AMP Drops Its Entry Fee But Will It Matter?
Will lifting the financial barriers to entry really improve The Australian Music Prize? We canvassed six independent labels to find out.
Earlier this week it was announced (via theMusic.com.au that The Australian Music Prize (The AMP) would now be free for all artists. It’s part of several purported changes to the AMP’s entry process, with organisers hoping to encourage a larger pool of entrants across a broad spectrum of genres.
Last year’s award – won by The Jezabels’ Prisoner – came under arguably more scrutiny than the prize had encountered in its seven-year existence, with judges such as Streetpress Australia’s Andrew Mast, Herald Sun music critic Mikey Cahill and M+N editor Darren Levin openly questioning the process that lead to a shortlist branded as “safe”. In an editorial published on the day of the announcement, Levin questioned the make-up, size and credentials of the 40-strong judges panel, ultimately arguing that “we got the shortlist we deserved”.
But will dropping the $95 entry free help create a shortlist that’s arguably representative of all facets of Australia’s music scene – from garage acts to hip-hop? We asked six independent music labels – the very people this new entry requirement is pitched at – whether it’ll change the way they feel about Australia’s richest music prize.
It's good to hear that the AMP have done away with the entry fee, as I know from many conversations with artists that the fee has deterred self-funded artists from applying, together with the finalists having become increasingly mainstream in recent years. There is definitely a perception out there that it's a waste of money applying if your music might be seen as challenging or outsider, compared to the more palatable artists who've tended to dominate.
From Mistletone's viewpoint as a label, the fee is quite reasonable and has not deterred us from entering our artists each year. What would make a difference for us as an independent label would be the ability to submit music electronically, especially if you're lucky enough to make the long list. The cost of sending so many hard copies of CDs for the panel to listen to is prohibitive, especially if you have deluxe packaging. The AMP doesn't even accept promo CDs, and in these days of slim margins and diminishing physical sales, it is a big ask to send so many precious copies which could have gone to retail or the merch desk. In this day and age it would make so much more sense for the artists (and I assume the judges) if the whole process was online. Could they not stream or download the albums via Soundcloud? This would be a massive step towards evening the playing field between independent artists and those with big budgets.
I don't think this would encourage me to enter unless I thought something actually had a chance ie. Royal Headache last year [ed – it wasn’t longlisted]. To me awards and accolades of this type are partially on the merit of the record but I get the impression it's just as much about this very shortsighted idea of cultural importance; the album, or band’s positioning in the landscape of the Australian music industry. It’s not so much about the album, but what it represents. I don't think The Native Cats’ [Process Praise] or Kitchen's Floor [Look Forward To Nothing] – two of the best from last year – would have even gotten a look in if they had entered because acts need to be presented in a way that convinces most judges they're "exceptional artists" and culturally relevant for them to be considered. Acts that are certainly more about convincing the general public they're worth their attention than actually communicating anything substantial to the listener.
Yeah, I suppose this would encourage us to submit titles. But to be honest, the problem is I've never heard about it enough in the first place – the due dates, where to submit, etc.
I guess I would encourage a couple of bands I work with to enter this - one's I thought that might get a viable run. It's difficult to gauge what will happen this year if selection criteria has changed at all - I don't even know what the current criteria might be. For example, is it based purely on music alone, or do things like press, promotion and marketing come into it, too? I guess bands have nothing to lose now.
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of the AMP. A prize for the best album “judged” by a band of music industry folk has always made me feel queasy, and that’s not going to change if all of a sudden bands can enter for free. Mostly I think it’s simply sad to feel the need to create a competition out of music making. Honestly, think about it, that’s what concepts like The AMP do. It gives in to every paranoia bands already experience just trying to sell records and do shows. The competition aspect simply confirms for me that The AMP is flawed, beyond any effort to have a level playing field, and that level playing field could never be level enough so long as they’re hand-picking judges and using “a system” to determine the winner. Having a winner, suggesting that someone is oracle enough to choose “the best album” of the year, it seems elitist and odd.
I won’t go into my feelings about the records that have won over the life of the prize – all bands can make an argument that they deserve the proceeds of putting their energies into making an album come to life – but The AMP becoming free to enter will be interesting if, for no other reason, than to see what quality records this process can uncover. Surely that’s not really its ultimate intent though, is it? I’ve seen no proof of it to date.
"The AMP becoming free to enter will be interesting if, for no other reason, than to see what quality records this process can uncover."
One question that should be answered is, if it’s now free, will the artists that entered and paid get their money back? If the PPCA funded the $30,000 prize, what happened to all of the cash from the bands that entered? And how will free entry affect the administration of the prize this year? Questions I’m not even sure I want the answers to.
All these questions probably sound like sour grapes coming from a label whose artists have entered The AMP in years past but failed to show up on the radar, be it the long or shortlist. But I have been uncomfortable with the vibe of The AMP and remain so. In fact, the vibe of it is all wrong to me. Where I was reticent before I will be openly reticent now – and I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I'm not sure it will make a difference to the overall winner (bar a couple of anomalies there's generally an MOR bent to the whole thing), but as a label I want to get as much exposure as possible for the artists I work with. This definitely makes it simpler and more viable for myself, and no doubt for other smaller labels who don't have the kind of resources that the larger indies have access to.
Related: The AMP – Why So Serious?