Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Scottish Album Of The Year Awards a.k.a. The SAY Awards

A week ago The Scottish Album Of The Year Awards were announced unto the world.  The SAY Awards as they have affectionately become known are the brainchild of the Scottish Music Industry Association led by Stewart Henderson, co-founder of one of Scotland's finest record labels, Chemikal Underground, and former bass player in The Delgado's.

The awards provide Scotland with something that a community as diverse and talented as ours has been missing for some time, an independent, respected and recognised award which will hopefully engage those outwith the community to listen to, enjoy and ultimately purchase the excellent bounty of albums produced and made by artists on our very doorstep.

The whole process is broken down into four main steps.  Here's a brief breakdown of how things will transpire in the coming weeks:


This is where the process begins, and this part has already been completed.  The SAY Awards asked 100 impartial and independent people from all aspects of the music industry to nominate their top five albums released by a Scottish artist during 2011.  These nominators include DJs, promoters, music retailers, journalists, radio producers, venue owners and bloggers.  The team have taken great care to choose a extremely diverse and representative batch of people to ensure that The SAY Awards are not simply a old-boys-pat-on-the-back club, which is why people such as record label owners, band members and managers have been respectfully left off the list.  With 100 different people choosing their top 5 albums, there's the potential for a up to 500 different albums to be represented at this stage.  For a full list of who had their say have a look here.  You may notice Scottish Fiction on there, but more about that later.

The Long List

Once the 100 nominators have submitted their choices, they are then scored as such.  In order of preference a nominators first choice receives 10 points, second choice 8 points, third choice 6 points, and you get the idea.  The top twenty scoring albums will be announced on Thursday at 9:30am as the official SAY Awards Long List.  The Long List albums will be given special promotion via the SMIA, retailers and perhaps more importantly The SAY Awards App.  The App lets you stream each album in full over the course of four weeks.  You can recap on the weeks albums at the weekend, and stream all twenty on May 14th whilst you vote for your favourite.  The App also lets you purchase each album via iTunes or directs you to your nearest music shop to buy it, plus lets you interact via Facebook and Twitter about your thoughts on each album.  Never before has a Scottish music award been so interactive, engaging and highly supported by retailers.

The Short List

How do you get from a long list to a short list you ask?  Well it's at this stage that the expertise and knowledgeable opinion of The SAY Award judges are called upon.  The panel of 11 judges, again drawn from respected and impartial experts in their musical field, will consider the musical and artist merits of each Long List album and put their ten favourite through to the Short List.  Sales, fan base and chart positions are of no consideration here, it's purely about the music.  And to keep things as engaging as possible, the public are asked to vote for their favourite over the 24 hours of May 14th.  If the album the public votes for is not included in the judges top ten, then the judges must make way for the public choice.  Expect at this stage plenty of 'please vote for us' posts on Twitter and Facebook, as those battling for the £20,000 top prize look to get their way onto the Short List by hook or crook.


Whilst there can only be one winner, we have all seen the exposure that being a Mercury Nominated album gets an artist.  Yes it's not all about money and album sales, but let's not pretend that those things do not matter a hell of a lot.  One objective of The SAY Awards is to get Scottish music out to the ears and homes of more people.  Each finalist will also receive a prize of £1,000 with the top album getting a whopping £20,000!  The judges are called about once more to reveal who, from the Short List of ten, will be crowned Scottish Album Of The Year 2011.  All of this will happen on June 19th at an awards ceremony held in Film City Glasgow.  Be ready for plenty of disagreement, calling the judges stupid uncultured swines, and perhaps humble Oscar-esqe acceptance speeches.

The thing with ANY type of award ceremony is that there will always be naysayers and nit-pickers.  The SAY Awards aren't perfect (to be fair I don't think they ever claimed they were) and won't suit all tastes, yet it's a real chance for the Scottish music community, bloggers, artists, record labels, journalists and retailers alike, to join behind the mantle of what could, and hopefully, will become a well respected mark of artistic credibility.  For each person who listens to an album they may never have heard of before, then that is a small victory.  For the winner, some real funding to let them produce more music against the unrelenting tide of financing music in a shark like economy.  For us Joe public, the chance to debate, argue or agree with the records that made it, and those that didn't. 

