Once again all the Grammy nomination razzamatazz has fired up, with local label ZenHill Records of course leading the charge with its recent press release, "ZenHill Artists on the Long List for a Grammy."
One of our editors took a couple of incoming email shots from a so-called "reporter" over at Free Press Houston for Rocks Off's alleged failure to cover and support our city's "wonderful Grammy nominees." Of course, if this Free Press reporter had done any homework on the subject -- homework, grammar, spell checking, fact checking not being particularly high editorial priorities at FPH -- he would've eventually stumbled upon this bit of less than pleasant Houston Grammy history and grabbed a clue.
So, local bands, labels, producers, music geeks, scenesters, time for the annual reality check.
Look, boys and girls, half the albums made during the year ON THE PLANET get thrown into the initial mountain of releases that are sorted through to compile the initial first-round recommendations. The recommendations, i.e. "the long list" in the press release (and long is the operative word!) are sent along for more weeding. Most will be dismissed but some of these, a miniscule amount in fact, are eventually placed on the list of official Grammy nominees. When your band ends up on that list, then you can trumpet your "Grammy nomination." But until then, you're just another band or label or producer sailing another CD into a huge stack. That's why it says "The official list for consideration for nomination." You made a list, a very, very, very long list. That in itself is nice, but you are not, repeat, NOT, "Grammy nominated."
In reality, the odds of ZenHill acts Sideshow Tramps or Roky Moon & BOLT, who, according to ZenHill's press release, have made it out of round one of the regionals, becoming actual Grammy nominees -- nominees, mind you, not even winners -- is staggering. It's like thinking your Little Leaguer is going to be called up to the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race. And the likelihood of either act -- or of the Tontons, Champion Sisters or Robert Ellis, the other Houston acts making the long list -- actually being on the final Grammy lists for the awards is virtually nil. Zero. Nada.
Still, every year about this time we begin to get press releases from bands and from publicity people touting Grammy this, Grammy that. Just a couple of months back we received an announcement from Andrew Karnavas about his Andy-Roo children's record being nominated for a Grammy. We immediately sent him an email requesting an interview and one was set up for the following day, but by the next morning someone must have informed him that he was about to step in a river of Grammy quicksand because he issued a new press release retracting his earlier Grammy assertions, explaining that he had misunderstood and that he was in fact not nominated for a Grammy. Maybe someone forwarded him the link to the Sugar Bayou fiasco. We hope so. But the fact remains that the issuance of these false claims of Grammy nomination are an annual thing, like ragweed and hay fever.
One of my colleagues probably has the best take on the psychology behind this false blowing-our-own horn advertising.
"I think it's just ego stroking by bands that are, for the most part, putting out inferior product."
One p.r. person for a local jazz singer actually emailed us the other day that her client was "Grammy-recognized." When we asked her to explain that, we got a curious reply: "That's the term they supplied us." When we asked who "they" was, the line went dead.
We've heard horror stories about studio and label execs luring young bands with vague promises about the whole Grammy sham. Unfortunately, some of the youngsters aren't that sophisticated with the legalese.
Jeoaf Johnson, drummer for Roky Moon & BOLT whose album American Honey has made the long list, noted that his label [ZenHill] seemed more concerned with nominating the band for a Grammy than the band was.
"There were some deadline concerns about finishing all the stuff that has to be done to complete an album, the art work, the mastering, etc. to have our record ready before the cutoff date for submission," says Johnson. "But that was more label-driven than band-driven.
"We were pretty sure that an album cut in one day on the cheap was probably not going to win us a Grammy," he laughs. "Sure, it's nice to make the long list, but we understand what that really means."
Johnson admitted he's seen other local bands tout having submitted an album to the regional committee like it was some kind of achievement, but he says that's just either naivety combined with wishful thinking or a desire for recognition that most young bands probably don't truly deserve.
New West Records publicist Amanda Hale Ornelas told us that her label doesn't necessarily submit every record that it issues, but rather tries to be strategically smart about submissions.
"We are registered with NARAS as a media company, so I'm able to submit albums or tracks online directly to the organization. And we hope what we do submit is something that is truly viable. No one likes to waste time."
Ornelas noted that she submitted Robert Ellis's album Photographs in several categories, but NARAS rules prevent her from divulging particulars on any given submission.
"We just try to be smart, submit in meaningful categories, stuff like that. For instance, I wouldn't submit Robert in the category for hip-hop. I run my ideas by some key colleagues here and we try to think before we just fire off any old submission. That's just being professional, I think."
Another local band manager who asked not to be identified said submitting is almost like buying an insurance policy when working with up-and-coming bands trying to establish themselves.
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"I'm certainly against the type of false 'oh, gee, we're nominated for a Grammy, aren't we great' touting you're talking about. But if you're in this professionally, you have to consider what if one of these young bands actually does break out huge like Arcade Fire did a couple of years back. If that happens to my band, I certainly want their record to be in the pot for consideration. You never know."
His advice to young bands regarding the abuse of Grammy hype?
"You gotta stay real about this stuff," he says. "Period. Credibility, whether with fans or the press, is hard to build and you can throw it away with one false statement. So submit your record if you want it considered, then just shut up and wait."