What do music industry awards achieve?

Last week the RPS (Royal Philharmonic Society) Awards 2013 shortlist were announced. As the entry page of the awards website explains they are presented "In association with BBC Radio 3". Elsewhere we are told "our media partner, BBC Radio 3, carry extensive coverage of the awards including a full length programme which focuses on the winners". And one of the award categories is sponsored by BBC Music Magazine, while the announcement of the awards shortlist was broadcast exclusively on BBC Radio 3 on April 11 - see header image.

From which you will gather that the BBC has a heavy involvement in the RPS Awards. But their involvement does not end there. Shortlisted for the 2013 'concert series and festival award' is the BBC's own Proms concert series, while nominated for the 'chamber music and song' and 'instrumentalist' awards respectively are the Elias Quartet, Francesco Piemontesi and Steven Osborne, all artists whose careers have been linked to the BBC through the broadcaster's new generation artist promotion scheme. And there is more: shortlisted for the 'creative communication' award is Tom Service for his book of conversations with Thomas Adès - Service is not just a BBC Radio 3 presenter, he fronted coverage of the lavish 2012 RPS Awards bash at the Dorchester Hotel.

Tomorrow (April 18) the programme for the 2013 BBC Proms season will be announced. There is no doubt that the excellent work of the Proms should be acknowledged. But let's hope that the judges for the RPS concert series and festival award remember that the Proms benefit from a huge amount of prime time promotion on BBC radio and TV. If that promotional airtime was costed at commercial advertising rates it would be worth in the region of a million pounds, and it is promotional exposure that is not available to any other major concert series or festival. Watch how much promotional exposure the Proms receive on the BBC between tomorrow's announcement and the start of the season in July; as a rough guide a 30 second primetime TV advertisement in the UK costs upwards of £30,000 and a 30 second national radio spot from £4000. It would certainly be very interesting to have, as a comparison, the value of the promotional budgets available to the other two RPS concert series and festival award nominees, New Music 20x12 and Sound Festival North-East Scotland.

During his time as BBC Director General in the 1990s John Birt introduced internal charging which allocated true production costs to programme makers. If he had also introduced the allocation of true promotional costs to programme makers, the Proms' budget - like that of many other world-class music institutions - would be massively in the red. That deficit would be despite the £6 million subsidy the concert series receive every year from the TV license fee - a guaranteed income that conveniently bypasses the Arts Council funding lottery. And let's also remember that the BBC is in the privileged - many would say unacceptable - position of both making the news in its role as Proms impressario, and of managing that news by controlling the way the Proms are portrayed in its own editorial coverage. Then there is the influence of the BBC over freelance music journalists. Does the 800-pound gorilla really need to nominate itself for an award for being the only 800-pound gorilla in town?

Yes, I know it is the music that matters. Together with countless others, the Proms were part of my music education, and there are, doubtless, many fine musicians among the RPS award nominees. But what do music industry awards achieve? Are the RPS awards the "independent and peer-judged...highest recognition of live classical music in the UK"? Or are they, together with the approaching Proms media blitz, just more confirmation that classical music is now controlled from cradle to grave by a few self-serving corporations? Readers will know which side I am on.

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David said…
The RPS shortlists seem bizarre to me - above all nominating the LSO for, what, playing stooge to Rowan Atkinson at the Olympics launch instead of lobbying (or getting Rattle to lobby) to show what they can do?

And I couldn't believe the opera productions shortlist: I'm all for new opera, but that's all there is. Are they being relentlessly fashion driven, or what?

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