Contest Awards

May 23, 2009, 10:37 am by Paul Stiverson

Recently I’ve had a couple friends ask for my endorsement toward awards for which they were nominated. In case you are unfamiliar, the granters of these awards find nominees somehow then—instead of bringing in a panel of judges to determine who is most deserving of the award—they open up the voting online and basically see who has more friends they can goad into voting for them. I, for one, will not play ball; if there is an award to be given it should be given based on merit, not on popularity (unless of course the award is actually a popularity contest, in which case the two are interchangeable).

Ben Morris and the Great American Boxcar Chorus asked me to participate in just such a contest. After fighting tooth and nail to be nominated in a number of categories they perpetually bothered me (via their mailing list) to vote for them in their quest to be named “Live Band of the Year” at the Texas Music Awards. They eventually won the award, but without my support. I probably would have lent my support to them had I seen the band perform that year (and a significant number of the other nominees so I could make a reasonable comparison) because I love “Ben and Them”, but I will not sully the award by supporting their bid for it if I, personally, cannot say that they are the best live Texas country band of the year (judging by the shows I saw last year they were not). I did attend one of their shows after the award was presented, and I will say that they were very entertaining (as is the new album), and I probably would have voted for them given that performance.

More recently a photographer friend of mine was nominated for “Best Wedding Photographer” in Dallas-Fort Worth, and despite the fact that they did not photograph my wedding (I’m not married), despite the fact that I have not attended a wedding which they photographed, despite the fact that I have not even seen any of their wedding photos or spoken to a happy, well-photographed bride, they have asked for me to vote for them. I really only have experience with one wedding photographer in the D-FW area, the elderly couple who photographed Mark’s Wedding, and by god I can’t imagine that any worse photographers exist, but that doesn’t mean that my friends are the best. In the email soliciting my support they didn’t even bother to send a photograph of a satisfied bride, they just assumed that by virtue of friendship that I would support them in this supposedly skill-based competition. If somebody needs a wedding photographer I will support my friends by suggesting them as a photographer that I know, but I will not vouch that they are the best in the area because I cannot validate such claims.

I cannot blame my friends for asking for my support, they are doing what is necessary to win the contest, I can only blame the holders of the contest. If you are thinking about giving an award then please, please, seriously please find a panel of judges and look at the portfolios of the nominees to determine which is the best, don’t just put a form on the internet unless you only care about which nominee has the most unscrupulous friends.

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Mark Says:

May 23, 2009

You’d be surprised, those old folks take some awesome pictures, but you pay for it.... with your patience and a side-order of sanity.

faith Says:

Jun 24, 2009

ha. i got all these same vote solicitations, and i was as frustrated as you are.

Ben Morris Says:

