Al Walser is a Grammy nominee. And it's because of social media.
The Lichtenstein native and near-total unknown - to the public, at least - submitted his self-produced and self-released track, "I Can't Live Without You" (above), through the same nomination process as Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris, and Avicii, his fellow nominees in the "Best Dance Recording" category. But rather than passively wait to let the process take its course, he did as many movie studios do come Oscar time: He lobbied, in this case, on closed NARAS social network Grammy365.com - a tactic successfully used by little-known singer Linda Chorney last year.
After Walser and his fellow nominees submitted their music for Grammy consideration, NARAS began the exhaustive process of sorting, vetting, and eventually narrowing down the hopefuls into a final ballot. There were closed Screening Committees in L.A. in September, during which groups of experts in each genre assessed every entrant's eligibility, in terms of things like release date, and the category in which it was entered. This process generated a final list of qualifying music, sometimes with hundreds of entries listed in each category, which was released to the voting members of NARAS a few months later. From here, Academy members were asked to select their preferred nominees, and eventually the winners.
It's in those last steps where things can get tricky for EDM nominees and other niche categories. Many Academy members are veterans of the recording industry, or have racked up the production credits necessary for membership in more mainstream genres. Their exposure to electronic dance music, or opera, or Americana, might be limited. So when it comes time to select five nominees from a field of hundreds, name recognition can be a major element.
That's where Walser came in. According to some industry sources, he is indeed a man about L.A. Video on his website shows him walking the red carpet at the Oscars. Academy members say they know him from networking events, or emails promoting his "Weekly Top 20" mixshow, and from Grammy365, where Walser is an active member. (Some reports say he is indeed a voting member of The Academy, but anyone involved in the music industry can apply to be an Associate Member, and thereby access the site.) Screenshots on Elitaste, a website founded by Mike Posner's manager Daniel Weisman, show Walser appealing for votes via private messages to his over 4,000 followers: "I have submitted 'I Can't Live Without You' as Best Dance Recording and would be more than so honored to have your vote considered for this track," reads one.
And that type of solicitation is just fine, according to Grammy. In fact, the Grammy365 FAQ includes guidelines for members to do just that. "Members may promote their music to other members on GRAMMY365 EXCLUDING category numbers," it reads. Further instructions include light limitations on where music may be posted, and a request to "respect your fellow members. Do not solicit contact requests in an effort to promote your entry."
Grammy365 was launched in March 2010 as a means of connecting NARAS' 18,000-plus members, and adding value to their membership. "NARAS came to us with a request: Could we use web technology to create a destination where the world's best musicians, songwriters, producers, music students and industry pros can meet and grow their careers?" says a post on the website of The New Group, the Seattle-based digital agency that developed the site. It seems that Walser did just that.
Despite her success in getting nominated, Linda Chorney did not win a Grammy last year.
At press time, reps for the Recording Academy were not available for comment.