In its four-year history, the Shortlist Music Prize has become a coveted industry honor, shining a spotlight on artists who have made exceptional albums that have fallen under the mainstream radar. But its future remains in doubt as its creators wrangle over the future of the organization.
Usually given out in Los Angeles in the fall, the Shortlist prize will not be awarded this year. Instead, co-founder Tom Sarig has a new award to replace it: the New Pantheon, which, like the Shortlist, will be determined by an eclectic jury of musicians, performers and journalists.
“I thought starting with a new entity with a sort of bolder initiative would be a fresh way to do it,” Sarig said. Among the celebrity judges for the award are Dave Matthews, Elton John, Keith Urban, Shirley Manson, actor Elijah Wood and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots.
“The idea is very similar. It’s shining a light on an honoring the most creative and most artistic records of the new year,” Sarig said.
The former MCA executive, who’s now a manager and label consultant, said the interests of himself and co-founder Greg Spotts had changed and they had mutually, and amicably, decided not to continue Shortlist.
Spotts acknowledged that he has been less involved with music. He’s gotten into political commentary, made the 2003 documentary “American Jobs” and is releasing a book about the making of the recent documentary critical of Wal-Mart. Still, he expressed surprise at the new prize and said Shortlist was very much alive.
“The only reason why we haven’t put on a Shortlist this year is because Tom and I don’t seem to be able to agree on how,” he said. “It seems to be just like as bands get more successful, the egos get more complicated to manage. That same process seems to be happening with the management with our company.”
The Shortlist Music Prize, created by the pair in 2001, mirrored London’s Mercury Prize in that it honored albums that were critically acclaimed but had not achieved widespread commercial success. Those nominated sold less than 500,000 copies, and most acts were more familiar to alternative music fans.
The previous winners were Icelandic band Sigur Ros, Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice, the Pharrell-fronted hip-hop/rock hybrid, N.E.R.D., and TV On The Radio. Besides the honor, a cash prize of up to $10,000 was awarded.
Over the years, while it helped boost the profile of its nominees and winners, Shortlist also raised its own; just being nominated for a Shortlist gave an artist cache, and last year, the show was broadcast on MTV2 for the first time.
But Sarig said that while the award was well-known within media and industry circles, he wanted it to have more of an impact with the average fan. “We feel a lot of credibility, but we haven’t penetrated the consumer world yet and I think with New Pantheon, with the initiatives that I’m planning, we can totally do that,” he said, saying he hoped to announce TV, radio and Internet partnerships in the coming weeks.
Spotts said he would take legal action if Sarig went ahead with his plans: “That isn’t something that I feel is legally possible for him … you can’t compete against a company that you co-own.” Sarig said his agreement with Spotts did not include a non-compete clause and he was perfectly within his legal rights to create a new prize.
What both men agree on is that the Shortlist Music Prize will remain in limbo until both agree on its future. “I’ve tried very, very hard to have a Shortlist this year,” Spotts said. “I think it’s become an important cultural happening on the calendar.”
Sarig said while he was proud of the Shortlist, he didn’t want the idea behind it to become lost in its problems. Finalists for the New Pantheon will be announced in December, and the award will be revealed shortly before the Feb. 8 Grammys. “I am more committed to this vision of trying to create a platform for left-of-center music than ever,” he said.
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