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...