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Things To Love And Hate About The OC Music Awards

The first time I participated in the OCMA’s, it was pretty surreal.  I had never been a part of an event of its kind before.  The showcases felt very different from other local shows, and I left the first (and following) season of it with lots of new friends.  The awards ceremony itself came and went and I felt like a deer in headlights the whole way through.  Now having wrapped up year 3 and gathering some perspective on the annual freight train that is the OC Music Awards, it’s time to reflect.  Here’s what works great, and where steps could be taken to make it stronger.

Praise – The fact that it exists

Think about this for a minute – You and your little local band write songs, rehearse and record for hours, advertise on facebook/youtube/twitter/instagram, and play local venues in the hope that people will listen to your original creations.  Now comes along an event that celebrates all things local music alongside much bigger non local (though theoretically at one time was local) music.  The event gives a stage to locals to perform in front of huge bands, managers, label people, etc, etc, etc.  In and of itself, the OCMA’s give a platform that is completely atypical for local music.  Whatever your musical opinions may be about The Offspring, No Doubt, Thrice, or Young the Giant (etc), the fact remains – each year I have seen members of these bands attend the event…not to mention Poison, Slayer, and I’m sure numerous others.

And that’s kind of awesome, right?  Where else are these types of individuals going to be exposed to your music?  I know the typical responses – “Those bands suck” or “So what?”  What could actually happen as a result of performing at or being recognized for an award?

A lot, actually.

This year, Kiev referenced from the stage that their album got fully funded thanks to a meeting with a label representative in the audience when they performed at the OCMA’s 2 years prior.  How great is that?  For many of us, we got offers to be a part of bigger events across the county that actually paid real money to play.  And those are just brief examples.  I wonder what else this show has done for folks?

By contrast, imagine if you and your local band lived in Fresno.  Or Riverside.  Or even other major cities that don’t have this type of an event.  Your band would likely have a very different road to getting its music out there.  Be cynical all you want, but the fact that this event exists at all means something special.

Critique – The production continues to be almost, but not quite

How is it that each year the sound at the Grove struggles as much as it does?  While this year it was improved, there were still moments of instruments over-blowing the mix, singers either buried or ear bleedingly loud, and other head scratching mix issues that were distractingly bad – especially at such a high profile event in a venue like The Grove.

And those transitions.  What the heck is going on in the control booth?  Having the host “Stryker” move around a bit more in the audience was a great touch (thus giving the host more to do than announce the intro and say a word at the end…and that’s it).  But some individuals are still getting cut off by wrong music cues and other issues.  It feels bizarrely sloppy, especially with all this practice under our belts thanks to previous ceremonies.

Praise – The red carpet

I may get hassled for this, but it’s pretty sweet to have folks take pictures of you and your band mates on a red carpet.  Most of us will likely never “make it” in music, so it’s pretty great to feel for a moment like a rock star, even if most of us would balk at the very idea in the first place.

Critique – More music please…

Why play the same generic music with the same visual OCMA background of the past 3 years while announcing nominees?  For most of us, we won’t make time to listen to the bands nominated, especially those outside our respective genre.  Are there other ways to incorporate more of their music into the announcements of each category to give us more of a taste of the music represented at the show?

Or what about the best video nominees?  Why not cut together a 2 minute video that shows 20 seconds or so of each video to the audience when they are announced?  Get us to search the video on our time by whetting our appetites for more.  It would serve as a nice break in the ceremony.

Last, those who had a best song nominee should get first crack at performing their song for the crowd…especially if you really think it is one of the best songs of the year.  I get that The Offspring or No Doubt are likely not an option, but what about the other locals?  Seems logical to me.

Praise – Goodie bags

Gift cards?  Strings?  Thank you sponsors J

Critique – Genre problems

Look, Jeramiah Red and Robert Jon and the Wreck are 2 of my favorite bands in the county.  But the blues category is not where they belong.  They both sound like they are influenced by the blues (in the same way that that Metallica sounds influenced by classical music), but their music is not the blues, traditionally speaking.  And what about Surf?  What exactly classifies that category, and why aren’t more groups influenced by Dick Dale out there (they certainly must exist in this county, right)?  I almost expect Kiev to get nominated for best jazz because of the sax-a-maphone pulled out in the middle of some of their songs.

The nominees are starting to feel a bit inbred.  I know there are some great blues musicians out there in Orange County, even if they don’t play at venues like Constellation Room and Detroit Bar (RIP).  Show them some love too.  Introduce us to musicians and artists who are maybe at different locations.  It may also help widen the appeal and enthusiasm for the event itself.

Praise – The showcase series

What a great way to share your music with new audiences.  The shows are typically hyped up, attended well by audiences and press who will write honestly (at times with a feral honesty that would make Simon Cowell blush), and are above all – fun.  You’ll likely meet lots of new people, and bands typically show up and cheer one another on.  It’s really great, the “vibe” of each showcase is incredibly friendly and non competitive, and they produce the best local shows of the year.  You truly do get a sense of the community aspect of the local music world at the showcase series.  I’ve discovered groups from it that have become personal friends or those whom I have followed eagerly and happily.

