An Austin Music Poll FAQ: Attempting Answers on the 43-Year Tradition
Winner announcements move to print; the party moves to Antone’s
It's been 43 years. Just a few months after the launch of The Austin Chronicle as a brand-new baby publication, the first Austin Music Poll ran in the paper on Dec. 18, 1981. (My Chron forebears also launched a since-defunct Movie Poll the week prior.) The mail-in ballot enthused: "So vote today – a high score just might give your favorite band a needed and well-deserved boost. Be patriotic; support Austin music!"
Sign of the pre-internet times: A December issue that year rounded up "the sheer quantity of vinyl released by Austinites in 1981," with help from the folks at Inner Sanctum Records. This search resulted in a measly one-page listing of just 39 LPs and a handful of 45s and EPs. Flip to today, the Chronicle music writers recommended over 60 different records as our year-end favorites. If we'd attempted to list all the 2023 releases out of Austin, it would have taken up the whole issue. The Austin Music Poll attempts an annual snapshot of this seriously expanded scene.
As the current Music editor, I field a lot of questions about how the poll and the awards show are conducted. Having been involved for less than 10% of the four-decade-plus history and knowing there's a wealth of well-informed explainers in our archives, I haven't always known how to best reply. I spent my holiday break reeling in the archives to attempt a linkable bundle of frequently asked Austin Music Awards inquiries. While protocol has wiggled around, with the loss of some categories (Best Soft Rock/Easy Listening Band) and the addition of others (Music Video of the Year), the annual tradition still stands to grant your favorite band a well-deserved boost.
Voting in the Austin Music Poll's 51 categories is open now until Jan. 22 at vote.austinchronicle.com. To prep your picks, find all the nominee names listed here. Find more FAQs on this year's party and AMA history below.
What’s new this year?
Save the date for the 2023/2024 Austin Music Awards, happening at Antone's Nightclub for the first time on Sunday, Feb. 25. Tickets will be for sale soon.
While in recent memory winners were unveiled live onstage, the results of the very first Austin Music Poll were revealed in a cheery 1982 issue reading, "Why Are These People on Our Cover?" This year, we want to bring the big announcement back to our rare, flippy-floppy newsprint. After all, we're one of the only remaining independent alt-weeklies in the U.S. Why not encourage folks to grab one?
So, prior to the Austin Music Awards event at Antone's, the poll results will be announced in the regular print issue of the Chronicle on Thursday, Feb. 22. While we still strive to build in some ceremony surprises, the change aligns with recent shifts toward a more laid-back, scrappy, on-brand awards show. Fewer speeches, more focus on the fans, and fewer staff needed to wrangle what was once a multipart four-hour affair.
I’ve been nominated in the Austin Music Poll. What do I need to do?
Huge congrats! If you'd like to encourage folks to vote in the poll, we've linked some social media graphics at vote.austinchronicle.com. (No pressure if you're not into that!) After voting closes, winners will be notified ahead of the awards show to confirm attendance. As explained above, preannouncement of winners in the paper hopefully alleviates some frustrations about non-winning nominees (we don't use the L-word around here) having to buy their own tickets in recent years.
Some explanation: With the awards show moving to more intimate venues, it's proved impossible to continue offering guest spots to all five nominees in all 51 categories like we did in bigger rooms. If you do the multiplication, holding all those spots would take up just about the entire capacity of Antone's. Of course, we'd still love to see all of you with your friends and family at the show! We promise this isn't a Chronicle moneymaking operation – all ticket proceeds go to the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health and substance use recovery services to ATX musicians, industry professionals, and their families. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any more questions.
How do I get nominated?
Each November, we tap a nominating body ("NomBod") of over 500 creative people who work in Austin music (in a capacity other than being an artist) to submit their picks. They're radio personalities, bookers, writers, artist managers, promoters, photographers, venue workers, producers, record label/nonprofit employees, and more. Previously, the poll had operated as a write-in, free-for-all election. But by the time Facebook rolled around, the write-in system led to lots of repeat winners, and nominations frequently went to bands who rallied their fans on social media. Former Music Editor Kevin Curtin oversaw the NomBod introduction in 2019 and did a very eloquent job of introducing the need for a single-round, multiple-choice ballot. (Revisit "Write-In, Wrong," Nov. 29, 2019.) It's made the poll much more diverse and, we think, more reflective of the year in Austin music.
What are the Austin Music Awards?
The very first Music Poll didn't have an accompanying ceremony – that tradition began the next year, 1983. The Club Foot lineup included Angela Strehli and special guest Stevie Ray Vaughan (misspelled on the poster as Vaughn). The event predated the beginning of South by Southwest in 1987, which centered around the music awards date. Under decades of leadership by foundational Chronicle music writer Margaret Moser, the celebration gained a reputation for special guests and unexpected collaborations – including Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple, Roky Erickson, Lucinda Williams, and Jo Carol Pierce. Find a robust rundown of the show's history – from the Big Boys' 1984 maelstrom to Daniel Johnston's 1990 visit, on the way home from which he famously crashed a plane – in Doug Freeman's anniversary feature ("Living in a Dream," March 3, 2017).
Why aren’t the awards all fancy anymore?
Across the Austin Opera House, Palmer Auditorium, Austin Music Hall, and Austin Convention Center, the music awards have existed in many forms over the years. They've also had quite a few hands on the wheel: After Moser's establishing run, Celeste Quesada, who previously produced the Texas Film Hall of Fame gala, took over as creative director in 2014. Under her guidance, the awards built up to a grand ACL Live at the Moody Theater affair where "exclusive private floor tables" started at $2,800 in 2018. During that era, Chronicle co-founder and former Editor Louis Black operated the AMAs independently from the paper, first via Louis Black Productions and later through the Society for the Preservation of Texas Music. During the show's 2021 pandemic pause, the Chronicle quietly re-inherited the reins. In the past two years, at Emo's and Mohawk, we've brought the party back to its ramshackle roots with show producer Paul Minor, known for engineering/booking at Hole in the Wall and the ABGB. Winners can still get their glammed-up photo ops, and we still think it's pretty dang fun.
Cast your Austin Music Poll ballot now at vote.austinchronicle.com.