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Awards. Awards. And More Awards. It's That Time Again

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IBMA Award TrophyEvery year about this time, the awards for the previous year's artists come around. We have the International Bluegrass Music Awards, The Inspirational Country Music Awards, The Dove Awards, and a lot more. Everybody has their own awards. In a way, it is like music charts. Everybody wants one and they rarely agree. The same can be said for the various awards. While awards shows and charts are entertaining and everybody wants to see their favorites at the top, do these really reflect who's best? While they have a great entertainment value themselves, do they really mean what we think they do?

Who is the best? Well, that depends on who is doing the voting. Like charts, there are a limited number of voices dictating what we all love. Sometimes they get it right and often times they don't. Like all the individual fans out there, we all have our own ideas too, as we all hopefully have our own tastes. Every voter or station or label has their "favorite" which they promote as the best. That is human nature. What I like isn't necessarily what somebody else likes. That is a good thing! Without that, the music would become pretty boring.

So, what do these awards and charts tell us, if anything? Peer awards tell us what our peers believe to be the best. Fan awards are based only on the votes of those fans who participate. Radio charts are based on what the programmers or DJs play during a given period and sometimes by random sampling by agencies. Sales charts are based on what is selling at any given time provided they are scanned. So, these "winners" are a function of two critical elements: WHO is doing the voting and WHEN those votes are cast.

An album that is released early in the voting cycle, especially for charts, may be extremely popular during the early period and fade as we actually near the award voting cycle. A later album that hits the top of the charts and is still there during the voting cycle will probably have an unfair advantage. The first album may have been #1 on the charts for a few weeks back in January but not during August when award time voting comes around. So, we have very fluid sense of value of "best" when it comes time to vote for that all coveted trophy. Attitudes, sense of novelty and newness always come into play when it comes to voting.

In the case of the International Bluegrass Music Awards, these are awards voted on by the professional members of the International Bluegrass Music Association. These are not fan based votes nor are they sales or radio/media based votes. Basically, these are peer review votes and should be recognized within that context. The IBMA attempts to level the voting by bringing awareness to all the music during the year and even encourages the voting populace to visit the music again, if possible. They are actively doing everything they can to bring greater value to their voting process.

In the case of "who" is doing the voting, in the case of the IBMA, it is the professional members of the organization. The majority of these members have been the same voters for years. They have their own tastes, favorites and who they view as best. While there are always new members joining, we don't know if it is enough to weigh in on the votes to change the repetitive nature of the nominees. In order to make the nominee list more diverse, we need a greater diversity of voters. That isn't happening. As a result, we see mostly the same names year after year.

Like the Grammys, the IBMA awards have new material each year comprising of new songs and albums but the circle of artists really isn't that great to select from. Again, this is reflected in the nominee list. Recognizing that bluegrass is a small genre with a pretty tight following, the results are not too surprising. In the instrumental arena, the list of top pickers is also a small circle so, we expect to see the same names year after year. It isn't every year that a new super picker or vocalist hits the bluegrass world by storm. There have been some memorable times that this has happened. The SteelDrivers, Chris Thile, Alison Krauss, Cherryholmes, and others have made the break but, it certainly doesn't happen every year.

So, we have the annual awards by all kinds of organizations and all celebrate the new winners each year. But, looking back across the domain of decades, are we really seeing what these awards represent? Are some instrumentalists just so far ahead of the rest that there really isn't any competition or, are the voters just repeatedly flagging who they personally like and enjoy the most? Is this a popularity contest, political run or, do the awards really represent what most of us feel? There is no way to know without knowing how every person who listens to the music would vote. That is an impossible situation.

We accept the awards and the charts for what they are. We remain excited to see who comes out on top. We love it when the voters choices reflect our own values. We enjoy the anticipation when they open the mystery envelope. But, when it is all said and over, we return to a world of normalicy and just enjoy the music. The brief interruption was welcomed and enjoyed. Now, we return to our regularly scheduled listening.

Thanks for those who give us the change in our daily pace and present the awards. We enjoy them. But, we also must respect that they also represent a constrained view of the real world of music. A bigger thanks to everybody who contributes to the music -- they are all winners!

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