Jason Bentley: Al Walser's "Embarrassing" Grammy Nomination the Result of Manipulating the System
Al Walser-gate continues. After the Hollywood-via-Lichtenstein DJ somehow snagged a Grammy nomination for best dance recording last week -- alongside much more famous folks like Aviici and Skrillex -- many suspected fraud.
In our interview, Walser got defensive and posited that simple good old-fashioned self-promotion helped him snag his nomination.
Lots of folks think Walser is kind of a joke -- this year's Rebecca Black, with a passion for the keytar. But to Jason Bentley, who was "shocked" about Walser's nomination for his song "I Can't Live Without You," all of this reeks.
"I don't think it deserves a Grammy nomination. It's just embarrassing that it happened. It's so disappointing, especially after all the energy we spent last year finally creating a televised feature that got traction -- for this to happen is like taking five steps backwards."
Bentley, who is KCRW's music director and a longtime Grammy member who has served on its board of governors with a focus on dance music, accuses Walser of "working the system" through "aggressive" behind-the-scenes self-promotion, largely through the work of a social networking site for Grammy members called Grammy365. (Walser is a voting member himself.)
It's something like Facebook, apparently, and allows users to post updates, check in with each other, and, yes, promote their music. "It was created with the best of intentions, but having access to all these people in a closed circuit may [be the reason] political manipulation takes place at the Grammys," says Bentley. "This might be the first example of possible abuse of the system."
The site, along with in-person networking at Grammy events, appears to be how Walser was able to influence the right people. "How else would anyone have awareness of Al Walser?" says Bentley, an electronic DJ and a major player in the EDM world who, like most everyone else, had never heard of Walser before last week. "He has questionable credentials and didn't just utilize the Grammy social network, he took advantage of it."
Bill Freimuth, who is the Vice President of Awards at the Grammys and was also unfamiliar with Walser, contends that the DJ nonetheless played by the rules, noting that after voting takes places all ballots are sent to the Deloitte auditing firm for processing. "They do a thorough check of every ballot and are trained to spot inconsistencies, fraud, and other bad things," says Freimuth. "When they looked into Al's case, there were no anomalies."
(Neither Freimuth or Bentley knew specifics about how many votes it takes to get nominated, but said that the best dance recording award requires fewer votes than a bigger category like best new artist or album of the year.)
Though he seconds Bentley's assertion that Walser used the site "aggressively" to promote his music on Grammy365, he doesn't necessarily see it as a bad thing. "[Walser's nomination] serves as proof to independent artists that they can succeed on their own."
In our conversation last week...
...Walser didn't make mention of the social networking site, but did admit to extensive glad-handing: "I have worked hard to nourish my relationships with everyone I have come into contact with. There are a lot of events that are held, and I have met a lot a lot of voting members that way. I talk to them about what I am doing musically, and get their input -- that's all you can do. I always made an active effort to maintain my relationships."
In an era when everyone in the entertainment industry seems to be constantly spamming each other with their music, writing, and show dates, Walser's rise seems to be another example. And later in conversation Bentley nonetheless concedes that Walser employed fair play. "If you make a good impression on someone, sometimes that's all it takes.
"I don't think it's fair to bash Al. It's just an indictment of the nominations process at the academy; what it shows is the membership's lack of knowledge [about dance music]. If the members knew enough to question the music instead of just taking into consideration how 'nice' he was, that might have helped. It's clear they don't know enough about the genre."
Bentley hints, however, that the nomination system may need changes. "I hope we can learn form this unfortunate situation and get better at it. The fall-out will make for a better checks and balances at the academy, hopefully. Fumbles happen."
Editor's Note: At 2:25 pm this story was changed to more accurately reflect a quote from Jason Bentley.
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