Ten Ways to Fix the CMA Awards

Shania Twain presents Entertainer of the Year at the 2008 CMA Awards

The CMA Awards should be the evening every year where country music is shown in the best possible light. However, it’s been many years now since the CMA fully took advantage of the opportunities that prime-time slot presents. Here are ten ways the show can get back on track, and maybe even be better than ever.

1. Expand the Ballot

Limiting the second ballot to only twenty entries per category was a disaster, resulting in some truly lackluster nominees. Take a page from the Grammy playbook and put all eligible submissions on the second ballot, regardless of vote total. Have the CMA voters choose five entries from a wider swath of nominees, and create a more level playing field for all of the labels, major and indie.

2. Limit the Number of Entries per Artist

The CMA can go one step further and improve the Grammy model by eliminating the first ballot entirely, and allowing each artist to submit only one entry, of their choice, for consideration.  This will help avoid embarrassments like we saw this year, where Alan Jackson was represented in the Song of the Year category by “Good Time” instead of “Small Town Southern Man.”

3. Tighten up the Categories

Take the long-clamored for step of combining Vocal Duo & Vocal Group into one category. Limit to one the nominations an artist can get in the “New Artist/Horizon” category. Amend the antiquated Song of the Year loophole that allows a song to be nominated two years in a row.

4. Add Live Performance and Songwriter, Artist-Songwriter Categories

Eliminate the confusion caused by the Entertainer category, which has unfortunately morphed into a “biggest tour” award in the post-Garth era, by adding a Live Performance category. This will help focus voter attention on all dimensions of the Entertainer category. Create two new categories for songwriters -  Songwriter of the Year and Artist-Songwriter of the Year.   With artists and musicians already being honored individually, equivalent recognition for writers is long overdue. Create the separate categories to ensure that high-profile writers like Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley or Taylor Swift don’t overwhelm non-artist songwriters in the same category.

5. Move the Show Back to the Opry House

The scale of an arena is a total mismatch for a televised award show.  The CMA Awards always sounded great in the Opry house, and it connects the show back with its own history and that of country music.  If the show must be kept downtown, move it to the Ryman.

6. Televise all Categories

Return to the old format of “performance, award, performance”, which allowed each category to be announced on-air. This is not the Grammys, where there are more than a hundred categories. If the Oscars can televise costume and sound awards, the CMA can find time for Musician, Musical Event and Music Video.

7. Trim the Guest List

Limit performance slots to current nominees and presenter slots to current nominees and former winners. Country music’s community is tremendously rich with talent. The washed-up rock stars need that CMA slot more than the CMA needs them.

8. Define the Role of the Host(s)

The CMA’s choice of Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood made sense on paper. During the actual show, Underwood was the one who best captured the tone that once defined the CMAs. Her approach should be the standard. One could easily imagine her hosting for the next decade, but other artists should be given a shot, either as her partner or on their own. Two very good possibilities: Keith Urban and Shania Twain.

9. Televise the Hall of Fame Inductees

What makes country music special is its respect for its long and deep history.  The CMA Awards haven’t been the same since the Hall of Fame inductees were marginalized. If you’ve given your life to country music and made it all the richer for it, you deserve to be recognized for it. Cindy Walker’s induction is proof that the best moments of the show’s history can come during the Hall of Fame segment. It’s a travesty that Ralph Emery, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, The Statler Brothers and Mel Tillis were denied the tributes that they deserved.

10. In Memoriam

Brad Paisley’s been a part of two powerful award show moments this year that paid tribute to recently deceased country legends – Eddy Arnold at the ACM’s, and Jerry Reed at the CMAs. The CMA should follow the lead of the Emmys, Grammys and Oscars by adding an In Memoriam reel, allowing the singers, songwriters, musicians, producers and industry figures who have passed on to be acknowledged with reverence and respect.

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15 Comments

Filed under CMA Awards, Miscellaneous Musings

15 Responses to Ten Ways to Fix the CMA Awards

  1. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    This is really terrific writing, Kevin. It analyzes the issue thoroughly, and provides solutions to the problem. Although I wouldn’t bet on many of these fixes to be made, it will spark a great deal of discussion.

    1. & 2. Bloc voting is bad for the slate of nominees, bottom line. Although I can’t imagine the final results changing drastically, the nominee list looked suspicious, the example you mentioned being the strangest decision.

