This is a reply I wrote to Darren Levins’ article suggesting artists should be removed from The AMP judging panel. Originally published on Mess and Noise.
If you’ve spent any time around artists, you would be aware of the imperative which seems to drag them along. They don’t appear to have any choice but to live and breathe whatever their chosen art form is. This compulsion informs everything they do and carves out an idea of the world which they try and pass on to the rest of us.
Last week M+N editor Darren Levin [wrote an article](/articles/4440950) addressing some issues surrounding The Australian Music Prize (The AMP). Following some [controversy](/news/4426964) over the shortlist, his idea was that maybe artists shouldn’t be on the AMP judging panel. But I think artists are better placed than just about anybody to decide which of their peers has written the best album of the year. Here’s why.
It’s their job to play it
No, playing music is part of their job. Primarily, artists write; an important distinction when you’re talking about judging the best Australian album. Who is better placed to understand the complexities, the detail, the ideas than someone who makes the same kind of art? They say, “Teachers teach because they can’t do”, and I think critics and the rest of us music professionals are probably the same. At the very least you couldn’t deny that an artist’s opinion is valuable to the judging process.
Professional musicians tour
True. And if you’ve spent any time touring you’ll know exactly how much down time there is. Hours and hours to spend on the Dick Diver record. Charlie Watts famously said that he spent five years playing music in the Rolling Stones and the other 20 years just waiting around. My point is there is plenty of time to listen to new music while on the road. In fact, that’s mostly what musicians do.
They bunker down in studios for six to eight weeks, and mix records in impossibly expensive Los Angeles suites for another four
That’s an old reality. I think only one band on this year’s shortlist had a luxury similar to that. Most bands record themselves these days and over a much shorter period of time. I only point this out because it feels like Darren is slightly out of touch with who artists actually are and what kind of life they lead, all of which are important when considering some of his arguments.
Then there’s that unspoken musician’s code: how can you pass judgment on a peer when you empathise with their struggle
Totally untrue. Musicians are highly critical of each other. Maybe not to each other’s faces, but they heavily judge each other’s work. They would never admit as much to a journalist but spend any more than five minutes with an artist talking about music and you’ll find out what they really think. No band wants to be seen criticising their peers, but if you add the anonymity that the AMP judging system provides then this problem becomes irrelevant. If the forum is appropriate I think an artist is capable of providing critical feedback and fairly judging a whole swag of records.
Why? Because they don’t have to
And this is exactly why musicians need to be included on the AMP judging panel. They don’t have to listen to music. They don’t have to write it. They don’t have to perform it. They do it because they’re artists and they can’t do much else. Their imperative is different to the other music professionals on the AMP judging panel. It isn’t just some job they get paid to do. They don’t have content quotas or air time to fill in-between ads. They don’t care about shelf space or top 20 charts. They do it because by some weird twist of luck or fate or whatever, they come into this world as artists and their medium of expression is music. If you think you can separate appreciation and understanding of music from the artistic drive to create it, you’re missing the point. Music isn’t just another part of an artist’s life. Music is their life and I don’t see how anyone could argue this is a deficiency when judging which Australian album is the best.
For what it’s worth I think we’re all still trying to get The AMP right. It’s already significant, but it’s still in its infancy and I think it has the potential to be the Australian music industry’s most important accolade, one that is respected nationally and internationally and helps to define Australia’s cultural landscape. I think debate is important to this end and a good place to start is to remember that the AMP should reward albums, not artists and I think few people respect “the album” as much as those who endeavour to create it.