By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Al Walser, the Liechtenstein-born DJ/promotion machine/spacesuit enthusiast who somehow nabbed a Best Dance Music Recording Grammy nomination for his song “I Can’t Live Without You,” despite the fact that 90 percent of the folks in the dance community had never heard of him.
Walser’s nomination was met with bemused befuddlement by folks who cover EDM, and has spawned no shortage of conspiracy theories, which ran the gamut from elaborate trolling schemes to the (more probable) suggestion that Walser managed to game the system by actively promoting his music on Grammy365.com, the social community open to members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Regardless, overnight, Walser’s surprise nod has kicked off a new round of debate about the Grammy voting process and the actual expertise of the voters themselves, not to mention the validity of an award that aims to highlight the best in a diverse array of musical genres. Up until now, the Recording Academy has remained silent on the issue, but on Monday (December 10), Bill Freimuth, the organization’s vice president of awards, spoke to MTV News about the controversy surround Walser’s nomination and what — if anything — the Academy plans to do about it.
In short: not a whole lot.
“The bottom line is he got the votes. That’s the long and the short of it: people voted for him. We believe that he was a very active marketer of his work, and got his music out to lots and lots of our voting membership, and they chose to vote for it,” Freimuth said. “The [Grammy] ballot gets a really thorough audit by our auditors at Deloitte — and they do find block voting and other kinds of anomalies every year and they do end up disqualifying ballots because of that. But they found nothing really anomalous or wrong with the votes surrounding this nomination.”
And because of that, Freimuth said the Academy has no plans of stripping Walser of his nomination, or rescinding his membership to NARAS. He also added that, while the Academy has been “looking at the issue” of overly ambitious promoters (and how they may influence Grammy voters), there are no firm plans in place to actually police the process.
“We don’t have rules in place that prohibit that kind of lobbying … the difficulties are that, first of all, we do want independent artists that may not have enormous marketing budgets to be able to make other voting members aware of their work, so for that reason, our rules are rather wide open,” he said. “We don’t allow people to solicit directly at our own events, and there are further restrictions put on our elected officials of the Academy, but mostly it’s wide open. And another reason for that is that it would be nearly impossible to police; we’ve looked into technological fixes, but there are ways around all of them.”
Of course, he does expect that the outrage being voiced by members of the EDM community could end up changing the way nominees in the Dance categories are selected in subsequent Grammys.
“We have an Awards and Nominations Committee process, it’s a large committee made up entirely of voting members, and they meet once a year to go over proposals submitted to make changes,” Freimuth said. “And in a case like this, I would not be surprised to see proposals coming from the Dance community, given that they’re evidently so unhappy with this particular nomination, they might come up with rules such that it might never happen again.
“The only thing they could do is what several of the other genres have chosen to do … which is to create an interregnum step between the first ballot and the announcement of the nominations,” he continued. “Country music is one of the fields that has this; they have a nominations review committee that meets, made up of voting members of the Academy, they meet for two or three days and go through the top 15 selections from voting members, and they sit in the room and listen to all of them back to back, and they then vote via secret ballot to narrow those 15 down to five.”
And while Freimuth said he couldn’t speak on behalf of the more than 13,000 voting members of the Academy, he did admit to being conflicted by Walser’s nomination. Though, at the end of the day, there’s little that can be done to change the situation … and, again, he did get the votes.
“It’s a tough one. I’m disappointed to learn that we have a nominee whose music is not embraced by the community from which he comes; that’s always hard to hear,” Freimuth said. “That said, I congratulate Mr. Walser as a nominee along with all the other nominees, because he certainly earned his Grammy nomination, whether it was through the power or quality of his music alone, or his ability to market that in a way that appealed to our members.”
What do you think of Al Walser’s Grammy nom? Let us know in the comments below.