Reality Check with KT: It’s time for The CEAs!

KP Photography

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards are upon us. I look forward to this every year and I’ve attended every year since around 2004.  I go regardless of if I’m a nominee or just there for the spectacle. When I say spectacle… I do mean that literally.  The level of debauchery and pure “Let’s Partay!” antics never disappoint.  I have what I consider to be a unique perspective.  I’ve been on the nominations committee (when I was running The Rivertown Music Club 2004-2009), I’ve been a nominee, I’ve been bummed out to not hit the radar (for many years) and last year, I was stunned to win, Best Singer Songwriter.  I also, don’t work for City Beat, the gracious hosts of the CEAs.  So, I feel that from all those perspectives and…full-disclosure…somewhat motivated by a higher than usual amount of grumbling on social media about the whole event and who did or didn’t get nominated this year, I will humbly share my take on the yearly gathering.

First, let’s talk about the process.  I chatted with Mike Breen, Music Editor at City Beat.  Each year Mike reaches out to about 50 folks that have a connection to the local music scene.  (For consideration, nominees must be from and play original music in “Greater Cincinnati”.  This would include Cincinnati proper, Northern Kentucky and the city’s suburbs.  Committee members are folks that on a regular basis, write about local music, run local music websites, spin local music on the radio, book local music at their clubs or work with musicians through various other organizations. 

Of the 50 asks, about 40 say they will participate and about 30 actually follow through by submitting a nominations form.  A note from your narrator - I know that Mike puts a lot of effort into inviting different folks to join the committee as the scene is ever-changing.  It focuses on what is happening currently in the scene.  Mike is slammed yearly, with unbelievable, unedited criticism when the nominations post.  Frankly, I think I could take it once.  That said, I do understand being disappointed if you feel like you’ve really had a great year.  I’ve been there.  But I will publicly say (gulp) once I realized I cared and wanted to invest in myself and my music (I used to spend most of my energy promoting Rivertown shows and other acts).

Below are the directions given to the nominations committee, provided by Mike Breen.  It is pretty specific and one of the little things is right there - Recordings and most recently, videos - are a big factor in getting noticed.  Here’s the scoop…

In each of the “genre” categories, you can choose up to three artists. We are focused on local (meaning “Greater Cincinnati”) artists who had a particularly good year, the time span being from December of 2012 through now. The artists nominated must have played out locally in that time span and must be primarily an original act. Also, give special consideration to any artists who have put out good albums in the past 12 months.

For the last three categories (the “Critical Achievement” awards for Artist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year), we’re looking for the greatest achievers of that time span – those who’ve released a great album or toured extensively or did something beyond the usual. For “New Artist” nominations, please select artists or bands that either started within the past 12 months, or those who may have formed or began performing earlier, but had their “breakthrough” in that time span.   “Best Live Act” is pretty self-explanatory – this category should honor performers who knock you out with their live show. Also, due to the overwhelming amount of high-quality music videos that have been released by local artists in the past few years, we have added a “Best Music Video” category this year. It’s open to any local artist, regardless of budget. 

Hopefully, this will take the mystique out of the nominations. I know there will still be complainers.  City beat has published this information repeatedly. I’m hoping that folks might also realize that music isn’t a competition. The only person you are competing with is yourself.  How much farther can I push myself lyrically and sonically?  What can I put out this year?  I literally ask myself every January, ”What do I want to do with music this year?” I find that to be helpful to gain a loose plan and some goals. I constantly revisit how to stay relevant and engaging, in an increasingly competitive music town.  You can’t get stuck.  I would have quit years ago if I used the same promoting tactics as when I was in my 20s.  I’m 44 and it’s definitely more challenging to get people to hear my music now. I’ve embraced video and free downloads as a way to connect with people who, quite honestly, will probably never come see me sing live.  My plan is to keep making music until I physically am no longer able, but it takes more than just a desire to make it happen, it takes strategy and marketing.  We musicians definitely have our work cut out for us, but we are in a town with an endless amount of resources (like and opportunities.  Seriously, how many music festivals and cool venues do we have here now? A million?! It’s a great moment!  

I have figured out some things over the years that can make a big difference in whether or not people become aware of your music. I’ll be writing a series about these little things that add up here on in the coming weeks.  It isn’t about being one of the “cool kids” or some secret handshake society. It’s really, pretty basic stuff.  Stuff, that as our scene becomes better (which it has, by leaps and bounds in the past five years), obviously, is more crucial for acts to embrace as it gets harder to stand out.  But, really, isn’t that a great problem to have? 

I think Mike Breen said it best, “The bottom line is there’s no perfect way to put on something like this without pissing a lot of people off.  I get it - I gripe about awards shows all the time too (and, frankly, don’t think art should be a ‘contest’).  I hate that there has to be artists who “lose”. But I think the CEA events every year are always a great celebration of the local music scene as a whole and I’m glad we’ve been able to pull off such successful events for 17 years now!”