Playback: Make the Austin Music Poll Great Again
Getting the vote out for the 2016/17 Austin Music Poll
By Kevin Curtin, Fri., Jan. 27, 2017
We realize everyone feels burned from the last election – the one where the morally bankrupt billionaire defeated the irresponsible emailer who cheated against the lovable socialist grampa. And yet, here I am, trying to convince you your vote matters. The government may be a lost cause, but you still have six days to cast your ballot in the Austin Music Poll.
How Big Is Your Inauguration?
The 35th Austin Music Awards will boast the largest audience ever to witness a music awards ceremony in Texas – indisputable aerial views comparing crowd sizes are forthcoming. Traditionally, the show's occupied a midweek slot in the South by Southwest scrum, a major inconvenience for local fans, artists, and organizers alike, so we've moved it up to the sponsoring festival's Interactive weekend. We're also waving bye-bye to the business-y ballrooms of recent years and relocated the ceremony of Sunday, March 12, to ACL Live at the Moody Theater, boosting the production value of our collaborative musical programming and giving winners an elegant platform to pick up their golden (I mean wooden) statues (I mean plaques). The star-studded music lineup can't be announced yet, but I'd grab tickets now before they sell out like the past two AMAs.
Who Is Vladimir Putin Voting For?
Bob Schneider, obviously. Austin's songwriting heartthrob has an even stronger election record than the unbeatable Russian leader – some 29 awards to date. With polls closing in less than one week, it appears the ultimate ballot count will once again land in the five-digit range. The trend of diversification continues with votes spread over a wider swath of acts, making margins of victory lower. As such, many categories remain hotly contested and will be determined by the incoming rush of last-minute votes.
Campaign Finance Reform
Geeks have monetized the ancient art of vote beggin'. The increasing trend of bands purchasing sponsored Facebook ads asking fans to vote for them was lambasted by My Jerusalem singer Jeff Klein in a recent post calling it a "weird priority" for bands to lay out cash to win an award. The debate of organic vs. solicited voting isn't a matter of legality (no rule says you can't advertise), but one of decorum. You have to hustle to succeed in the music world – and we appreciate musicians advertising the poll – but consider approaching it like community consensus rather than a pure ego stroke.
Don't Trump Yourself
Praise means more when it's not coming from yourself. Bless blues singer extraordinaire Jai Malano for her selflessly sponsored Facebook post: "There are some great musicians in this town. Here's your chance to let everyone know who's who," she wrote, not even mentioning herself. Another beautiful thing I see is people campaigning on behalf of a band or artist they love, but aren't immediately connected to. In that spirit, I'd like to start a late campaign for George Reiff as Best Bassist. The AMA house band member merits that award not only because he's literally among the finest bassists in Texas (check his A-list résumé), but also in light of his inspiring fight against stage IV cancer in his brain, liver, adrenal gland, and lung.
That's me, making the judgment calls, sending San Antonio bands packin', crossing out songs released in 2014 from this year's Song of the Year votes, and purging easy listening bands from the Best Punk category. Some clarity on a reoccurring question: If you've placed top 10 in any category in a previous year, you cannot qualify as Best New Band, yet despite the wording, solo acts can win.
You're Not Just Presidential
Heartbreaking news: Your cover band isn't Austin's Band of the Year, and your assertion that it is insults both the intelligence of voters and the local music scene as a whole. It's true that, to win, one must throw his/her hat in the ring, but which ring you aim for separates the dreamers from the delusional. Meanwhile, I marvel at the audacity of bands asking fans to vote for every single member as Best Guitarist, Best Drummer, Best Bassist, Best Keyboards, and Best Singer. I appreciate people giving credit to their bandmates, but you're not the Beatles.
Heed the warning, "Ballot-stuffing may be punishable by death." Okay, not "death," but we do comb through ballots and excise hundreds of bogus votes annually. This year, stricter voting identification methods make it easy to identify duplicate ballots. Businesses can encourage voting with a public computer, but we ask that they let us know so we can reference the IP number. Last year, we discovered several bands using vote-purchasing websites, which are easy to spot for reasons I won't give away. Those things are cool to use for contests where you win a free Florida cruise, not a ceremony honoring hometown musicians.
A Mandate for Change
For better or worse, the entirely write-in Austin Music Poll is pure democracy, a people's vote unobstructed by the opinions of know-it-all music media. As a journalist, I hate that because I don't like seeing terrible bands winning. If it was up to me – and it's not – the Music Poll would offer nominations compiled by a large group of music writers, DJs, club owners, bookers, producers, and record store owners. We'd come up with a list of the best, most influential music made in Austin in every category and the public would vote on that. Industry categories would remain write-in. Hear that sound? It's Chronicle co-owner Louis Black and longtime AMA organizer Margaret Moser plotting my demise for saying that.
Winning Is Everything
People will repudiate congratulatory backslapping at awards shows because the quest of an artist is supposedly self-validating, but hell, Bob Dylan didn't even show his face to pick up his recent accolades and it was a Nobel Prize. Nonetheless, some of us who haven't been called "the voice of his generation" know that being a musician is a bitch and a little lasting recognition feels deserved.
Longtime Chronicle employee Dan Hardick denies Russian espionage factoring in to his band Fingerpistol's two-peat of the Best Country/Bluegrass category, in which they bested household names such as Dale Watson. "The media's a clique-y fuckin' deal," he says, lamenting that the Chronicle never writes about his band, which plays 100 shows a year. "This Music Poll is us taking it into your own hands, which is what you do in a music career."
Hardick says that, for the last two years, he's simply asked fans to vote for them and they've responded. The result: positive effects on bookings, a slight financial uptick, getting calls for gigs they wouldn't get otherwise, and a useful confidence boost. "You're always this supplicant groveling to a booker, but we can say, 'Hey, at least these people like us!'"
Vote Your Musical Conscience
People use the term "popularity contest" as an insult, but isn't that really the best potential outcome? The whole point of a public poll is to find out who a community's favorites are. The only way this popularity contest can be broken is if it doesn't accurately represent what Austin music fans enjoy. Thus, there are two real threats to our popularity contest: bad bands that are good at social media, and intelligent music fans who are too cool to vote. The only way to combat both is for as many people to vote as possible.
With that in mind, I want all the votes: scenesters, tastemakers, loners, baby boomers, Gen Xers, teens, hippies, hipsters, downtown condominium owners, South Austinites, gangsters, vinyl geeks, techies, metal heads, ravers, rockers, singer-songwriters, the casual, and the obsessed. It's all those voices that will give Austin a much deserved and realistic representation of the community and its soundtrack.
That's what will make the AMAs great again.