In Pursuit of a Truly Objective Awards Ceremony

A recent commenter noted that by their very nature as fan-voted awards, the Singing News Fan Awards aren’t a particularly objective measure of success. He was right, as are other readers who make the same observation every year. This is a genre in which people pick favorites and then stay loyal to them for a long, long time. If we ask loyal fans their favorites, that’s probably not the most objective measure of success.

If we seek greater objectivity, perhaps we should follow the lead of other genres and institute peer-voted industry awards. Problem is, peers can also be and often are subjective and vote for people whom they personally like. So that also is probably not the most objective measure of success.

We could get even greater objectivity if we determine awards the way that NQC determined this year’s Songwriter award—based on the Singing News Radio Airplay charts. Problem is, there’s still some level of subjectivity there; no matter how good a song is, Southern Gospel radio DJs are also humans and prone to subjectively vote for songs from artists (and radio promoters) that they personally like.

(Of course, far be it from me to say that DJs don’t give the next “Canaanland is Just in Sight” a fair shot, too. Those exceptions happen, but most songs on the charts are from established artists or at least established promoters.)

So let’s say that fan votes, peer votes, and DJ votes are all too subjective. We could get even greater objectivity if we could obtain actual airplay reports from performance rights agencies (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and SoundExchange). Since those reflect actual airplay across thousands if not tens of thousands of venues, they are more objective. But, even here, there is some level of subjectivity: To this day, most airplay decisions are made by human beings capable of subjective opinions—with the program directors at a few large stations sometimes having a substantial impact on the end result.

Perhaps we could base a truly objective awards ceremony on actual sales reports from Nielsen SoundScan, tracking as fans vote with their wallets. There’s only one problem: Many if not most Southern Gospel groups don’t bother reporting their sales through SoundScan, and a very significant percentage of Southern Gospel album sales are at concert tables.

(And while those numbers are quite objective, many would argue that they aren’t the only valid indicator of success. Legend has it that the Blackwood Brothers outsold the Statesmen by 3-1 or more back in the groups’ glory days, but nobody would claim the Blackwood Brothers were three times more successful.)

In the end, then, it seems that the relentless pursuit of objectivity rapidly leads us into absurdity.

So let’s take a step back. Of course, as another reader will invariably point out every year, none of this matters from the vantage point of eternity. Go ahead and throw up an online poll here or there, and let an accounting firm certify that there aren’t duplicate votes if you like. Cheer on Southern Gospel’s finest once or twice a year, as they thank fans for their support and recognition. But let’s not take any of this too seriously.

(It’s not like most groups, especially the ones at the top, take it all that seriously themselves.)

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14 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. The best way would be to go 15-20 years into the future and use any of the methods you mentioned above. Because the really good songs will last a long time.

    • Yeah, but how do you get something while the honored are still there to smeill the roses?

  2. I’m disappointed. I was all set to hear you to propose some fresh new method…

    I think on the horizon, we will someday have an objective method. It will be a long time coming for Southern Gospel, but it could be done in other industries now.

    Sales of albums are problematic for the reasons you stated, but the ground is pretty level when it comes to internet downloads of singles. The price is pretty consistent regardless of who is selling, the access is equal, and the promotion with radio airplay is diluted by other media to get it spread around equally.

    At some point, you should be able to look at the sales of singles and determine the favorite song, songwriter, artist, etc.

    You’d still have a problem determining who was the best baritone in a SG quartet, though.

    • I have no trouble determining who the best baritone in a SG quartet is. That is the easy one until Mark Trammell retires. LOL

      • Agreed! 🙂

  3. Well it is the FAN AWARDS . They are going to get it right some of the time and miss the mark entirely some of the time as far as who is the best. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of fans in this genre anyway might as well let them have some say if awards are to be given out. There is no perfect objective system. If you just go by sales or airplay where is the fun or excitement in that.

  4. Sales, via CDs or downloads, just like fan votes, indicate popularity and not quality. It would be nice to have sales figures in Southern Gospel but it wouldn’t make the best seller the best singers just the most popular ones. Even the so-called objective awards (Emmys, Oscars) are of little value in determining quality and worst of all are the Grammys. If you don’t believe me just go back and look at some of the winners compared with the limited number of awards given to the artists who truly influenced their genres of music. Award shows provide entertainment but little else.

  5. As someone who gets a quarterly check from a PRO, I can tell you that there would NOT be any greater objectivity there… strangely. When I compare statements with co-writers, and we have different amounts of money on the same song for the same quarter, BUT from different PRO’s, it always leaves me scratching my head. Call me crazy, but this is the digital age: there should be an easy way to know exactly how many times a song is played; and songwriters should be paid for those plays. I’ve been doing this 20 years and I still don’t understand the voodoo that goes into figuring out how a songwriter is paid for airplay. This is probably off-topic and another discussion for a different day… but it does feel rather subjective and I’m not sure those reports would reflect actual airplay as you suggest.

  6. Bear with me, I ramble a bit, and have multiple thoughts in this post…

    Would it be fair to cap how many times an artist can win an award?

    3 consecutive years
    5 out of 10 years

    Then once they reach that cap, don’t include them on the ballot. Is that “fair”? Or would that just drive voters away? Would voters still vote if their favorite artist wasn’t on the ballot?

    The question we need to answer is this: is it for the fans or for the industry? If its for the industry, then I agree a tweak would be in order. If its for the fans, then leave it as it is. We see this in sports quite a bit, where some people are awarded over the more deserving because its a fan vote.

    Speaking of votes, the NFL’s voting for the Pro Bowl is split into thirds: 1/3 coaches, 1/3 players, 1/3 fans. That way you get a more balanced perspective. In our situation, you could split it up: 1/3 artists (can’t vote for themselves/others in their group), 1/3 media/promoters/DJs, 1/3 fans. Maybe that would help the objectivity…

    • Term limits haven’t worked out too well in politics. Where something is open to a vote, people don’t like being told that someone they have liked enough to vote for in the past is someone they are no longer allowed to vote for!

  7. I like your last paragraph most. These awards are fun and interesting, but nothing more. Let’s not worry too much about them.

  8. For whatever it’s worth, I have attended the Fan Awards in the past and have also voted. Personally, I believe that the awards have little to no value at all. 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” If a singer or group seeks to honor the Lord, their songs are biblically based, and they are singing by the power of God, then they will have their reward. God will use them as He sees fit now, and our works will be judge perfectly at the Bema Seat. The goal now is remain faithful to Jesus Christ, serve humbly, and point to Christ, not us. He must increase, we must decrease.

  9. where do i go on the internet to hear a group sing “HE WAS THERE ALL THE TIME”. thanks for the information

  10. So here are my 2 cents worth….
    *Give the record companies and Radio Stations their vote based on record sales, radio play, and accomplishments in the last year.
    *Give thecurrent artist and former artists their vote based on accomplishments in last year and outstanding vocal preformance on albums recorded that year.
    *Give the ans their vote based on the last years performances and obviously personal favorites

    Give the record/radio 34% vote
    Give artists 33%
    Give fans 33%
    for a total of 100%

    Just an Idea