Jan 28, 2010

I'm not ashamed to say this, but I was googling my band name and was about 10 pages in when I came across this blog. Found the topic very interesting, especially seeing that my band and I were mentioned and the name of the guy who wrote it was none other than my old Wednesday night IHOP buddy, the great Paul Stiverson! :) …this is good stuff! It really struck a chord with me, and brought to mind a lot of things I have dealt with over the past few years as a ‘starving artist’. Sorry for getting a little lengthy here. I am not making an indictment on you Paul or anyone in particular- it just got me to thinking about many of the struggles I have faced related to balancing friendships and relationships with people along with my musical career. This is something I am very passionate about… First off, let me say that I do not disagree with you. I appreciate where you are coming from and I definitely understand your frustrations with vote solicitations such as the one from me described above (and, trust me, I don't take particular joy in sending them out either...). Also, let me apologize upfront for the onslaught of emails that I send out on behalf of myself and my music on a regular basis. If it any time it becomes too much of a burden, please, let me know and I will take you off of my mailing list, no questions asked. I promise there would be no hard feelings, especially considering I now know how you feel. I always have that nagging feeling like I am being a menace to some people anyways, and I do feel really bad about “perpetually bothering” you (as you said), and other friends of mine. In a perfect world, the music I make would speak for itself. Problem is, it is hard to get people to listen without a forum. Artists, myself included, often feel pressured to use every medium we can think of to promote our passion. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to claw our way- the music would find the way! I would not have to use my mailing list and social networking sites to lobby for votes and that sort of thing and I could stick to just using such tools for schedule updates, band news, and what-not. Unfortunately, the system is set-up (at least for young, less-established acts) to have to "fight tooth and nail" to be heard and recognized above the ruckus. As an artist and as a friend, I apologize for continually using such measures to an extreme and for being an annoyance at times. I do find it very honorable that you put as much thought as you do into every matter that you vote on and I honestly appreciate you not voting for my band without knowing if we were deserving or not. While I know how hard I work at this and how much effort my band puts in and while I personally believe that we are deserving of a little recognition from time to time (as I do try to impress that thought on others as well :)), I cannot fault you one bit for sticking to your guns. I would have gladly accepted your vote (unmerited or not), but I do believe that is yours to give as you see fit. I’ll gladly take what I can get, even if I do not deserve it, because I know how hard it can be to get anything at all at times... My thoughts on the whole matter are not that different from yours- I find it very uncomfortable anytime I am put in a situation where I feel like I can benefit by bothering my friends. I know that people's time is very important to them and I try to be very conscious of what I do and don't bother my friends about. To set one thing straight- in the case of this particular award ('Live Band of the Year') that my band was up for and won, it actually WAS setup to be a "popularity contest". Of all the awards handed out at the ceremony every year, only four are determined by popular vote. The rest (awards such as Male Vocalist, Vocal Group/Duo, Entertainer of the Year, etc.) are determined largely by the board of the Academy of Texas Music, a 501c3 public charity dedicated to Texas Musicians. The four awards that ARE determined by public voting were specifically designed in this manner to give a voice to possibly deserving musical entities that may have been over-looked by the board. In the case of the “Live Band of the Year” award, it is determined by the fans/friends of the bands because they are the ones that go to the shows and support the artists. That is where the “Live” part of the name comes from, because it is intended to be awarded to an artist that interacts well with the public and might have a particularly rabid following. It actually is expected that artists will “goad” their friends and fans into voting for this award. Although we won, even without the assistance of you and many other friends of mine I’m sure, and although I was still very proud to walk away with the trophy, I have no misconceptions about what we accomplished that day. I realize that we were awarded based not so much on merit necessarily or because we deserved to be called the “Live Band of the Year”, but yes, because we had a lot of friends and a lot of fans who humored us and took the couple minutes time required to fill-in our name in the ballot box. Also, there is one other thing that should not be overlooked when discussing the scope of the Texas Music Awards. The TMA’s are a very different beast from many awards programs that you might be familiar with. They have very explicit criteria for who is eligible for awards and who is not. In the instance of our award (and all the awards), we were not being judged versus every other band that plays live in the state of Texas. Rather, we were being judged versus every other band that plays live in the state of Texas that is ALSO a member of the Academy of Texas Music. Everyone who is nominated and everyone who wins a TMA has to be a member of the Academy of Texas Music. The vast majority of bands out there playing are NOT members, although they could be eligible if they just took the time to become a member. I try to spread the word to all of my artist friends every time I get the chance to encourage every band or songwriter I know to join the Academy, but unfortunately, many don’t… Despite all of this, I do understand the fact that, regardless of who is eligible and who is not, you still could not make a “reasonable comparison” between my band and the other bands that were nominated because you had not seen everyone play to know for sure, and I appreciate that and respect you for sticking to your principles. Personally, I do not like asking for help of any kind- never have! The handful of times that I have been up for something that is determined by popular vote, I cringe at the thought of 'rallying the troops' and getting everyone of my friends that I can to lend a helping hand. