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AMA's Graduation Policy: Good or Bad?

By Gary Wien

(OCTOBER 21, 2008) -- It's to be expected that there will be grumblings each time the Asbury Music Awards are announced. Some very deserving artists are bound to get left out while some artists nominated leave you scratching your head. One topic that seems to have been on many people's minds is the idea of the "Beyond Asbury" category given to those who are deemed to have graduated from the nominations.

In case you aren't familiar with it, the "Beyond Asbury" category is a name for those who are no longer considered for AMA nominations. I helped throw out the name for this category, but had little to nothing to do with how artists get deemed as having graduated. Basically, the process had been going on for years, so I suggested there be a section in the program guide to highlight those artists who are no longer up for the awards. I figured that would help people understand why a certain artist was not nominated - especially in cases when they were probably the best for a category.

Instead, I think the category made things worse.

I've heard people say they had little desire to go to the awards show because they were a graduate. I'm not sure if I buy that though because I think 80-90% of the people attending the awards show go just to have fun and hang out with everybody (especially artists they never get to see due to playing shows on the same night all of the time). It's hard for me to believe that people were solely interested in going because they had a chance to win an award. I would hope the night is thought more of as a celebration of the local scene, but I could be wrong.

The idea behind graduating artists (as I take it) stems from the idea that the Asbury Music Awards are supposed to represent an ever-changing, always growing music scene. Many of the people in the area (artists, music fans, music industry folks, etc.) really do hope that the artists move on to bigger and better things. Let's face it, Asbury Park is a hard place to make a living as a musician. I suppose if an artist wanted to just live around here and play NYC, Philly, Hoboken and Asbury Park they could be rather successful. In fact, I believe several artists do such a thing; however, they are in the minority.

If the AMAs were created to show that the local music scene is vibrant, doesn't it make sense that seeing the same artist win for a decade goes against that argument a bit? I can see how people could feel that the nominations should be open to every musician - regardless of how many years they've been on the scene, but the AMAs are not just for the artists, they are for the music scene as a whole. Clubs like the Saint, Asbury Lanes, Stone Pony, Wonder Bar - they really need the AMAs to help promote up-and-coming acts.

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In the end, aren't all award shows created to recognize those who deserve recognition as well as serve as a promotional tool?

I've been in the clubs during weeks in January when the club owners are lucky to get a dozen people in the room. Now imagine if the artist playing is a great new act that NOBODY has ever heard of. Both sides are going to lose. In a way, it's kind of like the same argument we're going through with the financial crisis. Do you take money from some to help others survive and hopefully thrive? Well, in this case, the established or veteran artists probaly do get shafted a bit in order to let the next generation survive and have a chance to thrive.

It's not a perfect situation and I don't think there is one. If you had everyone who performed in Asbury Park over the past year eligible for an award in their category than you're minimizing the importance of the nominations; if you say everyone is eligible but we're only going to have 10 nominees per category, do you really think it'll be easy to kick a guy like Sonny Kenn off the blues category in favor of a newer act like Eryn Shewell? The AMAs would most likely be full of the same artists in each category year after year. While some people would argue that if those are the best artists they should be getting the nominations, you really have to look at the big picture. Everyone is in this together. If you don't want to help out the clubs (by promoting the next generation of artists) than the clubs will struggle more and ultimately some clubs will fail.

I agree with the 5 year rule, but I also think there should be a veterans area where everyone who has played Asbury Park is eligible to gain a nomination. That way the up-and-coming acts still have a chance for promotion but nobody gets left behind simply because they've been banging around in the area longer than 5 years.

What's your thought on the issue? Email me at thepenguinrocks@gmail.com

Reponses will be confidential unless you wish for them to show up on the website.

From Christine Martucci

1) yes the Asbury Music Community should be ever changing, and grwoing and we should introduce new acts, that is why I thought the voting range went beyond Asbury Park and included New Brunswick and Toms River

2) just becuase an act is "new" doesnt warrant them a prestigous spot on a voting ballet, when you do this you cheapen the awards in my opinion some of the acts on this year have yet to pay their dues and probably are being done a diservice to think that they are ready to be granted a nomination, maybe in a few years..but some of these acts arent even ready to headline a place let alone be "best of anyhting"

3) while some of the "graduated class is warranted there is still a double standard..with Status Green sweeping the awards last year dont you think they are "beyond" Asbury too, I thnk they would agree as well, it reeks of hypocrisy.

4) the "beyond" asbury is a joke I think the committee didnt want to piss anyone off, so they lumped all that werent nominated, mean really Christian Beach? How is he "beyond Asbury?"

Again I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to even have an awards show to showcase new talent, but that talent SHOULD BE THE BEST OF THE BEST..not just a band that filled a nomination slot, again it cheapens the award show.

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

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originally published: 10/21/2008



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