"I've been doing this since I was just a kid in Chicago and Nashville,” musician Eric George tells me over coffee. “There are sometimes so many roads that appear that it becomes tough, but knowing there are other people out there on that same path and winning this award…it’s nice to be part of such a great artistic community.”
George is speaking of his New Mexico Music Award (NMMA) in the Best Rock CD category, an accolade he picked up for his deeply personal new Man No Sober EP, Gravitas. George says that the songs were written from a recent change in perspective and his attempts to make his world better.
“Whatever that means,” he says with a laugh.
Now, to be fair, my beat is really just Santa Fe, but all the same, it seems to me that if you take a quick look over many of the recently announced winners of the 2014 NMMAs, most names aren’t immediately recognizable. Yes, among the celebrated artists and engineers are well-known locals such as Jono Manson (Norman Petty Producer Award), Faith Amour and John Rangel (Best Jazz CD), Casso Vita (Best Video), David Cragin (Best Recording Engineer) and Martha Reich (Folk), but delving a little deeper (and with respect to the artists), names like Man Full of Holes, Dave Tutin, Bambi Wolf and other artists whom I’m afraid I just don’t know, it seemingly becomes apparent that there are two ways to look at these awards:
- A prestigious accolade
bestowed on the lucky few
- A mere marketing tool that creates a talking point for future successes
I know, I know—this second point makes me kind of sound like a dick, but it does seem like a fair number of what I’m going to call “hobby musicians” were given awards. Y’see, while there really is no way for me to be aware of every single human being in the state who sits at a piano, picks up a guitar or belts out a tune, I’d still like to think that I’ve heard a whole mess of New Mexico artists and was disappointed to learn that so few of these made the cut. So, I got to thinking: Why would this be? And the answer surprised even me.
First of all, this column started out in my mind as an indictment of what I believed was a flawed system that provides meaningless statuettes to any musician willing to pony up the $23 entry fee (that’s per category) and $60 awards show ticket price, but I’ve since learned that the NMMAs are a far more noble and helpful organization. In addition to the stringent judging process that finds industry pros from all over the world evaluating music produced solely in New Mexico, there’s a philanthropic method to the madness.
Twenty-seven-year NMMA vet and producer of the banquet since 2005, Jose Ponce, says that there is much more that goes into the awards than meets the eye.
“Some of the money goes to producing the event dinner; all the lights, the food, the space and everything, and some goes into free business workshops for musicians in things like copyright, marketing and recording,” Ponce says. Last year alone provided nearly ten free workshops in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
“Everything else goes to the Eric Larson Endowment at the University of New Mexico,” he adds.
Named for one of the NMMA co-founders, the endowment has provided scholarships for juniors and seniors in music and recording arts programs at UNM since 2008. Ponce estimates that they’ve awarded somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 in that time.
As for the ultimate goal of the awards, Ponce has high hopes for the future.
“It’s my personal goal to make New Mexico the songwriting capital of the country,” he says. “We want to promote New Mexican studios, producers, engineers and artists because everybody involved in music here is world-class…the music industry could be as big or bigger than the film industry for New Mexico, and our goal is to help make sure that happens.”
OK, wow. That shuts me up. Sorry, NMMAs…turns out y’all are awesome.