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil, and when you are a young artist and struggling in every way you can to propel yourself forward, it is very difficult to gain any traction without some help from the circle of people that you call your family and friends. These days, so much of how you progress in the music business ebbs and flows by just how much you are willing to use tools like email & mailing lists and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and how well you can play the competitive little dog-eat-dog games designed by the powers that be, where artists are forced to battle it out with their fellow artist for a chance to gain some recognition, however small that might be. They want you to answer the question “How far are you willing to go while following your dream?” by seeing how many throats you can cut in the process. It is sad and ridiculous, and I do not like it one bit, but it is the way it is. It breeds unhealthiness, because, ultimately, the songs suffer the most because less time is spent on developing the craft and more time is spent on the business side of things, competing and chasing money and seeing who you can drag down in order to pull yourself up. It is unfortunate that so much of the particular music scene that I am enmeshed in (the whole Texas thing) is driven by schmoozing such as this and money and knowing the right people, instead of just having a gift for songwriting and entertaining. In order to make a splash (however small) in the biz, you have to be a salesman in many ways on many levels and be accessible 24/7 and generate as much buzz as possible, day in and day out. That means a leaving a lot of tweets and posting a lot of annoying posts and emails and shaking a lot of hands any time you’re in public and sucking up to the people in power positions in order to get ahead. Pretty much just being a politician who also happens to make music… I am not very comfortable assuming this role (and many times have used the wrong method or tactic and have done more harm than good for my name), but it is something that I always try to be mindful of. It is a daily struggle for me to not let the business side of it water down the art side of it. However, I believe that cream always rises to the top. I take a lot of pride in running my music career as an ‘independent’ artist in every way possible; sometimes it works to my disadvantage, and then sometimes it just works. I believe that if you work hard enough for a long enough period of time, you will get yours. I always thought that if you put your head and your heart into it and write good songs, are genuine in the way you handle your business, and put on one heckuva show each and every time you take the stage, that eventually you will catch fire and have some successes. While the whole “If you book it they will come” mantra that I used initially when I started playing live may not work very well for me these days, I still believe in the grassroots approach that I have taken with my career and am proud of the way things have progressed up to this point. It has been very time consuming and frustrating at times, but I believe that by plugging away in this manner eventually I will get to the point in my career where I can reach many of the goals that I have set for myself. I realize that you can't win over everyone. I used to think I could. It was a very difficult and painful lesson for me to learn. No matter how hard you work your butt off or how many doors you knock on, you still cannot make everyone share your passion (no matter how much they may care for you). It took me a long time to come to terms with this... When I came out with my first record (which I'll admit could be considered very morose by fresh new artist standards), I did not do myself any favors by wearing my feelings on my sleeve or by allowing my feelings to be hurt regarding the perceived way that other people that I cared about were receiving my work. There were friends who had been there with me since the beginning who had always supported me or came to shows, friends that I even went so far as to personally thank in the liner notes of my first cd, that, to this day, do not know that their names were listed in there because they never got a copy of their own (and you know me, I would have probably gladly given them a copy had they just come to a show). There were also radio folks that used to let me crack fart jokes on their air that will now not give my seriously recorded work so much as a sniff these days. I know that there are many folks who either knew me as this upbeat, usually-smiling personality or who knew my previous musical work making tongue-in-cheek, almost novelty-ish music, who had a lot of difficult finding anything positive to say about my first cd. I didn't understand why people that were very close to me- both close family members and friends- seemed so unresponsive to (and what I considered at the time to be unsupportive of) what I was doing. I was very naïve. It has only been since then that I have come to realize that there were so many things that ‘I used to’ do wrong… I used to think that if I had friendly relations with someone (whether it be a good friend, just a really strong friendly acquaintance of mine, or someone who is just my “friend” on myspace or facebook, etc.), then part of the unspoken agreement entered into with our friendly alliance is that we help and support each other within reason given the opportunity. I mistakenly just naturally assumed that “by virtue of friendship” my friends would support me, even in supposed “skill-based competition” as you mentioned. I used to believe that if someone got offended that