I Really Don’t Care About The SAY Awards – But It Took Practice


[Edit: Just to be absolutely clear, this post is not criticising the SAY Awards. I think they are a very good thing, I think they are designed pretty much exactly right, I even had a small hand in the discussions about how it would work myself, and I think they handled the Harris/Sandé storm in a teacup just about spot on.

All this post is doing is lamenting the fact that after training myself so studiously to ignore other people’s opinions through years of critical judgement of our releases I find myself robbed of the ability to really celebrate good news like this when it happens. So it’s frustrating. That’s all.]

Have you noticed that the Scottish Album of the Year Award is happening right now? Have you? Have you?

Well from the number of pairs of knickers in a distinct twist on the internet, I assume you either live in a cabin in the furthest reaches of Siberia or have managed to develop selective blindness, because Christ there’s been some chatter! And I find that I really don’t care.

There are generally two responses to that kind of statement and I wouldn’t blame you for reaching for either one. People playing that ‘Oh I just try to make music for myself, and if anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus’ card get on my nerves too. As do the people who really do care, but are desperately trying to play it cool. This is different.

Basically, if you’re involved in music not caring is something you have to actually train yourself to do, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to handle it. 95% of releasing albums is about rejection, from simple indifference to outright antagonism. I can almost handle when 6Music don’t instantly playlist every single thing we send them, but when I see some of the stuff they are regularly playing it’s tough not to get pretty fucking annoyed. Beady Eye. Oh good. Thank you. I’ll just tell Adam Stafford that they couldn’t possibly play his single because there was a lazy Oasis tribute band who desperately needed some exposure.

Similarly with reviews, not being reviewed at all is annoying, tepid reviews I can just about deal with, but it took me a long time to train myself to keep calm when one of those showboating, ‘look how clever I am with a put-down’ reviews appears. It doesn’t happen to us all that often – mercifully we’re still too small for people to bother, if they think something we’ve released is crap – but it has happened, and the incandescent rage which the first one produced is now pretty much under control.

This happens for everything a label or band releases – most people just aren’t that into your shit, whoever you are. So you train yourself very hard not to care. And honestly, it can be done, I promise you. Even a nasty review is, after all, just one person’s opinion, and as frustrating as a high-profile stinker can be, no one journalist can tell you the absolute merit of an album any more than your pal down the pub can – it’s just one person’s opinion, no need to worry about it.

The thing is, if you ignore the criticism, you kinda have to ignore the praise as well. Great reviews for our stuff make me happy for commercial reasons and because I know they will please the band, but I don’t really care. I don’t need some journo to tell me that the album is great, I already know it’s great, why the fuck else would we be releasing it. Equally, its absence from the SAY Awards shortlist doesn’t mean that PAWS’ debut album Cokefloat wasn’t clearly the best Scottish album released last year. Don’t believe me? Look it up on the internet.

So when I see things like STV inviting the Daily Record’s showbiz editor onto the telly to proclaim to the world that the awards are somehow devalued because Calvin Harris and Emeli Sandé didn’t make the shortlist, I think a few things at once. Firstly, something being popular doesn’t by definition make it any less shit. To paraphrase Mogwai’s awesome Stuart Braithwaite on Twitter: I suppose she’s equally up in arms because 50 Shades of Grey didn’t win the Booker Prize. And secondly, why on Earth would STV think she is qualified to comment? Sure, at the top end of the music industry people become celebrities, but by that logic you’d expect to find her on Match of the Day as well. Doesn’t the Daily Record have an arts editor? Actually, don’t answer that.

But more seriously, the sum total of her complaint seemed to be that lots of people liked those albums and their exclusion made the awards look out of touch. Rebecca Vasmant, one of the judges, pointed out that a bunch of great pop songs doesn’t necessarily make a great album, and that’s the main criterion on which the records were judged, but it doesn’t really matter. It was just a rearranged version of the ‘Other people are wrong about music’ argument, and barely justified a response anyway.

The judging panel is a relatively small one, and they will all have their opinions. That’s all this is. Open the judging out as broadly as possible and you essentially get a pure populist vote. Sandé and Harris would win that hands down, of course – it’s called the charts, and we don’t need another place to write out that same list a second time. This is a value judgement made largely by people who are music industry professionals (although I have absolutely no idea what Christopher Brookmyre is doing in there). Make that panel too broad and this becomes a popularity contest, make it too narrow and you end up with the award being down to whim of a couple of random punters.

What we have is a reasonable enough compromise, but it’s always just going to be a bunch of people’s opinions, and they might be wrong. They were wrong about PAWS, for example, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the likes of R.M. Hubbert make it – he hardly makes light and digestible pop tunes, after all. Either way, it’s opinions, and in the opinion of this year’s nominations panel Sandé and Harris were pretty good, and in the opinion of the judges, there were no better than that. There was a public vote as well of course, and whilst I am sure either of those acts could have won that vote had they campaigned to do so, the fact remains that they didn’t, and it turns out they weren’t popular enough for it to happen spontaneously. So in the end, the result was just about right, I suppose.

Having said that, I think it’s right that they were nominated. Mr. November, a Facebook commentator who I usually find really rather funny, wrote a big old rant about the SMIA using the big names to whore for attention, and that such megastars with all their success made a mockery of the £20,000 first prize, which could be so significant to a small band, and would be so trivial to someone of their stature, but I disagree. I think that if the award is to have any meaning, then the fact that they are Scottish and made albums means that they automatically have to be considered the same as everyone else. You can’t penalise someone for being too successful, can you?

Michael MacLennan wrote a piece about this on the STV website actually. It was published under the category ‘Devil’s Advocate’, so don’t take it too seriously, but there is a solid core of good sense to some of what he says. Certain scenes are rather underrepresented, and this is something which should be addressed in future. The only way to do that will be by tweaking both the nomination and judging panels, something I know the SMIA are aware of the need to do. You might struggle to make the list drastically less white, given how white a country Scotland is in general, but things like the gender balance and fair representation of various disparate music communities are things to keep half an eye on for the future.

And so I hope now you can see, after all that tedious dissection, why I end up not caring. So much politics and so much huffing and puffing, and it all comes down to the personal opinions of a random ten people I barely know anything about. The bands are struggling to remain indifferent though, from what I hear. “It’s so annoying. I’ve done a really good job of not caring if I win or lose, but I’ve still ended up caring somehow!” is one of the ways it has been put, recently. It’s too personal for them, there’s no way they could avoid caring, I suppose, not matter how much they tried.

One of our albums has been nominated, of course, and I really hope for Meursault’s sake that they win. But if they do or don’t it won’t have the slightest impact on how I feel about that album. If you convened that panel of judges and they got together and listened to our whole label’s output, and came to the conclusion that it was all shit, then I would hardly care. Consequently, it would feel really rather hypocritical to care if they decided that actually it was brilliant after all.

But this isn’t some posture I’ve adopted just to shield myself from potential disappointment. As I said, most people in music spend most of their time being rejected by people there to judge their music, in one way or another. And you either learn to brush it off really quickly, or fuck me you end up spending a lot of your life in state of complete emotional turmoil! I may not care by this point, but I’ve had to train myself pretty hard to get to this stage. It’s been fascinating to watch the whole SAY palaver, though – all the agonising and outrage. Fun times. And bloody hell I’m glad I’m not in a band!