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Some Washington Area Music Association members got a do-over last week on their nomination ballots for the organization’s 29th annual Wammies, the annual music awards for local musicians, which have long been dogged with controversy. This second chance to vote was the culmination of a process that had initially resulted in an undisclosed number of ballots being disqualified.
In a Nov. 21 email, WAMA announced, “Thanks to all who submitted their votes! Unfortunately, many of the votes had to be disqualified because only one artist/group/recording was entered in a category, and two different names were required. We don’t like having to make so many disqualifications, but the rule was created to serve a higher purpose of getting a broad inclusive view of the entire DC music scene.”
Then, on Nov. 25, WAMA sent another email declaring that it had reopened the voting process. The message elaborated on why a do-over was necessary—-apparently a lot of voters were just voting for themselves:
“1. Many nominated only one artist in a category, even though the rules required votes for two separate artists. (An artist is considered to be an individual, group, or an recording.) 2. All of those single votes were disqualified. 3. Some nominated the same artist across the Folk and Rock categories, although the rules specifically stated that an artist can be nominated in either Folk – Traditional or Folk – Contemporary, but not both; and an artist can be nominated only once in the Pop, Rock, or Roots Rock. In other words, the same artist can’t be nominated as Pop vocalist, Rock vocalist and Roots vocalist. 4. All of those multiple votes were also disqualified. 5. The effect of disqualifying so many votes was to take the decision for the Wammies Award Recipients out of the hands of the WAMA members, and put it in the hands of the WAMA Board and the Experts. We want to put the decision making back into the hands of the WAMA members…Please do what is right for the whole DC area music scene and nominate two artists in every category where you choose to vote. A vote for only yourself is a wasted vote.”
In an email to Arts Desk, WAMA President Mike Schreibman said this is the first time WAMA has taken this do-over step. WAMA began requiring two nominations for each category in which a member votes three years ago, and the prohibition against nominating one artist for multiple genre categories started seven years back. WAMA voters are not required to vote in every category, but if they do choose to vote in one, they must follow those rules. Schreibman told Arts Desk he did not track exactly how many ballots were initially disqualified, but decided to offer WAMA’s disqualified voters the chance to re-submit a ballot after a discussion with other WAMA board members.
The Wammies voting process has been a heated topic of local music discussion for some time. In 1985 the cover band Downtown stuffed the organization’s then-public ballot and won awards for artist of the year, debut recording of the year, and rock artist of the year, among other honors. WAMA then switched to a members-only ballot and continued to generate criticism, as I’ve reported in the past.
In 1998, multiple Wammie-winning singer Tony Gil admitted that a number of his votes came from friends whom he bugged to pay WAMA’s then $30 membership fee for the right to nominate and vote for him. Other artists became repeat winners, winning so many times that WAMA in 2005 eventually bestowed them with “emeritus” status and disqualified them from certain categories.
In recent years, the omission of numerous buzzworthy local artists and labels in a variety of genre categories, including indie rock, blues, and world music has made WAMA look critically uninformed or, perhaps worse, uninterested. In 2012, WAMA’s 10 “musician of the year” nominees featured roots rockers, folkies, and a klezmer musician, but no contemporary jazz, reggae, R&B, go-go, metal, or indie-rock players. Reliant on its voting members, with some assistance from the board and “experts,” WAMA will soon announce its nominees for the 2015 award ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 15, 2015 at the State Theatre in Falls Church. Will there be an uncharacteristially broad, inclusive view of the entire D.C. music scene? With this ballot do-over, we hope so.