Quick critique – We need a night of hip hop acts please.  We know they are out there and working just as hard as the other local groups.  I’d also like to see a 2 year maximum on bands performing in the series to provide more variety.  I know that my band had the pleasure of playing the shows 3 times, but this seems like a reasonable way to spotlight more unknowns and bring new audiences through the doors.

Critique – The Warped Tour prize

Let’s be honest: Alice Wallace, David and Olivia, Annie McQueen, Lowly Spects, Live Oak Revue (etc) will never be on the Warped Tour…ever.  Though this concession is great and completely fitting for bands with a metal/punk/hardcore edge, it ultimately leaves out the other bands who are wary of any distortion in their set.  I wonder how much this plays into what judges look for in the best live band criteria (which was mentioned in this year’s Detroit Bar video by one of the judges)?  While I appreciate that they got rid of the “acoustic” category from 2 years back (thereby reducing needless restrictions), they need to figure out how to address the gap that still exists.

I have an idea or two: Maybe a Warped Tour representative could pick a special category just for them so that a hard working band from Orange County who would savor that spot could get the chance to play.  Perhaps the concession for the other winners could be that the Coach House, House of Blues, or Observatory holds an opening spot for a great touring band (even if only a 15 or 20 minute spot) that wins this category.  That way, it’s not all on the Warped Tour as a prize pack influencer for best live band.

It would be better than playing at 2pm on a Tuesday at a festival where 15 people might watch you while folding their arms, getting shade, and waiting for the bands they love to hit the stage because you sound like the Lumineers.  The other prize packs are extremely generous and would be amazing for any band, but this particular concession could be better contextualized and more inclusive.

Praise – The Lifetime Achievement category

I’ve loved watching the videos and learning the life stories of influential musicians that came from Orange County, or at least helped represent it.  It’s been enlightening to be reminded of how Orange County has bred worldwide influencers of the musical landscape.  Kid Ramos was especially awesome this year, kudos to him.

 Critique – Eggs in a basket

Less so for the OCMA’s, more so for the artists themselves – Some bands treat this event with an “all or nothing” type of a mentality.  Don’t do that.  That’s dumb, dummy.  I have a friend who won an award at the OCMA’s several years ago who cynically chided that the OCMA’s did “nothing” for their band.  Did you honestly think that now all of a sudden you’d be American Idoling it as a result of winning in any category?  Don’t be so foolish.  And recognize some the nuance here as well which demands your creativity to make the most of it.

At the very least, it’s a humbling recognition from an outside body of judges, a generous addition to your band’s resume, and an event you don’t have to beg your Mom and Dad to show up to so you can sell more tickets at Chain Reaction.  That’s pretty sweet in and of itself; to be thought of in such a way that there’s this ceremony that happens where people highlight and acknowledge your music that YOU MADE FROM SCRATCH.  Some of you need to think creatively about how being acknowledged in this suare can be used in other ways than the dream yacht in Newport Beach.  How might it help with other press who may otherwise not write about you?  Or what about other promoters and venues that may not pay attention to you for whatever reason?  Or some private party that asked you to play that pays more than 2 free drink tickets?  And to those who may receive some sort of extra recognition that just happens to happen – kudos to you.  Anything that helps keep your dream of making honest music can’t be bad.

Praise – KROQ

I’m really grateful that the OCMA’s find ways to partner with KROQ to make these events a success.  For most bands, getting played on an LA based radio station (Locals Only or otherwise) is a long shot unless you are regularly booking and playing LA.  But KROQ seems to be an enthusiastic partner of what happens in music south of the LA border.  Most of their DJ’s are there in full support at the showcases and the ceremony itself.  For some of us, it has led to being played on the station, which is perhaps the greatest thing of all.  Whatever your feelings may be about KROQ, nothing beats getting in the car, turning the dial, and hearing your song on a radio station.  That’s an incredible honor, especially knowing how wide that audience is.  And hey, it’s a nice break from yet another Red Hot Chili Peppers/Nirvana/Kings of Leon song (…seriously).

In Summation…

Overall, I am incredibly thankful for the OC Music Awards and how special a time of year it is to be a part of the event.  I can’t imagine how hard one must work to secure sponsors who generously foot the bill and are enthusiastically supportive, coordinating major artists to attend, ultimately making the event as special as it is.  For any of my criticism about the ceremony itself – to put the event together as well as it is takes quite a bit of time and effort.  For those who have ever found my band, or any small time, local band because of the OC Music Awards, we are grateful to have something right here in our backyard that shares our love of music and promotes the relationships and community with one another.  It truly is a special thing.

Until next year…

-Christopher Faris