Scottish Fiction managed to catch Stewart Henderson for a few quick questions about The SAY Awards.

What makes the SAY Awards different to the Scottish award shows that have existed in the past?

Before going into any unique characteristics of the Scottish Album of the Year Award, we should be very clear that it has not been set up to be in competition with any other award in Scotland (or anywhere else for that matter). Taking The Scottsh Music Awards (Tartan Cleffs) as the highest profile event in Scotland at the moment, they have a well-established and successful ceremony that, year on year, raises tremendous amounts of money for Nordoff Robbins and delivers an entirely different 'prodcut' from the one we're proposing through The SAY Award.  I think that for our industry to be truly representative of music fans up and down the country, we need the diversity of tone and style that defines our music to be reflected in our events as well.

We've been very fortunate with The SAY Awards in that we've been entrusted with significant resources to get it off the ground.  That, and the contacts we've been able to tap into through the SMIA, has helped us pull something together that, I think, has a greater sense of scope and scale than anything attempted previously.  By focusing solely on albums, we've been able to concentrate our efforts on (hopefully) delivering a diverse and progressive long list and, crucially, giving those albums a platform at media and retail that will materially benefit the artists.  Having the unified support of independent retailers as well as front window displays in every HMV store in Scotland, racking in FOPP and online promotions through iTunes and Amazon is enormously important and will shine a light, not just on these albums, but on Scottish music in general.  If that encourages music fans to reflect on the strength and diversity of our artists then the SAY Award will have done its job.

What would you say to those who question the use of a public vote as part of the shortlist selection process?

Read the format notes more carefully.  I think we can all agree that an award that's decided exclusively by the public would be wide open to abuse and completely incapable of delivering the type of long lust we're after.  That said, an award that excludes the public completely would be wide open to the criticism that it was an elitist closed order that marginalised (or worse, dismissed entirely) the opinions of thousands of articulate, open-minded music fans.

The long list is made up of the twenty highest scoring albums from 100 Nominators' Top 5s; the public, once they've listened to all twenty albums, can only vote for one of those albums; the most popular album from the long list (as voted for by the public) will be placed automatically on the short list; the judges may have placed that album on the short list already; if they haven't, then they'll have to demote one of their Top 10 choices to make way for the public favourite; the judges will ultimately decide on the winning album.

At Scottish Fiction we focus almost exclusively on Scottish music. As part of the SMIA, what is your view of the Scottish music culture?

I think the diversity and quality of music being released by Scottish artists at the moment is, frankly, extraordinary.  Music plays such an important part in all our lives that it really shouldn't come as a surprise we're so self-assured and bold in the type of albums our artists are making.

There's some serious cash on offer for the winner, and with the app and the commissioned art prize, this all seems like a behemoth in terms of organisation. Is this a long term venture akin to the Mercury Music Prize?

The SAY Award is absolutely a long term venture.  There's no way we're going to get everything right in our first year, far from it, but we'll hopefully be able to establish the name and format of the award moving forward and convince people that it's something worth supporting and, more than that, to be proud of.

Ultimately what would be the aim of the SAY award?

To establish, for the long-term, a credible platform from which Scotland's best music can be promoted and championed.

So to round things off I'd like to present the albums which Scottish Fiction put forward as our favourite from 2011.  They may not all reach the Long List, although they should (it's started already!).  But where ever these albums end up I think each of them are worthy of some more investigation from yourself if you have not already done so.

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - 'Everything's Getting Older'

The Moth & The Mirror - 'Honestly, This World'

Remember Remember - 'The Quickening'

We Were Promised Jetpacks - 'In The Pit Of The Stomach'

Happy Particles - 'Under Sleeping Waves'

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