    3. Change the name back to Horizon. The New Artist tag is false. The Grammys should follow suit and change the Best New Artist title. I would allow an artist to participate if he/she has either debuted or experienced ‘significant growth’, but with only one nomination allowed.

    4. I like the spirit of the idea, although the performing rights organizations have winners in these categories each year. A possibility: announced the winners from each of the orgs during the ceremony. As for Entertainer, I wouldn’t add a Live Performance category, but make it clear to voters (and in the show presentation) what the Entertainer is “supposed to be.”

    5. Good idea, but the CMA enjoys making money, and eliminating the exorbitant ticket sales would decrease their revenue significantly.

    6. Agreed. Of course, the CMA ceremony is an entertainment show and not truly about the awards. :)

    7. The performances should include: nominees for Entertainer, Male, Female, Vocal Duo/Group (combine it!), Horizon. Then, if not included in this list, the Single and Album category nominees. The five Single nominees should be performed as an overview of the past year and be presented as such. I would announce Single and Album at the end.

    8. A performance should lead the proceedings, followed by a short monologue by one/two artists. Have a dash of humor, but also express the importance and history of what is happening.

    9. & 10. If a couple of performances are sacrificed for short speeches/acknowledgments of the Hall of Famers and those who have passed, all the better.

  2. The more I think about #4, the more I do think those categories would probably all work, particularly the non-artist songwriter one. These are terrific suggestions – are there any open spots on the CMA board of directors for Kevin?

  3. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I second that nomination for Kevin!

  4. SheldonNo Gravatar

    Please – someone – forward this to the folks on the CMA board…your suggestions are 100% bang on.
    I especially like the suggestion to move the show back to the Opry…Having it there added to the prestige and history of the organization. Having it at the Arena makes if feel like the cheap CMT awards.

  5. Soul Miner's DaughterNo Gravatar

    What a great list! From your keyboard to God’s ears!

    SOMETHING has just got to give with the CMA’s. It has become so predictable… from who is going to get nominated to how lame the writing and sound will be.
    Somewhere along the line, the CMA sold their soul to ABC and have let them run rough shod over the CMA’s and CMA Music Fest.
    The productions are boring, ie. far too “glitzy” for country music and they follow the. same. script. every. year.

    I love the idea of getting back to the Opry House! You can really tell a difference, show-wise.

    Get re-focused on emphasizing COUNTRY ACTS. Beit old, new, or somewhere in between.
    Give at least one new act a slot every year.
    Honor a classic , ie. how Dolly used to close out the show.

    Seriously pay tribute to the one’s we’ve lost! The “mention” of Jerry Reed this year and Porter last year were bordering on insulting.

    If acts like Strait and Jackson are gonna get up there and do the same “stand there with a guitar” thing every year…. yawn. SHAKE IT UP!
    There are SO MANY acts out there that deserve a spot. I’m guessing those air-time spots go to the highest bidder on Music Row?

    And I agree that we can forgo a performance or two to give the awards a little more time and respect. They have turned into such an afterthought that it too borders on insulting.

    Oh…. and if we don’t have enough acts to fill out the category, go with what ya got.
    The Wreckers for “Duo”? Did CMA not get the memo on them? So next year should we expect the return of the Bellamy Bros to fill out the category??

  6. Pingback: Ten Ways to Fix the CMA Awards( Carrie Mention) - Carrie Underwood Fans

  7. ChelseaNo Gravatar

    I am so so loving your suggestions!

    I always said that they should have an Im Memorium reel as it shows respect for the country legends who passed. Great idea.

    — A Songwriters award would be perfect for people like Taylor Swift as she is not a vocalist, and should not be ever nominated in that category again. If there is a songwriter award- she can fight for that and if she wins, most people would be happy for her. But most people are not loving the fact that she was nominated as a vocalist, with her very limited vocal ability.

    – A Live Performance category is great. They can give this to Kenny every year for biggest tour for all I care, but leave Entertainer of the YEar for someone with the all around package— vocals, live performances, tour, album sales, radio success, etc.

