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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 6, 2005

Every vote counts for Hawaiian Grammy

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Keali'i Reichel's Grammy nomination for best Hawaiian music album was only days old when his producer, Jim Linkner, got a phone call from a Recording Academy member with music up for vote in another folk category, suggesting a vote trade.

"Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell"

The Brothers Cazimero (Mountain Apple Company)

"It was basically 'We'll vote for you, if you vote for us,' " Linkner said. "We got a couple of those calls."

Linkner declined both offers. But the incident was a sobering introduction to the kind of behind-the-scenes bartering that goes on for the music industry's top prize.

Hawaiian music is up for its first Grammy this year, and more than 17,000 Recording Academy members are eligible to vote. So how will the winner be decided — and how fair is the process?

Vote trading and other odd quirks are part of Grammy's voting process, insiders say, but so are tough rules regarding publicity and lobbying.

Artist spotlight

This week we will be featuring the nominees for Best Hawaiian Album of the Year.

Tomorrow: The Brothers Cazimero

Tuesday: Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom & Willie K.

Wednesday: Ho'okena

Thursday: Keali'i Reichel

Friday: "Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2" Charles Michael Brotman, producer

Also, the sheer number of categories — 107 this year — tends to lead only informed voters to cast a ballot in niche categories such as Hawaiian music.

Of course, all of that doesn't mean that the best record in each category always wins. But where would the fun be if Grammy voters were predictable?

Weird Science

"As a voting member, I receive CDs with letters from people pleading for votes for their record," said Warren Wyatt, president of Worldsound, a Seattle-based international music promotion and distribution company. "You're not supposed to do that. But it happens ... every year."

Wyatt, a voting academy member whose clients include Grammy nominees Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Willie K and Keali'i Reichel, said he had not been approached with an offer to trade votes.

He wasn't surprised it happens, though.

"Amy & Willie Live"

Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K (Blind Man Sound) Various Artists, produced by Charles Michael Brotman (Palm Records)

"People realize that there's an economic outcome to this, and that if you win a Grammy, it does, in fact, put money in your pocket," Wyatt said. "Anytime there's money involved in anything in the world, there's a sleazy factor."

"I'm sure (vote trading) happens a little bit. But is it a huge thing? I don't think so," said

Keith Olsen, a Recording Academy trustee and multi-Grammy-winning producer (Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield).

The Recording Academy does not release information on its membership to outside sources, and it does not condone mailing CDs to voters or contacting them directly.

Vote tampering

Still, unsanctioned gambits to get votes crop up each fall and winter during Grammy's two balloting periods, as the finalists, then winners, are chosen.

Olsen has witnessed several clever attempts at vote tampering.

A few years ago, several major labels enlisted staffers to sing in the choirs of Christmas albums in order to gain the creative credits that would allow them to vote for label product.

Recording Academy officials, including Olsen, put a cap on that immediately.

The motivation to try to affect outcome is obvious.

"Look at the dollars," Olsen said. "If you're nominated for album of the year and sold 2 million to 3 million copies beforehand, a 300 percent bump in sales (from a win means) all of a sudden you're talking about 6 to 9 million units at retail. And we all know how much we pay for albums at the retail store."

Publicize yourself

"Cool Elevation"

Ho'okena (Ho'omau Inc.) Various Artists, produced by Charles Michael Brotman (Palm Records)

Name recognition is key to winning votes. So what's a rule-abiding musician or record label with a Grammy-nominated record allowed to do to get the word out?

If you're in a niche category such as best Hawaiian music album, you'd better alert the media.

"When you're a big star ... the media does that for you. But when you're a small independent label or artist, you have to alert the press ... otherwise it wouldn't even make the papers," said Tom Bee, owner of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Sound of America Records. "Jazz, polka, and all these small categories? We're all basically the same, in that sense."

Sound of America recording artists Black Eagle took home the prize for best Native American music album last year, and are nominated again this year. After nominations were announced, Bee alerted Native American press, national press and radio stations about Black Eagle's nomination and then waited for interview requests to come in.

All five Hawaiian music album nominees have done the same.

"We sent press kits out to (national) press. We put stickers on our record. We called our buyers to tell them they should load up on the record because it's Grammy-nominated," said Linkner of Reichel's "Ke'alaokamaile." "And that's about the best you can do."


Keali'i Reichel (Punahele Productions) Various Artists, produced by Charles Michael Brotman (Palm Records)

Ramping up media presence, live performances and having music samples available online on sites like iTunes educates potential voters, Wyatt said.

"And because the Hawaiian Grammy is a brand-new category within the folk music umbrella, it just makes sense to let people know who you are," he said.

Will the best win?

Perhaps the better question is: Does the best record ever win?

Grammy voters do agree almost unanimously on occasion: Lauryn Hill's "The Miseducation Of ..." (1998) and OutKast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" (2003) obliterated all comers in their categories, and were critical and popular favorites.

But Grammy voters of varying ages, genders, income brackets, industry professions and musical tastes can turn out unexpected results. That's just part of the joy of Grammy watching.

"Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2"

Various Artists, produced by Charles Michael Brotman (Palm Records)

More than 17,000 Recording Academy members are eligible to vote in the category for best Hawaiian music album. But Olsen roughly estimated that only one in 10 members votes in the folk field.

"The amount of voting you can do and the amount of time it takes is overwhelming," said Deborah Semer, former Recording Academy Pacific-Northwest chapter executive director. "And most voting members are overwhelmed. So they typically only vote in categories they're familiar with."

The Hawaiian music album category should be no different.

The whims of Grammy voters will decide who wins best Hawaiian music album next Sunday. But this first crop of nominees has already won one battle: making it to the finalists list in a category that recognizes the worldwide influence of their genre.

"You just have to count your blessings that you're even in there. I can't say that enough," said Sound of America Records' Bee. "You can't be an ungrateful fool. If you make it to the final five, accept it as a blessing."

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8005.

• • •

• This year's Grammy Awards will be the first with a category for best Hawaiian music album.

• The Grammy for best Hawaiian music album will be awarded next Sunday in a nontelevised ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, starting at 11:30 a.m., Hawai'i time.

• The five nominees in the caterory of best Hawaiian music album were top vote-getters on a first-round ballot of 23 recordings.

• The 23 potential nominees were selected from recordings submitted in the Hawaiian music category, chosen by a committee of Hawai'i-based experts with knowledge of Hawaiian language and music.

• Voting was open to more than 17,000 Recording Academy members. Hawai'i-based voting members of the Recording Academy: about 90.