Until recently MTV News can confess to being among those not aware that Al Walser, a Liechtenstein-born, Hollywood, California, transplant is among the world’s top tier of electronic music artists.
But after his bounce-pop ditty “I Can’t Live Without You” snagged an out-of-nowhere Best Dance Recording Grammy nomination on Wednesday alongside such global stars as Avicii, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia and Skrillex, it became clear that someone definitely knew his work.
“I’ve been in this game for decades,” Walser told MTV News via Skype on Thursday night in one of his first major interviews since the nomination was announced. “I traveled the world as a DJ, as a singer, as a songwriter, as a producer. Believe me, I’ve worn all hats. It’s a beautiful thing to be rewarded. Especially the Grammys. Because it’s other musicians that say, ‘Hey, we love this guy. We love his music. We root for him.’”
The Grammy nominations announcement always has its share of surprises, snubs and perceived overcorrections. But when a close-knit community like the EDM fraternity collectively scratches its head after a major nomination goes to someone they hardly know, questions will arise.Click here for a full list of Grammy nominations!
All day Thursday media outlets questioned the validity of Walser’s nomination, with good reason. According to him, he first found success as a singer with the euro-pop-rap group Fun Factory in the late ’90s and early 2000′s, a time he told MTV News that brought him close to the Jackson family. He has a handful of songs on iTunes dating back roughly five years and his website indicates that he hosts a weekly top 20 show that is serviced to Internet and radio stations in several countries. He’s also the author of the book “Musicians Make It Big: An Insider Reveals — The Secret Path to Break in Today’s Music Industry,” which promises to reveal “secret industry loopholes that will have masses of new fans discover you.”
But, given a lack of hit songs on traditional radio, a minimal presence on social media platforms and Internet video sites, and just general lack of visibility in the mainstream EDM scene, how could how could such an anomaly occur?
“Look wherever there is sun, there is shade,” Walser offered by way of explanation of his dark horse nomination as a win for independent artists. “On a nomination like that, what it does is it multiplies everything. It multiplies the ones that are skeptic. It makes them become loud. And it multiplies the ones who were always rooting for you.”
MTV News could not reach a spokesperson for the Recording Academy for comment on the response to the nomination at press time.
Walser said he’s humbled to be recognized in the Dance category and is a big fan of his fellow nominees. “A lot of these guys are more coming from a producing side and engineer into the DJ booth,” he explained. “I’m more of a guy that comes from the stage. The stage is my thing.” Specifically, performing in a space suit (which he plans to wear to the Grammys) is his thing, as is making sure to spend time networking with fellow Grammy voters.
“It comes down to two things,” Walser said. “Great music that you stand for, and that you think is really good and worthy. And drive … drive, drive, drive. If it wasn’t for the drive, and just talent, our charts would be filled with Gospel singers. And they are not.”
The drive he mentions is particularly telling given a post on the Elitaste website, management/marketing/branding company started by Daniel Weisman, who represents Mike Posner. The post hypothesizes that Walser, a Grammy voter, was able to garner votes through his network of Grammy friends. A screen grab of Walser’s Grammy365 page (a social networking site for the Grammys) shows that he has 104 pages of Grammy “friends,” which equals roughly 4,160 contacts.
The site goes on to claim that considering roughly 76 percent of the Grammy365 users are voting members of the Recording Academy, Walser’s 4,160 contacts equals about 3,200 voting members, “certainly enough to secure a lesser known category.”
In fact, Walser’s network is something he told MTV News he’s worked very diligently to build over the years.
“I’ve been a voter for years,” Walser explained. “And there were some relationships that were established. Especially me being in Los Angeles. They see me. I perform in Los Angeles, and I let them be a part of the process of the song growing. I’ll shoot an email to a few of the guys and say, ‘Look do you like this? This is how the hook sounds. What do you think?’ … There are thousands and thousands of [Grammy voters]. I’m not connected to all of them, but they can grasp me. They know Al Walser.”
The close-knit dance community has reacted to the nomination with alarm, with a number of the leading EDM blogs posting headlines along the lines of the one on Dancing Astronaut, which read, “Who is Al Walser? Grammys Fumble Best Dance Recording Category.”
“Live Without You” had 33,472 YouTube views at press time, a nearly 32,000 view jump over its count just 24 hours before.
But, despite his self-proclaimed schmoozing prowess, though, Walser said the Grammys are not just a popularity contest. Yes, his video is admittedly extremely low-budget, he’s spent countless hours at Grammy events and shaking hands in Los Angeles and used “different method[s] of promotion” to get his music heard, including some crowdsourcing, but Walser said he earned his spot.
“Thousands of people have been part of the process of my songs,” he said, defending himself against those who are claiming he worked the system to get his nomination. “I didn’t know whether they were going to like it, but I knew they were part of the process. So probably when it came to ballot time they were very familiar with my name. There’s nothing wrong with [that]. There’s absolutely no way that you could somehow trick … and that’s just outrageous, and people better be careful when they say that because it’s totally unfounded. It really is. There’s 50,00 people that vote. It’s not a popularity contest, and it is what it is.”