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Blog: Why Awards Season Matters

Some cynics say they're glorified tchotchkes, but the truth is that awards matter -- here's why.

Recording Academy grammys grammy awards
Image: Recording Academy

I can remember being at the late Ed Cherney’s house in Venice the day his Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing arrived, for his work on Bessie. He came home from his studio at The Village mid-afternoon and picked up the mail on the dining room table, opening a small brown box. “Hey, Rose, look,” he said to his wife. “I got an Emmy!” Of course, he already knew he’d won, and he was trying to act all humble and nonchalant, being a good Midwestern boy, but he still had a big smile and you could tell that the statue meant a lot. He loved mixing music in surround for television and film.

I also once happened to be with my buddy Dave Dakich at CRC Studios in Chicago when one of the staff engineers had just received his Grammy for work he’d done with Chance the Rapper. He pulled out a bottle of Jagermeister—awful stuff, in my opinion—and proceeded to pour into the statue, the bell of the gramophone. We drank shots in the studio where the tracks went down, which I’m sure is against some rule at the Recording Academy. But it sure was a fun night, and he was one happy engineer.

On yet another night, about 15 years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a small group of Bay Area audio folks who took Leslie Ann Jones out to Chez Panisse, the famous Alice Waters restaurant in Berkeley, to celebrate her Best Engineered, Classical, Grammy Award. That’s one of the Big Two! It was a memorable night to celebrate a memorable achievement, and it was shared with friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Awards matter, and they matter on both the macro and micro levels, bringing well-deserved, industry-wide recognition of achievement and, at the same time, a pat on the back and hearty congratulations from family and friends. Each is its own reward, and each means the world to someone who has worked hard at whatever it is they do.

I grew up in a household where my parents adhered primarily to a B.F. Skinner model of behavior modification, whereby rewards, rather than punishments, were a part of daily life. There’s a reason that gold stars were placed on a chart on the refrigerator for all to see, same as there’s a reason blue, red and white ribbons were handed out at the Saturday afternoon age-group swim meet, with all the parents in the stands. A blue ribbon at age 7, competing against 8-year-olds, felt pretty darn good. I can’t imagine what it feels like to win, heck, even be in the running for a Grammy, an Emmy, a Tony or an Oscar. Or a Juno in Canada, or a Cesar in France.

This all comes to mind because we are now smack dab in the middle of Awards Season 2023. Over the past month at Mix, we’ve been spending a lot of time producing video interviews with many of the sound teams that worked on films in contention for a Best Sound Oscar. It’s been a lot of fun for me, as I have a particular fondness and history with the film sound community.

Yes, the videos are sponsored, paid for by the studios, and that means that not all those worthy of the attention will get the attention. I wish we could cover them all, I truly do. At the same time, I’m thrilled that the major Hollywood studios and streaming services are taking the time and putting up the money to promote the production sound mixers, sound designers, sound editors and re-recording mixers, along with the composers, behind some of the year’s best-sounding films. Whether it’s a feature article in Mix, a sponsored video interview or a For Your Consideration promotion in a newsletter, it’s talking about film sound, and it’s all bringing recognition to those who work long hours at their creative best to bring the rest of us some real top-flight entertainment. Recognition is a reward in its own right.

That’s the same reasoning behind why this month’s issue features the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards and TEC Awards. We know, of course, that this is month-old news, and that you can find the same information, with handy links, on your phone faster than you can turn pages. We run these lists to provide the recognition, so that if during downtime at a studio somebody happens to pick the January issue up off the coffee table and thumb through it, they might pause for a moment and think, “Hey, look, Serban has been nominated for a Grammy. I should call him.”

There are Awards Season cynics, of course; there are every year. They’re the people who will forever decry a Herbie Hancock or Joni Mitchell “upset” in the Best Album category, as if they weren’t worthy, and write off the Grammys for all time. I’ve never understood that. No, the Grammys aren’t perfect; neither are the TEC Awards or the Oscars. Get over it. Pull back and think about the bigger picture. Think about the recognition. Think about the reward for all the crazy-good creative work, and think about what it does to boost the industry. Awards matter.

I hope that each and every one of you out there has the chance this season to pick up your own version of Ed’s box and say, “Hey, look what I won!” And if one of your friends gets that box, be sure to give them a pat on the back and a big smile. Then go celebrate a job well done.