This probably isn’t going to be what you think it is so please bear with me. I actually LOVE awards and awards shows. Awards celebrate excellence in our respective fields, bring awareness to our craft and drive us to achieve the very best. They help create community in our professions and give us an excuse to get out of our caves, dress up and interact with other living things that aren’t our studio pets. They are excellent networking and promotional opportunities for young composers but there is a dark side to the pursuit of accolades.
I should preface this by saying that I am writing this from the dark side of having lost three awards last night but losing isn’t what bothers me. It’s the fact that I ever allowed awards and their seductive promise of validation to lure me into losing sight of the real reason I started making music in the first place. THAT is what I hate. I hate that awards take my naturally competitive nature and turn it into something else. Of course “it is an honor just to be nominated” and I am genuinely happy when my friends win over me but something about the nature of awards awakens a greedy and selfish part of me that I absolutely hate. I hate it because like I said here before, the more you want, the less you have. Validation is great but the relentless pursuit of it will leave you empty inside no matter how many nominations you get or awards you win.
All of this probably isn’t helped by the fact that we now live in an awards culture where this time of year in particular there is a new one every week (and sometimes more). A good friend of mine calls it “congratulations season”. He has won an Oscar and a Grammy so he should know. Awards are a business on both ends of the spectrum from the multimillion dollar red carpet extravaganzas to the smaller “pay to play” mail order trophy awards.
But I’m not criticizing the industry. I actually think it’s great that there are more opportunities than ever to celebrate our craft. What I am saying is that it’s easier than ever to catch awards fever and find yourself wandering off your true path and lost in the thicket in search of that golden glow. And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with submitting to every award there is. In many cases if you don’t, nobody will. Just remember that awards are more likely to kill the creativity they are celebrating than they are to inspire it.
Side note: I have an “awards shelf” in my studio and as pretentious as this sounds, it’s full. My daughter asked me “what will you do if you win another award?” I joked “I guess I’ll just have to stop winning them.” As the words came out of my mouth I realized something. I have probably invested way too much mental energy in the pursuit of accolades. It’s not hard to do when the path often runs parallel to your own personal pursuit of excellence but at some point you are in danger of blurring the lines. Greed and jealousy are poison and if you’re not careful they can seep into the well of your soul without you even realizing it.
My advice, go out there and win an award so you can call yourself an “award winning composer” (but don’t actually call yourself that if you can help it) then forget about awards for the rest of your career. If you work hard enough chances are they will come anyways but keep your eye on the ball, not the trophy. Submit for them when you really believe in a project and feel it might have missed the spotlight it deserved but don’t make a career out of winning.