“Pat on the Back” or “Just Desert”?

In Best Practices, Music, Music Business, Music History on November 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

The 2009 music award show season is drawing to a close.  The most recent event, the American Music Awards, started quite the conversation within industry circles and fans bases with everyone discussing the definition of entertainment and how far is too far.  Along with that, the traditional debate of the purpose of award shows still stands.  The business of producing a show like this has many levels and fronts.  You have the network that airs it, the advertising that is run during the show, and the crew that it requires to pull it all off just to name a few.  Not to mention the red carpet time and the publicity that will come from an artist appearing on the show as a presenter, performer, or award winning nominee.  Are award shows a pat on the backs of record label, musicians, and other industry professionals?  Or are these opportunities for the participants in the music industry to receive their “just deserts”*?

People are hard-wired to expect rewards for their efforts.  Starting back in kindergarten, you learned a good grade would warrant a scratch-n-sniff sticker from the teacher and a hug when you got home.  Even before that, children learned that good behavior pleases their parents and inappropriate behavior leads to bad consequences.  People are conditioned to show off the results of their hard labor in hopes of some sort of recognition, whether it be an external reward or internal gratification.  As we graduate from the educational system and move on from receiving report cards and stickers, we settle down in the workforce.  Now as an employee, the most basic of all rewards is your salary.  Add to that benefits and you have yourself the best scratch-n-sniff sticker.  We don’t stop there.  Some industries encourage perks, bonuses, and various awards to mark the outstanding efforts of the power players within their industry.

Recognition and awards reveal to their recipients what is important and what is valued by leaders  and decision makers of their industry in question.  An artist needs to know how their performance and music fits into the industry’s operation and what their impact is on the fans and buyers of the music.  Recognition builds self-esteem in an individual, reinforces desired behaviors, and helps to create an atmosphere of appreciation and trust.  Effective recognition contributes to satisfaction and pride in one’s work, promotes empowerment and involvement, and creates loyalty to the industry.  If an artist did not get nominated – it could spark them to try harder and push themselves to greater heights.  If they were , it reassured their efforts.  At the center of all award shows is the need for art and effort to be recognized and we learned that in elementary school.

Award shows go wrong then they become business deals, when votes are bought, and it becomes more about the business of making money than recognizing true talent and effort.  There are always rumors of artists bribing fans to win their vote and offering free tickets and back stage passes.  The free swag that is given out to award show participants seems to push the nights over the top.  The Hollywood, money making glitz that accompanies any event pushes the envelope, yes.  But to say they are ego-centric self-congratulatory love fests would be to go too far.  Anyone of us would want to be on the stage being recognized for our talents and efforts.  Be slow to judge and quick to understand the broad picture; one day it could be you up there receiving your “just deserts”.

*The expression just desserts is a common misspelling of the actual idiom just deserts, which simply means to receive what one deserves. It is one of the more commonly misspelled idiomatic expressions, because it uses an archaic word most people are no longer familiar with. This type of spelling error based on a mishearing of a word, or misunderstanding of its context, is often referred to as an “eggcorn”.  full explanation (including word origin).
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