I pestered them with what was going on in my life (and it has happened a few times before), then honestly, were they really my “friend” to begin with if they get so worked up that they can’t handle the occasional email or update from me? I was content to just delete them as a facebook friend or an email buddy and cut my losses and move on… Now, thank goodness, there is a lot more on my plate. I have always had a very obsessive personality, but these days, I just don’t have as much time as I’d like to worry about such perceived injustices. I am doing better about caring a lot, lot less, and I think it is good for my overall health… While I do hope and aim to not bother or offend anyone, the truth of the matter is, some people are just easily irritated, and no matter what you do, you are inevitably going to get under the skin of some folks, even sometimes those you call your friends. I try not to consume my life with trying to make everyone happy, but I do want them to know that I am not intentionally trying to make their life less enjoyable. While it still hurts if someone says something not so nice about me, I just take it with a grain of salt as best as I can, knowing that it is gonna happen no matter what I do or how sincere I am in any endeavor that I attempt. I try really hard not to let it get me down if my band or I get bashed in a public forum (i.e. Texags, where someone once told me that my ‘Ballad of Billy Clyde’ song made them want to “throw up the Whataburger” they just ate all over their computer). I know how easy it is to sit behind a computer and tear down something that someone else has worked hard on, and how much more difficult it is to have an original thought of your own and actually create something unique and fresh. I do my best not to let that stuff get to me. I have come to grips with many things in relation to my music and the way I purvey it to the world. Truth be told, some people just flat out don’t care about what you are doing. Some do. Some people just have different tastes. Some people will like what you are doing, some will not. If someone wants to take the time out to offer support, they will, and I will be deeply appreciative of them for it. If they don’t they won’t, and I’m fine with that too. If my email blasts grow to be too much for them, I realize that some will do the natural thing and “un-friend” you or unsubscribe from the listserve. I also realize that some will not and would prefer to let it inconvenience them (I had a lot more of this back in the JAB days, when I used guerilla type techniques in dealing with the way I obtained, used, and interacted regarding emails). I was a lot more immature then, but I still can be overbearing I know at times. Everybody’s different, and at the end of the day, you can’t please everybody... And it doesn’t mean that they are not your friend or that they don’t like you. They just may not care enough to continue in the same capacity as a friend and supporter. I get that, and am totally cool with that too… I know how I feel when I get unsolicited requests from people I know asking them to vote for me. I do the same thing you do- I take it in stride; I’m not rude about it either- but I either vote for them, or I don’t. Sometimes, I’ll have multiple artists friends that are up against each other asking me to vote for them for the same award. In such cases, I always vote for whoever I feel is the most deserving, regardless of who I like better as a person. However, if a friend of mine asks me for my vote, and I am unfamiliar with the other nominees, I always vote for my friend. I do not see it as a vote against the other band or a vote against the other nominees, but rather as a vote of support for my friend. Regardless of if they are the most deserving or not (I may not know), if someone I consider to be a friend is asking for my support, I give it to them. They are probably at least deserving enough if they are considered as a nominee, and I don't see the hurt in voting for an award that I wouldn't otherwise probably even know about. Especially in something as (don’t mean it in a negative way, but) ‘trivial’ as a small scale music award. It just may help to give that little bit of extra umph of support that will help to launch a career or propel a friend forward to their goals. It’s a small sacrifice on my part, and I am happy to do it. I am all about helping my friends in any way I can… Just my two cents. Sorry to go off on a tangent. Didn’t really mean to write so much or go off on such a long rant, what you said just really resonated with me and made me think a little bit. I guess that’s a good thing! I hope you don’t take any of this personally or think that I am speaking negatively of your views or think that I am saying much of this applies to you, it just made me go all stream of consciousness on you, thinking back about many of the things I have come across or some of the ways I a felt when trying to scale a few walls in my young career… Holler soon. It'd be good to see you around more often! Ben.

Ben Morris Says:

Jan 28, 2010

So, yeah, it didn't recognize my paragraphs as paragraphs... sorry!

faith Says:

Jan 28, 2010

Ben, your comments made me think about my logic behind voting or not voting for friends for these sorts of things. I DID vote for you guys for the Texas Music Awards, but I DIDN'T vote for the friends in the photography contest, so I've been mulling over why that is. I guess with the music contest, I at least feel like I've been to a fair number of concerts, so I have some legitimate reason to vote. But with the photography thing, I only know of ONE wedding photographer in Dallas (well, two, but they work together), and while I love them as people, I'm just not interested in endorsing them as the best in Dallas. And really, doesn't the prize mean a lot more when it comes from people who actually know what they're talking about? Like Paul said, the real problem is the people RUNNING the contests. When they set the voting up like they do, it's not really a "Best Dallas Wedding Photographer" Award; it's a "Dallas Wedding Photographer With The Most Friends" Award.

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