John K. Samson with Ismaila Alfa (CBC)
I think you have to be realistic about what arts prizes are and what they actually do. I think the connection you make as an artist is with people who come to your shows. I don't think any prizes or accolades can replace the actual connection between an artist and an audience.
—John K. Samson
John K. Samson is no stranger to music awards. He's been nominated for
Junos, Western Canadian Music Awards, Verge, Polaris and most recently
the ECHO Songwriting Prize. And he's won some of them, too.
Even so, Samson remains conflicted over the idea of music prizes. "I think they're more important than they should be," he said in conversation with Ismaila Alfa on SCENE On Air. "I've been fairly outspoken about my discomfort with the idea of arts awards. Arts should not be a competition. I feel bad when I lose something even though I shouldn't care."
Samson was nominated for the recent ECHO prize for his song "When I Write My Master's Thesis," but lost to Kathleen Edwards and her song "A Soft Place to Land." He and his band The Weakerthans did win the ECHO in 2008 for the song "Night Windows." But they chose to share part of their prize with another deserving artist, Veda Hille.
"We wanted to subvert a little bit, the idea of a cash award," he said. "I would never begrudge someone keeping that money...money to an artist's pocket is a very welcome thing."
Samson does admire the process for the Polaris prize, where a jury assembles and has a really interesting discussion around the music of the year. "But to me, all this interesting discussion and thoughtfulness ends really dismally with one person getting a chunk of money," he said. "It always makes people feel bad.
Samson suggests that perhaps there should be better ways of organizing arts prizes. For example, prizes could encourage new work. "I was thinking if the Polaris prize process ended in them for example, awarding some money to three artists such as an artist at the beginning of their career, one at mid-career and a late-career artist and giving them some money and saying 'here go and make a record or go collaborate with someone else' and see what happens instead of this idea that an entire industry is run on awards. "
Samson remembers when the long list came out for the Polaris prize last spring. He said he felt bad because he was concerned that his name wouldn't be on the list. "I was relieved (when I was), then I was sort of annoyed and then I thought 'there must be a better way of doing this.'
"I think you have to be realistic about what arts prizes are and what they actually do. I think the connection you make as an artist is with people who come to your shows. I don't think any prizes or accolades can replace the actual connection between an artist and an audience. That's the best prize of all."
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