    This would open the category to deserving people like Martina and Carrie Underwood who have successful tours but not of the scale of Kenny…

  8. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Also include a category for artists recording on independent labels, who NEVER get any love from the CMAs. The risk, of course, is that a viewer who actually gets to hear Amber Digby, Penny Gilley or Billy Yates, will start purchasing those albums and not the major label pablum

  9. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    9. Televise the Hall of Fame Inductees

    What makes country music special is its respect for its long and deep history. The CMA Awards haven’t been the same since the Hall of Fame inductees were marginalized. If you’ve given your life to country music and made it all the richer for it, you deserve to be recognized for it. Cindy Walker’s induction is proof that the best moments of the show’s history can come during the Hall of Fame segment. It’s a travesty that Ralph Emery, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, The Statler Brothers and Mel Tillis were denied the tributes that they deserved.

    I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. After all, when folks like these are no longer with us, the question that George Jones asked before in song is going to arise: “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

    If country music doesn’t remember its own rich history, it may very well not have much of a future (IMHO).

  10. dudleyNo Gravatar

    A good write-up of some great suggestions, Kevin.

    On the sound issue, the thing that bugged me mightily about the whole slate of performances is that most if not all the performers were performing to instrumental tracks, such that the only thing live about the performances were the name artist’s vocals and, if applicable, the name artist’s instrumental.

    Having seen Keith Urban’s very tight band in live action (for example), it was really disorienting to hear Keith singing “Sweet Thing” to a track while his band was up there on stage. I wanted to hear his band! Moreover, a significant portion of the appeal of any artist’s live performance, especially a master stage performer like Keith, is the opportunity for spontaneity, for adjustments in the moment and the chance to hear a somewhat different take on a song. Using a studio track tethers the artist to the original version of the song.

    My impression is that both the ACMs and CMAs have decided to deal with the prospect of glitches in trying to hook up different bands and the repeated complaints about sound by having acts go up and perform to tracks. Sometimes, these are tracks that get recorded in rehearsal, but on the CMAs this year, the tracks that I noticed were directly from the studio versions of the songs.

    Frankly, if plugging in a series of live bands and producing decent sound mixes from each of them is such a problem for the pros who do the ACMs and the CMAs, I would much rather see the awards shows rely on acoustic performances. The better to actually hear the artists, you know? It would make for more interesting performances, I think.

    And moving the show back to the Opry House would be fine by me, too.

  11. LindaNo Gravatar

    I would love to see Shania host. She has a wonderful speaking voice and she delivers the introduction for the category she’s presenting quite seriously and naturally.

    I would also love to see past winners as the presenters for the category they won in. I think one award show did that before (don’t remember which one, maybe the ACMs or CMAs) and I thought it was a brilliant idea, sort of like “passing the torch” to the next winner.

    I would like to see only nominees perform too but after awhile, I think only the same people will perform every year.

  12. GloriaNo Gravatar

    Dudley, are you saying Keith was lipsicking????

  13. SheldonNo Gravatar

    And another thing… I love the award part of the CMAs – how wrong is it that the musician – a backbone of Nashville, and Vocal Event – always an interesting mix, does not get the chance to go up on stage DURING the live broadcast? MCA and BMG should put on their own damn show and title it “Singers you already hear on the radio, singing along to a pre-recorded track on TV!” Yee Haw! It would be a ratings hit, and the good folks over at the CMA awards can have their show back

  14. dudleyNo Gravatar

    Dudley, are you saying Keith was lipsicking????

    No, Gloria. I said:

    “On the sound issue, the thing that bugged me mightily about the whole slate of performances is that most if not all the performers were performing to instrumental tracks, such that the only thing live about the performances were the name artist’s vocals and, if applicable, the name artist’s instrumental.”

    No one was lipsynching at the CMAs. No name artist who played an instrument (like Keith) was miming. But as far as I can tell, only the name artists’ voices and instruments were live for the CMA performances. They were singing live to pre-recorded instrumental tracks. And that’s a shame because a lot of these acts (like Keith) have fantastic bands who lend additional character to the live performances.

  15. MaryNo Gravatar

    I’ve been watching the CMA’s for about 20 yrs now and the most recent telecast was a sham. It used to be the biggest night of COUNTRY MUSIC but now it’s just like the Grammy’s or something. The following are what I believe should be done to change them:

    1. Bring Vince back!!!
    2. Don’t have performers like Kid Rock on a Country award show.
    3. Narrow the catagories down so there can be more performances
    4. Televise the Hall of Fame Inductions – after all those who are inducted are te pioneers of “our” music.

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