March has arrived, and with it comes the preparation, printing and mailing of the preliminary ballot for the 2011 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Like many, I was oblivious to the amount of work, consideration and communication that goes into this process until I joined the HARA Board of Governors four years ago and subsequently became a member of the selection committee. The amount of work is tremendous, the rewards few, and the consternation is sometimes overhwelming. It’s impossible to please everybody, and the job of finding the appropriate category for many releases is challenging, particulary when the majority are based on musical style (jazz, reggae, rock, etc.), others thematic (Christmas, religious, island music) and some based on language (Hawaiian Album and Language Performance). The committee did an admirable job, and I applaud my colleagues.
Another part of “March Madness” (as I fondly call it), is the beginning of the “awareness campaigns” that are popular during the preliminary and final balloting processes. Neither the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts (the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards) nor the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammy Awards) allows blatant solititation of votes, vote swapping, or other nefarious activities, though I doubt there are many that would deny that it happens with both awards.
Two services provided by the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts that the national academy does not are a mail-out service and an email blast service. Neither organization distributes a contact list of its members (despite recent allegations that NARAS has shared its contact list with some privileged artists). However the Hawai‘i academy offers a paid service by which members can have post cards, letters, flyers and CDs mailed to all members. The mailing is prepared and delivered to the HARA office, the office stamp affixes the mailing labels and arranges for their delivery. The purchaser of the service never receives our actual email list.
This service is not without its detractors. Some say that it gives more affluent artists and labels an advantage, since they can absorb the cost of giving away free copies of the CDs, printing of promotional materials, and mailing them to members. Others argue that these services level the playing field for new and lesser-known artists who may have difficulty getting radio play or otherwise exposing potential voters to their work. While I see both sides of the argument, I tend to side with the latter, and believe that it is a good thing for our members. Measuring the impact of these mailings is difficult. I have seen some surprising (in my opinion) wins by some albums in recent years, and noted that the winning release was promoted via a mailing. But I have seen some suprising losses (also in my opinion) of releases that were also promoted by a CD mailing.
In previous years, I have tended to listen to at least a couple cuts of each CD, recognizing that if an academy member took the time and money necessary to create a mailing, or put audio samples online, I owed it to them to at least give it a listen. Admittedly, I regretted doing this on occasion, but I was also surprised by the quality of some releases for which I previously had low expectations. Did receiving a CD from these artists change my vote? Never. Did listening to the releases subsequently change my vote? On occasion, yes. But I’m not naive enough to believe that there are not some individuals who will for a release simply because they received a freebie.
My promise: this year I will listen to every release sent to me through the HARA mailout service in its entirety. With my new walking regimen, I can load up my Droid and give them the attention they deserve during my walk, rather than trying to do it while working. I received about 8 releases alone yesterday, and will be putting a few on the Droid today for this afternoon and tomorrow’s walk. I’ll also post a few comments about them, or, if I have nothing nice to say, at least point to them. Please don’t contact me directly and ask to send me a CD. It needs to be done through the HARA mail-out service.