[Sound Guy] The OC Music Awards Push the Envelope

Fresh-faced up-and-comers the offspring
Courtesy Sony Music

Pushing the Envelope
The OC Music Awards’ new showcases shine, but what’s up with those nominations?

This is the first year I’ve been around for the OC Music Awards, but from what I’ve been told, it wasn’t that big of a deal in the past, nothing that folks—either those in the local music “scene” or music fans—took very seriously. If you throw an awards show and no one cares, does it make a sound?

It’s also the first year for the new OC Music Awards management team, headed up by Luke Allen of Gemini Studios. From everything I’ve observed, Allen and his crew seemed to recognize the previous problems with the awards and were ready to address them, to make things different (read: “better”) this time around. And given their well-run and well-attended weekly showcases—a mostly free series of Tuesday-night concerts spotlighting four to six local bands each week and wrapping up Tuesday at the Gypsy Lounge—they’ve clearly made some major improvements.

Which made the nominee list, announced last week, kind of baffling. Take Best Song, for instance, in which the Jakes and Aushua—two relatively obscure, unsigned acts—are up against the Offspring. You know, the same Offspring who have been around since 1984, have a couple of dozen modern-rock radio staples under their belt and have sold 16 million (and counting!) copies of their 1994 mainstream breakthrough, Smash. Sure, they’re from Huntington Beach and still maintain a local presence—they played the 250-capacity Chain Reaction in Anaheim this past August—but common sense still raises a red flag when it comes to comparing bands just starting out to one who had Billboard’s No. 1 Hot Modern Rock Track for 11 weeks last year.

“There were no restrictions on relative success of a band that would exclude them from being nominated, as long as at least a majority of the members live in Orange County,” Allen writes via e-mail, adding that this is how the San Diego Music Awards, which he used as a model, have done it for years. “They feel it is great to have high-profile bands nominated alongside up-and-comers to help increase exposure for the artists.”

I’m not necessarily advocating cutting higher-profile artists, à la “All right, you’re popular now. You’re out!” But these nominations are pretty scattershot—though, as Allen points out, it’s not like any list could please everyone.

But if the Offspring’s inclusion is puzzling, some of the other choices are downright flummoxing. At least the Offspring had an album last year. The Vandals, who have been around nearly three decades but haven’t released a studio album since 2004’s Hollywood Potato Chip, still managed to score a nomination for Best Punk. It’s like hearing, “And this year’s Oscar goes to . . . The Bridge on the River Kwai!”

Many of the categories themselves are problematic. Genre classification is not an exact science. I don’t know anyone who can call Death by Stereo “metal” with a straight face, yet there they are nominated for Best Metal. There’s both a Best Indie and Best Alternative category—both pretty outdated, meaningless and overlapping terms—and the same band, Venus Infers, are nominated for both.

The Grammys are notoriously terrible, but one cue could be taken from them here: Instead of nominating bands by genre, it’s much more reasonable to nominate specific records and songs in a given genre, so at least everything nominated would be current. And as with the Grammys, I’m not even sure how much the actual nominations even matter. Not to take anything away from the artists; despite my gripes, there are some good choices in there. But people don’t watch the Grammys because they’re rooting for any specific nominees in any specific awards—they probably don’t even know who’s up for what—they watch for the performances and the hype surrounding the event. And, ultimately, the good work done by the showcases and, potentially, the event itself might (should?) overshadow the actual awards.

Allen describes the OCMAs, happening April 4 at the Grove of Anaheim, as a “work in progress.” And yes, he and his crew have made progress. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.


A version of this column first appeared on OC Weekly’s music blog, Heard Mentality. Peruse the OC Music Award nominees and decide for yourself at www.ocmusicawards.com.




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