In 2005, author, musician and all-around nice guy Jose Ponce took over the New Mexico Music Awards (which kicked off in 1987, BTW), transformed them into an LLC, and the rest, as they say, is history. The annual event does so much more than recognize New Mexico’s musical excellence. With the call for 2022 entries open at newmexicomusic.org through Feb. 13, we called up Ponce to learn a -little more. (Alex De Vore)
Does this feel like a chapter’s end, or a new era?
It’s more like a continuing chapter. We don’t want [our programming] to end, and we survived the pandemic while a lot of people and entities and community groups did not survive. Our continuing mission is to promote New Mexico musicians, songwriters, engineers, recording studios, singers...to the rest of the world. That’s our basic goal, and we do it any number of ways, from workshops and the awards show and banquet, to helping to get people working in film.
We’ve had workshops in Taos, Santa Fe, Clovis, Portales, south of Roswell, Silver City, Las Cruces; we have veteran’s workshops—like, a therapeutic songwriting workshop for military vets. We do these pretty regularly.
New Mexico is all of New Mexico. We’ve done things everywhere, and we’ll continue. We’ve done things on the pueblos, in tiny towns—it’s wherever. Here’s our deal: We’d like to be part of your community, and we don’t charge for our workshops.
People often wonder what happens to the money from submissions to the awards. Can you tell us definitively about where that goes?
Sure! That money goes to pay for the workshops we do in copyrighting, publishing, songwriting, recording, and the people doing those workshops, the musicians, we pay all of them. So when we have a songwriter workshop and we bring in songwriters, we make sure to pay those folks. We pay for our venues, too. If we have an event where we have musicians playing a benefit, like for our 35th anniversary, when we’re having a big benefit show the night before the awards show, we’re gonna pay those musicians. The money goes to the things we do all year.
And then we have money that goes to our scholarship fund at the University of New Mexico. We usually award one of those a year, but in 2020 we gave three emergency scholarships to students stranded in the state during the pandemic. They couldn’t get home, they could not get work, they couldn’t go anywhere, and they just had to subsist. So through our scholarship, we gave to three different kids studying music just so they could survive. Those are unrestricted monies, too, so they didn’t have to necessarily spend it on books or tuition. That money can help a kid make a living while they’re going to school.
How has the dreaded pandemic -affected the awards—good, bad or otherwise?
In 2020, we did a remote program where we brought in artists separately with just the sound and camera people, and we pre-recorded them, then held the event at Revel Entertainment the -following day. Last year, we were able to have a live awards show, also at Revel, and we sold it out. It was a little crowded, but we made it work. We make it work.
Now, over the past two years we’ve absolutely drained our bank account, going from about $35,000-$40,000 dollars to I’ve got a little over $200 in there right now. I’ve been using my own personal funds to keep things going, but I’m not worried, that money will be replenished. But live music—and this was the good thing about the loosening of restrictions—means that pubs and hotels and restaurants and venues immediately started hiring musicians and paying them to bring people back.
Do you know how tough it is for musicians to make money in this state? Venue owners are just unwilling to pay for live music, but last year a lot of folks got hired, and we were there to support them in any ways we could, through promoting online or connecting people. That doesn’t cost us anything, but it’s something we do. And anyway, as far as the pandemic is concerned, it strengthened us, because we survived and because people learned they could rely on us.