Obscure nominee resurrects Grammy Awards debate
This undated image released by AlWalser.com shows Grammy nominated artist Al Walser in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/AlWalser.com)
Chris Talbott, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2013 1:06PM EST
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chances are you never heard of Al Walser before his surprise Grammy nomination for best dance recording. Even more surprising? Neither had most Grammy voters.
For the second year in a row, the Grammys are facing criticism for allowing a nominee in a field where some say he lacks credibility. Walser's inclusion along with better-known artists Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris and Skrillex set off complaints about The Recording Academy's Grammy365 social media platform that allows members to lobby each other when it comes time to vote.
Critics pointed out the problem when little-known singer-songwriter Linda Chorney scored a nomination in the Americana category last year and took up the cry again this year when Walser's "I Can't Live Without You" popped up in the dance category.
"I think the Grammys need to take a hard look at their infrastructure to make sure that something this disgraceful doesn't happen again," music producer and DJ Tommie Sunshine said.
Bill Freimuth, The Recording Academy's vice president of awards, says the social media program is working as intended, allowing independent and less well-known artists to raise their profile. But it's likely the Grammy365 program will be continually tweaked over time and is being looked at by a subcommittee that could make recommendations for changes in the future.
One change was made last year: Members were able to opt out of receiving the numerous pitches that come from The Recording Academy's thousands of members during the balloting period.
"I don't see it being eliminated," Freimuth said. "It's something that's relatively new and social networking programs in general are always in want of updating and revision and all of that. I think (a look at changes) should be considered part of the normal process, not a sort of fire drill because people are particularly unhappy with any particular nomination."
Walser has taken a lot of heat over the nomination, but feels like he used the system as it was designed -- and Grammy officials concur. He makes no apologies and notes artists at major labels use tools like publicists to promote their work. The Grammy365 site is simply another tool, and one that is becoming increasingly well known.
"I was still surprised by some of the people questioning it, especially when they said it should be fraud or something because that couldn't be further from the truth, as we all know," said Walser, a native of Liechtenstein who is based in Los Angeles. "The other thing is I hope that this whole story is an inspiration for independent artists. ... Maybe I am that little engine that could."
EDM insiders are hoping he doesn't chug, chug, chug his way to a win, though.
Several of the genre's major stars turned down requests for interviews, though Diplo did respond with an email: "I love Everything about him! (hash)hackthesystem! Dance music sucks anyway!"
Sunshine says the Grammys could suffer a real blow in the eyes of the EDM community if Walser were to win at the Feb. 10 awards show in Los Angeles. He says the short list of acts snubbed by Walser's inclusion starts and ends with French DJ and producer David Guetta, an international star with several hits to choose from during the nominating period.
"Al Walser's inclusion as a nominee makes people take the Grammys less seriously and if they expect younger people and fans of EDM to pay attention or care about what they are doing, they better start being more upfront with their process," Sunshine said.
Not everyone agrees Walser derailed the process, however. Rich Bengloff, President of the American Association of Independent Music, says Walser's inclusion is a sign the Grammys has things right, not wrong.
"We believe in fairness, access and a level playing field," Bengloff said. "And those other artists could have also worked the Grammy365 platform if they were so inclined, and I bet a lot of them did. ... We just like the fact that The Recording Academy is very inclusive and that they give independents the same access and treat them with the same respect as every other artist that's out there."