This year, the Polaris Prize went to Montreal post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor for their album “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” The band didn’t actually attend the awards gala, so what really made headlines is a statement they released the next day that thanked the grand jury for selecting their album, while at the same time deriding the Polaris Prize.
Godspeed has a little bit more independent credibility than Grammy favourites like Arcade Fire and Feist, but this still marks the third year in a row that the Polaris Prize has gone to a band that doesn’t want or need it. While I’m not going to argue against Godspeed donating their winnings to promoting music programs within Quebec’s prison system, there are good, award worthy musicians making $12 a night touring the bars of mid-sized-city Canada that won’t see that kind of money through their entire career.
As an example, Toronto’s Ohbijou played their last show earlier this month. In the statement announcing why they were going on hiatus, one of the reasons the band cited was how difficult it is to make a living as a musician in Canada’s music scene.
But the name recognition that allows the undeserving to get in is often a huge boon to the independent artists that find their way into Polaris’ sights. A Tribe Called Red, who are great, certainly deserved their nomination, but the excitement and attention that came before Nation II Nation was released might not have been there if their first album hadn’t been a sleeper on the long list in 2012.
Getting put on that list puts your name in front of the eyeballs of the people who decide what music gets written about and played on the airwaves in Canada, from campus newspapers and radio stations all the way up to Exclaim! and The Edge. And that gets more people who know who you are and will buy your music.
Okay, no one buys music anymore, but it does get more bodies in the door at your shows — and that is always, always the difference between making more music and announcing when your farewell show is coming.