having started violin very late, i.e., at age 9.
I felt guilty as I thought with increasing annoyance, “This is worthy of an award nomination??? Oh Lord! In the remote corner of the music world I hail from, child prodigies perform in world renowned concert halls and play at least as well as adult stars.“ Ok, I get it! The adult singing and playing the guitar must be the kid’s father, a struggling indie artist, who’s using his kid as his talking dog publicity stunt. That reminded me of an ageing (and struggling) indie artist we encountered in Japan expressing similar designs to exploit his cute, popular “tween” model daughter.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not so bitter and jaded that I’ll rip on little kids playing in school talent shows. I don’t have any problem like that. I did it. They should do it. It’s good experience for them. What I have a problem with is shit like this, i.e., hyping this thing up like it’s some sort of legitimate merit-based awards thing and charging admission for it, and then having it turn out to be some glorified pay-to-play open mic or kids’ talent show. I believe that’s known as “deceptive marketing” or something like that, right?
I’m not even mad about getting swindled into it. I came at the invitation of my friend who paid for our tickets, and was looking forward to possibly seeing his friend perform, who has put forth a good album based on solid musicianship that has garnered some well-deserved positive reviews. I never would have gone to anything like this on my own recognizance because I just couldn’t care less about this sort of thing. I don’t even watch or give a rat’s ass about the Grammys. I just feel sorry for all the people (i.e., parents, friends, colleagues (of the award nominees who are old enough to work legally!), band mates, session players, etc., who pay hard-earned money and take time out of their busy schedules for the “privilege” of getting taken hostage by this exercise in absurdity and shameless profiteering off the backs of aspiring artists and the people who financially support them.
My patience was wearing thin as more photo opps with the plaque followed, and then my friend reported that our artist would be in the next batch of plaque photos, and it should be just a mere 20 minutes or so before our set of hostages would be freed. Hallelujah!
As promised, all of our artist’s entourage got ready to exit en masse once the last photo was snapped, and then for some reason the boys took out their earplugs a little too early (I kept mine firmly in place) while some cutie-pie aspiring pop tart was performing at a particularly deafening volume while we tried to escape. That brought back not-fond memories of trying to find the exit from a casino in Vegas when I’d quickly hit my tolerance for the frigid air conditioning, cigarette smoke and clamourous din.
For some reason there seems to be no Wikipedia entry for the L.A. Music Awards. Maybe I should start one with this post? At any rate, now I know what it means when I see the words “L.A. Music Awards Nominee” or “Winner of the ‘prestigious’ L.A. Music Award for (insert category)” on some artist’s profile. It means that they waded through that steaming, seething cauldron of elephant shit, especially if they have a photo of themselves posing with that telltale plaque to prove it!
Epilogue: I remember an occasion not long after Chi and I first moved to L.A., and Chi found some ad in the “Musicians Wanted” section on Craigslist (a.k.a. “the L.A. Slave Exchange”). I made an inquiry and then some kid called me offering me an “opportunity” to pay several hundred dollars to get nominated for awards sort of like this one. More perplexing is that the artist we went along to support, who is principally domiciled in another state almost on the other side of the continent, and has absolutely no clue how she got nominated, and even odder still that her new record wasn’t even released until two weeks after the close of entries for this year’s awards.