The Polaris Music Prize, a $50,00 cash prize given to a Canadian artist who was voted by 200 hand picked jurors and music taste makers. The 40 album long list was reduced to a 10 album short list earlier this month, with the 2017 winner to be announced at a Toronto Gala on September 18th. Last year the award was given to the talented Montreal artist and recent JUNO Award winner Kaytranada for 99.9%, and with A Tribe Called Red on the short list this year, electronic producers have a chance of winning back to back.
EDM Canada talked to Steve Jordan, the founder and Executive Director of the Polaris Music Prize. We talked about the history of the award, the process of selecting a Polaris winner by how they select the 40 album long list all the way to the ultimate prize winner, and more.
What is the Polaris Music Prize?
Steve Jordan: The Polaris Music Prize is a cash award of $50,000 cash prize determined
by what we call “music filters” that are music critics, bloggers, Djs, and basically anyone that takes in a large amount of music, filters them for their own taste, and broadcast that to their audience.
Polaris has been around since 2006?
Yes, 2006. The prize is determined by a 40 album long list, where jurors vote on that and reduce it to a 10 album short list. Then the winner will be determined by 11 invited jurors from the pool of close to 200 jurors to form the grand jury, and they decide the winner.
How do you determine the 11 jurors on the grand jury?
We have a matrix of jurors and who they voted for, and we make sure that we have one juror at the discussion that has championed one of the short list records. 6 weeks before the final voting, we send them each jury member all of the short listed records and listen to them until they are all equally sick of all of them. Then we invite the grand jury to Toronto (6 out of 11 of them are outside of Toronto), as far away as Northwest Territories, and just before the gala, we have what is called an “epic dinner”. At the “epic dinner”, we have everybody talking about
every short listed record. If somebody picked a particular record on top of their ballot, they go first.
It's like a debate.
It's very respectful, and it's the most exciting part of the whole thing. That dinner takes about 4 to 5 hours, then afterward everyone returns back and re-listens to the albums. Sometimes opinions can change, where at first they didn't get a record, but now hear it differently after one of the jurors talked about it. When they hear from somebody that really loves a record on why you should vote for it, they may reconsider their vote.
The next night the bottom 5 of the 10 short listed albums are voted off, then following more discussions there is another round of voting and 2 more are voted off. Finally the last 3 albums are discussed and the winner is selected out of those 3. There has only been on occasion there
has been a tie, and in this case there is a new vote to determine the winner. That's why we have 11 jury members.
How has the perception of the Polaris prize evolved over the years?
We just do what we do, everyone's perception is different. Some people don't like competitions, and I get that. We can't control people's perception, all we can do is represent what we do fairly and honestly. We have a process that is very visible so they understand how it works. We don't have a lot of secrets about it and we're pretty open.
I understand when people take issue with the records we select, or don't select, and we listen to them. Most of it is constructive feedback, and when people are complaining it's because they care and that's the way we look at it. If it's feedback that makes sense to us, we'll internalize it and adopt it.
All we're trying to do is to get people who are open minded about music to get other people more open minded about music. We don't make the assumption that people only listen to one thing as we seek good music regardless of genre. We try to form this method in order for us
to say “hey, check this shit out”. That's all we're trying to achieve at the end of this.
With Kaytranada winning last year, do you think there is wider
acceptance of electronic artists within the overall music community?
I think the “rock-ist” guys are getting older, and getting out of covering music, and I think the newer jury members are moving away from the idea of “authenticity” wherein “authenticity” is a guitar or an organ vs. creating music from a machine or an 808. But even an 808 is a
For an artist, how can they be considered for getting on the long list for the Polaris prize?
Unlike most other arts prizes or awards, we don't have a “pay a fee and submit" process. We select jury members and it is their jobs to find awesome music. That's what we try to cultivate. I would tell artists to get to know jury members and find out if they specialize in the music
that you make. Chat with them directly. If they like it, they will push it on the other jurors. It's just a matter of doing your homework.
Are you happy where the Polaris Music Prize is at the moment? Do you have wider ambitions in the future?
Honestly, we just want to still be around. We believe in what we we're doing, and everybody involved tell me that they believe in it. I think there is a lot of trust in the process, and that we're listening to people. It will evolve but really the objective is to still be around.
My thanks to Steve Jordan for the interview. For more information on this year's 2017 short list nominees, click here. The 2017 Polaris Music Prize will be awarded on September 18th.