Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards Move Toward Meaning

In 2002 I was nominated for five Dove Awards. Those nominations stood no chance of becoming wins though. A slanted voting process has sapped the Dove Awards of meaning and credibility for me and so many other informed artists. But recent changes made by the Gospel Music Association may be a move toward greater meaning.

Just as artists sign contracts with record labels, record labels enter into contracts with distribution companies for an agreed upon split of revenues and for a set length of time. My first record, released in 2001, was with now-defunct Rocketown Records. Rocketown distributed its records, mine included, through Word Distribution.

When the first round of 2002 Dove Award voting took place, Word Distribution employees – hundreds of them – were “encouraged” to vote for me and my album. And so I was undeservingly nominated in several categories.

But between the nomination process and final voting, Rocketown informed Word Distribution that it would not be renewing its distribution deal with the company. During that same period, INO Records, who represented the very talented Sara Groves (no relation) and Mercy Me among others, committed to a long-term distribution deal with Word.

Before final voting, an e-mail was sent out from on-high at Word Distribution to managers encouraging them to encourage their staff to vote for INO artists and albums in several categories. Rocketown artists were not recommended in any categories. (One of these managers forwarded the e-mail to me with his sincere apologies.) A Dove Award win is a publicity opportunity, a sticker on the next album release, a marketing bullet point. Dove Award wins for INO artists in 2002 would profit Word in the future, whereas wins for Rocketown would not. For the first time in five years, Rocketown didn’t win a single Dove Award and for the first time in history an artist with five nominations walked away empty-handed.

It is easy to predict who will win in each Dove Award category if you can add.. Each artist benefits from the cumulative block voting of his record label, his label’s “secular” owner (Universal, Sony, etc), his publisher and his label’s distribution company. The artist with the largest companies behind him wins unless those companies have numerous artists in a category. In such a case company votes are sometimes split, allowing an artist with smaller companies behind him to win.

No earthly award gives an artist value in any Christian sense of the word but Dove Awards, because of this numbers game, don’t measure artist or artistic value in any secular sense of the word either. It is simply an award given to the artist who has signed a contract with the record label that has signed contracts with companies who have the most employees.

But recently, the Gospel Music Association has made comprehensive changes in membership and voting practices which may add meaning to the annual doling out of the bronze bird. Or at least a dash of fairness.

The Gospel Music Association knows block voting takes place and that this practice gives an unfair advantage to large companies able to pay GMA membership fees for hundreds of employees. So it is allowing companies to pay GMA membership dues for no more than 75 employees. Of course, an infinite number of employees at any company could join the GMA and vote in-step with the “encouragement” of superiors as long as these employees pay membership fees themselves.

In addition, Dove Award voting will now use the Borda count method – a voting process in which voters rank nominees by preference. This, in theory, forces industry employees to vote for second, third, fourth and fifth place preferences who may not be affiliated in any way with their company. This “consensus voting” could dilute the influence of block-voting companies and increase the power of votes cast by retailers, radio stations and other GMA members.

I wonder: Are the Dove Awards meaningful to you? More meaningful now that these changes have been made? Do you care who wins or how they do it? Why or why not? Leave a comment.