A lot of rot has been written about the Meteor Choice Music Prize but it’s really just about highlighting the best Irish album of the year, writes Jim Carroll in this all-youneed-to-know guide, free of buzzwords (ok, maybe a few)
Jim Carroll’s guide to the Meteor Choice Music Prize,
IThis is the bit where the writer declares an interest. In 2005, I was approached by music promoter and Kilkennyman Dave Reid with an idea for an Irish album prize and decided to get involved. Until April 2010, I was the chairman of the judging panel and one of the project’s co-ordinators. The former meant I kept the judges in order on the night and the latter entailed dealing with everything from the bands and the venue to coming up with Machiavellian PR scams and being diplomatic with the people who gave us the money for the prize fund.
Some of the above tasks were easy, some were downright difficult and I’ll leave it to you to work out which was which. David and I parted on friendly terms in 2010 after five hugely successful events and he recruited Tony Clayton-lea of this parish as the new chairman. Look, a lot of utter rot has been spoken and written about the Choice Music Prize. More nonsense is added to the pile every year. A lot of energy is expended trying to work out what it’s all about, the different agendas at play and how it all works. And yes, I’ve done my bit to stoke things up.
Let’s start with what it is. It’s a prize to highlight the best Irish album releases of any given year featuring a list drawn up by a bunch of media people. You have print journalists, radio broadcasters, online hacks and behind-the-scenes people coming together to select a shortlist and, on the night, pick a winner. It’s basically the GAA All-stars for lads and lasses with guitars, keyboards, drums, synths and assorted other instruments.
But what puzzles people the most is how these judges decide which albums from the hundreds released in any year are worthy of selection and, then, which of the shortlisted albums gets the grand prize. It’s the topic that raises the most ire and causes the most fuming when discussions turn to Choice.
The answer? It comes down to the judges. As plain and simple as that. Every year, a new panel of judges is recruited and asked to make their selections. Each of them picks 10 albums released in any given year which they’re happy to stand over. It’s a totally personal choice and based on their own likes, dislikes, preferences and prejudices. They are asked to pick their 10 favourite Irish albums and this, we have to assume, is what we get. When you put their 10 albums together with the selections of the other judges, you get the overall list. Yes, it’s a consensus, but what did you expect? You mean aside from adding to the gaiety of the nation every year as people go bonkers giving out about the acts and albums who make or miss the shortlist? The thing about the prize is that we never really thought all that much about what it could do at the very start.
We just wanted to hold an event which would highlight Irish releases at a time of year when there was nothing going on. (You had the Meteor Music Awards, which were as dull as dishwater.)
What the prize has done – and this was never planned – is to give acts who make the cut an increased profile at home and occasionally abroad. I’ve lost count of the number of acts who’ve said to me that being on the shortlist meant getting radio sessions or print interviews or gigs or stuff they would never have got in other circumstances. I always remember Messiah J & The Expert saying that the Choice nod for their Now This I Have to Hear album in 2006 led to people taking their calls who had avoided them up to then.
Yes, acts see increases in sales. Yes, bookers book ’em for bigger and better shows. Yes, they can use the “shortlisted for Choicemusic Prize” line in their press releases forevermore.
But most of all, the prize has shown the sheer quality and quantity of homegrown music. We might have all gone on about this before, but the prize demonstrates it year in and year out. Everyone has their own theory on this and mine is that the prize succeeds because the bands dig it. From the very first year, it was clear that the acts were the ones who saw the value in it and, in the words of the marketing